Capital City: Gentrification and the Real Estate State – Book Review

From LSE:

“The real estate industry is now worth $217 trillion, which is 36 times the value of all the gold in the world. What is more, it forms 60 per cent of global assets, and it is how one of the most powerful people on earth – US President Donald Trump – made his name. How, then, is the rise of the real estate industry transforming our cities and urban life? In Capital City, Samuel Stein argues that the emergence of the ‘real estate state’ has brought with it vicious gentrification, concomitant displacement of working-class people and remade our cities as temples of luxury development, rendering global cities increasingly inaccessible to all but an elite few. For Stein, ‘gentrification has become a household word and displacement an everyday fact of life’ (5).

Gentrification is, of course, a well-trodden path of academic inquiry. There is an extensive collection of books, articles and journal special editions spanning decades dedicated to the topic. Without treading on familiar ground, however, Stein approaches the issue at hand through the lens of urban planning. A central contention throughout is that, to understand gentrification, we must understand the rising political influence of real estate interests within local and national governments. Similarly, we are reminded of how these interests are actualised in a paradigm driven both by the growth imperative of capitalist development and the neoliberal state – that is, through urban planning and urban planners themselves. Early on in the book Stein, a trained planner himself, tells us that:

“This book is about planners in cities run by real estate. It describes how real estate came to rule, and what planners do under these circumstances. Planners provide a window into the practical dynamics of urban change” (6)

We can see, then, that Capital City is about understanding the dynamic that emerges between planners and real estate interests within the capitalist mode of production. It follows, therefore, that we must unpack the nature of urban planning itself. Stein’s genealogy of urban planning reveals that whilst the practice of planning is as old as human settlement, the profession of planning is a more recent phenomenon – and one with a rather oppressive history. ‘Proto-planners’, as Stein notes, advanced the ‘murderous westward expansion’ of the US (15),  and planned and facilitated slavery through plantations and the systemic racial inequalities eminent from decades of ‘redlining’.”

Continue reading here.

Posted by at 9:22 AM

Labels: Global Housing Watch


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