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Did you say gentrification policies?

Anne Clerval et Mathieu Van Criekingen

In the international literature on gentrification, “the idea that the state plays a crucial role in the promotion or the impediment of neighbourhood upgrading has today become a commonly understood fact” (Bernt, 2012, p. 3045). However, many questions remain open about the relationships between gentrification, public policy and urban politics. Understanding these relationships raise a major difficulty from the outset: how indeed can public policies that never display gentrification intentions (exceptions aside), or even explicitly deny such intentions, be understood in terms of gentrification? As Chabrol et al. (2016, p. 169) point out, “[i]f we stick to what public actors say, it seems difficult to talk about ‘political strategies of gentrification’ in the three cities considered [namely Grenoble, Lisbon and Barcelona]” (our translation). Their work rather turns therefore to analyse the effects of various public policies or projects through gentrification lenses, hence exploring socio-demographic, commercial or symbolic changes in diverse places affected by these policy interventions (see also e.g., Kim & Wu, 2021). On this basis, these authors conclude that “many urban policies, carried out at different times, contribute to the emergence of gentrification processes, without this objective being explicitly assumed [by public actors]” (ibidem, p. 189) (our translation).

While this approach has several merits, it appears less heuristic to understand how gentrification logics are embedded in urban policy-making, regarding the definition of the categories of places, people or activities targeted by public policies or the selection of policy instruments are considered for instance (see e.g., Colomb, 2006; Clerval & Fleury, 2009; Rousseau, 2010; Miot, 2013; Van Criekingen, 2013). In this sense, the main objective of this special issue of Métropoles is to further explore the often-implicit relations between public policies and gentrification – hence even in the absence of explicit gentrification intentions in public actors’ discourses – by questioning the category of ‘gentrification policies’. In a similar approach, Lees, Shin & López-Morales (2016, p. 114) speak of “gentrification policies without that name.” Put another way, this special issue aims at going beyond approaches considering gentrification as a potential effect of diverse urban policies, by developing an understanding of gentrification as an option of urban policies per se.

From state-led gentrification to gentrification policies

Urban geographers and sociologists have very early on emphasized the role played by public policies in the initiation, support or acceleration of gentrification processes (e.g., N. Smith 1979; Zukin, 1982; A. Smith, 1989). Nevertheless, the conception of gentrification logics embedded in public policies did not fully emerge before the early 2000s (Hackworth & Smith, 2001), in a context of a growing scholarly attention to the neoliberalization of urban policy (Brenner & Theodore, 2002; Pinson, 2020). An important milestone was set then by Neil Smith, who formulated the thesis of the generalization of gentrification as a political solution to several urban ‘problems’ (e.g., spatial concentration of precarious or racialized populations, lack of metropolitan attractiveness, feeling of insecurity...) (Smith, 1996; 2002; see also Albet & Benach, 2017). This thesis has paved the way for the analysis of gentrification as an urban strategy in an increasingly diverse set of urban contexts (Aalbers, 2019).

Nowadays, many contributions to the gentrification literature refer to the notion of ‘state-led gentrification’ to document how gentrification processes are instrumentalised or institutionalised in various public policy arrangements (see e.g., La Grange & Pretorius, 2016; Yetiskul & Demirel, 2018; Mösgen et al., 2019; Shmaryahu-Yeshurun & Ben-Porat, 2020). López-Morales (2019) defines this notion as “a form of gentrification planned, commanded, or promoted by state agencies at national, regional, metropolitan, or municipal level, as part of either a nationwide or local level restructuring agenda, aimed at generating specific urban and land conditions for gentrification to occur”. Thus defined, the notion of state-led gentrification is very helpful to stress processes that are actively supported by public policy, in multiple possible ways and socio-spatial contexts. It appears less suitable, however, to approach gentrification as a specific category of urban policy.

Accordingly, the objective of this special issue is to bring together contributions interested in the production of public policies directed to the creation of the conditions – material, legal or symbolic – that make gentrification possible in particular local contexts. We propose in this sense to discuss the notion of gentrification policies as a category of urban policy – in the same way that a previous issue of Métropoles did for the category of ‘populating policies’ (‘politiques de peuplement’) (Desage, Morel Journel & Sala Pala, 2013).

Research directions

For this special issue, we welcome contributions that put to test the category of gentrification policy, in various urban contexts. Several entries could be considered for this purpose.


Which public actors are instrumental in gentrification policies? Who designs, builds or operates them, and how? Which private actors (corporate, financial or real estate actors, foundations, associations, citizens groups...) are involved alongside public ones in the elaboration or implementation of these policies? Beyond the identification of the actors involved, the point is to shed light on the governance of gentrification policies. Are these policies established as fully-thought or well-planned strategies, or are they rather built and governed through practice, as particular opportunities or circumstances arise? Are they systematically based on the constitution of specific "growth coalitions" (Rousseau, 2010)? In what ways is the definition of gentrification policies at the local scale influenced by circulating urban models, exemplary cases or ‘good practice’ schemes?

This entry is also for contributions analysing the genealogy of gentrification policies in specific urban contexts. How are such policies locally constructed through time, and with what degree of durability or instability?

Similarly, contributions could also interrogate the electoral underpinnings of gentrification policies. What links can be identified between local voting patterns and the elaboration, development or withdrawal of gentrification policies?

