Below you’ll find the graphic recording, audio, video, and transcript from “Planetary Gentrification: Impacts and Futures” presented by Loretta Lees on October 19, 2022.
About the presenter
Loretta Lees is an urban geographer and urbanist who is internationally known for her research on gentrification, urban regeneration, global urbanism, urban policy, urban public space, architecture, and urban social theory. Before moving to Boston University in September 2022 to serve as Faculty Director of the Initiative on Cities, she was professor of Human Geography at Leicester University and before that King’s College London in the UK.
Loretta has published 14 books, with 2 books in press (The Planetary Gentrification Reader, Routledge; Concise Encyclopedia of Human Geography, Edward Elgar). Her most recent book, co-authored with Elanor Warwick “Defensible Space: mobilization in English Housing Policy and Practice” (2022), critically examines the concept of ‘defensible space’ which has been influential in crime prevention on housing estates in the UK, the USA, and beyond; evaluating its movement/mobility/mobilization from the US to the UK and into English housing policy and practice.
About the series
Shareable is partnering with Tufts University on this special series hosted by professor Julian Agyeman (Co-chair of Shareable’s Board) and Cities@Tufts. Initially designed for Tufts students, faculty, and alumni, the colloquium has been opened up to the public with the support of Shareable, and The Kresge Foundation.
Cities@Tufts Lectures explores the impact of urban planning on our communities and the opportunities to design for greater equity and justice.
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“Planetary Gentrification: Impacts and Futures” Transcript
Loretta Lees: [00:00:06] The urban theorist, Richard Florida, wrote in 2008 that the most successful cities and regions in the United States and around the world may increasingly be inhabited by a core of wealthy and highly mobile workers, leading highly privileged lives catered to by an underclass of service workers living farther and farther away. So at this talk, what I want to do is argue that global society in space is moving towards a state of planetary gentrification that’s leading to institutionalized apartheid, creating new spaces of exclusion justified as progress and development, and even as helping the poor. The result of this planetary gentrification is, I would argue, social apartheid.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:00:54] What is planetary gentrification and its tangible effects? Has institutionalized white supremacy led to isolationist attempts at addressing our climate crisis? And could reparative urban planning be the key to addressing distributive structural injustices? These are just a few of the questions we’re exploring this season on Cities@Tufts Lectures, a free live event and podcast series where we explore the impact of urban planning on our communities and the opportunities to design for greater equity and justice. I’m your host, Tom Llewellyn.
[00:01:24] Today on the show, we’re featuring Loretta Lee’s lecture “Planetary Gentrification: Impacts and Futures.” In addition to this audio version, you can watch the video, check out the graphic recording and read the full transcript on Shareable.net. And while you’re there, please take some time to get caught up on all of our past lectures and our ever-expanding library of stories, podcasts, How-To guides, and other resources. And now here’s Professor Julian Agyeman, who will welcome you to the Cities@Tufts Fall Colloquium and introduce today’s speaker.
Julian Agyeman: [00:02:06] Welcome to the Cities@Tufts Virtual Colloquium, along with our partners Shareable, the Kresge Foundation and the Barr Foundation. I’m Professor Julian Agyeman, and together with my research assistants, Caitlin MacLennan and Deandra Boyle, we organize Cities@Tufts as a cross-disciplinary academic initiative, which recognizes Tufts University as a leader in urban studies, urban planning and sustainability issues. We’d like to acknowledge that Tufts University’s Medford Campus is located on colonized Wampanoag and Massachusetts traditional territory.
[00:02:39] Today, we are delighted to welcome Professor Loretta Lees. Loretta is an urban geographer and urbanist who’s internationally known for her research on gentrification, urban regeneration, global urbanism, urban policy, urban public space, architecture and urban social theory. Before moving to B.U. to serve as Professor of Sociology and faculty director of the B.U. Initiative on Cities, Loretta was Professor of Human Geography at Leicester University, and before that King’s College London in the UK. Loretta has published 14 books with two further books in press. Her most recent book, which was co-authored with Elanor Warwick, is “Defensible Space: Mobilization in English Housing Policy and Practice,” and it critically examines the concepts of defensible space, which, for some of you who are not old enough, was and is still a very prominent concept in designing out crime on housing estates, housing projects in the UK and the USA and beyond. And she’s evaluated its movement, its mobility and its mobilization from the US to the UK and into English housing policy and practice.
[00:03:50] Loretta also coined the term “super gentrification” in an article in Urban Studies in 2003 through an ethnographic study of Brooklyn Heights in New York, where she found that financifiers were found to be gentrifying, already prosperous, solidly upper middle-class, gentrified neighborhoods. Loretta’s talk today is “Planetary Gentrification: Impacts and Futures.” Loretta, a zoom-tastic welcome to the Cities@Tufts colloquium.
Loretta Lees: [00:04:24] Thank you so much. That’s. Let’s get started. Hello, everybody. Thank you so much for Cities@Tufts for inviting this fall colloquium. I’ve long enjoyed Julian’s work and in fact, we haven’t actually met face-to-face yet, but I’m hoping to do that week after next. So I’m really looking forward to that and I hope everybody in the room enjoys. I hear you’re doing some kind of watch party, so I’m kind of excited to see how that plays out.
