The slums of London and the industrial north were so foul and fetid they led to the creation of the Labour party and the introduction of the welfare state. The bombs of the Blitz left rubble and jagged edges in a London torn apart by war. Tensions with the police in the 1980s brought with them riots: police vans smashed up and buildings burnt to cinders. Unemployment and the decline of manufacturing bring with them boarded-up shops and graffiti.
But the social cleansing of London is a more invisible contagion. Gentrification happens gradually, there can sometimes be decades between the first art collective clubnight in a working class area to a Whole Foods hypermart being opened up on the high street. You don't see people who've lived in London their whole lives being shipped outside the capital en masse on the back of some council pick-up truck – they just go quietly when they have been left with no other option. By the time an area has been expunged of its former inhabitants, many people have forgotten what it was like before.
Across the capital new blocks of flats and offices are being built, all wildly out of the price range of ordinary Londoners. But before these obelisks of glass and steel are formed, there is an ugly process, an industrial one. Blocks of concrete the size of a football pitch, huge iron girders that look like they were forged in a different age. They are, in the middle of a city built on financial services and digital industries, signs of real things. And real things must be covered up.
So they are, with commissioned photos of what the developers believe will attract potential buyers. White people in smart-casual having a beer after work, a manic-pixie-dream-girl on a £100,000 a year doing some kooky vintage shopping, a man drinking a flat white with large over-ear headphones and then vibing out.
These hoardings are the one immediate, perceptible sign of gentrification, a harbinger of a Carluccio's future, that serves to highlight the dissonance between what a place is and what some awful person's dream for it will be. In areas that may still belong to the community that grew up there they are a warning shot, a threat of what's to come, push before you're shoved.
Chris Bethell went out across London to photograph them.