Philipp Katsinas reviews the workshop, Staying Put, that brought activists and scholars together at the University of Rome Tre, to discuss the theory and praxis of anti-gentrification in Southern Europe.
Staying Put! An Anti-Gentrification Toolkit for Southern Europe.
By Philipp Katsinas
What types of displacement are occurring in Southern European states? What forms of resistance have been developed and what are their achievements and limits? These crucial questions were the focus of important discussions at a workshop held at Roma Tre University in Italy in October this year. The workshop was organised by Dr. Sandra Annunziata and Professor Loretta Lees (both at University of Leicester) as the concluding event of a two-year Marie Curie Action Fellowship on “Gentrification Practices and Policies in Southern European Cities”.
The workshop brought together activists, scholars, collectives, and platforms from, and working on, different cities in Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece to engage collectively in the exploration of the potential and limits of anti-gentrification discourses and practices in facing the regimes of expulsion that characterise Southern European cities in the current period of austerity. The workshop included the excellent documentaries Real estate fiction by Left Hand Rotation using cinematic depictions of gentrification (Fig 2), walking tours in gentrifying neighbourhoods in Rome, a book presentation of Planetary Gentrification (Lees et al. 2016) by Loretta Lees in the social centre associated with the anti-gentrification Libera Repubblica di San Lorenzo (Free Republic of San Lorenzo), and several presentations that dealt with a broad set of issues around struggles against evictions and gentrification in Southern Europe. The collaborative atmosphere at the workshop fostered a set of substantive and engaging discussions, which allowed participants to reflect collec
tively on issues surrounding anti-eviction struggles. Rather than attempting to reflect upon the event as a whole, a nearly impossible task given the more than twenty contributions in total, I provide a selective overview of key issues raised.
Activist groups analysed their campaigns, illustrating the varied experience of evictions and struggles in different states and the potential for cross-border synergies. The PAH (Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca – platform for people affected by mortgages) in Spain presented their principles of assembly-ism, horizontalism, and non-party politics and analysed their direct actions of preventing law enforcement officers from carrying out evictions, their campaign of escraches putting pressure on politicians, and their popular legislative initiatives to change the law regarding evictions by collecting signatures. The Stop Auctions (Pleistiriasmoi stop) platform in Greece similarly provided an overview of the legislative changes during the last quinquennium of crisis and austerity and the continuation of these policies under the Syriza-led state government, while noticing the recent increase in anti-eviction activism mainly through the physical blockade of court proceedings.
In what followed, the connection between evictions and gentrification processes was at the core of discussions. The presentations focused on the dramatic effects of the economic crisis in Southern Europe, especially with the structural adjustment programs in Greece and Portugal, and the subsequent austerity imposed by the state and supranational institutions, which has exacerbated the effects of gentrification. The rise of the involvement of private equity firms in real estate markets, creating the conditions for the financialisation of housing, incurring massive rent hikes and the dispossession of existing residents, and the exploitation of rent gaps to accumulate wealth by dispossession, was addressed.
Several speakers focused on touristification and holiday rentals, especially Airbnb, in the historic centres of Lisbon (Rita Silva) and Barcelona (Agustin Cocola-Gant and Daniel Pardo) as a new gentrification battlefront and a business opportunity for investors and individual landlords, while long-term residents represent a barrier to capital accumulation. The conversion of housing into accommodation for visitors involves different forms of displacement, which are resisted by neighbourhood assemblies. Similarly, Georgia Alexandri discussed resistance of neighbourhood assemblies against commercial gentrification driven by nightlife entertainment entrepreneurs with the complicity of the local government in Athens.
Real estate speculation in the periphery of cities was also addressed, both in self-build neighbourhoods in Amadora near Lisbon (Rita Silva) and in Bon Pastor in Barcelona (Stefano Portelli). Examples were drawn from the experience of state-led gentrification in London, with the demolition of council estates (Mara Ferreri) and the production of an anti-gentrification handbook (London Tenants Federation et al. 2014) to inform resistance attempts, and from alternative urbanisms such as housing squats in Rome (Margherita Grazioli) or strategies to deal with vacant housing (Dimitra Siatitsa). Questions about everyday resistance to gentrification and non-conscious forms of resistance were raised by Nick Dines and Pietro Saitta, who argued that the production of hostile environments and specific uses of public space may act as barriers to middle class and tourist appropriation of space, but might also have ambivalent effects, attracting certain types of tourists.