[00:04:51] So, let’s start off with somebody I guess you’re all quite familiar with. So the urban theorist Richard Florida wrote in 2008 that the most successful cities and regions in the United States and around the world may increasingly be inhabited by a core of wealthy and highly mobile workers, leading highly privileged lives catered to by an underclass of service workers living farther and farther away. So in this talk, what I want to do is argue that global society in space is moving towards a state of planetary gentrification that’s leading to institutionalized apartheid, creating new spaces of exclusion justified as progress and development, and even as helping the poor. So the result of this planetary gentrification, which I’ll talk a bit more about in a minute, is, I would argue, social apartheid, the de facto segregation on the basis of class or economic status in which an underclass is forced to exist, separated from the rest of the population.
[00:05:56] Typically a component of social apartheid and urban apartheid refers to the spatial segregation of minorities to remote areas, usually the peripheries of cities. This is happening in cities all over the world, but in the global north, gentrification also produces forms of apartheid that are not necessarily about spatial physical separation, but rather, I would argue, a form of mental phenomenological separation while sharing the same neighborhood, particularly in, for example, new socially engineered, socially mixed communities.
[00:06:33] So what is planetary gentrification? Planetary gentrification is a term, I guess, that myself and Hyun Bang Shin, who works at the London School of Economics and the Ernesto López-Morales who works at University of Chile, kind of came up with, and we played around with terms like global gentrification, but we decided to hinge it on planetary for a whole host of different reasons. But what we do in our 2016 book is that we argue that gentrification has unfolded at a planetary scale, and it’s not simply something generalized, it’s not gentrification generalized like Neil Smith argued back in the early 2000s. Rather, gentrification has generalizations, so I think it’s more complex than that.
[00:07:23] So our thesis on planetary gentrification, just to kind of summarize it, highlights the ascendancy of the secondary circuit of real estate. So we’re looking at the globalized effects of commercial capitalism or financialized capitalism. It offers a global perspective that considers postcolonialism and, that’s old and new postcolonialisms, and analytical and everyday comparativisms. In other words, we’re very interested in comparing but doing comparison also in a different way and a more ethical and theoretically different way as well. Third, it demonstrates planetary indigeneity, so organic gentrifications that are not copies of those in the West. I think that’s quite important. Not everything is about being copied from the West. And fourthly, it problematizes these translations. So some of these kind of urban translations in urban studies from west to east, north to south and vice versa.
[00:08:23] So gentrification, we argue, is a phenomenon that cities worldwide have experienced, but it is not totally new in the 21st century to the Global South, like some people have proclaimed. And gentrification has been and is being experienced through quite different types of urban restructuring. So our planetary gentrification thesis is very open to conceptualization and comparison across space and time. And in many ways this work has just begun, so it’s still kind of ongoing.
[00:08:57] To some extent, the book was a response to an ex-colleague of mine, Andy Merrifield, who worked with me at King’s College London. Andy is a Marxist geographer. And in 2014 he called for a reloaded urban studies, which calls for the removal of center-periphery binary thinking, acknowledging the emergence of multiple centralities across urbanizing spaces and dispensing with what he calls all the old chestnuts — a very English term — between Global North and Global South, between developed and underdeveloped worlds, between urban and rural, between urban and regional, between city and suburb. Just as we need to dispense with all the old distinctions between public and private, state and economy, and politics and technocracy. Now, in many ways, our book kind of moves that body of work on and attempts also to cover empiricism it through looking at gentrification.
[00:09:57] We also draw on the ‘Subaltern Studies School’. So like the ‘Subaltern Studies School’ which questioned the universalizing Western Marxist categories for studying historical, social and economic change in South Asia. But we wanted to retain a Marxist analysis. We too separate ourselves in our planetary gentrification thesis from Marxism’s more kind of universalist history of capital, the nation and the political and from readings of class consciousness in particular that do not travel well to contexts outside of the industrial West. And like them, we also insist on a Marxist focus on the struggles of subaltern groups, the oppressed and the alienated in urbanizing societies that aligns with our critical political economy approach. So our planetary gentrification in a kind of nub has a quite particular critical political economy approach, but one that’s trying to address lots of new work in postcolonial theory, in urban studies, etc., etc..
[00:11:06] So critically, we argue that the role of the state has been under-conceptualized in gentrification studies to date. And in so doing we show how urban governance in metropolises in the Global South. Who Seth Schindler, who’s a geographer at Manchester University, calls a “Territorial Moment,” in which municipal governments are increasingly focused on transforming urban space rather than improving population. This has led, I would argue, to institutionalized, that is state-led forms of social and urban apartheid. So the question is what’s fostering this shift or this moment?
[00:11:45] And I think Schindler makes the point, that elite — and it’s not always the middle classes — prefer to invest in real estate in the Global South rather than productive sectors of the economy, because there’s a disconnect between capital and labor. And as he says on the quote on Schindler, residents of, say, Lagos, Jakarta or Istanbul may reasonably assume that in cities of such size they will be able to find a buyer for a luxury apartment in future while producing commodities for domestic consumption or export is perceived as risky in comparison. Middle classes in developing countries are not only local beneficiaries of the global regime of open markets and internationalized production, but they enjoy almost entirely positive and unproblematic connotations.
[00:12:37] Among many development agencies and governments. Thus the construction of infrastructure and the development of a regulatory framework that encourages urban renewal and investment real estate can be interpreted as attempts to reinforce the conditions for further accumulation. I think this is sums it up really nicely. In brief, governments in Global South metropolises are excited at the possibility of accumulating capital at the same time as remaking their cities.
