Re-urbanizing London Docklands: Gentrification, Suburbanization or New Urbanism?



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    1. Department of Geography, King's College London, UK
      Tim Butler (, Department of Geography, King's College London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS, UK.
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Tim Butler (, Department of Geography, King's College London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS, UK.



This article is based on a study of Docklands in London, which was undertaken as part of a larger study of gentrification in inner London. Using interview and survey data, the article compares Docklands with the gentrification that has taken place elsewhere in inner London. Whilst there were important differences between these inner-London study areas, all differ qualitatively from the process in Docklands. The article questions whether the distinction that is normally drawn between ‘gentrification by capital’ and ‘gentrification by collective social action’ is appropriate and argues that this disguises the nature of the urban regeneration being undertaken in Docklands. It is suggested that this is more a process of re-urbanization in which some of the characteristics normally associated with suburban development are being brought to an area near the centre of the city, but in a context more normally reserved for gentrification. The data from the survey show that for many of the respondents in Docklands, the kind of life they are seeking is often associated with some conceptions of suburban life. It is suggested that both gentrification and suburbanization as concepts need to be used with care in understanding contemporary processes of re-urbanization such as are occurring in Docklands and the central areas of other British cities.


Cet article s'appuie sur une étude du quartier des Docks de Londres, menée dans le cadre de travaux plus vastes relatifs à l'embourgeoisement du centre londonien. Des données provenant d'entretiens et d'enquêtes permettent une comparaison entre cette zone et d'autres quartiers centraux ayant connu un embourgeoisement. S'il existe d'importantes différences entre ces quartiers du centre-ville, tous divergent au plan qualitatif du processus des Docks. En s'interrogeant sur la pertinence de la distinction entre ‘embourgeoisement par le capital’ et ‘embourgeoisement par l'action sociale collective’, l'article avance que cette vision dissimule la nature de la régénération urbaine entreprise dans le quartier des Docks. Il s'agit davantage d'un processus de ré-urbanisation dans lequel des caractéristiques associées habituellement à l'aménagement des banlieues sont apportées dans une zone située près du centre-ville, bien que dans un contexte plus normalement réservéà l'embourgeoisement. Les résultats d'enquête montrent que, pour bon nombre des personnes interrogées, le genre de vie recherché dans le quartier des Docks se rapproche de certaines conceptions de la vie suburbaine. Il convient donc d'utiliser avec prudence les concepts d'embourgeoisement et de suburbanisation si l'on veut comprendre les processus contemporains de ré-urbanisation, tels que ceux qui ont lieu dans le quartier des Docks et dans le centre d'autres grandes villes britanniques.


This article investigates, through the discursive practices of ‘new urban professionals’, the relationships between urban form and the socio-economic composition of residents choosing to live in a large-scale regeneration project built on former industrial land in London's East End. There has, surprisingly, been relatively little work done on the residential context of such developments — exceptions include Mills’ (1988) study of False Creek in Vancouver, and Karsten's (2003) study of family gentrifiers in a port development in Amsterdam. The case of London's Docklands is particularly interesting given the large size of, and high degree of internal differentiation within, the professional managerial class living and/or working in London. The proximity of this huge development project to London's financial district (the City of London) also makes this an interesting case study.

The regeneration of London's former port areas, which lie to the east of the centre of London on both sides of the river Thames (see Figure 1), began in 1980 and is now largely complete. The development programme was initiated by Margaret Thatcher's incoming Conservative government and was always controversial — both in terms of its methods (market-driven) and the manner in which it sought actively to promote regeneration by replacing a socially ‘redundant’ formerly working-class population with an incoming largely middle-class one (Brownill, 1990; Foster, 1999). The resulting area — now commonly known as London Docklands — has been seen as epitomizing the socially divisive nature of urban regeneration. What was intended as an exercise in urban regeneration has subsequently been widely characterized as a process of developer-led gentrification (Slater, 2006). Others have hailed Docklands as illustrative of the kind of re-urbanization which we can expect to see in the future based around new forms of dense urbanism such as those proposed by the Urban Taskforce (1999), which are also exemplified by the ‘new urbanism’ movement of the 1990s in the United States (Talen, 1999). Indeed, Ken Livingstone (the leader of the former Greater London Council and now London's Mayor) envisages extending the Docklands model to the rest of the Thames Gateway (an area running along both banks of the Thames east from the city) as the only way of sustaining London's continued growth and leading position in the global urban hierarchy (see[last accessed 30 July 2007]).

Figure 1.

Three Docklands areas

This strategy reflects one of the main tenets of new urbanism: that of halting continued unsustainable suburban expansion by bringing growth into (or at least towards) the city. Docklands (and indeed new urbanism) can be seen to contain elements of both suburbanization and gentrification, which have traditionally been seen as mutually exclusive phenomena. Most empirical studies of Docklands have focused on the nature of its emerging social divisions rather than the regeneration process itself. In this article, I contrast what I see as the re-urbanization of Docklands with the gentrification process that has occurred elsewhere in inner London, drawing on the discursive practices of the new urban professionals who formed the majority of my respondents in Docklands and five other survey sites across inner London. I question whether, on the one hand, the regeneration of Docklands can be explained within either gentrification or suburbanization paradigms and, on the other, whether there is anything ‘new’ about such regeneration projects, as the so-called new urbanism movement might suggest.

