Between democracy and hegemony: feelings of empowerment and powerlessness in gentrifying neighbourhoods

Authors: Cedric Goossens*, Ghent University, Stijn Oosterlynck*, University of Antwerp, Van Wymeersch Elisabet, University of Antwerp
Topics: Urban Geography, Political Geography, Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: gentrification, sense of place, politics, mobility
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/14/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Astor Ballroom III, Astor, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper is concerned with analysing the feelings of powerlessness and empowerment that are triggered by struggles over place and its meaning in gentrifying neighbourhoods. It focuses on ‘Living Streets’, a contentious participatory greening initiative in Ghent, Belgium. In this initiative residents make their street partially and temporarily car-free to create a place for greenery and social living. As such, for the city council, it actively contributes to the transition to a climate-neutral city and improved neighbourhood social cohesion. The initiative, however, has met with serious opposition, mostly from established residents with a migrant and/or working class background who feel increasingly ‘out of place’ in the neighbourhood and disempowered by the initiatives of progressive urban elites.

In this paper we apply a double perspective on the nature of the political to analyse expressions of (dis)content around neighbourhood change. From the perspective of deliberative democracy, the Living Streets initiative can be seen as the decolonization of the urban lifeworld from the instrumental rationality of the automobility system. By taking away the car from the street and giving residents the opportunity to decide themselves how to redesign the street, adherents of the Living Streets claim that it creates space for communicative action, thus empowering citizens. However, as the initiative unfolds, this space for communicative action is experienced as socially exclusionary by some of the established residents. They experience feelings of loss as gentrifying middle class residents succeed in imposing their view on the neighbourhood. This points towards politics as hegemonic action.

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