[00:13:07] So reinvestment in the secondary circuit of capital, the built environment or real estate is key to the process. In some parts of the Global South, this is happening at the same time as investment in the primary circuit of capital — that is industrial production, for example, in China. In other places, reinvestment in the secondary circuit is trumping reinvestment in the primary circuit, for example, in Dubai. When you see this kind of spectacular real estate kind of processes playing out in Dubai. Importantly with planetary urbanization, rural places and suburban spaces have become integral moments of neo-industrial production and financial speculation getting absorbed and reconfigured into new-world regional zones of exploitation into what Andy Merrifield calls megalopolitan regional systems.
[00:14:00] So let’s turn then to some of this of how it’s playing out. So remaking cities and southern metropolises causes social and urban apartheid, but it’s done in different ways. So the most subtle form of government, as we argue in our book, has been around the regulation and securitization of space. And often this is a sanitization of space in order to attract tourists and often leads to processes like touristification, which of course, is a term that’s now become quite familiar in gentrification studies.
[00:14:33] So one example of this are the slum classification programs and slum tourism that occurred in Rio de Janeiro, which led to what we call in our planetary gentrification, slum gentrification. So from the 1990s onwards, the Brazilian government followed an institutional approach, state-led approach, to slum eradication. On the one hand, there were policies of aggressive land mobilization by police pacification slums, with displacement pressure on the lowest segments of the original population who were not eligible to be rehoused. On the other hand, they have state-financed policies for rehousing the poor in areas way beyond the city’s outskirts, pushed way outside of Rio. So Rio de Janeiro is regarded as one of the few cases where favelas are very central and visible. And therefore, the city undertook one of the world’s most explicit cases of state-sponsored slum gentrification.
[00:15:33] To give you one of the kind of more famous examples. So the Vila Autódromo favela is adjacent to the 2016 Olympic site in Rio. It was built in the late 1960s by a community of fishermen who installed temporary dwellings on the edge of a pond and remained there for a long time. When the Olympics were announced in Rio, it was home to about 450 families, some of them living in quite decent brick dwellings, others in more precarious ones. But they all had access to water, sanitation, energy — 88 percent of children and young people studied in the immediate area and 65 percent of workers had jobs in adjacent quarters. Most of the residents of Vila Autódromo were homeless.
[00:16:18] From 2007 or once the residents of Vila Autódromo were threatened with removal. There were different constructions of this. First, they were seen as a landscape pollution threat, then a danger to the safety of athletes housed in the Pan-American Village. Then they were victims of the high levels of pollution in the pond that borders the villa of the Olympic area. Then they were seen to be occupiers of space needed for construction of a motorway and so on and so on.
[00:16:46] Works for the Olympic area started in 2013 with the aggressive removal of homes and community spaces. As in other Brazilian cities, state-sponsored housing programs offered a rapid solution for those to be displaced. If that is, they accepted relocation into much more distant areas outside the metropolitan ring away from the main areas of metropolitan employment, which all of these people have been employed. The favela was demolished in 2016, so not that long ago and a Washington Post magazine article in 2020 went in and actually investigated all the displacees — many of them had actually moved to the nearby Aissa Blanca Favela, which was quite renowned for being available that had really kind of fallen down and had become a kind of area, particularly for drug addicts. So there was a very much a kind of downward social mobility.
[00:17:43] In parallel, Police pacification units were permanently installed in select favelas of Rio to enforce security. In 2011, the police began to seize control of dozens of favel from drug gangs to make the city safe in the run-up to the FIFA 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Murder rates came down. SecoviRio, an organization representing Rio’s real estate professionals estimated that in the 72 hours after police took the first three favelas, property prices had jumped by 50%. A luxury boutique hotel with a rooftop pool went up in Vidigal. Middle-class Brazilians and foreigners snapped up properties keen on acquiring these kind of ocean-view properties that were seen as bargains in a city where real estate prices were at the time amongst some of the highest in the Americas. Slum pacification was physically expanded under the National Government’s Growth Acceleration Program, which constructed cable cars that now connect favelas with downtown Rio. In addition, the 3.9 billion USD Morar Carioca program aimed to re-urbanize or relocate all of Rio’s approximately 1000 irregular settlements.
[00:19:02] So the class-led symbolic appropriation of the favelas of Rio de Janeiro has given rise to land speculation, higher-income newcomers and the eventual socioeconomic exclusivity of gentrification in these places. But the story is also one of policy mobility. There are, of course, deep-seated historical connections between Latin America, Washington, D.C. and New York City, facilitated through the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank that give policy advice on these kinds of revanchist programs. And what was really interesting looking at this was finding, after reading about the success of Giuliani’s zero-tolerance policing in cleaning up New York City, Rio’s military police chief concluded it was well suited to the Rio neighborhood of Copacabana. And he began a pilot program.