The next section contextualizes a brief discussion of gentrification, suburbanization and new urbanism in relation to the development of London. This leads into a discussion of the research data which distinguish three (broadly similar) research areas in Docklands from those in five other gentrified areas in inner London. I then draw on interview data to identify respondents’ discursive practices in relation to where they live and contrast these to the responses from interviewees living elsewhere in gentrified inner London. Finally, I draw some conclusions about how we might best characterize a development such as has taken place in Docklands and the extent to which existing social scientific conceptions of urban process are able to encompass such developments.

Gentrification, suburbanization and new urbanism in the development of London Docklands

Suburbanization and gentrification have provided the two strongest accounts of the urbanization process in the twentieth century: they are also both key explanatory concepts used by urban scholars. Both concepts arrive saturated with meaning and values relating to perceptions of social class, gender and ‘race’. More recently, concepts such as ‘smart growth’ and ‘compact cities’ have informed the development of a movement that has become known as ‘new urbanism’ in an attempt to bridge or resolve the suburban–gentrification polarity.

Both approaches however involve a dependency on the city — the suburbanizing middle classes remained as attached to the city as they had previously been; they just didn't want to live in its dirty, crowded and often unhealthy streets and housing (Clapson, 2003). Cities thus became places where men went to work and suburbia became a largely feminized space associated with socialization and social reproduction to which men returned when they were not at work (McDowell, 1991). The suburbs often became seen as ‘whitelands’ in contradistinction to the ‘ethnicization’ of the ‘inner city’ (Harrison, 1985) — although this was less the case in the United States with it history of black suburbanization (Patillo-McCoy, 1999). Crudely, the inner city was poor and deprived and the suburbs were affluent and ‘aspirational’.

The concept of gentrification challenged some of these assumptions about middle-class life. Indeed it has been argued that gentrification has largely been driven by women's aspirations to professional status (Bondi, 1991; 1999; Warde, 1991; cfButler and Hamnett, 1994 for a critique). Ironically, however, gentrification — at least until very recently — has remained as solidly associated with whiteness as suburban middle-class life.

It would, nevertheless, be a mistake to see gentrification and suburbanization in the same terms. Although the original move to the suburbs was by the middle classes, it was never exclusively a middle-class process nor is it necessarily even a class process. Gentrification, on the other hand, has always involved issues of social class, whatever the other disagreements about what it is (Hamnett, 1991; Lees, 1994). Gentrification, despite the attempts of those branded by Slater (2006) as its apologists (which include the current author), has always been paired with displacement and is fundamentally a process of class change.

Despite these distinctions, some approaches to gentrification have seen it and suburbanization as two sides of the same coin: the restless search by capital to identify and exploit emerging ‘rent gaps’ and set off new cycles of accumulation (Smith, 1979). Most accounts, however, have defined the two processes as spatially specific — either to the inner city (in the case of gentrification) or the city fringe (in the case of suburbanization). The problem is that these accounts are rooted in specific moments of the paired process of industrialization and urbanization that took place in the 19th and 20th centuries. By categorizing such processes as either gentrification or suburbanization, we run the risk of blinding ourselves to the significance of what might be happening near to — although not in — the centres of large cities.

Accounts of gentrification and suburbanization have posed the pair as a zero sum game either in terms of investment cycles or residential choice — in that the more people decided to gentrify (not necessarily by returning to the city but simply by not leaving it) then the less the growth of suburbia. In practice, of course, the process has not been so simple for four reasons. Firstly, the middle class has itself grown enormously and has therefore been able to populate both movements.1 Secondly, there has been a growth in working class ‘flight’ from the city to the suburbs — arguably, making the working class middle-class in the process (see Berry, 1985 and Bourne, 1993 for the classic analysis of these debates). Thirdly, internal and international migration has added substantially to the numbers living in the city — both in the centre and the suburbs (Champion et al., 2007; London School of Economics, 2007). Fourthly, deindustrialization has led both to the growth of central city financial districts and peri-urban science parks (or ‘campuses’ in the language of many knowledge industry corporations). In all cases, deindustrialization has been associated with the growth of the urban whether at its core or its periphery.2 We need therefore to question the extent to which the two processes of gentrification and suburbanization can be described as spatially and conceptually distinctive aspects of urban change.

There are three reasons for making this assertion — at least for a major city region like London. The first is that the urban context in which gentrification and suburbanization are now occurring has changed dramatically over the last 50 years in which the two processes have been most active. Cities and their city regions now dominate most advanced economies and a majority of the world's population is now urban (Amin and Thrift, 2002). The second reason is that much of what is now happening in London's suburbs involves processes of class change and de facto replacement of existing populations, which was not the case when suburbanization was at its height half a century ago. The third reason, which forms the focus of much of this article, is that some of the changes taking place nearer to the centre of London have taken on some of the characteristics traditionally associated with suburbanization in ways that might be influenced by ‘new urbanism’.

Is there a new urbanism?

These observations are not new; many others have also begun to question the nature of urban change. Graham and Marvin's (2001) work on splintering urbanism, for example, has explored many of these issues with its identification of a range of ‘premium places’ strung out along major routes out of and around metropolitan areas. The growing corpus of work on gated communities is indicative of a change of approach to suburban development (Atkinson and Flint, 2004; Grant and Mittelsteadt, 2004; Low, 2004; Atkinson, 2006). Atkinson (2006: 822), for example, refers to processes of ‘insulation, incubation and incarceration’ in examining new types of (essentially) middle-class habitation. Savage et al. (2005) have argued for a process of ‘elective belonging’ to understand the relationship between the middle classes and the city in the context of economic globalization. Taken together, these various approaches recognize a new geography and sociology of the middle classes whose members now span a huge social range, from routine non-manual workers to the highest professionals with six figure bonuses to spend. A more positive gloss is put on some new forms of designed community by the ‘new urbanism’ movement (Talen, 1999). New urbanism has attempted to bridge the divide between the social exclusiveness of gated communities and the desire to achieve a traditional sense of urban, or at least small-town, community.

