Gentrification in Spain and Latin America — a Critical Dialogue


  • This research was supported within the 7th European Community Framework Programme (FP7-PEOPLE-PIRSES-GA-2012-318944) by a Marie Curie International Research Staff Exchange Scheme Fellowship entitled ‘CONTESTED_CITIES: Contested Spatialities of Urban Neoliberalism, Dialogues between Emerging Spaces of Citizenship in Europe and Latin America’. Additionally, this research received financial support from a research initiative financed by the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and Banco Santander entitled ‘CIUDAD NEOLIBER_AL: Urban Politics in Spain and Latin America (2011–2012)’. The authors are also grateful for the support by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (MICINN: RYC-2010-06177 and BES-2008-008944) and the General Direction of Postgraduate Studies of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. We thank Rodrigo Hidalgo, Patricia Olivera and Ramón Espinar and three IJURR referees for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.


Major social and political transformations such as the shift towards neoliberal urban policies have widely altered the contemporary structuring of metropolitan areas in Spain and Latin America. One key consequence is the recapture of city centres by wealthy tenants and the eviction of poorer households, a phenomenon usually designated by the term gentrification. In comparison to the comprehensive documentation of gentrification in the Anglophone environment, few scholars have paid attention to this phenomenon in this area of the world so far. This article responds to this gap, providing an exhaustive revision of the debates about gentrification occurring in Spain and Latin America during the last decade and tracking two theoretical motivations. First, it stresses the necessity of characterizing gentrification discourses in Spain and Latin America, preparing a conceptual appropriation and contextualization of the term itself. Second, it confirms that gentrification in Spain and Latin America varies substantially from processes observed in the Anglophone world. As a result, the review develops insights into emancipating and challenging debates that remain useful for the mainstream gentrification discourse too. Addressing this, it proposes a reconsideration and repoliticization of gentrification through the territorial and linguistic lens of Spanish and Latin American researchers.


Certain evidence suggests that the symbolic and material expressions of gentrification in Spain and Latin America, and the scientific discourses relating to it, differ notably from those in the Anglophone world. Following up on this supposition — mentioned elsewhere with respect to both geographic areas, at least separately — this article will develop a common view about gentrification research on Spanish and Latin American city regions from a holistic perspective. At the same time, it will engage in dialogue with claims that the emerging ‘geographies of gentrification’ outside the Anglophone core require substantial fresh explorations and comparativist studies (Lees, 2012). Presenting an exhaustive revision of the literature about gentrification discourses in (and about) Spain and Latin America, it brings together English, Spanish and Portuguese debates. But rather than simply characterizing a novel strand of research, our aim here is to develop a scientifically coherent and politically powerful framework to better understand gentrification through the ‘Latin’ lens. This means that the article proposes to reconsider gentrification through the territorial and socio-linguistic lens of Spanish and Latin American researchers, enabling critical dialogues between them and with the mainstream Anglophone discourse. For this purpose, we critically engage with contemporary gentrification as a crucial expression and key outcome of neoliberal urban policies and urban revanchism — processes that have been widely recognized in both geographical areas (Janoschka, 2002; Swyngedouw et al., 2002; Portes and Roberts, 2005; López and Rodríguez, 2011). Additionally, emancipatory approaches that post-colonialize knowledge production and emphasize the distinctiveness of gentrification outside the Anglophone core (Maloutas, 2011) will be enhanced. Hence, the article refers to comparisons that ‘stretch across the global North-South divide’ by providing ‘nuanced, complex and contextual accounts’ of urban realities and processes (Robinson, 2011: 18). In this regard, evidence will be given of how Spanish and Latin American researchers bring in new, emancipating and at the same time challenging perspectives that contribute to decentring theoretical approaches to contemporary gentrification. However, the article provides more than a descriptive state of the art. The innovations and re-significations of the term will, in addition, strengthen claims such as those expressed by Tom Slater (2006) to develop critical urban theory that is reflected through gentrification against gentrification. But, in a first step, some considerations of the institutional and intellectual contexts of knowledge production in Spain and Latin America will support the study of gentrification through the holistic and integral approach proposed here.

Gentrification in Spain and Latin America — introducing contexts of decentred scientific knowledge production

Bringing together Spanish and Latin American debates about gentrification requires some further clarification, nuances and a pivotal justification — especially as influential and increasing parts of the Spanish and Latin American debates in urban studies (and gentrification research) are intrinsically linked to those arising from Anglophone environments. However, this is only one side of the coin. An essential specificity of gentrification debates in the ‘Latin’ world stems from broader scientific epistemological questions or, in other words, the position from which gentrification is regarded. A key difference is to be found in the strong tradition of studies regarding urban social movements in Spain and Latin America, generating commonly shared narratives, contexts and networks among critical social scientists. In this regard, the early work of Manuel Castells (1973; 1974 [1972]; 1974), which from a Marxist perspective focused on the conflictive transformations of urban space, set the guidelines for the substance of emancipatory urban research undertaken later. Additionally, many scholars carry on an intensive dialogue with the work of French social theorists such as Bourdieu, Foucault and Lefebvre. This is rooted in the fact that, in earlier decades, many Marxist social scientists escaped from the persecution of dictatorships in southern Europe and Latin America, going into exile. At that time they found an extraordinarily inspiring environment at French universities. As a consequence, and to quote only one example, the critical discussion of Lefebvre's radical philosophy of the production of space and the right to the city started as soon as the books were published, preceding the latter's reception within Anglophone urban studies. Such historical, linguistic and geographical embedding creates path dependencies that are prior to the contemporary gentrification debate, stimulating a selective terminological incorporation.

Something similar accounts for the close relations many urban researchers maintain with specific neighbourhood demands — for instance, when they develop their work from a committed standpoint at the crossover between activism and research, originating inherently critical approaches and sometimes active involvement. For many decades now authors such as Milton Santos, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Raúl Zibechi and Marcelo Lopes de Souza have been maturing counter-hegemonic projects that explicitly stress theoretical viewpoints rooted in the Spanish and Portuguese languages. In this regard, any graduate course on critical urban studies in Spain and Latin America will definitely vary from the (re-)production of canonical knowledge taking place in Anglophone universities. This is due in part to the ways that knowledge is embedded in the respective languages, but it also results from the epistemological logics of scientific knowledge production. For instance, the social position of scientists in Spain and Latin America differs widely from that of their counterparts in the Anglophone world, especially if we take into account the precarious employment conditions of younger researchers. As a consequence, they are not rapidly absorbed into the distinctive social status that researchers earn in other parts of the world and which easily creates an ‘epistemic ignorance born of the privilege that the academic nobility enjoy[s]’ (Allen 2008: 181). This absence of a typically middle-class social and economic status and its privileges implies that the distance between the observed and the observer is minor. In many cases, urban researchers participate actively in the struggles against exclusionary renewal schemes, generating strong empathy with the environment in which the research is taking place. Although the position of those who are defended by social movements is usually worse than that of the researchers, they have a relationship that is both close and recognizable. Such ethnographic research requires the practice of reflexivity, and this implies that hardly any ‘eviction of critical perspectives’ (see Slater, 2006) exists. So far, only a few researchers from Santiago de Chile's Pontifical Catholic University have approached the term from perspectives that aim to neutralize critical gentrification research (Sabatini et al., 2008; Contreras, 2011). The contrary is the case for all others — the term gentrification enables Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking scientists to better sharpen and develop critical approaches to urban politics absent in dominant mainstream discourses about urban governance, revitalization and renovation (Janoschka, 2011).