[00:19:54] So they increased the number of surveillance cameras and radio patrol police. They cracked down on unlicensed vendors and petty thieves, then expanded to discourage beggars’ encampments. They remove their bedding and to play street children shelters unfairly targeting the city’s poor and vulnerable. And if you think back to a few years back, there was lots of international media coverage of even street kids being assassinated by the police. In the run-up to the 2014 World Cup police violence increased, including beatings, the use of pepper spray. The program victimized Rio’s most defenseless, cleaning the streets for the tourists and for the wealthy. And then, even more bizarrely, in late 2009, Giuliani announced that they had a security consulting contract with Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
[00:20:49] So another way that governments have sought to accumulate capital in the Global South while remaking their cities is through mega-projects. And of course, the Olympics is a mega project, but this is a different one. The Eko Atlantic mega project in Lagos, Nigeria. Now, I think Bill Clinton, who inaugurated this project and I think his comments in any way kind of sum up the inflated kind of global aspirations for this project. So I’ll just — this is what he said. He said, pretend I’m Bill Clinton, “It will work to improve the economy of Nigeria all over the world and bring enormous opportunities. I’m convinced that within five years people will be coming from all over the world to see this.” So really inflated international kind of hype. The website says it’s the best prime real estate in West Africa. “It is a focal point for investors capitalizing on rich development growth based on massive demand and a gateway to emerging markets of the continent.”
Loretta Lees: [00:21:50] At the same time as the Eko Atlantic Project was announced, Lagos’s State Government launched a state-wide crackdown on waterfront slums as the areas were now seen as prime waterfront real estate opportunities — no longer slums. The Otodo Gbame and Itedo communities are two of the largest Informal fishing settlements in Lagos were demolished with an estimated population of 40,000 people displaced. These demolitions are continuing with an estimated 300,000 people across 40 waterfront communities on the Lagos lagoon in the process of losing their homes. COVID has interfered with this little bit, but it’s rushed up again.
[00:22:32] To protect Eko Atlantic, which is an island from the sea, developers have constructed a seawall which has been dubbed the Great Wall of Lagos. But while that wall protects this new city, it leaves neighboring areas mainly occupied by slums, even more vulnerable to rising sea levels. So it’s clear that the agents of gentrification then, globally are no longer the kind of left-liberal pioneer gentrifiers we think about when we think about the early days of gentrification. They’re much more likely to be the state with corporate capital or powerful local or international developers. And the impacts are the same globally. The displacement of low-income groups and state-led institutionalized social apartheid.
[00:23:16] And in this picture is one that I visited quite some years ago now in Istanbul. So in Istanbul, there have been similar processes of demolishing what they perceive to be slum areas in the very center of Istanbul are relocating those populations 40, 50 kilometers outside of Istanbul. And this is one of the — down on the bottom, there’s one of the settlements that they built to house the displacees. But of course, no facilities, there was barely any schooling, shops, certainly no jobs — too far to commute back to where people used to work. So what we’ve found now is that many of those displacees have left those new built developments outside the city and moved back and are actually camping, semi-homeless back in the slums they were displaced to. So some really strange and problematic stuff going on.
[00:24:06] Ironically, these large-scale urban renewal regeneration schemes can be supported by the very populations they dispossess. So the question of new forms of resistance to these state-led forms of gentrification in the Global South becomes quite interesting. The key question is, again, I’m going to draw from Schindler, he says, “Mainstream Marxian theory narrates how the proletariat became a class for itself in the context of being collectively alienated from means of production. But how do urban residents understand their place in the city, either individually or collectively, if they cannot realistically conceive of selling their labor power for a wage in an era of disconnected capital and labor? Are residents in 21st-century metropolises subjected by regimes urban transformation in ways that activate them to participate in the transformation of cities? Or does antagonism over access to urban space infrastructure, material flows, resources produce a collective consciousness the way that struggles on the shop floor once did? These are really important questions.
[00:25:19] Now, since we produced that book and other work that we’ve been doing on planetary gentrification, sometimes we call it global gentrification, plural. There’s been some global questions around this. So despite the fact that scholars have been discussing gentrification in post-socialist cities for some time now, it’s become fashionable of late for new scholars to question the applicability of the concept to post-socialist cities. And in many ways, they’re kind of following on from our questioning of gentrification in the Global South. It emerging more recently, a whole set of debates. And I think this works quite interesting, it’s kind of just discussed very brief thing.
[00:25:59] So for example, Holm’s et al’s study of a new build gentrification in Leipzig found undeniable similarities with the spatial patterns in previous Western studies. But they pointed to quite different economic roots as well as specific social consequences. Polish scholars have been amongst those most skeptical of the presence of gentrification itself in their cities, and more recently, the utility of Western conceptualizations of gentrification for Polish cities — and by Western, I guess, kind of Western European. But the consensus now seems to be, and is beginning to emerge, is that gentrification processes have occurred or are occurring in Polish cities, but in a different way and less intensively than in Western cities.
[00:26:48] More recently, others have asked what Western theories might learn from specificities of gentrification in non-Western, in this case, for example, post-socialist contexts. So the Bucharest sociologist Liviu Chelcea has lectured recently that using the concept of gentrification has the potential to expand the public agenda with conversations about affordable housing, uneven development and structural violence in urban Eastern Europe. He’s talked about the linkages between housing restitution in post-socialist cities, evictions and gentrification. The planetary elsewhere that Kiev, as Gentile has called it, interestingly, was one of the few cities not to experience gentrification for a whole host of reasons, including anti-speculation, taxes. But of course, with the Ukraine war at the moment. Who knows what’s going to happen with that.