Its promoters stress the conviction that the built environment can create a ‘sense of community’, grounded in the idea that private communication networks are simply no substitute for real neighbourhoods, and that a reformulated philosophy about how we build communities will overcome our current civic deficits, build social capital and revive a community spirit which is currently lost (Talen, 1999: 1361).

There have, however, been few, if any, suggestions that London Docklands was built in this semi-utopian tradition of forming urban communities that somehow bridged the problems inherent in urban density and diversity on the one hand, and the nightmare of suburban sprawl and conformity on the other. Nevertheless, Docklands has come to occupy an interesting social and spatial space between inner-city gentrification and outer city suburbanization in terms of both design and social mix. The next section discusses the evolution of the Docklands development in the context of the changes that have accompanied London's rapid development as a post industrial city over the last three decades.

The changing nature of gentrification and suburbanization in the London region

Buck et al. (2002: 21–4) claim that the London with which a Londoner would have been familiar in the early 1950s would be largely unrecognizable to one of its contemporary citizens. It was essentially a mono-ethnic, predominantly working-class city with its furthest commuter suburbs stretching no more than about 25 miles in any one direction from Charing Cross (an area sometimes regarded as the centre of London and the name of a railway station). This was surrounded by what were known as the ‘Home Counties’ which, as the term suggests, provided dormitories for the families of many of London's (almost entirely male) affluent managers and civil servants. What has changed is that not only is the whole of the South East of England now part of a ‘greater London region’, hundreds of thousands of whose residents commute on a daily basis, but that increasingly London's pull extends far beyond this corner of the south east. The most dramatic, and undoubtedly hyperbolic, statement in this respect is the one made by Dorling and Thomas (2004) — on the basis of their analysis of the 2001 Census — that there are now two Britains: London and ‘not-London’:

Our conclusion is that the country is being split into half. To the South is the metropolis of Greater London, which now extends across all of southern England in its immediate spatial impact. To the North and West is the archipelago of the provinces, a series of poorly connected city cluster islands that appear to be slowly sinking demographically, socially and economically (Dorling and Thomas 2004: 7, emphasis in the original).

Historical context matters here, as all these changes and the associated theorization and description have occurred in the context of changing conceptions of London as a city: as the first city of Empire, as the national capital and now as the dominant international centre of a new global financial economy (see Massey, 2007 for a discussion of London as a ‘world city’). Many of what are now London's prime gentrified areas (Notting Hill Gate; Islington; Wandsworth) were, as Peter Hall (2004) has observed, its suburbs in the nineteenth century. What are now icons of inner London's cappuccino belt and its altars to conspicuous consumption were, less than a generation ago, its pits of despair and yet, a century ago, formed its salubrious suburbs. The same may now be the case for its rapidly urbanizing interwar suburbs and indeed the countryside beyond. Whether one extends this as far as Dorling and Thomas suggest is questionable but, as Buck et al. (2002) indicate, there is now a metropolitan travel-to-work area which extends well beyond London's traditional Home Counties. At the beginning of the twenty-first century suburbanization and gentrification involve different kinds of people, moving across different kinds of spaces in remarkably changed circumstances from when the terms originated — we can give three examples of this.

  • 1The suburbs of the twentieth century are now being repopulated by different groups of people, often from a higher social class, who are displacing the existing, now ageing, residents who moved there from inner London in the decades after the second world war. The long-term process of upward class mobility that has been occurring in inner London since the 1960s, but which speeded up dramatically in the 1980s and 1990s, is causing some of those it displaces themselves to replace others as they move out from the centre (Butler et al., 2006). This could be seen either as traditional displacement-led gentrification or suburbanization; however, neither accurately describes what is now occurring. Many of these upwardly and outwardly mobile people are members of minority ethnic populations who are leaving inner London precisely because they are now able to afford to move into owner occupation although usually not in inner London where they have been living.3 There is thus a process of class and ethnic ‘sorting’ taking place both between and within inner and outer London (Butler et al., 2006; Butler et al., forthcoming). This can be seen as a variation on the process of residential choice and social segmentation that Savage et al. (2005) have described as ‘elective belonging’.
  • 2In some respects, this parallels the ‘super gentrification’ process noted by Lees (2000; 2003) in Brooklyn and more recently identified in parts of North London (Butler and Lees, 2006). First and second generations of middle-class gentrifiers are, it is claimed, finding themselves being displaced by those from an altogether wealthier class of ‘super professionals’ working in the financial and associated sectors in such major global cities as London and New York. This reworking of the gentrification dynamic is occurring across the social and spatial scale in contemporary London and increasingly in that territory reserved as suburbia.
  • 3Finally, some of the processes of inner-city regeneration, whilst displaying many of the characteristics of gentrification such as displacement and social class upgrading, also bear some of the characteristics of suburbanization. This has been described in relation to the debate about gated communities as a process of ‘forting’ (Atkinson, 2006). Whilst there may not be as many examples of this in the United Kingdom as the United States, where many millions are reckoned to live in such ‘communities’, there are growing numbers in the UK who state a wish to live in ‘same class’ groupings near to — but not in — the city and to surround themselves with walls or other barriers against social mixing (Atkinson and Flint, 2004). Lambert and Boddy (2002, see also Boddy, 2007) in their study of the conversion of commercial office buildings to residential use in inner Bristol have noted the wish to live separately not just from other social classes but also from different generations (Tonkiss, 2005: 91). This has also been put forward as a raison d’être for the growth of gated communities in the United States (Low, 2004).