Following on from this, it is also of vital importance to recognize that the linguistic world region of Spain and Latin America provides specific political, economic, social and administrative structurings that influence the implementation of urban neoliberalism as well as of gentrification as one of its neighbourhood expressions. According to the arguments of Borsdorf and Hidalgo (2010), neoliberal politics has produced a specific ‘model’ of urban development in the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking Americas during the last two decades. The model describes the increasing fragmentation and privatization of the urban sphere via the implementation of a revanchist ideology that aims to reconquer the city centres for wealthy tenants (Bromley and Mackie, 2009; Crossa, 2009). Also, the ways in which neoliberal governance has been introduced and applied in Spanish urban areas correspondingly provides evidence that a very specific form of urban capital accumulation has emerged in the framework of a broader neoliberal policy model (López and Rodríguez, 2011; Naredo and Montiel, 2011). Consequently, entrepreneurial urban policies and other strategies that target gentrification through the social and political arena are conditioned in both regions by common path dependencies. This also means that many political and professional decisions are grounded in urban structurings that are comparable to each other to a certain degree. There are manifold similarities, such as a considerably belated process of suburbanization, the previous decay of central urban areas and the recent implementation of ambitious renewal programmes in public–private partnership schemes (Walliser and Bruquetas, 2004; Janoschka and Borsdorf, 2006). Additionally, Spain and Latin America have developed common professional networks and deep-rooted channels for what recently has been targeted in debates about ‘policy mobility’ (Cook, 2008; Evans, 2009; McCann, 2011). This relationship is similar to the one addressed earlier with regard to critical research in the social sciences, and it is especially strong in the field of urbanism. City administrators, politicians, researchers in think-tanks, as well as university staff and students, cultivate educational and professional networks that foster and reinforce the transatlantic mobility of urban policies. For instance, González (2011) gives evidence of the crucial role that the ‘successful’ revitalization processes in Barcelona and Bilbao played in such ‘travelling policies’. The methodological tool of ‘strategic planning’ within urban development schemes is another example of policies that originated in Spain and were then applied in many cities in Latin America. Carlos Vainer (2011) illustrates this, comparing the implementation of strategic planning policies and the associated regimes of exceptionality in Barcelona and Rio de Janeiro prior to the celebration of their respective Olympic Games. Furthermore, it is well known that Catalan planners were important catalysts for urban renewal projects such as the Malecón 2000 waterfront regeneration in Guayaquil (Ecuador) and Puerto Madero in Buenos Aires — two perfect examples of state-led gentrification in Latin America carried out since the 1990s under the prevailing neoliberal planning philosophies that widely failed to keep initial promises of social mixing and the provision of public infrastructure (Cuenya and Corral, 2011).

All these commonalities include the notion that both Spain and Latin America not only experienced a time delay in the onset of gentrification, scientists initially also failed to recognize and adapt the concept to the different social, political and urban contexts in which it was occurring. To a certain extent, the delay likewise responds to scientific trends. For instance, the 1992 Olympic Games provided a significant impetus for the tracking and ‘selling’ of the ‘success story’ of Barcelona's regeneration (Monclús, 2003; Marshall, 2004) — a model that has now been critically readdressed (Degen and García, 2012). By the late 1990s, debates concentrated on the ‘Guggenheim effect’ (Gómez, 1998; Plaza, 1999; Gómez and González, 2001), and the early 2000s drew major attention to the high immigration rates (Arbaci, 2007; Pareja-Eastaway, 2009; Portes et al., 2010) and the detrimental consequences of the real estate boom (López and Rodríguez, 2010). Such hegemonic debates relegated gentrification research in Spain to a secondary place. In Latin America, something similar was happening. The beginning of the new millennium witnessed extensive debates about the increasing social exclusion that was occurring after the proliferation of mainly suburban gated communities, intimately related to a discursively produced urban crisis that focused on crime and insecurity (Caldeira, 2000; Janoschka and Borsdorf, 2006; Giglia, 2008; Roitman and Phelps, 2011; Salcedo and Torres, 2004).

Gentrification in Spain and Latin America — a critical revision

Although the global spread of gentrification was repeatedly acknowledged during the last decade (Smith, 2002; Atkinson and Bridge, 2005; Lees et al., 2008; Porter and Shaw, 2008), empirical studies both about cities in the Anglophone ‘Global South’ (Harris, 2008; Visser and Kotze, 2008; Ghertner, 2011) and other, non-Anglophone environments (Ergun, 2004; Fujitsuka, 2005; Islam, 2005; Lützeler, 2008; He, 2010) are still infrequent. In comparison to the comprehensive and critical documentation of North American and British cities, few scholars have paid attention to gentrification in other world areas — and this is particularly true of Latin American and Spanish metropolitan regions. This gap is usually associated with the different temporalities of the processes of gentrification. For instance, in an account of the application of conservation policies and property renovation in Latin American cities, Jones and Bromley (1996: 375) defended only some 15 years ago the view that ‘the available evidence suggests that conservation is not a sufficient condition to produce gentrified urban landscapes’. In similar terms, Ward (1993) and Ford (1996) had stated by that time that Latin American city centres were expected to continue losing their affluent residents to suburban areas. A comparable situation was evident in Spain, where urban cores suffered continuous population losses until the mid- or late 1990s due to suburban sprawl (Muñoz, 2003; Catalán et al., 2008). Only recently, namely during the first decade of this century, have social scientists begun to approach gentrification. This fact transforms the literature revision that follows into an essential tool for structuring the emerging discourses about gentrification in the ‘Latin’ world.

Methodological considerations

This literature revision on the topic of gentrification in Spanish and Latin American cities takes into consideration publications in English, Spanish and Portuguese.1 It is based on exhaustive research of peer-reviewed journals in English, mainly those which appear in the SSCI and Scopus-SciVerse databases. For an account of the literature in Spanish and Portuguese, the focus was put additionally on the two main search engines in the Spanish and Ibero-American world: Dialnet2 and Redalyc.3 As all these databases possess well-known shortcomings with regard to debates taking place in other publication formats crucial in the social sciences, additional research of monographs, book contributions, deposited PhD theses, conference papers and other online publications was carried out. Aiming at an analysis of genuine gentrification research, two further selection criteria were applied. First, all documents that simultaneously make use of the term gentrification and refer to at least one Latin American or Spanish city were considered. Then, all articles that did not have a substantial conceptual frame were excluded. Finally, 39 publications in English were identified, 19 of which allude to Latin American cities and 20 to Spanish urban areas. Additionally, 45 texts which refer to Spanish case studies in Spanish and 41 texts which discuss gentrification in Latin American cities were analysed.

Gentrification in Spain and Latin America — characteristics of an emerging research field

The first thing to note about gentrification debates in Spain and Latin America is their emergent character. Nevertheless, in Latin America they include an astonishing variety of different urban settings: mega-cities such as Mexico City, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro; national capitals (Santiago de Chile, Quito, Montevideo and Havana); provincial middle range cities (Puebla, Cuenca, Cusco, Recife, Salvador da Bahia) and smaller towns such as Guanajuato (Mexico) or Trinidad (Cuba). However, in relation to the mainstream of Latin American urban studies that prefers to apply terms such as urban renovation, revitalization, rehabilitation and other neologisms for supposedly successful urban planning strategies (Díaz Orueta et al., 2003; Botelho, 2005; Rivière, 2006; Aguirre and Marchant 2007), the gentrification debate is still occurring on the margins. Additionally, parts of the Anglophone gentrification debate about Latin American cities are still conceptually dominated by those views held, financed and published especially by scientists from the global North. These are also expressed in Latin American approaches that dissociate themselves from the term gentrification as representing an ‘Anglo-Saxon concept’ (Jaramillo, 2006: 20), try to propose not always successful semantic adaptations such as ‘ennoblement’ (ennoblecimiento in Spanish, enobrecimento in Portuguese: Bortolozzi, 2009; Leite, 2010), or trace gentrification through the problematic term ‘elitization’ (elitización, González-Hernández, 2009).

