Last month, two articles that had been in the making for a while (welcome to the world of academic publishing) finally came out in the journal CITY. I authored one of them by myself, an opinion piece that constitutes my final two cents on the entire postcolonial urbanism debate in the context of gentrification and rent gaps. A friend has likened it to me putting a chainsaw to some of the postcolonial critique, so do read it if you enjoy polemics! The other article was co-authored with the formidable Dr. Mona Fawaz and Daria El Samad, and discusses the relationship between gentrification and property using the case study of the Mar Mikhael quarter in Beirut.
The co-authored piece is titled “A property framework for understanding gentrification. Ownership patterns and the transformations of Mar Mikhael, Beirut” and has free e-prints available here. If these run out (only 50 are provided), contact me via email or Twitter to request a copy.
Below are the abstracts of both papers:
Gentrification and the creation and formation of rent gaps
This contribution intervenes in the debate about gentrification theory’s applicability to contexts outside the Global North, specifically responding to the work of [Ghertner, D. Asher. 2014. ‘India’s Urban Revolution: Geographies of Displacement beyond Gentrification.’ Environment and Planning A 46 (7): 1554–1571; Ghertner, D. Asher. 2015. ‘Why Gentrification Theory Fails in “Much of the World”.’ City 19 (4): 552–563]. It aims to show that, contrary to Ghertner’s claims, gentrification theory is well equipped to analyze and understand the many different factors and forces that are involved in processes of urbanization and urban change across the globe. However, in order for the theory to be able to properly grasp these, I propose that we distinguish between two distinct processes involved in gentrification: (1) the creation and formation of rent gaps, making very relevant the state violence and legal/regulatory changes that accompany the enclosures and accumulation by dispossession that Ghertner says gentrification theory renders ‘unthinkable’, as well as other forces such as informality and conflict, and (2) these rent gaps’ subsequent closure (including property development), because the existence of a rent gap in and of itself is not a sufficient explanation of gentrification. Instead, whether areas with a rent gap gentrify is subject to numerous local specificities in the Global North and South alike. This distinction forces gentrification scholars to pay thorough attention to the political, cultural, social and economic factors that guide the creation and exploitation of rent gaps throughout the globe. To illustrate my arguments, I use examples from my work on the urban transformation of Beirut, Lebanon.
A property framework for understanding gentrification. Ownership patterns and the transformations of Mar Mikhael, Beirut
This paper explores the relationship between property and gentrification, building on a case study of the neighbourhood of Mar Mikhael (Beirut, Lebanon). First, we discuss the ways in which the distribution of property ownership shapes processes of displacement. We then investigate how property is made and reorganized through processes of gentrification, arguing that the mechanisms through which gentrification occurs in Mar Mikhael are intimately connected to the very logic in which land is conceptualized and managed as property through the ownership model. A dominant logic of managing the city as the sum of privately owned property lots dictates the necessity to streamline and clarify property titles, empowering developers who can forcibly acquire lots even when other property claimants are reluctant to sell. We further argue that a proper assessment of the role of property in gentrification processes can only be made in relation to the larger regulatory framework in which land is imagined and managed (e.g. as shelter, as asset), and that facilitates or limits gentrification by creating the financial incentives for developers to activate the legal property framework in different contexts. The logic of private ownership has dramatic effects on the ability of neighbourhood residents to resist gentrification, particularly because it imposes an individuated process of negotiation and a limited ceiling for what one can reclaim, ultimately precluding the possibility of claiming one’s right to the city both within and outside the property framework.