This morning I had my Community and Culture class at the IFSA-Butler main office in Notting Hill. The focus this week was on the culture, diversity, and history of Portobello Road and the residents’ feelings towards it compared to the direction it’s headed (as led by the councilpeople).
The market began in the 19th century, mainly selling food. However, afterwards it expanded and different portions of the road are aimed at different wares, though the main market is Saturday with a strong antique presence. It is a huge tourist destination, and shoppers are 90% tourists versus 10% locals, which is a huge change from the original market. As larger companies have developed in the area (most of the coffee shops there are chain stores), small businesses have been forced out of the area, and prices have climbed for housing. This means many residents were kicked out due to steep rent increases. Those who were able to stay couldn’t afford the prices in the market because of the high cost of living of the area. Essentially, tourism has caused the area to become more expensive, meaning fewer locals shop there, forcing the vendors to focus even more on tourists, causing even fewer locals to shop there, and on and on in a destructive cycle.
Our task was to explore Portobello Road and Notting Hill, observing the locals. Cassie and I (Cassie is another Mudd student studying abroad in London) walked through the main Portobello Market, but realized that the only locals we would really see would be stall vendors. However, since it’s a weekday there weren’t very many stalls out there. So we continued wandering around and explored the non-touristy residential area of Notting Hill. There we found a beautiful park. It
was surrounded by well-to-do houses (older victorian-ish architecture, well-pruned trees and shrubbery lining the street, etc.). It seems to be more family and elderly based, partially due to the “Elderly People” warning sign…
The park in general was pretty empty. There were some late middle-aged men and women walking their pets or going for a walk in general, mixed with a couple of baby carriages. I was surprised to see a group of teenagers near the café in the park.
The whole atmosphere was very relaxed and intimate. From that experience it feels like Notting Hill is a bubble that we were intruding in. It’s overlaid with the tourist environment, but the residential side of it exists on a separate plane. The market seems key to the history of the area, and a unifying identity for the residents, but they seem to be spending more time in the residential area. It feels like their identity is misplaced due to tradition. The history of Portobello Road
and its diversity developed due to change, yet now the residents speak against change. But if you look at their actions, where they are congregating, it tells a different story. Their identity seems to belong in the residential bubble these days, despite their use of Portobello Road’s and Notting Hill’s historical connotation.