Very particular, or rather universal? Gentrification in London, Berlin and St. Petersburg

Authors: Matthias Bernt*, Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space (IRS)
Topics: Urban Geography, Social Theory
Keywords: Gentrification, Comparative Urbanism, Regeneration
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 2:00 PM / 3:40 PM
Room: Washington 5, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Over the last years, an increasing number of scholarly contributions have questioned the usefulness of the concept of gentrification for cases outside of the context in which the term has originally been developed.
The talk offers a new perspective on this debate and discusses how the dynamics and patterns of gentrification vary in different institutional contexts. I argue that gentrification is at the same time a universal phenomenon which reflects a number of general conditions set by capitalist land- and housing markets – and only made possible through essentially local institutional constellations. The outcome of this nexus is a seemingly paradoxical relationship of universality and particularity in the appearance of gentrification. I claim that a “commodification gap”, i.e. the disparity between the potential ground rent level which can be achieved for a piece of land when it is fully commodified and the actual ground rent capitalized under de-commodified or partly de-commodified conditions, builds the basis of this contradiction. Owed to variegation in history, i.e. the existence of different political traditions, struggles, alliances, compromises and other factors, it can, however operate in myriad forms, giving rise to a bewildering variety of actual gentrifications across contexts.
The paper unfolds this argument over three contrasting environments. It analyzes the course of urban upgrading in London-Barnsbury, in Prenzlauer Berg in East-Berlin as well as in the central city of St. Petersburg and argues that what is widely coined as “gentrification” is in fact an umbrella term for fairly disparate socio-spatial formations.

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