[00:27:46] So other thoughts on planetary gentrification. So Julie Ren is one of my favorite emerging scholars, concludes that it’s impossible to weigh up gentrification instrumental values against the need to develop global urban theory. To some degree, it’s become more important than, I think, to consider the timing and the speed of gentrification. London, which I’ll discuss briefly in a minute, has undergone processes of gentrification for some time now, and it could be seen as hyper-gentrified. By way of contrast, German geographer Helbrecht talks about recent rapid gentrification of Berlin. And gentrification processes in Polish cities have been much more slow. They’ve been less intense than in Western cities. The impacts, however, are clear the displacement and disenfranchisement of low-income groups in favor of wealthier in-movers in select places and spaces.
[00:28:41] So I’m just going to turn now quickly to looking at remaking cities in northern metropolises. What kind of social and urban apartheid that’s played out there. In the Global North gentrification today, as we all know, pushes lower-income groups out of the city. This has been happening in London, where I’ve just been living for the last 25 years. But it’s also forces low-income groups to live cheek by jowl with high-income groups. And I briefly want to kind of just point to and discuss both forms of social apartheid here.
[00:29:12] So first, London. So London, although we don’t know at the moment with the collapse of the pound and very insane government. But London for some time has been hyper-gentrifying. Council estates or public housing projects, as you guys call them, have long been the last protections against the total gentrification of London for low-income groups. But they’re now under attack. They are in fact the latest battlefields and they are the locations that I’ve been working on for the last ten years. And mixed communities — socially, mixing these communities with wealthier residents has become a policy goal. And it would be interesting to see now what various crackdowns due to the Ukraine war on oligarch money and other stuff does in terms of lots of stuff that’s been going on in London speculation, money laundering, overseas investment, etc.
[00:30:03] But just pretend that this is six months ago. This is what was going on in London. It’s a bit impossible to say right now. So since 1997, over 54,000 units have either been demolished or slated for demolition on council estates, big public housing projects of more than 100 units in London. So a conservative estimate is that over 135,000 council tenants and leaseholders have been or in process have been displaced. So a significant population. Estimates and media reports kind of talked about the 50,000 number. This is a substantial climb. And you can see from the map down the left there, an activist group I work with called Concrete Action, you know, these kind of regeneration schemes all over London. They’re kind of dotted all over the city.
[00:30:55] So there is large-scale displacement of the working class, poor, low-income groups out of London. And the Heygate estate, which is in Southwark, in London, has become symbolic of the gentrification of council estates by capital. When the HeyGate estate was slated for regeneration as a new mixed-income community in the late 1990s, it was home to 3000 people who were very settled and very happy to live there. It was a structurally sound estate. The estate now was being totally demolished. The new build development that replaced it has been called Elephant Park. So it’s been branded Elephant Park because it’s in the Elephant Castle area of London.
[00:31:38] But what’s significant here is all of those units were sold off plan in East Asia. So, what we see on the right there at the time, the kind of advertising went into this. Over 3000 people were displaced and it’s now become the symbol of gentrification in London in many ways. And you can see from the work that we did on displacement, there’s two different kinds of displacement. So the Council of State tenants themselves, some of which managed to get into council properties elsewhere, but not everybody, they were all displaced out of the neighborhoods, some into adjacent boroughs. If you look at figure two, it looks at leaseholders of those who don’t [inaudible] their properties on the Heygate estate which they purchased the right to buy, none of them could live anywhere nearby because the property values in London are so high and what they got for their properties was so low. So they were all displaced way out into Greater London and many of them out of the city altogether.
[00:32:36] So serious and significant displacement. And this is the first kind of displacement maps that had ever really been done like this in London. So what were the impacts of this? Well, the social impacts, destruction of family networks, family support, economics — the homeowners lost the investment in their right to buy property. People lost their jobs. It was too far to commute. There were cultural impacts, community support networks, broken and loss of sense of place, health, mental and physical health issues. The number of people who are at least five people I know who committed suicide on the back of this. The public health impacts of this was significant.
[00:33:16] Schooling — many of the children either had to move school or travel very long distances to stay at the same school, which of course creates all sorts of problems. And behind the numbers and maps, there are horror stories, and this is just one I did. So this interviewee said, “from the very first day that the demolition was announced, the social bond was affected because people knew that ultimately there wouldn’t be part of the same community. I’ve got a friend of mine who’s ended up moving into a home somewhere just outside Sidcup in Kent, he’s probably in his late fifties. He’s lived here all his life. He’s got people who see him on a daily basis. His family lives in the area. He’s now living there, isolated, just outside Sidcup, having broken all of his family ties. He’s now suffering from severe depression. I think that’s symptomatic of a lot of people. I mean, the number of people I’ve heard who died during this process, I have no way of keeping track of this. But for me, it’s genocide.” And this was just one of many interviews like this.
[00:34:16] But for those few council tenants who do get to move back — and they didn’t on Heygate, but on some estates they do. So those council tenants who do get to move back onto their supposedly regenerated estate, the council estates got and there’s a new build community in its place. And what’s really interesting is the day-to-day realities of social apartheid in these new gentrified mixed communities. And it’s rarely discussed. It’s a form of social tectonics where different social groups are kind of rubbing up against each other but not really interacting.
[00:34:49] So Islington, for example, where I live and I guess still part live in London, is a representative case of a mixed neighborhood that increases inequality, enhances school segregation, and constrains housing careers within the neighborhood, resulting in a capital outflow to peripheral outer London neighborhoods. Mixing between private and social housing residents appears to be one of distant observation rather than shared investment of social capital. So the social mixing that the policy aspires to doesn’t actually happen. People have nothing in common, they just rub up against each other and this causes real problems for community.