This relation is somehow different with regard to Spain, where both international discourse and Spanish scientific contributions have expanded rapidly towards a more coherent common framework. Many Spanish authors have been (co-)publishing in Anglophone journals and books, and English and Spanish publications are often located in similar theoretical plans and discussions. Apart from some of the initial clarifications and theoretical revisions necessary to introduce a novel term into another language (Vázquez, 1992; 1996; Sargatal, 2000; Martínez, 2001; Rodríguez et al., 2001), gentrification has now been regularly applied to the study of urban neoliberalization in almost all major Spanish cities. Authors have put up only minor resistance to familiarizing themselves with the term (García, 2001), and they are aware of the advantages it has for better profiling the contentious dimensions of the phenomenon. The majority of the texts do not question the implementation of the concept in a different social and urban setting (Duque, 2010a). However, such pragmatism also includes the development of holistic pictures of gentrification within the municipality of Madrid, addressed by different kinds of statistical data as well as a critique of public plans aimed at urban renovation and regeneration (Muñoz, 2009). Another example is Díaz Parra (2009), who brings together different strands of gentrification research such as production and consumption approaches, aiming for an ambitious development of a general theory of urban renewal and gentrification.

In summary, the initial characterization gives evidence that the widespread effects of urban renovation seem to be used synonymously with the gentrification of the contemporary city both in Spain and Latin America. Such a notion has reached sufficient maturity to present a meaningful conceptual connotation to explain social and spatial restructurings in the neoliberal city. Hence, it seems evident that all substitutions of the past for something new are now implemented by gentrifying mechanisms. This idea differs distinctly from some strands of traditional gentrification research, especially those that root gentrification conceptually in its first expressions discussed by Ruth Glass (1964) in London, at a moment when the Keynesian Welfare State was in its heyday and neoliberalism conceptually nonexistent. But for Spain and Latin America, gentrification should be approached through the lens of the variegated, often conflictive spatialities of urban neoliberalism (Brenner et al., 2010a).

Gentrification in Spain — debates and discourses

Despite its conceptual locations within Anglophone literature, gentrification research in Spain introduces major variations and six interesting perspectives to the mainstream discourse. Table 1 provides an overview of these categories, and contributes to the further development of the characterization proposed here — amongst other things, by mentioning the key authors and the cities in which the processes have been observed. Additionally, it helps to recognize that the debate consists of much more than the two iconic examples of Barcelona and Bilbao that have been dominating the international reception of gentrification processes in recent years. Subsequently, the six mentioned categories will be developed in detail.

  1. Gentrification and transnational migration: During the decade preceding the financial and economic crisis, the globally connected expansion of the Spanish economy resulted in an influx of more than 5 million migrants to the country; Spain was the most important European destination for transnational migration flows. Many of these migrants settled in inner-city areas that were at the same time subject to renewal and gentrification. These links between gentrification and migration have been addressed from a comparative perspective of different Southern European cities (Arbaci and Malheiros, ), introducing the interesting question of how both mechanisms coexist in Spanish city centres. Based on empirical records, Arbaci (: 595f) displays the discontinuity of gentrification, a process that apparently has not transgressed to entire neighbourhoods — historic inner-city areas still represent non-homogeneous spaces of revalorization and fragmented territories in continuous reappropriation. By contrasting two adjacent streets in Barcelona, Sargatal () argues that gentrification is encouraged by public renovation programmes but coexists with immigration — a sign of geographically highly segmented real estate markets. Different studies in Madrid (Barañano et al., ; Ávila and Malo, ; Martínez and Leal, ; Pérez-Agote et al., ) and Bilbao (Cavia et al., ; Suárez, ) show that economic migrants suffer residential exclusion and spatial segregation, but in both cities no evidence for major displacement occurring through the ongoing gentrification of the corresponding neighbourhoods exists. The situation seems to be different in Barcelona, where the renewal of the Casc Antic (Old Quarter), especially of the Raval neighbourhood, has been connected with public policies applied to ‘social sanitation’ in areas with a high concentration of migrants (Tabakman, ; Sargatal, 2003; 2009), particularly in areas where migrants of Pakistani origin live (García, ; Riol, ).
  2. (State-led) tourism gentrification: Spain, one of the most important tourist destinations worldwide, has made significant efforts to adapt beach and sun-seeking mass tourism, a mature activity with low profit rates, towards an urban tourism inspired by the appreciation of cultural assets. In this regard, it is interesting how the logics of spatial appropriation through tourism-related activities have paired themselves with gentrification induced by tourism. It is also noteworthy that, within a general character of laissez-faire in most public policies, local and regional politicians showed a decisive will to prepare the ground for state-led tourism gentrification (García et al., : 277). This interrelation is a subject of critical approaches: amongst others, Romero and Trudelle () have studied how urban mega-projects have produced gentrification in traditional working-class neighbourhoods in Valencia since the mid-1990s. From a different perspective, Prytherch and Boira () report the inauguration of more than 20 public exhibition halls in the same city within a decade — an overwhelming expansion of economic activities certainly related to preparing the city symbolically for tourists. Moreover, as occurred in Bilbao La Vieja (Vicario and Martínez, 2003; 2005) and the neighbourhoods Grau and Natzaret in Valencia (Romero and Trudelle, ), state-led tourism gentrification has integrated semi-peripheral residential spaces into the circuits of economic valorization. And in other cities such as Palma de Mallorca and Santa Cruz de Tenerife, displacement through tourism is being further accelerated by investment of EU funds and policies implemented by the URBAN programme (García et al., ; Morell, ). Finally, the role tourists play not only as consumers of urban atmosphere, but as actors in the real estate market and purchasers of second home and vacation apartments is also considered (García, ).
  3. Productive gentrification and retail gentrification: Barcelona and to a certain extent Bilbao have been pioneering the elaboration and application of policies that endeavour to reconvert former industrial areas, for example the Bilbao waterfront, the port of Barcelona and the Poble Nou neighbourhood — the latter now benchmarked as Barcelona 22@. One consequence of implementing ambitious renovation strategies is that former industrial spaces and working-class neighbourhoods have been appropriated by the service and knowledge economy for both residential and productive use (Guillamón, ; Boixader, ). These studies coincide in recalling the often aggressive marketing strategies employed to target the image of the city. In this regard, Dot et al. () propose introducing different analytical perspectives to the studies of gentrification, namely, investigating primarily the business sector and corporations settling into a transforming neighbourhood. Suggesting the label of productive gentrification, they support a focus on the spatial reconfiguration arising from new economic activities related to discourses that seek to attract members of the creative class to live and work in specific urban neighbourhoods. As municipal corporations and local politics actively promote urban renewal, the resulting productive gentrification can be considered another expression of state-led gentrification. In similar terms, Santamarina () discusses the Cabanyal neighbourhood in Valencia as a social space endangered by mega-projects proposed by the public sector. Furthermore, Justo () indicates how a decaying inner-city Madrid neighbourhood (now renamed Triball) was targeted by a real estate corporation for revalorization via commercial branding as part of a plan to attract designers of individual clothing, shoes and other fashion products, as well as retailing, through subsidies granted by the private investor itself. This approach brings together the perspectives of productive gentrification and retail gentrification (Ribera-Fumaz, ) through the construction of a neighbourhood as a specific product (barrio marca in Spanish). As a part of this debate, Díaz Parra (2008; 2010) noticed in Seville how transformations in the social composition including the displacement of lower-income groups are provoked by both productive and retail gentrification.
  4. Symbolic gentrification via institutionalized cultural production: The long-term consequences of urban renewal in city centres have been discussed by authors such as Sequera () from a perspective that interprets urban renovation as an expression and a part of biopolitical practices that implement neoliberal models of conduct. Referring to the Lavapiés neighbourhood in the historic centre of Madrid, he points out how new lifestyles based on distinctive practices of consumerism and models of citizenship are introduced by novel cultural infrastructures and commercial spaces. Delgado () names this effect ‘artistification’ (artistización in Spanish), a process enacted by urban policies that embrace the entrepreneurial and consumerist reappropriation of city centres transformed into theme parks and spaces for commercial performances. Such symbolic gentrification of public space through the establishment of institutionalized cultural production facilities is a key question for interpreting the dialectics between the public and the private as one of the multiple expressions of the speculative nature of capital in the contemporary city (Fraser : 677). Applying theoretical arguments by Harvey and Lefebvre, Fraser criticizes the rising exclusion of undesired persons from public spaces as part of the preparation of a desired aseptic public sphere. By studying the politics of surveillance in Madrid's central Retiro Park, he shows how the symbolic gentrification of supposed public spaces is part of a broader dominance of the public realm by private actors' interests that aim at a general gentrification of the urban sphere. Following this line, the rhetoric of the creative city as a leitmotiv for urban renovation is also a key issue of recent discussions emerging from Bilbao. Public policies responded here to Richard Florida's creative paradigm, attempting to establish a discursive environment for the attraction of cultural entrepreneurs. Rodríguez and Vicario () present a meaningful critique of this logic, stating that urban marketing only covers evident gentrification strategies, while displacing urban problems instead of resolving them. Taking the Lavapiés neighbourhood in Madrid as an example for an exhaustive piece of research into contemporary social change, Pérez-Agote et al. () understand cultural production as a principal device for gentrification. They reflect upon the interventions of the public administration to promote cultural activities for constructing artificially new and somehow pretentious identities for Lavapiés as a fancy neighbourhood ‘in vogue’. Beyond its geographical centrality, this area possesses a rich cultural and social mixture that transforms it into an ‘exotic’ environment in which alternative and artistic realms reaffirm themselves as globalized cultural representations. In this regard, Díaz Orueta () asserts that this centrally located and cosmopolitan neighbourhood can be evaluated as a laboratory for new lifestyles that simultaneously draw on representations of bohemian and left-wing identities (Cañedo, ). The discourses of many of these young professionals (viz. gentrifiers) include both an instrumental relation to the neighbourhood based on its centrality, the cultural production and leisure activities developed here, as well as a reification of and strong identification with non-hegemonic struggles, anti-capitalism and political activism and the active participation in the cultural production itself (Barañano et al., ).
  5. New geographies of gentrification: Current debates distinguish the existence of provincial gentrification in Spain, taking into consideration research on Granada (Duque, ; Moreh, ) and a comparative study carried out in the Castilian city of Leon and other medium-scale urban centres in four European countries (Buzar et al., ; Haase, ; Bouzarovski et al., ). Additionally, Solana (; ; ) analyses population mobility in Catalonia and provides a substantial overview of the transformations occurring in the social composition of rural areas, claiming that rural gentrification is definitely taking place. Also, other perspectives emphasize post-Fordist labour organization that enables the relocation of productive activities to rural areas and fosters ongoing replacement of the local population by newcomers with higher incomes (Cánoves and Blanco, ).
  6. Resistance to gentrification: Studies of social movements and local resistance to the implementation of neoliberal urbanism are a prominent feature of Spanish urban studies, as mentioned earlier with regard to the ground-breaking work of Manuel Castells (1974 [1972]; ; ). In this regard, it is no surprise that gentrification researchers engage as a matter of priority with the consequences that residents and other actors suffer in areas that are being gentrified. For example, local resistance has been discussed in Madrid (Díaz Orueta, ), Valencia (Morell, ; Prytherch and Boira, ; Romero and Trudelle, ), Granada (Moreh, ) and Vigo (Martínez, ). The research strand is particularly strong in cities such as Madrid and Valencia that are dominated by long-lasting conservative politics that fail to encourage modern citizen participation. In this tradition, Díaz Parra () investigated strategies of contestation originated by neighbourhood associations, when reclaiming public housing and defending the traditional inhabitants of gentrifying quarters. Additionally, he analyses possible solutions for stopping, or at least influencing, current gentrification. Ramos et al. () describe the case of Granada to reflect the active and powerful role social scientists may play in organizing, supporting and redirecting these struggles through participatory research and social action — an aspect that has gained major prominence since the mobilization of the Spanish indignados in May 2011 and the frequent occupations of vacant buildings in gentrifying neighbourhoods that have been taking place since then (Abellán et al., ).

