Law, pliability and differential rights to the city: legal geographies of resistance at the gentrification frontier

Authors: Philip Hubbard*, King's College London
Topics: Legal Geography, Urban Geography, Social Geography
Keywords: legal geography, right to the city, urban geography, gentrification, housing, resistance
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Calvert Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Though informed by notions of social, spatial and environmental justice, planning law aspires to provide landowners with certainty and clarity by establishing clear distinctions between public and private to guarantee rights to development. Yet this aspiration is sorely-tested in the context of the heterogeneous, messy life of cities, with the law becoming pliable as it responds to local contingencies. This means that urban legal geography requires consideration of law in action: i.e. analysis not of law in general - as if it exists as a single entity - but study of the way that laws are enacted differently in different jurisdictions, sometimes clashing with laws at other scales. Recognising law as a realm of competing interests, ideologies, and capacities, this paper explores how this constructs differential or even contradictory rights to the city. It does this in relation to the legal processes enabling private developers and corporations to push the gentrification frontier into new neighborhoods through tactics of dispossession and land grab. Noting that legal mechanisms of eviction and compulsory purchase are central to accumulation by dispossession, the paper nonetheless emphasises instances where legal concepts such as community, amenity, access and property have been deployed to align state and institutional power with what Delaney (2016) terms ‘vectors of justice’. In doing so, it underlines the significance of legal geography in understanding the social and cultural geographies of gentrification, and highlights the role of the law in closing down – as well as opening up – spaces to the gentrifying class.

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