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Proptech imperialism and platform real estate: the case of Vieques, Puerto Rico

Authors: Ian Spangler*, UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY
Topics: Economic Geography, Cultural Geography, Tourism Geography
Keywords: platform capitalism, platform real estate, tourism, gentrification, colonialism, Puerto Rico
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In the years following Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico has increasingly become a site of investment for “proptech,” or platform real estate (e,g, Shaw 2018). Platform real estate companies, or digital firms that facilitate a real estate transaction between two parties, compose in part the “fifth wave of gentrification” led by transnational wealth and finance capital (Aalbers 2019). These developments have uniquely affected the small Puerto Rican island of Vieques, a vacation destination that was also the site of a US Naval Base between 1941 and 2003. Residents often see the STR industry as a contemporary manifestation of their colonial legacy: a tool of capital accumulation for mainland Americans that drives displacement for local Viequenses (Bayne and Dieppa 2019). While tax incentives like Act 22 and the Opportunity Zones program continue to attract such investment, local residents do not often reap the benefits. Drawing on the case of Vieques, this paper explores the entanglements of real estate and contemporary forms of US imperialism to suggest that the role of transnational finance capital under platform capitalism must be understood in terms of such local colonial histories.


Bayne, Martha and Isabel Sophia Dieppa. 2019. “Puerto Rico’s Vieques island ousted the US Navy. Now the fight’s against Airbnb.” Public Radio International.

Aalbers, Manuel. 2019. “Introduction to the forum: from third to fifth-wave gentrification.” Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie. 110(1), 1-11.

Shaw, Joe. 2018. “Platform Real Estate: theory and practice of new urban real estate markets.” Urban Geography, 1-28.

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