As a transitional conclusion this revision helps to understand that gentrification research in and about Spain can be characterized as a highly combative and critical field. Gentrification is embedded within broader criticism of the neoliberal urban model and its social and spatial consequences such as segregation, classicism, inequalities and displacement.

Table 1. Gentrification in Spain — perspectives and debates
Type and DescriptionCitiesAuthors
Gentrification and transnational migrationMadrid, Barcelona, BilbaoArbaci (2008) Arbaci and Malheiros (2010) Ávila and Malo (2008) Barañano et al. (2006) Cavia et al. (2008) García (2003) Martínez and Leal (2008) Pérez-Agote et al. (2010) Riol (2003) Sargatal (2001; 2003; 2009) Suárez (2009) Tabakman (2001)
(State-led) tourism gentrificationPalma de Mallorca, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Valencia, BilbaoFranquesa (2007) García (2003) García et al. (2007) Morell (2009) Prytherch and Boira (2009) Romero and Trudelle (2011) Vicario and Martínez (2003) 2005) Vives (2011)
Productive and retail gentrificationBarcelona, Bilbao, Madrid, Valencia, SevilleBoixader (2004) Díaz Parra (2008; 2010) Dot et al. (2010) Guillamón (2003) Justo (2011) Ribera-Fumaz (2008) Santamarina (2009)
Symbolic gentrification and cultural productionMadrid, Bilbao, BarcelonaCañedo (2006) Delgado (2008) Díaz Orueta (2007) Fraser (2007) Rodríguez and Vicario (2005) Sequera (2010)

New geographies of gentrification:

— provincial gentrification

— rural gentrification

Granada, Leon, rural areas in CataloniaBouzarovski et al. (2010) Buzar et al. (2007) Cánoves and Blanco (2006) Duque (2010b) Haase (2008) Moreh (2011) Solana (2006; 2008; 2010)
Resistance to gentrificationMadrid, Valencia, Seville, Granada, VigoDíaz Orueta (2007) Díaz Parra (2008) Gómez (2006) Martínez (2011) Moreh (2011) Morell (2009) Prytherch and Boira (2009) Ramos et al. (2008) Romero and Trudelle (2011)

Gentrification in Latin America — debates and discourses

The gentrification discourse relating to Latin American cities was first introduced by Jones and Varley (1999), who analysed the conservation processes in the colonial city centre of Puebla (Mexico). In line with Neil Smith's (1996) arguments about the revanchist city, they affirmed that gentrification constitutes the ‘symbolic reconquest of a space over which the local middle classes feared they had lost moral authority’ (Jones and Varley, 1999: 1547). This demonstrates that debates about Latin American gentrification bring in nuances of how to think the increasing diversity of gentrification worldwide. Hence, it is of key importance to refer to the material and symbolic conditions of urban transformation since the beginning of the neoliberal experiment. In order to characterize and structure the existing literature, four mutually intertwined dimensions will now be elaborated (Table 2).