These arguments complicate the accepted explanations for gentrification including those that stress the attraction of the ‘emancipatory city’ (Caulfield, 1994; Mills, 1988; Lees, 2004). This has led some to argue that gentrification was a particularly emancipatory movement for professional middle-class women, allowing them to integrate into a professional labour market and not be tied to suburban incubators, and was associated with a wider claim that gentrification was as much a process of gender as of class (Bondi, 1991; McDowell, 1991; Warde, 1991; but see Butler and Hamnett, 1994 for a critique).

In its early stages, gentrification might therefore be explained as a reaction against suburbanization and as a search for the excitement and frisson of the city (Savage and Warde, 1993; Butler, 1997). In seeking out the excitement of the city, the early gentrifiers reflected their disenchantment with the places of their upbringing (Ley, 1994). Following their initial experiences of living away from home at university, the excitement of city living was overwhelming, and it was this that helped drive the process of gentrification from the 1960s onwards (Williams, 1986; Ley, 1996; Butler, 1997).4 To some extent, at least in London and the South East of Britain, the processes of working-class suburbanization and middle-class gentrification have coincided, creating a ‘contraflow’ of respective outward and inward spatial movement which has been associated with upward social mobility.

There are, therefore, two opposed, yet interrelated and simultaneous, processes occurring in the London region: that of centralization (gentrification) and decentralization (suburbanization), which have been driven by the continuing consequences of deindustrialization, industrial restructuring and globalization (Hamnett, 2003). In broad terms, this has resulted in a sustained growth in the proportion of higher professional workers living in inner London (Butler et al., forthcoming).

In the next section, I develop the discussion of suburbanization and gentrification in relation to Docklands which, although it is immediately adjacent to London's financial centre, has in the minds of its inhabitants acquired some of the characteristics of traditional suburbia. This is in direct contrast to other gentrified inner-city areas in London where people contrast their lives starkly with the ‘nightmare of suburbia’.

Docklands — new urban forms and their residents’ discursive practices

Docklands has been cited as a leading example of ‘gentrification by capital’ in contrast to ‘gentrification by collective social action’ (Warde, 1991: 230). This author, following Warde, has argued that most of the gentrification of inner London has been undertaken by the latter (Butler with Robson, 2003). ‘Gentrification by capital’ has been restricted to a relatively few areas of central London and its fringe — the Barbican (Heathcote, 2004), Clerkenwell (Hamnett and Whitelegg, 2001; 2007), Shoreditch/Hoxton (Attfield, 1997) and notably Docklands (Butler with Robson, 2003: 63–7). Warde argues that Docklands is a paradigm case of the rent gap approach to gentrification (for a summary see Atkinson, 2003: 2344) in which gentrification is, in the subtitle to Smith's (1979) article, a ‘return to the city by capital not people’. This was undoubtedly the case in Docklands in the early 1980s; land was cheap (under £1 million an acre) and the state was determined to use this to promote a property-led ‘regeneration’ of the area (Smith, 1989; Brownill, 1990). This would appear to be as near an ‘open and shut’ case of gentrification as could be found in the United Kingdom. In what follows, I question the extent to which this remains the case on the basis of extensive fieldwork undertaken both in Docklands and elsewhere in inner London.

The regeneration of Docklands bears some social similarities to the more recent conversion of inner-city buildings noted by Boddy in Bristol (Lambert and Boddy, 2002; Boddy, 2007), Davidson and Lees (2005) on London's riverside and Hamnett and Whitelegg (2007) on Clerkenwell in London's ‘City Fringe’. Boddy refers to this as a process of re-urbanization rather than gentrification largely on the grounds that there is no displacement of population. Most of the buildings were in commercial use and have been converted to residential accommodation. In this sense, there are no victims and the process is one in which the city centre is being re-inhabited. He takes issue with Davidson and Lees’ (2005) argument that London's riverside high-rise renaissance is but the latest iteration of a gentrification process. Davidson and Lees dispute the argument that this is victimless urban regeneration which merely reflects the ongoing social upgrading that is occurring in the recently de-industrialized riverside areas of central London. Hamnett and Whitelegg's (2007) study of loft conversions in Clerkenwell is also concerned with changes in property use and firmly rejects Boddy's assertion that ‘gentrification is almost too quaint and small scale a concept to capture the processes at work’ in what he terms contemporary re-urbanization. Hamnett explicitly recognizes that gentrification can occur in a range of different situations and involve many different kinds of property use. What these studies show is that there is a need to reconsider the definition of gentrification in the contemporary context — as Smith and Butler (2007) argue, it has now moved beyond its origins in which one could identify a place (the inner city) and a specific class process (working-class displacement). Docklands has clearly been subject to a process of re-urbanization, but that in itself tells us little about the actual process. In what follows, I contrast the socio-economic characteristics and especially the narratives offered by Dockland residents to those in other more traditional inner-London gentrification sites in order to identify points of convergence and divergence from the accepted notion of gentrification in inner London.

