Learning from successful community-based actions against gentrification

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Imagine a city where residents of limited means could live in affordable social housing located in the city-center and peacefully enjoy their neighborhood for years to come.

This intervention may result from the collective engagement of citizens to resist the gentrification process that occurs in many city centers. Especially in a context of economic crisis, new urban development projects led by and attracting wealthy residents and businesses may be carried at the expense of selling public real estate and privatizing social housing. Consequently, the social structure of the neighborhood is likely to change towards more affluent people. As a response, (former) residents, especially from working-class or ethnic minority backgrounds, could initiate a resistance to displacement. Such resistance may grow bigger and become more visible, eventually reaching to other actors including community organizations as well as local public authorities.

In such an intervention, the role of public authorities is quite central because privatization in the housing sector is often closely related to governmental regulatory frameworks. Indeed, as national and local governments are running out of public money because of an economic crisis, they may have enforced a set of privatization policies in the sector of housing. Such austerity policies lead to the eviction of working-class dwellers and eventually, could launch resistance against it.

But what could be done to counter this detrimental process? To resist against the privatization of social housing and evictions, citizens could voice their right to “stay put” and engage in different actions including occupying housing. Opening the dialogue between resistance fighters and public actors may be central to the success of the intervention. For this purpose, the creation of a citizen platform voicing the claim of citizens to the municipality may be quite a handy tool. Indeed, it could raise awareness among local authorities on the detrimental impacts of privatization policies, and possibly lead to the creation of a set of new policies, including re-housing or the regularization of informal housing.

Although this public response would be welcomed, it may not equally benefit residents, depending on their wealth or social status (e.g. migrants), and as a consequence, create dissensus among them. Eventually, community resistance could be undermined. If governmental policies are not consistent i.e. do not equally protect endangered residents, they could reinforce the social problem initially addressed.

These governance arrangements between citizens and public actors against gentrification aims at being inspirational. The processes it features may be replicated in other urban settings in a similar context i.e. where the public sector is weakened by an economic crisis. Sharing and discussing these processes between community organizations as well as local and national governments from different countries may be quite effective to create some learning about effective tools for resisting gentrification.

Do you want to learn more about this scenario?

Take a look at the detailed description of Bottom-up resistance against gentrification in Rome that has inspired this scenario.

This scenario fits under the approaches:

  • Reconceptualising urban justice and sustainability. Alternative conceptual framings are a feature of many and diverse approaches to urban sustainability and/or justice, and in particular their intersections. Arguments in their favour range from the ethical to the instrumental: the moral right of all those living in cities to contribute to shaping their future, to the practical importance of diverse outlooks, ideas and capabilities in working towards sustainability and justice.
  • Right to housing. This approach indicates the right of all individuals to have access to adequate shelter.

It addresses some drivers of injustice:

  • Uneven and exclusionary urban intensification and regeneration. This driver refers to the ways in which new urban developments might force trade-offs between the social and environmental goals of urban sustainability projects. It involves public efforts to improve a neighbourhood’s physical structure and boost its economy by attracting investment, usually in the sectors of real estate and tourism.
  • Material and livelihood inequalities. This driver refers to the ways that the underlying distribution of economic resources gets expressed within urban sustainability efforts, reinforcing or exacerbating unjust outcomes.
  • Racialized or Ethnically Exclusionary Urbanization. This driver refers to the ways that historic patterns of segregation, based on race, ethnicity, religion or other identity characteristics, shape the outcomes of urban sustainability efforts.
  • Unquestioned Neoliberal growth and austerity urbanism. This driver refers to processes of privatization, commercialization, budget cuts and state withdrawal from various sectors and how they can undermine urban sustainability, guided by an ideology of unfettered economic growth which often aligns with austerity policies.
  • Exclusive access to the benefits of sustainability infrastructure. This driver refers to the ways in which territory, identity, education, knowledge, and information are used to draw lines, privileges, and hierarchies between social groups, and especially to how this leads to an uneven distribution of benefits from urban sustainability efforts.
  • Weak(ened) civil society . This driver refers to the ways in which collective civic groups that share common interests (other than the state, the market, or the family) are either not constituted and impactful enough to influence and benefit from sustainability efforts or are indeed constrained by interventions that carry sustainability objectives.