Table 2. Gentrification in Latin America — perspectives and debates
Type and DescriptionCitiesAuthors

Symbolic gentrification:

— race, ethnicity

— tourism gentrification, heritage

— leisure-oriented mobility, residential tourism

— control mechanisms, special ‘rescue’ zones

Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Quito, Salvador da Bahia, Recife, Fortaleza, Vitória, San Luis, Tiradentes, São Thomé das Letras, Havana, Cuenca, Boca del ToroBailey (2008) Bélanger (2008) Botelho (2005) Bromley and Mackie (2009) Checa-Artasu (2011) Crossa (2009) Donovan (2008) Frúgoli and Sklair (2008) Herzer (2008) Hiernaux (2006) Jackiewicz and Crane (2010) Jones and Varley (1999) Leite (2010) Middleton (2003) Monterrubio (2009) Nelle (2009) Nobre (2002) Portela (2009) Scarpaci (2000) Steel and Klaufus (2010) Swanson (2007) Walker (2008) Zolini (2007)

Neoliberal politics of gentrification:

— tourism gentrification

— state-led gentrification

— revitalization and gentrification

Santiago de Chile, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Recife, SalvadorCrossa (2009) Frúgoli and Sklair (2008) Hiernaux (2006) Inzulza-Contardo (2012) Rivière (2006) Rubino (2005) Walker (2008)

New real estate markets and gentrification

— slum gentrification in peripheral and central areas

Montevideo; Porto Alegre, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador da Bahia, Santiago de ChileÁlvarez-Rivadulla (2007) Carrión (2005) Cavalcanti (2009) Checa-Artasu (2011) Del Río (2004) Gaffney (2010) Gonçalves (2011) Goulart (2005) Hidalgo (2010) Ivo (2012) Lima (2010) Lopez-Morales (2010; 2011) Nery and Moura de Castilho (2008) Sanfelici (2010)

Resistance to gentrification

— counter-hegemonic social movements

— de-gentrification

São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile, CórdobaBidou-Zachariasen (2006) Casgrain and Janoschka (2013) Delgadillo (2009; 2012) Hernández-Medina (2010) Herzer (2008) Leite (2010) Mandrini et al. (2010) Menezes and Monteiro (2010) Monteiro and de Andrade (2012) Monterrubio (2009) Oliveira and Gaffney (2010) Rolnik (2011) Sanfelici (2007)

The quantitatively most important strand in gentrification research in Latin America discusses different forms of symbolic gentrification that are often entangled with policies that re-stage the rich architectural heritage of Latin American city centres. However, several authors evaluate this strategy as a pretext for bringing local elites and middle-class households back to the historic city centres (Hiernaux, 2006; Bélanger, 2008). As Botelho (2005) shows, this can happen through a superimposition of traditional developer-led gentrification processes and symbolic gentrification grounded in retail and consumption. In many cases such policies are codified through the implementation of governance schemes developed in cooperation with the UNESCO World Heritage offices. Jones and Varley (1994; 1999) argue that a major irritation for potential gentrifiers in many Latin American cities is embodied by people called ‘street vendors’ — many of them of a racial and ethnic composition different from the middle and upper middle classes as well as from the mainly ‘white’ foreign tourists. Additionally, Scarpaci (2000: 289) claims that in Havana, gentrifiers are ‘a transient group made up of foreign tourists or business people from Canada, Western Europe, and Latin America’. His argument was later reasserted by Bailey (2008), and Steel and Klaufus (2010) show empirical evidence that gentrification in Cuenca (Ecuador) was originated by North American retirees moving in. This kind of leisure- and lifestyle-oriented mobility and migration between the US and Canada and Latin American destinations often implies conflicts over the appropriation of urban space and poses the question of the right to the city (Jackiewicz and Crane, 2010; Gárriz, 2011). Following in this line, Prado (2012) calls the migration of relatively privileged North American and European migrants to coastal destinations and historic city centres in Latin America ‘global gentrification’. This debate is intrinsically related to transnational investment, leisure-oriented mobility and the conflictive displacement of local inhabitants (Janoschka, 2009).

Returning to the question of how the restaging of urban heritage plays a key role in symbolic gentrification, it is important to state that the nexus between informal trade and new public policies is present in all contributions to this topic (Middleton, 2003; Swanson, 2007; Donovan, 2008; Bromley and Mackie, 2009; Crossa, 2009). Although applying different theoretical frameworks, the authors mentioned agree that expelling street vendors symbolically prepares central cityscapes for gentrification. This goes hand in hand with the findings of Latin American researchers working on localities such as the restored colonial heart of Salvador da Bahía and Recife (Nobre, 2002; Portela, 2009; Leite, 2010) or the tourism spaces of La Boca and San Telmo in the southern central districts of Buenos Aires (Herzer, 2008). As different authors state, when Latin American city centres are prepared for symbolic gentrification, some of their charming elements are destroyed, leading to a ‘musealization’ of World Heritage (Monterrubio, 2009; Nelle, 2009). Additionally, the supposed ‘cleansing’ of urban areas from informal trade activities, beggars and drug addicts (Frúgoli and Sklair, 2008) crushes long-standing traditions of commercial appropriation of the public urban sphere (Bromley and Mackie, 2009; Crossa, 2009). Lower-class traders are displaced from the streets of the city centre in order to enhance the growing tourism sector, and the centre is thereby ‘rescued’ — as proposed semantically by so-called Programas de Rescate [rescue programmes] in Mexican cities (Cabrales, 2005; Crossa, 2009). The implementation of these programmes is intimately related to the transfer of policy paradigms from the US to Latin America, especially the implementation of security policies and measures related to control and hygiene, the imitation of zero-tolerance policies or the installation of CCTV surveillance of public space (Walker, 2008).

In order to deepen understanding of gentrification mechanisms in Latin America, it is now of major importance to discuss the key role that the public administration plays in establishing policy mechanisms that prepare cities for (symbolic) gentrification. Such perspectives have been widely addressed in Latin American gentrification research, for instance by analysing the way neoliberal politics of gentrification are applied and adopted in social, political and administrative urban environments that had never developed a notable Keynesian welfare state. Santiago de Chile now seems to be the most striking example of a coalition between investors and public authorities, leading to a fragmented reorganization of the central city areas through newly built high-rise condominiums (Inzulza-Contardo 2012). Hidalgo (2010) goes a step further and reflects the crucial influence that private universities, a key actor within the neoliberal configuration in Santiago de Chile, have on the transformation and gentrification of some central neighbourhoods. Another innovative insight into local versions of the ‘neoliberal entrepreneurial city’ (Crossa, 2009) is given by Walker's unpublished PhD thesis (2008). He recognizes that the Programa de Rescate in Mexico City is nothing but the planned neoliberalization of space applied to ‘manage’ the urban poor in a much more unequal city than any example the Global North could provide. The attempts to organize the gentrification of the historic centre of Mexico City, which is the largest and symbolically most important heritage site for juxtaposed colonial and precolonial architecture in the Americas, are being undertaken by an unprecedented coalition between a pseudo-leftist local government and the business magnate Carlos Slim — considered the richest person in the world. In an attempt to enhance the attractiveness of and recolonize the city centres for luxury housing, new residential estates have arisen behind the façades of colonial or nineteenth-century buildings. Major Brazilian cities such as Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Recife and Salvador are undergoing similar transformations (Rubino, 2005; Frúgoli and Sklair, 2008), although the ‘normalization’ of the street achieved by discipline, punishment and the removal of street vendors is prototypical in the case of Mexico City. The innovative aspect is that gentrification is part of the dominance of a mogul whose interests, although well embedded within romantic discourses of restoring an imagined urban past, are primarily of an economic nature. Additionally, the example provides paradigmatic insights into the ways in which neoliberal politics of gentrification have been applied in Latin American cities.

This aspect leads to the major reconfigurations that have been taking place in the organization and production of new real estate markets as a precondition for gentrification in many Latin American cities. Amongst others, central city areas have been targeted by national developers and transnational investment funds that exploit the enormous rent gaps resulting from long-term abandonment. Referring to the example of Porto Alegre, Sanfelici (2010) recognizes the intensive relations between property development schemes and an increasingly powerful financial sector. In similar terms, López-Morales (2010; 2011) applies the rent-gap model (Smith, 1987) to explain the situation of semi-peripheral areas in Santiago de Chile. He analyses how specific neoliberal planning instruments and the liberalization of local building regulations provide the ground for an increasing accumulation of capitalized ground rent by a small group of professional developers — at the expense of small-scale landowners who are systematically dispossessed. It is not by chance that such debates have been reported primarily from Chile and Brazil — the two Latin American countries with the most unequal distribution of wealth (Kaztman and Ribeiro, 2008; Hidalgo and Arenas, 2011).