[00:35:28] In an interview that we did on some of these developments along the Thames, which Davidson once said, “The biggest thing I’ve seen in terms of benefit is the young girls getting jobs working at the hotel…” And this is the hotel that was in the new mixed-income development, “…you know, as maids. So it has given work, but saying that they’ll never be able to live there when they get a bit older, they will have to leave. You certainly won’t have a vibrant community where we all knew each other.” I think that’s really quite telling.
[00:35:57] So some of these new supposedly mixed developments replacing these council estates of public housing projects are ones like, for example, this one here, the Strata Tower. Some tenants who were displaced from Heygate Estate were offered accommodation in the Strata Tower. Floors 2 to 10 in this tower are supposedly affordable housing by housing associations. They are not council, housing or housing association with slightly more expensive, but not much. All the floors above floor ten are private owner -ccupiers or tenants. And despite the housing policy stating that housing should not reinforce social distinctions, social distinctions have been reinforced because the housing association and private residents have separate lives. So in fact, it’s been built as a fabric. They don’t even meet at all. So social mixing cannot happen. So the working class and the middle class is mixed. They have separate life worlds continuing the social segregation that mixed communities policy was supposed to break down.
[00:37:00] So just to finish off — what’s the likely future of country gentrification? So during COVID, gentrification pressures moved into suburbs and smaller cities. But I think in many ways there was evidence that this was beginning to happen anyway before COVID, the result of unaffordability in urban areas and other factors. But gentrification also continued in inner cities, and I think people forget that. In 2020, with the global pandemic and the onset of national and indeed global economic recession, the media also began to move to the possibility of degentrification. And it’s interesting, they do this every so often, and they do every time there’s a recession, which is ironic because actually it’s recessions that trigger new gentrification processes. But there’s actually limited evidence to date on this. And as Derek Hyra works at American University, and I’ve argued in a recent book, chapter, gentrification, like capitalism, will no doubt continue more closely connected to processes of financialization than ever before. So I think the impacts of COVID aren’t over yet.
[00:38:07] Indeed, I would say that financialization is a key driver. Financialization in relation to gentrification involves the integration of property in financial markets through restructuring of the real estate sector with input from urban policy. It makes property more attractive to investors seeking more liquid, less fixed investments. The restructuring of real estate mortgage industry in the US in recent decades is one example of this state financialization that expanded an urban market with commercial housing exposed by great risk. And as we know, this ultimately resulted in creation of new inequalities and was also problematic.
[00:38:49] So I began the suit with a quote from Richard Florida in 2008, now one from 2021. This is what he’s now, he’s kind of more recently saying, he says, “The pandemic has worsened, the crisis of rampant gentrification, high living costs and class and racial divisions.” I don’t always agree with Richard Florida, but I think I probably do agree with that.
[00:39:14] So Derek Hyra, for example, has discussed new investors’ desires to buy low and sell high in certain minority rental markets as something that could trigger a second wave gentrification in the U.S. taking place disproportionately in southern US cities like Atlanta, Memphis, Birmingham, Boston. So I think it’s interesting. I’ll be thinking about Global North, Global South, but you can think about northern cities in the US versus more Southern cities and how you could do comparative work as well.
[00:39:43] And what about the impacts of the new energy crises that we’re confronted with now? Certainly in the U.K., this has become a big issue in Europe. Of course, the oil shocks of 1973 and 1979 correlated with first-wave gentrification in the US. Commuting costs spiral due to the combined effects of inflation, recession, high-interest rates. And this called into question the survival of the American dream, suburban living, and fostered the Back to the City movement to the US. But there’s now a new energy crisis. As oil and gas prices soar, result of the war in Ukraine and other things, that’s escalating cost of living. Off the back of this crisis, there could well be new forms of disaster gentrification, where investors find new opportunities off the back of the crisis. Capital could buy vulnerable businesses, buildings and homes on the cheap and package and resell them to those wanting to move back to or into the city as an investment.
[00:40:39] Like in the oil crisis of the 1970s, the value of spatial capital for individuals and families may rise again. Living in the inner city might become more attractive yet again, particularly for those who, for financial or other reasons, want to avoid commuting. If interested in this definition of spatial capital in relation to other forms of capital like social and economic capital, I had an interesting paper with Rerat looking at this in Swiss cities back in 2011, but I think this notion of spatial capital fits well with continued gentrification arguments to combat environmental problems and regulate urban sprawl. Policymakers have been urging populations to live in high-density, compact cities in which mobility practices will become more localized and less automobile dependent. So how this plays out against what some people are calling Zoom-ification, you know, people moving out of cities because they can just zoom into meetings like this or live anywhere is up in the air. So I think potentially a really interesting project.
[00:41:42] So last slide. The fight against the institutionalized apartheid that comes after gentrification is causing and escalating is not easy, but it’s important and it’s urgent. Inclusive growth can only be achieved by rejecting this apartheid global city model. UN-HABITAT in 2010 said that cities must prevent social segregation, gentrification, social apartheid, as well as the increasing ghettoization of urban spaces that’s becoming widespread across the world. I agree, but I think there’s a lot to be done. Thank you.