Subsequently, it was argued that classic gentrification assumptions in Anglo-Saxon urban theory are not completely fulfilled in Spanish cities (Daniel Sorando), while Thomas Maloutas questioned the usefulness of the application of the term gentrification in the Southern European context. Maloutas insisted on more detailed analyses of local contexts, of the specificities of the built environment, social and power relations, and of the historical trajectory of urbanisation processes in the Southern European states. These arguments were countered by Loretta Lees, who pointed out that this had already been done and to the political weight that gentrification has gained in debates and struggles. She argued that the process cannot be framed by Ruth Glass’ definition anymore, as it has escalated globally, with the ascendancy of the secondary circuit of capital and real estate speculation.
Finally, the anti-gentrification Toolkit for Southern European Cities, developed as part of the research project and with fieldwork conducted in Athens, Madrid and Rome was presented by Sandra Annunziata (Fig 3). The tool kit was informed by the valuable input of activists and scholars in all four states and will be made available shortly in Italian and subsequently translated into English, Spanish, Greek and Portuguese. Creating a framework of prevention, mitigation and civil disobedience, the toolkit highlights diverse practical and innovative ways for local communities, social movement activists, collectives and platforms to fight evictions and gentrification and provides concrete ideas for policy makers. While at times at the workshop the chasm between abstract, academic discussions on the relevance of a theoretical framework of gentrification in Southern Europe and the pressing, everyday struggles of social movements and platforms seemed unbridgeable, it is to be hoped that such practical guides will contribute to further collaborations, co-enquiry and meaningful relationships between academics, non-academics and activists in social movements and community grassroots organisations that may enhance radical analyses and engender praxis towards socio-spatial justice.
Lees, L.; Shin, H.B.; López-Morales, E. (2016): Planetary gentrification. Cambridge: Polity Press
London Tenants Federation; Lees, L.; Just Space; Southwark Notes Archive Group (2014): Staying Put. An Anti-Gentrification Handbook for Council Estates in London. https://southwarknotes.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/staying-put-web-version-low.pdf
Philipp Katsinas is a research student at King’s College London, investigating urban regeneration during severe austerity in Thessaloniki.
Professor Loretta Lees and Dr. Sandra Annunziata (Department of Geography, University of Leicester) comment on the importance of the workshop:
This workshop was important for four reasons: first, it underlined the visceral reality of gentrification and displacement in Southern European cities today, despite austerity, in nations without a long academic history of critiquing and criticising the process of ‘gentrification’; second, it brought together emerging scholars on this subject, many of them scholar-activists committed to the fight against gentrification in Southern Europe; third, it allowed us to gain further and insightful input from activists into the Anti-Gentrification Toolkit for Southern European Cities, which was the goal of the workshop; fourth, it brought together activists and academics focusing on that same goal and reminded us all of the complexities involved in this scholar-activist interface.
The array of activists who attended underlined the diversity of those fighting gentrification in Southern Europe, some were middle class, some were low income and marginalised, some identified as Gypsy and some of the latter had never been on a plane before. Hearing all the different practices used to fight gentrification in cities like Madrid, Lisbon, Athens and Rome, was an important learning experience for everyone. These were compared with tactics used in Northern European cities and elsewhere. The everyday experience of resistance was in the room, the difficulty of staying put was in the room, and the need for much more detailed studies of resistance to gentrification and of alternatives was also in the room. The Anti-Gentrification Toolkit for Southern European Cities will be on-line soon.
For a full list of participants, affiliations and presentations at the Staying Put workshop in Rome http://architettura.uniroma3.it/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/20161011_Annunziata-_EN.pdf
Real Estate Fiction is a film from a Spanish collective called Left Hand Rotation. The films mix movie scenes about real estate, housing, and forced evictions. Available online: https://vimeo.com/133215797 (Part 1), https://vimeo.com/133443529 (Part 2)
Details of Planetary gentrification. Lees, Loretta, Hyun Bang Shin, and L. Ernesto. (2016) John Wiley & Sons http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0745671640.html This is the first book in Polity’s new ‘Urban Futures’ series
Post by Debbie Humphry, CITY website editor; Research Fellow Centre for East London Studies (CELS), University of East London (UEL); photographer. http://www.debbiehumphry.com