Another aspect of the role that recently created real estate markets play in gentrification is related to the ‘pacification’ of previously stigmatized urban slums. In Brazilian cities, such policies are implemented through a permanent ‘state of exception’ (Vainer, 2000) that intimately exploits discourses about the ‘city of fear’ or ‘phobopolis’ (in Portuguese, fobópole, Lopes de Souza, 2008). This means that during the ongoing consolidation of favelas and other informal urban settlement areas, real estate markets expand to new parts of the city and widely transform the living conditions of its inhabitants (Cavalcanti, 2009; Gonçalves, 2011). In the case of Rio de Janeiro, this is especially important, as it is based on the so-called ‘Favela-Bairro’ programme that for the last two decades has heavily invested in slum regeneration (Perlman, 2010). The city now presents a highly contested scenario for the imminent gentrification of favelas located in inner-city areas or in the vicinity of beaches and the coastline — both prime locations for real estate development. Such tendencies are additionally accelerated by the transformations induced by forthcoming mega-events such as the Olympic Games. In this regard, the planning history of Rio de Janeiro, as analysed by Gaffney (2010) and Lima (2010), suggests that basic democratic advances implemented by urban reform agendas, participatory budgets and other instruments granted by the Brazilian City Charter may take a step backwards as a result of the exceptional regimes and rationales established by growth coalitions (Rolnik, 2011; Hernández-Medina, 2010). However, this is similar to other cities that used the strategy of urban intervention as a blueprint for the generation of new real estate markets. Even if mechanisms of so-called ‘social interest zoning’ (ZEIS in Portuguese) and non-elitist urban regulations have been implemented, as in São Paulo and other Brazilian cities, eviction and gentrification have been reported as side effects (Del Rio, 2004; Goulart, 2005; Nery and Moura de Castilho, 2008; Irazábal, 2009; Ivo, 2012).

Something similar is taking place in central inner-city areas in which rent increases were formerly strongly regulated — at least until the end of the ISI model. The resulting substantial protection of tenants here went hand in hand with the growth of rent gaps that now, under conditions of contemporary globalized market economies have been heavily exploited (for Mexico City, see Checa-Artasu, 2011). Additionally, gentrification of inner-city areas is also related to the rapid commodification of social housing through market-oriented mechanisms. Although it is supposed to provide solutions to the housing question, the contemporary production of social housing subliminally removes poor households from the city centre. This is especially the case as the subsidies granted are so low that only public housing developed in peripheral locations can meet the mandatory requirements (Hidalgo, 2010). As a consequence, poor residents are strategically evicted from central city areas (Carrión, 2005).

One more interesting approach to bringing together the geographies of fragmentation, privatization and the proliferation of gated communities with the gentrification discourse has been developed by Álvarez-Rivadulla (2007). She reminds us that the spread of mainly suburban gated communities has accounted for the bulk of urban expansion since the early 1990s. It is important to stress here that suburbanization in Latin America does not occur in uninhabited scenery; especially as suburban fringes have traditionally been the most important areas for poor settlements. Consequently, they are dominated by informal and self-constructed low-cost housing that usually lacks full legal tenure (Gilbert, 1994; Crowley, 1998; Davis, 2006). Nevertheless, infrastructural improvements such as the construction of efficient roads have revalorized most Latin American urban peripheries (Janoschka and Borsdorf, 2006), and this is evidenced through increasing eviction and displacement by jeopardizing slums. Based on a study of the proliferation of gated communities in Montevideo, Álvarez-Rivadulla (2007) identifies significant class trajectories among newcomers and links her observations to conceptualize suburbanization as a novel form of gentrification — a promising approach for studies in different metropolitan areas in the Global South in times of urban neoliberalism. However, this and the three different but intertwined mechanisms discussed here mature one of the possible explanations of how the creation of new real estate markets is intrinsically linked with the production of the gentrified city in Latin America.

Finally, it is also important to focus on the discussion related to the resistance to gentrification and the possibilities of developing counter-hegemonic struggles under conditions of rampant capitalist accumulation. For instance, several researchers establish links between gentrification, interpreted as a description of the negative effects of global capitalism on central urban neighbourhoods (Mandrini et al., 2010), and the progressive right to the city movement. The latter discourse is especially powerful among critical Brazilian researchers. Drawing on the ideas of David Harvey, Henri Lefebvre and Milton Santos, Sanfelici (2007) proposes strategies to re-politicize the struggles in central urban locations through powerful progressive social movements. This connects with the fact that, in Santiago de Chile, urban social movements refer explicitly to the term ‘gentrification’. Such a reference helps to establish coalitions between critical urban researchers and tenants in central and semi-peripheral areas of the city that fear displacement due to ongoing urban restructuring. Different promising debates relate to the hidden conflicts of urban renewal schemes associated with forthcoming mega-events in Rio de Janeiro (Oliveira and Gaffney, 2010; Monteiro and De Andrade, 2012). And Delgadillo (2009) de-constructs the control struggles, analysing how contestation against exclusive policies is connected to urban tourism. However, Leite (2010) goes a step further and acknowledges that the a reappropriation of the city by social movements may reverse ongoing gentrification processes through what he calls antinobrecimiento, a term that might be translated as counter-gentrification or de-gentrification. Such fresh suggestions remind us that current left-wing and centre-left political tides might slow down gentrification in Latin America through new popular approaches and experiments (Irazábal, 2009). In this regard, Latin American gentrification research is nourished by some of the political experiments that have been taking place since the beginning of the twenty-first century and place the defence and reconstruction of public goods, as well as the development of new modes of social inclusion, as key questions of urban politics, limiting some of the adverse effects of urban neoliberalism (Roberts, 2005; Hernández-Medina, 2010; Rolnik, 2011). Nevertheless, the Brazilian experience reminds us at the same time that all struggles against dominant market mechanisms have to begin with a reconfiguration of the semantic field of urbanism. Although concepts such as revitalization have now become general signifiers for gentrification processes in Latin America, they are profoundly embedded in a set of material, economic, social and symbolic discourses that need to be disrupted (Bidou-Zachariasen, 2006). In this regard, the research that accomplishes resistance to gentrification and claims the right to the city has to challenge hegemonic discourses that hide gentrification behind a discursive smokescreen (Sanfelici, 2007; Menezes and Monteiro, 2010; Delgadillo, 2012).

Mainstream gentrification discourses and the study of gentrification in Spain and Latin America — a critical dialogue

The gentrification discourse about Spain and Latin America enables a comparativist perspective to be developed that integrates the mainstream Anglophone discourse, but first takes into consideration three key distinctions between Spain and Latin America, the most important of which relates to the topic of displacement. For instance, the vast majority of studies from Spain do not focus explicitly on the eviction of residents, but study different facets of postmodernity, the living conditions of migrants and the dual real estate markets in gentrifying neighbourhoods. In contrast to this, Latin American case studies remind us that social cleansing and the purging of neighbourhoods of lower-income groups as well as the eviction of street vendors can be considered a constitutive element of gentrification and urban revanchism. This does not mean that revanchist ideology is absent in Spain, but there it is definitely embedded in different modes of action. Concepts such as race, ethnicity and class have clearly different meanings in Spain, and the existing welfare state configures urban life in a different way. This leads to the second point: namely, that the places where gentrification is occurring differ somehow. Gentrification in Spain is mainly experienced in central and semi-peripheral neighbourhoods of the city (with the exception of rural gentrification). By contrast, Latin American city regions can be considered as spaces of permanent reconstruction, and during this process they also undergo a gentrification of suburbia, for instance through gated communities that displace the most disfavoured population. In addition to this, the role that architectural heritage plays in gentrification is also somehow different in both areas. In Spanish cities, the renovation of heritage is part of state-led strategies of beautification, musealization and touristification of the city centre, as well as an asset for attracting knowledge workers. In Latin America, local administrations give major concessions to investors that transform architectural heritage into shopping malls and commercialized entertainment centres. All this shows that some different logics in the symbolic preparation of the city for gentrification apply.