The three faces of Docklands

Docklands combines three places that were brought together by the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) at its foundation in 1980 (see Figure 1): the Isle of Dogs (in the borough of Tower Hamlets); Surrey Quays (in Southwark); and the Royals (in Newham, and so called because of the Victoria, Albert and George V docks — see Figure 2). Powers over planning and development, which previously resided with the three boroughs, were vested in the LDDC which, under its first Chief Executive Reg Ward, imposed an aggressively ‘light touch’ regime in relation to planning approval and planning precepts. This had the effect of cutting the area off from its ‘baggage’ of social and economic obligations to poorer and more deprived residents.5

Figure 2.

Royal Docks

The design of buildings in Docklands is visually extremely heterogeneous with a true pastiche of styles largely built around private space rather than along the traditional public space of the street (Tonkiss, 2005: 87). This essentially postmodern style reflected the conditions of its birth in the 1980s in which Mrs Thatcher — when Prime Minister — made a point of buying a new-build house on a private development in Dulwich in South London whose neo-Tudor design, she implied, represented the aspirations of the new entrepreneurial spirit in contemporary Britain in contrast to the Victorian terraces so treasured by the professional classes (Wright, 1985). As such, much of Docklands contrasts dramatically with the design-led imperatives behind the ‘new urbanism’ movement with its concerns to utilize good design precepts drawn from traditional notions of urban form to establish a sense of ‘community’ amongst residents. Not only is there no common theme in the design of the Docklands built environment, but there is evidence of an almost conscious wish to distance itself from planning concerns presumably because these were, in the age of the Thatcher ascendancy, associated with the failure of state-led social engineering in much UK post-war urban redevelopment. In practice, there was no overall design brief and, in line with the LDDC's ‘light touch’ approach, developers were largely left alone to design and plan each individual development with little reference to the neighbouring development or to broader issues of how these places might work socially. Ironically, and entirely predictably, this market individualism gave rise to a bland uniformity.

If the early gentrifiers rejected the sameness of the suburbs, the mass production of gentrified spaces now creates suburbs in the city — higher rent enclaves of visual and social sameness. In its advanced stage, then, gentrification has become a key way in which parts of the city ‘undiversify’ themselves (Tonkiss 2005: 91).

It was as if they were being guided by the (in)famous Prime Ministerial precept that ‘there is no such thing as society’.6 This is reflected in the (design and build) architecture which, whilst varied, broadly incorporated a series of styles intended to impart a sense of affluence and internationalism found in similar developments in equally affluent locales across the globe where ‘new money’ was emerging and expatriate communities were settling — Miami being a good example (Portes and Stepick, 1993). Many of those who bought into the Docklands developments in the early years were Hong Kong Chinese seeking a UK bolthole in the years leading up to the colony's hand-back to China. The contrast, however, with the postmodern False Creek redevelopment in Vancouver (Mills, 1988; Ley, 1996), which was also popular with expatriate Chinese yet has received widespread accolades for its design approach, is instructive.

In the Isle of Dogs, which was the first area to be developed, much of the construction was large-scale, notably the Canada Square development around Canary Wharf and many of the large residential blocks that were built on the riverfront (so guaranteeing residents a prized river view). Almost all of these were more or less subtly gated – usually with off-street parking and a high-visibility resident gatekeeper permanently on duty. These ‘top fifth’ projects

provide options for well-to-do professionals and business people looking for privacy and exclusivity in the residential environment. These projects have attractive gates. Promotional material for the developments emphasize security but may not discuss gates. Residents enjoy the comfort of having neighbours who are like themselves. The addresses become a mark of prestige in the local context (Grant and Mittelsteadt, 2004: 916).

These often stylistically overblown riverside developments (see Figure 3.4) were frequently envisaged as city pied-à-terres with many residents owning ‘somewhere in the country’ to which they retired at weekends (Crilley et al., 1991; Hall and Ogden 1992). The Isle of Dogs was also relatively cut off from the rest of London — even the City — until the Jubilee Line Extension was completed, connecting the area with the rest of London via the underground system on the eve of the millennium. Only those with business in Docklands and the City could find much interest in living in the Isle of Dogs and its postmodern blocks of flats. McDowell (1997) notes that even within this group, few of her respondents in the banking sector lived or wanted to live in Docklands: it was too cut off for those with their cultural and social capital so heavily invested elsewhere in London.

Figure 3.4.

Isle of Dogs — riverside block

Surrey Quays and the Royals were different. In Surrey Quays there are two major forms of housing, upscale and largely gated blocks on the river front (Figure 3.2) and a conventional, suburban-style hinterland (Figure 3.1). The former are protected by bars and electronic access systems and in appearance are very similar to the kind of gated blocks common across North and South American cities (Caldeira, 2001). They are more aggressively gated and impenetrable than the rather more upmarket blocks described in the Isle of Dogs. There were few human gatekeepers, but more obvious surveillance technology. For their part, the houses which are arranged in estate-like clusters away from the river are not formally protected by electronic or gated access, but are built on carefully designed cul-de-sacs to discourage non residents from entering their serpentine ways; these estates have common grassed areas to the front and room for children to play. Grant and Mittelsteadt (2004: 917) describe this form as the ‘barricade perch’. In many respects, they bear a striking resemblance to much of the housing found in suburban and small town new-build estates across England. What is strange is the transposition of their non-metropolitan housing style into an inner-London ex-industrial residential development.