Julian Agyeman: [00:42:17] Well, thank you so much, Loretta. So I realize I need to do a lot more reading of your later work. Fantastic. And I love new terms and my term of the day: Social tectonics. Folks, do we love the term social tectonics?
Loretta Lees: [00:42:35] A very geographical term.
[00:42:36] Very geographical. Loretta, thank you for that. So we got a whole bunch of questions. First, why do you use the term — you’ve kind of talked about this, but I think the questioner wants a bit more depth — why do you use the term planetary gentrification instead of global gentrification?
Loretta Lees: [00:42:54] Yes, it’s really important one. And lots of people have kind of joked to me, Oh, it’s just another moniker that you’re using to brand a new book, because the book, Planetary Gentrification, came out in a new series by Polity Press Cambridge on Urban Futures. So we did want to have this more futuristic kind of sense of what’s happening in cities. So that was one of the reasons. But I think Global is a term that felt more restricted and it’s a term that’s constantly mobilized over and over again. Planetary has a different stance to it. So if you look at the kind of emerging literature on planetary urbanization from Neil Brenner’s work and other people’s, we kind of wanted to indicate that we were sitting with that work, but also being a little bit critical of it and trying to move it in a more postcolonial way, I suppose. So that’s the best way I can answer.
Julian Agyeman: [00:43:45] Great, thanks. It feels like this demand slash gentrification is tightly tied to rising inequality. If there were fewer wealthy people, this demand would be less?
Loretta Lees: [00:43:57] That’s a complex one, because if you look back to the kind of roots of postwar gentrification in Anglo America, it was the less wealthy people who actually led processes of gentrification. Pioneer gentrifiers were educators, they had lots of social and cultural capital, but they weren’t very wealthy. And it’s one of the reasons they moved into central cities because it was cheap, you know, they could get quite downhill properties much more cheaply than they could in the suburbs. So I think that I think there’s no answer to that. It’s quite a complex one. And again, you know, at the end of the day here, it’s so connected to global capitalism and kind of flows of capitalism — the kind of class politics that are caught up in that. And it’s also, those class politics and those forms of class consciousness are very different in different parts of the world. So what it means to be poor in the US or the UK is very different to what it might mean to be poor in Nigeria, although at one level at the same time that’s coming closer, weirdly.
Julian Agyeman: [00:45:01] Thank you for that. Amidst state-led gentrification schemes, what do you make of private sector, often community-based non-profits, efforts to reclaim urban space for people over profit? E.g. community land, trust movement and other models. Alternatively, to meet the scale of the displacement crisis, is state power ultimately needed?
Loretta Lees: [00:45:22] That’s a really important question. So, most of my recent work now is very much focused on alternatives — and community land trust is one of those. And I know a really interesting one in East Boston that I just saw last week that I guess lots of people around the table here may have been involved in this kind of new kind of mixed-income community land trust. But I’ve been doing quite a bit of work in London on trying to push those kinds of models, because in many ways the only solution to gentrification is to remove things out of that capitalistic kind of property market. And the only way you can do that is to take it out of the system. And that’s what a community land trust does.
[00:46:01] Community land trusts are different in different countries. There are different models. It’s not a singular thing. One of the problems is that at the moment they’re all relatively small, so they need to be scaled up. And for the last two years I worked as chair of the London Housing Panel and I was working with the mayor of London and Trust for London. And one of the things we were trying to push forward was ideas about trying to elevate the size, scale, funding, etc. that would put community land trusts on the table to kind of stand against these big developers. So, for example, big development companies like Lendlease, big international developer that the Heygate Estate, we’ve been able to say, Right, can we redo the Heygate estate as a community land trust? Where can we get the funding to? So it’s a solution and it’s a good one, but it needs to be scaled up. But I think this is kind of where the critical work is starting at the moment. We know what gentrification is. There’s been lots of critiques of it, but what can we do about it?
Julian Agyeman: [00:47:03] Right. I’m going to take moderator prerogative here and ask you a question because you are the consummate activist-academic, Loretta. What are the challenges and opportunities in being an activist-academic?
Loretta Lees: [00:47:16] Yeah, it’s very interesting because I’ve written — and I’m actually giving a keynote on Friday at the Housing Studies Association Conference on this. And I’ve written a couple of things recently reflecting back on this. It’s actually really difficult because of course, certainly in the UK and a little bit in the US, it’s become really trendy now to be an activist scholar, you know, kind of dressed in black and you’re out in communities and you’re doing this, you’re having impact. But I think there’s been less discussion of the ethics of this and the complexities that are crossing the academic, nonacademic border. Because in academia I have a salary, I have a home, I have privileges that people in communities don’t always have. Some do, some don’t. And I think there needs to be a much bigger discussion about those relationships.
[00:48:04] Are those relationships short-term? Who’s getting what on both sides? And I think these are the kind of discussions that I think I’m also beginning to prod open. And they can be quite problematic discussions because we have to really think about our own personal politics and our own careers. But certainly my own work, I’ve worked with the same communities for a very long time, so I see it as longitudinal. I don’t see this as I’m going into this community to do A, B, C, and D, and I’m not going into it — I’m invited into it. And it’s establishing long-term relationships where there’s respect on both sides. Complex question.
Julian Agyeman: [00:48:41] Great, thank you. Have you come across proven strategies or tactics for working-class people at risk of being displaced to defend their homes and prevent their forced movement.