Despite this, the comparative revision of gentrification through the territorial and linguistic lens of Spain and Latin America also provides significant similarities that make up a coherent picture. For instance, transnational and supranational policy regimes (such as the European URBAN network and UNESCO heritage policies) play an important role in establishing fundamental bases for gentrification — an aspect that provides evidence of how ‘systems of inter-jurisdictional policy transfer’ (Brenner et al., 2010b: 333) help to proliferate neoliberal politics of gentrification. Additionally, tourism-related gentrification can be considered one of the main strands of gentrification research in the Latin world. This responds to the important role tourism plays in many urban economies in Spain and Latin America, but also to the transformative power it has generally gained in service-based economies. In other words, tourism can be considered a rationale for targeting the symbolic transformation of urban space through state-led gentrification strategies. This leads to the point that the widespread coalitions between politicians and economic actors are embedded in market-oriented discourses that ironically, but persistently, pave the way for state-led neoliberal politics of gentrification. Furthermore, the comparative study of gentrification in Spain and Latin America also permits us to better observe symbolic gentrification in contemporary capitalism. Although the forms and codes may vary substantially from city to city, neoliberal policy implementation usually restricts the possibilities of the appropriation of space for the social and economic reproduction of poor and excluded populations.

This relates to the implicitly critical perspective on the gentrification debates by Spanish and Latin American researchers, who concentrate considerable effort on analysing resistance to gentrification. As mentioned earlier, such commitment is part of a self-understanding by social scientists as advocates of the non-conformist sectors of society, the under-represented classes and those traditionally excluded from the ‘benefits’ of neoliberal urbanism and other kinds of exclusive public policies. The studies of resistance to gentrification not only increase the transformative potential of participatory research, but also develop new emancipating positions and approaches capable of transcending the mainstream of urban research. This characterization will now be approached and clarified by studying the relation between mainstream Anglophone discourses and those in Spain and Latin America. As expressed synthetically in Table 3, mainstream Anglophone gentrification discourses differ widely from those now established in the ‘Latin’ world. In this regard, five different scenarios characterize the mutual interrelations as well as the differences and gaps existing between Spanish, Latin American and Anglophone gentrification research.

Table 3. Comparative perspectives on gentrification discourses in Spain, Latin America and the Anglophone mainstream
Characterization of Gentrification DebatesContents and discourses

Anglophone mainstream, Spain and Latin America

(similarly strong debates in all geographical areas)

  • Neoliberal politics of gentrification
  • State-led gentrification

Anglophone mainstream only

(nonexistent or negligible debates in Spain and Latin America)

  • Super-gentrification (geographies of gentrification in global cities)
  • Neoliberal politics of social mixture and gentrification
  • New-build gentrification
  • New geographies of gentrification (provincial gentrification, rural gentrification)

Predominantly Spain

(key debates in Spain and weak/exiguous debates in Anglophone mainstream and Latin America)

  • Gentrification and transnational migration flows

Predominantly Latin America

(key debates Latin America and weak/exiguous debates in Anglophone mainstream and Spain)

  • New real estate markets and gentrification

Predominantly Spain and Latin America

(key debates in Spain and Latin America and weak/exiguous debates in Anglophone mainstream)

  • Symbolical gentrification (tourism gentrification, retail gentrification, productive gentrification)
  • Resistance to gentrification

The first situation described here refers to the debates on the neoliberal politics of gentrification that acknowledge the key role the state plays in boosting gentrification (Hackworth, 2002; Smith, 2002; Lees, 2008), an aspect that is also discussed under the heading of ‘state-led’ or ‘policy-driven’ gentrification (Davidson, 2008; Rousseau, 2009). These state-assisted efforts can now be considered a general rule of urban development, part of the active implementation of neoliberal politics of gentrification and a means to reclaim the city for business, the middle class and market forces in general (Peck, 2006: 681). Such politics are exemplified in public–private partnership aiming at waterfront regeneration (Butler, 2007; Doucet et al., 2011a; 2011b), the recovery of old manufacturing zones (Díaz Orueta and Fainstein, 2008), or the renovation of historic city districts to meet the consumer demands of the middle and upper classes (Zukin, 1998). In all these cases, the state not only actively organizes the dispossession of lower-income households, but also implements a powerful discursive strategy to cover any interpretation of its own action as part of an aggressive, revanchist ideology designed to reconquer the inner city for the middle classes (Lees, 2008). Such arrangements can be considered a general rule of recent urban development, for which the corresponding discussions include similar theoretical assumptions. However, the examples from Spain and Latin America introduce new insights into the variegated geographies of gentrification.

But at this point, the commonalities between the ‘Latin’ world and the gentrification mainstream finish already, and throughout the four remaining categories some essential distinctions can be drawn. For instance, some intensive debates within mainstream research have no, or only a much reduced, equivalent in Spain and Latin America. One of these examples is the discourse about super-gentrification or, the (re)gentrification of already gentrified neighbourhoods, largely driven by finance and the new monetary elite of finance sector workers (Butler and Robson, 2003; Lees, 2003; Butler and Lees, 2006; Podagrosi et al., 2011). Due to the restricted scope of super-gentrification, which occurs only in a handful of global cities, it is not worth discussing it in Spain and Latin America for now. Similarly, neoliberal politics of social mixture such as those applied in Britain under the New Labour governments (Bridge et al., 2012; Davidson, 2008; Lees, 2008) have not occurred in Spain and Latin America at all, which is why the debate about its detrimental consequences as well as the myths behind the process (Lees et al., 2012; Rose et al., 2012) is equally nonexistent. New-build gentrification, another hot spot in recent mainstream debates (Lambert and Boddy, 2002; Boddy, 2007; Butler, 2007; Davidson, 2008; Davidson and Lees, 2010; Rérat and Lees, 2011), has not been addressed in any publication about Spain or Latin America either. However, in this case, this does not respond to an absence of the phenomenon; new-build gentrification certainly exists in Bilbao, Madrid and Barcelona, as well as in the Puerto Madero renewal scheme in Buenos Aires and the gentrified port zone in Rio de Janeiro. Nonetheless, researchers prefer to focus on the negative consequences of the programmes adopted instead of contributing to debates that focus on the question of whether new-build developments are a part of the variegated expressions of gentrification. In this regard, they apply — although unconsciously — demands such as those expressed by Slater (2006; 2008) regarding the repoliticization of gentrification research.

For this, we will now focus on the dimensions in which Spanish and Latin American researchers provide substantial contributions to the mainstream debates. One key aspect that can be derived especially from the Spanish gentrification debate relates to the mutual relation between gentrification and transnational migration. More than a decade ago, Loretta Lees (2000) raised this as a key issue to better understand gentrification in global cities, but her calls for engaging with transnational ‘third-world’ immigration in gentrification research went largely unheard, and only very recently, have migration and gentrification begun to receive at least some attention (Hackworth and Rekers, 2005; Murdie and Teixeira, 2011; Bacqué and Fijalkow, 2012; DeSena and Shortell, 2012). Contrary to this, the migration–gentrification nexus has been prominently covered by different Spanish researchers since the early 2000s. Some of them adapted critical research into the residential segregation, urban inequalities and institutional racism suffered by transnational migrants by viewing it through the lens of gentrification. This means that the concept serves as a theoretical tool for improving the critical study of migration. But, given the manifold differences in migration trajectories, urban policies and urban structurings, the relation between migration and gentrification in Madrid or Barcelona must be understood differently from that in Paris, London or New York.