Figure 3.2.

Surrey Quays — gated block

Figure 3.1.

Surrey Quays — housing estate

This theme is carried over into parts of the Royals, in which the built environment is equally suburban — with large housing estates of often indistinguishable housing like many of those found outside London. To many of its residents, this is one of the attractions of living there — that one can buy a ‘proper house’ in an affordable area near to central London's labour market (Butler and Rix, 2000). These estates go back to the earliest days of the Docklands development whilst the more recent developments (Figure 3.3) reflect a more self-conscious urban design ethos, with a mix of townhouses and flats built around the dockside in the former Victoria and Albert docks (Tait, 2003). This development was branded ‘Britannia Village’ by its developer and came complete with carefully restored and renovated dockside cranes to add authenticity — although it should be noted that a liberal application of anti-climb paint and strategically placed barbed wire renders them entirely inoperable. Quite apart from the physical style of the housing which differs from the Isle of Dogs and Surrey Quays, the physical layout of the Royals is different. The Royals were already heavily ‘walled’ from their days as docks when such barriers were necessary to keep the goods in and the locals out (Marriott, 1999). The whole area is further divided by a series of parallel but non-intersecting ‘paths’ running west to east: with the A13 to the north and the railway, Docklands Light Railway (DLR), the dockside and the river Thames to the south (see Figure 2 above). There is an unusually strict zoning of residential and commercial building serving to separate off each area — so the large suburban estates and the Britannia Village are hermetically sealed from each other and from any residual social housing. This zoning effect is further emphasized by the DLR stations which are incorporated into roundabouts on the road each of which operates as a ‘radial centre’ for a particular neighbourhood or subdistrict. The degree of physical separation of one group of developments and their populations from another is consequently greater here than elsewhere in Docklands although there is less human or technological surveillance than in the other two areas. In all three areas however there is a more pronounced social and spatial separation than is found elsewhere in London.

Figure 3.3.

Royal Docks — Britannia Village development

The socio-demographics of Docklands new urban professionals

The contrasts that emerged from the research between the gentrification process elsewhere in inner London and what was taking place in Docklands are stark.7 Respondents in the non-Docklands areas were mostly born in the 20 years following the end of the second world war, whereas respondents in Docklands tended to divide into a somewhat older and a somewhat younger group although the mean age was similar; they were either frantically busy young people making their way (usually) in the City (i.e. in financial services) and highly committed to work and consumerism or, on the other hand, older people, often empty nesters, divorcees or second homeowners, who had shed their family responsibilities and wanted somewhere with fewer social and property maintenance obligations. Three quarters of Docklands respondents worked in Central London (divided roughly equally between Canary Wharf, the City and the West End) — the remaining quarter either worked from home, elsewhere in London or abroad. Forty percent had a second home; for many this was the main home to which they retreated at weekends using their Docklands residence simply as a pied-à-terre in London. In some cases, the family still lived in the country, in others the children had left home and both partners spent the week in ‘town’ returning to the ‘country’ at the weekend. Only 14% of respondents had children at home (and this included those households with children at the primary home outside London), compared with an overall percentage of 40% for respondents and, in the case of Telegraph Hill in south London, nearly two thirds. Docklands had a far higher percentage of single person households (54%) compared to 31% for all respondents. There were not any particularly significant differences between the three Docklands areas in any of these findings: except that those in the Isle of Dogs tended to be older and those in Britannia Village younger — this might be related to when the developments took place (almost a decade separated them).

The predominance of middle-class groups in the data is unsurprising given the sampling strategy — what is surprising is the concentration of social class 1 respondents amongst the Docklands sample. All three study areas are middle-class enclaves in otherwise non-middle-class boroughs. Although, by definition, gentrified areas are enclaves of higher-class settlement in lower-class districts, the three Docklands areas are exaggeratedly so compared to the other areas in the research. The bias is towards social class 1 (higher professionals and managers) with a lower proportion of social class 2 respondents, as indicated by Figure 4. The contrast is further amplified by the fact that the three boroughs themselves have a proportion of social class 1 residents at, or in the case of Newham well below, the London average. The social class differences between the three areas in the sample were minimal with marginally fewer in social class 2 in Britannia Village, which had rather more in social class 3.

Figure 4.

Social class (using National Statistics-Social Economic Classifications [NS-SEC)

Exploring the data further shows that Docklands proportion of respondents in social class 1 (large employers and higher managerial and professional workers) was the second highest overall — the highest being once more the ‘super gentrifying’ area of Barnsbury at 53% (Butler and Lees, 2006). This, however, has to be viewed against the relative lack of ‘cultural capital’ possessed by respondents in Docklands as measured by their possession of higher educational qualifications. In the sample overall, 81% of respondents had received a higher education — generally at elite institutions: however only 54% of Docklands residents had gone to university. Of those, Docklands also had the lowest proportions of Oxbridge8 graduates (3% as against 12% for the sample as a whole and over 30% in the case of Barnsbury). Those that had gone to university were more likely to have studied scientific or engineering subjects than the other respondents and in their present occupations were more involved in management or technical (usually information technology) as opposed to professional occupations. There were some differences between the sub-areas, with the Isle of Dogs having the lowest proportion of university graduates (48%) compared to Surrey Quays (56%) and Britannia Village (60%). These individual differences contrast with the high figures for the sample as a whole and, taken with the more managerial and technical bent of their employment, this suggests a rather different socio-cultural profile from those gentrifying elsewhere in inner London.

