Careful what you say about hipsters, argues Wayne Hemingway, you just might be following in their footsteps.

The word hipster is much maligned. The media has helped turn a sector of young folk who are interested in new things and being a bit different – someone who in the past might have been described as cool and hip – into a caricature. Its derogatory connotation is impossible to avoid. But the fact is there is nothing derogatory about hipsters when it comes to regeneration. "Hipster-led regeneration" is creating value around the world, often in places where government investment just doesn't cut it.

Being able to spot potential in a place is exactly what hipsters are doing in cities all around the world.

It gets down to what I call "the eye" - certain people have it. "The eye" in this regard is really about intuition and it allows you to spot things and live well without very much money. When my wife and I were building our first brand, Red or Dead, in the early 1980s, we opened a shop on Neal Street – now a buzzing part of fashionable London, but then it had no fashion shops and was a rather dowdy area stocked full of white good repair shops. We took a risk and acted outside of the mainstream. Our approach allowed us to spot a place where city investment and mainstream money wouldn't go. And it worked. We grew our business by spotting Neal Street equivalents in half a dozen UK cities and another dozen locations around the world.

Being able to spot potential in a place, and then make it work for you by improving it, is exactly what hipsters are doing in cities all around the world. And we should take note, because it’s changing the places we want to live and work in.

Humans will always find a way to bring places back to life. We’re brilliant at reinventing.

Here are six contemporary examples of hipster-led regeneration:

Hackney

Up until not long ago there were a number of failing parts of London, some were even considered basket cases. Hackney had some of the highest deprivation indices and many would argue that the government money that was thrown into it had little to no impact. But look at it now. That impact did come, but it happened from the people without money, colonising the space because it was cheap. That’s the impetuosity of the hipster – they take risks, often because there is no choice.

Institutional money is risk adverse. Hipsters tend to be people of a certain age where risk happens. And when a clique of people takes risks together, you can create a self-serving community. They’re almost like pioneers of the west coast of America in the nineteenth century – which led to the creation of LA and San Francisco. Those pioneers were the hipsters of their time. I think the word hipster should be changed to 'urban pioneer'.

And don’t get me started about the accusation that all this leads to gentrification. Why is gentrification a dirty word? Many people say that East London has gentrified because it’s all cafes and interesting little shops. Well, if that’s gentrification, bring it on. It’s better than betting shops that just encourage folk who can’t afford to gamble, to gamble! And what’s better? A greasy kebab shop on every corner or a nice café that happens to have a man with a beard serving you decent hot chocolate and healthy bites? And which of these is likely to grow and create employment? There are critics of my thinking but I can beat their arguments every time!

The word hipster should be changed to ‘urban pioneer’.

Mitte district, Berlin

After the Berlin Wall came down, the Mitte district became a place for artists and those on the left field of German society. For the mainstream the Mitte was often considered a place that you just didn’t go near. To a large extent the new government left it alone. Now it’s widely recognised as the most culturally diverse and forward thinking place in Berlin and has become a significant visitor attraction in its own right.

Williamsburg, New York

Could you imagine Williamsburg having the reputation it has today only 10 or 15 years ago?

When we were doing shows in New York in the 80s and 90s, we never thought about going into Brooklyn. If anyone were to do that it would be the inquisitive design community, and yet it didn’t happen. You never thought about it. It was dangerous, and that was all we knew. It certainly wouldn’t have inspired one of the world’s most famous footballers to name his son after it!

Hipsters made it cool, simple as that. Manhattan became too expensive and its values – Wall Street, greed, high rises – just didn’t match those of the new generation.

Manhattan is the old way of doing things. In time, Williamsburg will also become the old way and somewhere else will take its place. And yes, you can say that the chains are moving in and it’s losing its edge. Yet for every shop with an expensive refurb, there’s six or seven done up by mum and dad painting the floors and the siblings doing the walls. People are getting on and doing something. They’re not moaning about the world or waiting for you to do it for them. They’re getting on and doing it their way.

Margate


The Turner Contemporary, Margate

A seaside town that again the press often depicts as a bit of a basket case. I have one word for it: amazing! Margate is truly walking with a swagger these days. People are moving from their one bedroom flats in London to a four bedroom house and opening cafes, and galleries and shops.

Every time I go there I see more young couples doing something interesting with an old building. There is a cultural institution there, The Turner Contemporary, that has helped to gild the brand Margate.

Margate is not being given a leg up by city folk like in Whitstable. These are young people, often creatives, without vast sums of money who are spotting an opportunity that is relatively affordable evocative property, a sandy beach, within reach of London and some likeminded pioneers. My god it’s exciting there. I look at it as a place full of exciting opportunities. You know that in ten years’ time it won’t be a failed Mary Portas High Street – it’ll be a cool town.

Johannesburg

South Africa to many people means one thing: Cape Town. Joburg, if considered at all, is often seen as the dangerous place that should simply be avoided. While that might be the case for some areas, there are others that are really changing. It’s not changing with thrusting high rises, it's hipsters. It’s all in the process. Virgin Atlantic are talking about it in the in-flight magazine. Go see it happen.

Detroit

From small shoots and all that – Detroit clearly has a long way to go, but have faith in young people to be creative and to find a way. Humans will always find a way to bring places back to life. We’re brilliant at reinventing. So don’t sneer. Yes it’s hard to imagine in this economic climate, Detroit does have enormous issues to solve, but all it takes is for pockets of people to get together, and they are doing just that. It’s the urban pioneer, going out and exploring and finding the new places and saying: "Try it here. Bring your money here".

Sign up to our newsletter

Receive news and event updates from Design Council.

Sign up

News & opinion

Sarah Jones-Morris: A landscape architect on a mission to cure our cities through design In the next article in our Leading Women in Design series, Sarah discusses her passion for striving to create healthier cities, how street trees have a huge impact on our health, and muses on why Vitruvius is still relevant today. In the next article in our Leading Women in Design series, Sarah discusses her passion for striving to create healthier cities.

Feature — 10/09/2018

Video: Design Council discuss healthy placemaking on London LIVE Design Council CEO Sarah Weir OBE and Director of Policy and Communications Sally Benton appeared on London LIVE to discuss our Healthy Placemaking research. Design Council's Sarah Weir OBE and Sally Benton on how the Built Environment can affect our physical and mental health.

News — 19/04/2018

How do we create places that deliver healthier lives? New research from Design Council and Social Change UK into the use of healthy placemaking practises by Built Environment professionals investigates. Our new research into the use of healthy placemaking practises by Built Environment professionals investigates further.

News — 16/04/2018

Reclaiming negative space How two architects and their bicycles are developing a new way to address the housing crisis. How two architects and their bicycles are developing a new way to address the housing crisis.

Feature — 03/04/2018