In Latin America, one of the main approaches to gentrification can be found in the way new real estate markets have recently been created in Latin American city regions. Such a viewpoint on gentrification is notably absent from the Anglophone mainstream. In this regard, it responds to some degree to the different velocities of capitalist penetration that can be observed between Latin America and the Anglophone world. More than only proving the increasing incorporation of Latin American cities into commodified capitalist exchange relations, however, the relation between gentrification and recently created real estate markets involves a whole series of interesting insights that should be investigated further. Amongst others, the traditional research question of how gentrification, abandonment and displacement belong together (Marcuse, 1985), could be revisited and rearticulated through the Latin American experience of newly created real estate markets. Additionally, such research may provide insights into the question raised by Slater (2012: 189) about how critical urban theory can engage with the development of an analytical, political and moral framework that places the right to housing as a human right and a need that is intimately related to the demands of social justice.

This raises the issue of introducing the two central dimensions that play a dominant role in both Spanish and Latin American gentrification research and are generally overlooked in the mainstream: tourism-related symbolic gentrification and resistance to gentrification. With regard to the first, symbolic gentrification through tourism and culture has been related to artistic, cultural or architectonical heritage within mainstream research and has been referred to as ‘tourism gentrification’ (Gotham, 2005) and ‘commercial gentrification’ (Shaw, 2005; Pendlebury et al., 2009). However, these debates do not possess the same politically loaded importance and relevance that they have in the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking world. As mentioned earlier, the symbolic dimensions that prepare urban spaces for gentrification (in its different forms such as productive, tourism-related or retail-oriented gentrification) play a significant role: the shifts towards a service economy, new commercial activities and new types and organization of labour imply that downgraded neighbourhoods have been reconverted to a symbolically charged ‘container’ for the knowledge economy. With regard to this, different symbolic dimensions of gentrification (such as commercial and retail gentrification) should be better encompassed in mainstream gentrification research to bring together the variegated phenomena of the current capitalist cycle of accumulation by dispossession. This perspective means that gentrification is about more than merely housing and residential estates: it comprises also the emergence of new labour relations and a broader resignification of (public) space in times of social restructuring based on economic principles.

Additionally, the ‘Latin’ world also brings in new emancipatory approaches to study the relation between critical social scientists, urban social movements and the necessary resistance to gentrification. It reminds us that research on the resistance to gentrification may include different dimensions from those addressed recently with regard to resistance to displacement (Newman and Wyly, 2006; DeVerteuil, 2012). Spanish and Latin American debates locate themselves close to those that directly engage gentrification with protest (Papen, 2012), neighbourhood demands (Maeckelbergh, 2012) and counter-hegemonic social movements (Pruijt, 2012; Thörn, 2012). Such a viewpoint helps to resignify gentrification from a politically committed perspective that brings citizen claims back into the social sciences.

Gentrification in Spain and Latin America — final remarks

This literature revision has provided substantial support to a better understanding of the variegated geographies of gentrification from a standpoint that establishes a critical dialogue between the Anglophone mainstream and debates originated in Spain and Latin America. It not only adapts the term to specific urban, political, social and economic conditions, but also provides significant rearticulations that help to repoliticize urban studies and gentrification discourse (Slater, 2006; 2008; Smith, 2008; Wacquant 2008; Watt, 2008). The discussions presented have widely acknowledged that, when gentrification expands to urban settings outside the Anglophone world, it embraces local specificities and creates symbiotic forms that embed existing discourses, practices and administrative, political and social structurings. In this regard, the geographies of gentrification in Spanish and Latin American cities especially provide new insights into how aggressive capitalism and neoliberal urban politics create the revanchist city.

But, beyond this, critical engagement with Spain and Latin America invalidates and delegitimates any a-critical vision of gentrification that states the positive effects of renewal policies in any of the cities under examination. Furthermore, it enhances critical reflexions such as debates about the right to the city — especially regarding the role public space plays in urban politics and gentrification (Chaskin and Joseph, 2012). As has been widely addressed in this article, the neoliberal politics of (symbolic) gentrification have to do with questions related to more than only housing. They additionally prevent citizens from using and appropriating public space, for instance by privatizing and controlling it and diminishing the range of possible (formal and informal) activities. Addressing gentrification through the role that public space plays in the ‘Latin’ world is an essential step. This is why concerns about the transformation of public spaces into commercialized, controlled and politically vacant places are frequent. The eviction of undesired populations reminds us of how urban renewal literally can be evaluated as ‘social cleansing’ that displaces and criminalizes undesired social and political practices. In this regard, the socially embedded and distinctive appropriation of public space makes it necessary to readdress the different dimensions of displacement and its interrelations with abandonment and gentrification (Marcuse, 1985).

Another interesting claim that arises from ‘Latin’ discourses considers gentrification not as a necessary final consequence of neoliberal urban politics. For instance, some progressive Latin American governments are looking for emancipatory ways to reform aggressive capitalism. They also experience and experiment with new approaches to readdress urban politics, constructing the bases for more inclusive societies. The resulting ‘spaces of hope’ (Harvey, 2000) may have the transformative power to spread into the dominant geographies and politics of gentrification, providing a better understanding of the incoherence, fallacies and ruptures of the dominant discourses of contemporary neoliberal capitalism. Such an observation necessarily requires further research into resistance to gentrification, for example in Venezuela and Bolivia, countries that have not been studied by any gentrification researcher so far. But it also reminds us that gentrification research in the ‘Latin’ world stems from discussions about the fights against the destructive power that neoliberalization has for broader sections of society. Such discussions predate the diffusion of the term gentrification, and they provide the only way to address gentrification in the ‘Latin’ world, namely as a negative consequence of contemporary capitalism. At least since the outbreak of the second Great Recession in 2008, and boosted by the global spread of the Occupy Movement, the defence of common goods and claims to housing as a right have increasingly gained ground worldwide. But in Spain and Latin America many of these ‘new’ demands reflect quite common social practices: The occupation of land, urban space and vacant buildings is a deeply rooted strategy to claim the right to the city in Latin America (Zibechi, 2008) and, in the course of the indignados movement, the occupation of abandoned buildings has now widely spread to all major Spanish metropolitan areas. Such counter-hegemonic action cracks some key aspects of capitalist domination (Holloway, 2010), so that political and social alternatives to neoliberal capitalism mature and diffuse into everyday practice. As Maeckelbergh (2012: 666) states, ‘movements draw a continuum from gentrification to economic crisis by linking both to “neoliberalism”, thereby identifying the source of current housing problems not as the failure of financial markets, but as “neoliberalism” itself’. This idea now represents a growing consensus and is no longer restricted to left-wing activists and squatters — it increasingly embraces common middle-class households and the ‘creative class’ fighting against gentrification, although they have been formerly (mis)used to justify gentrification in their name (Novy and Coulomb, 2012). Thus, new appropriations of the language are taking place, bringing together critical social scientists, experts in gentrification and social movements — in Spain, Latin America and the Anglophone world.


  1. 1

    Literature in French and German as well as in non-majoritarian languages of the Iberian Peninsula was also detected, but the analysis will not take it into account.

  2. 2

    Dialnet is a scientific database implemented and updated by the University of La Rioja (Logroño) and the Fundación Dialnet. It collaborates with 69 scientific libraries in Spain and five Latin American countries and registers the publication records of 907 journals in Social Sciences. URL: (accessed 1 February 2013).

  3. 3

    Redalyc is a platform hosted at the Autonomous University of the Federal State of Mexico, providing open access to 758 scientific journals published in Spanish and Portuguese, 534 of them within the field of Social Sciences. URL: (accessed 1 February 2013).