These findings relating to social class are largely reflected in respondents’ incomes. Approximately 10% of the Docklands sample earned over £150,000 a year (in 2000). These were distributed more or less evenly across the three areas, with the highest (by a small margin) being in Surrey Quays. Those on low incomes (less than £30,000 a year) tended to be clustered in Britannia Village, where flats had been available for approximately £100,000 until the late 1990s. Apart from Barnsbury, Docklands had the highest proportion of respondents earning over £150,000 and also earning less than £30,000 (40% compared to 24% for the sample as a whole). Other areas had higher household incomes because there were more dual-income households and also more income earners in the £100,000 bracket. Docklands was therefore more polarized between the richer and poorer; this reinforces the analysis of respondents’ social class (see Figure 4) discussed above.

These socio-cultural differences may be explained, at least in part, by differences in the built environment, which themselves are perhaps an outcome of the differential levels of cultural capital referred to above. Respondents in Docklands are buying into designer neighbourhoods (Ley, 1986) –– a marketed concept of housing in which taste has been engineered in as an integral part of the urban chic being promoted by the developer (Tonkiss, 2005). This contrasts with the deployment of taste as an integral part of gentrification's urban chic (Jager, 1986) which has been noted elsewhere in inner London (Butler with Robson, 2003). They were also a less well-rooted group; elsewhere respondents had mainly lived within the same area for a considerable length of time, often since coming to London from university. By contrast, respondents in Docklands tended to have lived outside London before coming to their present residence; 40% had moved from within Docklands or inner London with the remaining 60% having come from elsewhere. For the sample as a whole, 33% had previously lived in another flat or house in the same area, 43% percent had moved from Central or inner London to their present home, and only 25% had come from elsewhere. In Docklands, the most consistent reason for moving was that they wanted to be nearer their job; this is in contrast to the remainder of the sample who, for the most part, had moved within the area because they liked the area and were attracted to a particular house and did not cite job-related reasons. In Docklands, respondents mostly said that once they had picked on the area then they found a ‘suitable’ flat or house — not surprising given the numbers of new developments being built. Nevertheless, as we shall see, the reasons were often more to do with security and a desire to minimize social contacts and obligations. Docklands respondents often explicitly stated that they didn't want to mix socially with their neighbours. This was in direct contrast to respondents elsewhere who valued, at least in principle, the idea of a social and diverse population mix — even if in reality they avoided people unlike themselves (Robson and Butler, 2001).

The discursive practices of Docklands’ new urban professionals

What emerges is that Docklands respondents have a much more fearful relationship to the socially mixed environment of inner London than that expressed by respondents elsewhere in the study who invariably went out of their way to celebrate diversity in their interviews — even if in reality they and their children stuck to people like themselves. Docklands respondents worked very long hours and they socialized with their work colleagues —McDowell (1997) has argued that after-work socialization was key to progress in investment banking. Far more Docklands respondents said they had originally met their best friend at work, but far fewer of these best friends lived in the same broad neighbourhood compared to respondents elsewhere, for whom university provided more ‘best friends’ than any other category, many of whom lived in their same neighbourhood. For Docklands respondents, location might have been key but a sense of place was largely irrelevant.

The good thing about this place is that it's close to the centre of London but not in it. This makes it relatively stable . . .  (SQ23, 29, 3, M).9

For stability, read concerns over security and the importance of capital appreciation, both of which were far more salient in the Docklands narratives than for respondents in other areas. Convenience and safety mattered more than social interaction:

Personal safety from crime is my main priority, and that's why this is a good area . . . it's a quiet part of old London, but it's been developed, so it has a good balance . . . you can get cabs here (it is central London), though London is moving towards here more and more, so it will probably no longer be a village . . . for the moment, everybody seems to get along okay (SQ22, 35, 6, M).

The discourse here was articulated particularly by males, who wanted to live near to work but with a view of water which they could look out over, walk by and fantasize about windsurfing on, in a situation in which they did not have to interact with their neighbours or anybody else.

Pleasant riverside surroundings, good communications with centre . . . it's a quiet backwater, nobody comes along here unless they have a reason to (ID4, 63, less than a year, M).

I like it because it's not congested — we don't need the services so the quality of the provision doesn't bother us. We like the anonymity — I don't know whether the people I see around the place are my neighbours or not. I can't tell (BV7, 36, 1, M).

Most Docklands respondents were very explicit about their lack of concern for social interaction with their fellow residents and were also studiously uninterested in the provision of public services; this set them very clearly apart from the respondents elsewhere, who invariably articulated a very different view about social cohesion and the need for good services — even if they didn't use them. It also contrasted with the ideology of new urbanism and its wish to recreate a sense of community. Although the preference for social isolation was not universal, it was widely and often forcibly articulated. Communitarianism, when it was expressed, came across as being born from a sense of ‘duty’ rather than one of ‘belonging’. The next respondent felt an obligation to, but not an affinity with, the area which was driven by an explicit commitment to a Christian faith as opposed to a sense of social solidarity:

The proximity to town but feeling of open space and peace and quiet are great . . . I have a strong sense of community — though not necessarily affinity — with people in the area through my involvement in the church, so I actually know quite a lot of people from all walks of life . . . I feel safe despite having dodgy neighbours, you know, a few old south London criminal families (SQ9, 40, 2, M).