Loretta Lees: [00:48:51] Yeah, I mean, there are so many different examples of that and as well as alternatives to gentrification, I think that’s the other literature that’s beginning to grow. So for example, in London, I’ve been involved in three public inquiries where we actually use the legal mechanism of the public inquiry to fight back. I was involved in Heygate estate, but we lost. That was the first one. And then there’s an adjacent very large council estate called the Aylesbury estate, which is the largest public housing estate in Europe. And we actually have a precedent-setting win. And we utilized stuff off the back of kind of UN human rights, EU equalities legislation to argue that there was a disproportional impact on low-income and ethnic minority people.
[00:49:36] But of course there’s lots of different ways of resisting from going on a march, doing something more legal. The resistance practices are really complex and some of the work I’ve been interested in more recently is around survivability. So people who are in like a heavily militarized neighborhood in Istanbul that’s being confronted by gentrification, but the Istanbul state has got tanks and stuff going through there and threatening you. Being an anti-gentrification activist is really problematic. So it has to be underground, stuff has to be more covert and you’ve also got to be able to survive as a low-income person. You’ve got to be able to feed your kids, get on with your life.
Julian Agyeman: [00:50:14] Great, thank you. So we’ve got sort of linked questions here from two faculty members. Have you followed the Right to the City global movement? Here in Massachusetts, there’s a vibrant sector of community organizing groups that are part of the US Right to the City Alliance, fighting displacement, gentrification. That’s more of a statement. And then expanding on this comment about the Rights of the City global movement, it would be interesting to relate your insights to conceptualizing the variety of community resistances and anti-displacement activism in terms of the repertoire of practices and their impacts.
Loretta Lees: [00:50:48] Yeah, I mean, obviously I follow Right to the City — if you look at the kind of Marxist work in urban studies, it’s all hinged in some way on that kind of notion of right to the city. One thing that was really interesting in the Aylesbury public inquiry was how we articulated the right to community as opposed to the right to the city, because the right to the city just wouldn’t have worked in that circumstance. So I think sometimes you need to think about that scale of right to the city and how it translates legally and how you can have wins with something quite particular. And we did have a precedent-setting around right community. If we’d argued that larger right to the city, I don’t think we could have gotten that.
[00:51:32] So I think there’s some complexities, but I think one thing that’s becoming increasingly clear, I’m going to talk about this at the conference on Friday, is that we need to be much more intersectional. So people from different political backgrounds, different persuasions need to be coming together to fight this. There’s too many different groups doing different stuff in different ways. And again, some of them rubbing up against each other and kind of pissing each other off. We do need to be at some level coming together to achieve on this.
Julian Agyeman: [00:52:01] I’m not sure whether you’ve heard this quote from the great geographer David Harvey, but it was at the American Association of Geographers in Boston, I think it was 2017. And he said, We’re building cities for people to invest in, not to live in. What do you think of that comment?
Loretta Lees: [00:52:17] I mean, that goes back to the sections of quotes that I pulled up on the screen there. I think very much kind of indicate this, that, you know, people who govern cities, policymakers, it used to be about improving quality of life for people living in cities. Now it seems to be setting the ground for investors and there seems to be some kind of skew now that the only way that cities have a future is if we can attract all this investment in and that somehow it will then trickle down and do the quality of life stuff that actually should be the center of all this work.
Julian Agyeman: [00:52:51] Okay. Well, Loretta, we are fast approaching time. Can we give Loretta a great UEP and community cheer?
Loretta Lees: [00:53:00] Thank you. Thank you, guys. Great questions.
Julian Agyeman: [00:53:04] Thanks again, Loretta. Our next colloquium is on November the second, where Assistant Professor Rashad Williams of the University of Pittsburgh will present on “Three Models of Reparative Planning: A Comparative Analysis.” Thanks very much. And again, Loretta, thank you so much, and good luck with your future at B.U.. Great to have more English accents over here, as I’m sure all of the participants here will agree. Thanks. And we’ll see you on November the second.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:53:41] We hope you enjoyed this week’s lecture. You can access the video, transcript, and graphic recordings of Loretta Lees’s presentation on shareable.net. There’s a direct link in the show notes. As Julian mentioned, our next live online event is Wednesday, November 2nd, when we’ll feature Richard Williams’s lecture: Three Models of Reparative Planning: A Comparative Analysis.” Please click the link in the episode notes to register for a Free ticket. If you can’t be there next week, you could always find the recording right here on the podcast.
[00:54:11] Cities@Tufts Lectures is produced by Tufts University and Sharable with support from the Kresge, Barr, and Shift Foundations. Lectures are moderated by Professor Julian Agyeman and organized in partnership with research assistants Caitlin McLennan and Deandra Boyle. “Light Without Dark” by Cultivate Beats is our theme song, Robert Raymond is our audio editor, Zanetta Jones manages communications, Alison Huff manages operations, Anke Dregnet illustrated the graphic recording, Caitlin MacLennan created the original portrait, and the series is produced and hosted by me, Tom Llewellyn. Please hit subscribe, leave a rating or review wherever you get your podcasts and share it with others so this knowledge can reach people outside of our collective bubbles. That’s it for this week’s show. Here’s a final thought:
Loretta Lees: [00:54:56] So gentrification, we argue, is a phenomenon that cities worldwide have experienced, but it is not totally new in the 21st century to the Global South, like some people have proclaimed. And gentrification has been and is being experienced through quite different types of urban restructuring.