Lonely Planet Writer

Why the traditional heart of London's Soho is under threat from gentrification

One of London’s most famous areas needs protection if the things that made it famous in the first place are not to disappear.

Soho street, London. Image by ©Doug McKinlay/Lonely Planet

Soho has been known around the world as the epicentre of London’s alternative nightlife since the 19th century. Some of the things that gave the area its unique character were its familiar sex shops and the fact that it was such an important place for the LGBTQ and kink communities.

London’s Soho. Image by Dr Magali Peyrefitte 

Researchers from the University of Kent and Middlesex University have said that Soho is under threat from gentrification and corporatisation that threatens to rob it of what makes it so special. Their study explains how the area is being sanitised with the number of licensed sex shops in the area declining from more than 50 to just 12. These are slowly being concentrated in just a small area and almost all such venues in Soho are now located within a small half-a-mile block. The research said Soho had an important role in “creating a space” for “sexual others” that in many other places ends up pushed out to the periphery.

Gentrification is changing old areas like Soho. Image by Dr Magali Peyrefitte 

The area’s risqué character has always made it popular for travellers and Dr Erin Sanders-McDonagh said Soho’s “transgressive” nature needed to be safeguarded to allow the area remain unique. She and co-author of ‘Sanitising the City’ Dr Magali Peyrefitte said London needed Soho to stay as a diverse space with its “unique cosmopolitan character”. “Westminster City Council has a responsibility to ensure that Soho remains an open and vibrant space for all Londoners, not an elite few. The process of gentrification in this area has further marginalised already vulnerable groups (including homeless populations and sex workers) and the sanitisation of the area means that many populations who have lived and worked in this area for generations will no longer be able to part of the Soho community.

“Soho’s unique character as the historic heart of the LGBTQ community will be eroded or destroyed completely if we don’t pay attention to the changes being made to the area and demand that Soho remains a diverse and open space.”