Modes of public action

What are the instruments and fields of public action concerned by gentrification policies? Several studies have emphasised the often-decisive nature of interventions in land regulations (revisions of zoning plans, lifting of planning constraints, expropriations, etc.) (Charnock et al., 2014). Others have stressed the role of urban renewal programmes (La Grange & Pretorius, 2016) or major cultural projects or events (Vicario & Martinez Monje, 2003; Watt, 2013). Still others have highlighted the influence of tourism policies (López-Gay et al., 2021) or of the increasingly financialised character of urban policy-making (Weber, 2010; Guironnet, et al., 2016). In the same way, contributions could examine the role of environmental policies (greening of public spaces, sponsoring of urban agriculture initiatives...), temporary occupations programmes of disused sites, public spaces redevelopment schemes (pedestrianisation, planning of cycling facilities, etc.), heritage policies or programmes combining planning and police interventions. In a more transversal way, contributions could also focus on the ways through which different public policy domains (housing, commerce, environment, heritage, culture, tourism...) are locally adjusted – or misadjusted – to gentrification objectives.

This entry also aims at exploring gentrification policies rationales. What urban transformations are precisely sought, and with what effects in view? Do these policy rationales rely on the displacement of (part of) the incumbent populations or activities, or do they rather rely on some sort of in situ ‘adaptation’ of the latter (see e.g., Paton, 2014)? What links or intersections are there between gentrification policies and ‘populating policies’ (‘politiques de peuplement’) (Desage, Morel Journel and Sala Pala, 2013) or ‘metropolitanisation policies’ (‘politiques de métropolisation’) (Collectif Degeyter, 2017)?

This entry focuses also on the analyses of public actors’ discourses. What themes, models or watchwords are mobilised to symbolically inscribe gentrification policies in the field of ‘public utility’? Several studies have already highlighted the recurring influence of discourses of social mix (Tissot, 2011; Bridge, Butler & Lees, 2012) and sustainable urban development (Checker, 2011), while others have explored the role of campaigns directed at mitigating territorial stigmas (Kallin & Slater, 2014). In the same vein, the point here is to further explore how gentrification is rhetorically constituted as a policy ‘solution’ in public discourses as well as in more discreet ones (preparatory documents, minutes of meetings...).


While some spaces appear as ‘easy targets’ for gentrification, because of their location or the characteristics of their built environment for instance, others are much less spontaneously attractive, especially in the absence of interventions that could limit the investors’ risks. Public action is decisive in this respect, when and where it helps lowering existing material, regulatory or symbolic barriers which makie some spaces hardly ‘gentrifiable’ (see e.g., Hackworth, 2006; Loopmans, 2008; Mösgen, Rosol & Schipper, 2019). Accordingly, this entry is for contributions exploring the spatial dimensions of gentrification policies: which spaces are established as ‘priority zones’ for gentrification policies, how, when and by whom?

We also welcome here contributions seeking to point out and interrogate, in a comparative perspective, the differences and similarities between gentrification policies carried out in diverse urban settings : global cities, regional capitals, middle-sized or small-sized cities, on the one hand, urban growth or urban shrinkage contexts, on the other hand. How do the typologies of priority zones targeted by gentrification policies or the categories of populations and activities targeted by these policies vary from one urban context to another?

Failures and oppositions

Producing the material, legal or symbolic conditions that make gentrification possible at the local scale does not necessarily imply that these opportunities will effectively be seized. Put shortly, gentrification policies may not be working. This entry therefore invites contributions to analyse the failures of gentrification policies. Why do some gentrification policies fail to produce their anticipated effects? How divergences or rivalries amongst public actors could hinder the construction or implementation of gentrification policies?

In parallel, contributions could focus on oppositions to gentrification policies. What collective mobilisations do such policies raise, on what basis and with what outcomes? Or, on the other hand, why such mobilisations do not crystalise, despite established evidence on the adverse consequences of gentrification for large segments of urban dwellers?

Coordination of the theme issue

This call welcomes contributions from different disciplinary backgrounds within the field of social sciences interested in the spatial dimension of societies. There is no geographical limitation as far as location of case studies are concerned.

Texts should be between 8,000 and 10,000 words, including notes and bibliography. Each article must be accompanied by an abstract and keywords and conform to Métropoles presentation standards – see

Only complete articles will be considered. However, authors wondering about the admissibility of their work may contact the coordinators of the issue for advice. Please do not hesitate to contact us.

Articles can be submitted until 15 November 2021, in electronic version by e-mail to the following two addresses: and


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Albet A., Benach N. (2017). Gentrification as a Global Strategy: Neil Smith and Beyond, Routledge, London.

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Vicario L., Martinez Monje P.M. (2003). « Another “Guggenheim Effect”? The Generation of a Potentially Gentrifiable Neighbourhood in Bilbao », Urban Studies, 40, 12, p. 23832400.

Watt P. (2013). « ‘It’s not for us’. Regeneration, the 2012 Olympics and the gentrification of East London », City, 17, 1, p. 99118.

Weber R. (2010). « Selling City Futures: The Financialization of Urban Redevelopment Policy », Economic Geography, 86, 3, p. 251-274

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