Push film review: A challenging look at gentrification around the world

Published in City A.M., Feb ’20

Property developers, look away now.

If you’ve never felt the slightest bit icky when buying a £4 cup of coffee in a formerly working-class neighbourhood, you’re probably not going to like Swedish filmmaker Frederik Gertten’s new documentary, Push.

It’s all about gentrification, and whether we have the right to live affordably in a major city – an issue that’s painfully relevant for Londoners.

It follows Leilani Farha, the UN’s special rapporteur on housing, as she sets off on a trip around the world to hear the human stories behind the global housing crisis.

“Who are cities for?” she asks at the outset – and this is the narrative thread which runs through the whole hour and a half as she grills politicians about the housing issues happening on their patches.

Closest to home is a powerful interview with a man who escaped from his flat in Grenfell Tower. Thanks to house price inflation, he will have to move out of London if he ever wants to own a home again.

She also visits Seoul, where homeowners on one estate were violently kicked out of their homes to make way for an apartment scheme that never happened; Toronto, where some people are spending 90 per cent of their income on rent; and Berlin’s Kreuzberg, where locals are trying to buy up treasured buildings to protect them from demolition.

Although moving, these are really just different versions of a story we’ve all heard before, and it would be impossible to explore this subject without coming off a bit heavy-handed and worthy.

But it’s not all hand-wringing – some of the most interesting parts of Push are when it exposes the lesser-known pieces of the housing market puzzle.

In particular, it shines a light on the huge role played by private equity firms and pension funds. We might be a nation obsessed with house prices, but this is the side of the coin that doesn’t get discussed.

Push is not a particularly fun night out at the cinema. And like many good documentaries, you’ll probably get more out of it if you don’t already agree with its politics than if you do.

Actually, scrap what I said earlier – property developers, go and watch this film. I dare you.

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