The missionary zeal expressed by those who did feel obliged to get involved contrasts strongly with the secular — if ultimately hypocritical — ethic of egalitarianism expressed elsewhere.

A good area to live, so quiet and peaceful, no trouble . . . even though it's more developed now, it still feels cut off . . . there are more and more people like me coming in, and this is helping the development . . . because there are more people who know how to get things done, things get done. The locals never did anything about things. People like us have transformed the whole area for everybody, everybody's benefited . . . there are two very distinct communities here — council people [those living in socially provided housing] and people like us — and though the two don't meet, there's not a lot of contention (ID26, 54, 13, F).

The sense of ‘noblesse oblige’ expressed here by someone who, in Docklands terms, is a comparatively long-standing resident is reminiscent of that found in older and well-established communities (Stacey, 1960). It contrasts starkly with the lack of civic involvement expressed by respondents elsewhere in inner London. In Docklands there was a small, but significant, minority of respondents who wanted ‘to make a difference’ by providing the kind of civic leadership which was unknown amongst the respondents elsewhere in inner London and was reminiscent of a middle/working- class dynamic of a previous era. For most respondents in our research, few saw their obligations spreading outside their family and household (which were usually expressed in relation to schooling), their work and their friends. The persistence of the remnants of an ‘old style’ working-class culture in Docklands was perhaps attractive to a kind of middle-class altruism that has disappeared elsewhere with the onset of gentrification.

There is a stronger sense of contrast in Docklands between a new middle class and the remnants of an old (if residualized) working class than elsewhere in gentrified London where the working class has generally been written out of the script:

The local pubs are out of bounds, I just don't use them . . . they're full of old ‘gorblimey’ East End types (the kind of people I originally left London to get away from) . . . there is a lack of any kind of village atmosphere here, which I don't think will ever happen . . . it's very polarized on the Island, it's either very East Endish or people in very expensive places, a lot of wealthy people . . . that's why I socialize elsewhere, there's no-one on my wavelength here . . .  (ID5, 47, 9, F).

The issue of social mixing, particularly in relationship to ethnicity, was handled rather differently when compared to the inner-London gentrifiers in the rest of the study. Whilst the following comments indicate an appreciation of class and ethnic mix, they also hint at subtle differences to how this might be expressed elsewhere.

The whole peninsula retains some of its old docklands attributes, it's not conventional docklands in that sense . . . I like the mixed housing element — I didn't like the suburbs and, although this is fairly suburban in nature, it's central, friendly and laid back (SQ13, 51, 2, F).

It's a good place to come back to. I like the ethnic mix of the area in general, the teenage girls pushing prams — some of the twenty-year-olds have three kids . . . the way people dress (BV19, 30, 1, F).

In the latter case, there is an almost voyeuristic appreciation of difference that would be unlikely to be expressed in such terms amongst the more earnest and politically correct respondents elsewhere in inner London. Invariably they would state that a ‘social mix’ was one of the attractions of the inner city, although their contacts with such groups were almost non-existent. Elsewhere, we have described this behaviour as ‘socially tectonic’ and argue that it is part of the social fabric of the inner city and serves as a tension management device (Butler and Robson, 2001: 84). In Docklands however, there was a much ‘sharper-edged’ approach to difference, particularly ethnic difference. Elsewhere, crime and antisocial behaviours were seen as part of the cost of living in the inner city as opposed to the country or suburbs, and many saw learning the skills necessary to manage this as part of the advantage of living in the inner city and bringing children up there. In Docklands however, we were confronted by more robust views on crime, safety and minority ethnic youth — this may reflect the generational differences with both of the following views being expressed by older ‘empty nesters’:

The immediate area has improved considerably, with the new building and the shopping centre . . . but the area in general has declined considerably . . . the ‘ethnics’ have taken over south London, they're all here to claim asylum or exploit the situation, and they’ve got nothing in common with us . . . we like it round here, it's very quiet and nice, but south London as a whole has gone to the dogs, definitely . . . they call it a melting pot — I call it a cauldron. It's got to explode (SQ8, 68, 5, F).

We both feel threatened here — my nephew was beaten up on the doorstep last week . . . the Island will not take off socially, there is an oil and water problem here, two very different worlds . . . The hard core of the population are docklanders, surrounded by a fluffy periphery of new developments. These are two completely polarized forms of life and activity or, if you like, it's the difference between Asda and Tesco Metro [two major UK supermarket chains serving somewhat class-differentiated groups of consumers] (at Canary Wharf). These two extremes make it hard to provide a common leisure service in the area which will work for everybody, and so there is no public or commercial sphere whatsoever . . . Too much immigration has been allowed to concentrate in London, especially in this area (ID11, 62, 13, M).

A somewhat younger and more reflective woman (see ID29 below) sees the conflicts between an older white working-class population and an incoming Bangladeshi group who have been allocated the housing that the former always regarded as ‘theirs’ (Dench et al., 2006). Foster (1999) also noted this tension and argued that it forced the new middle class to take sides when the (extreme right wing anti-immigration) British National Party (BNP) succeeded in getting one of their own elected to Tower Hamlets council on the back of a ‘rights for whites’ campaign. Labour eventually retook the seat with the support of the newly mobilized middle-class vote.

Although it was always pleasant, quiet and safe on this stretch of the river, this is beginning to change . . . it no longer feels safe, since the DLR extension connected us up with Lewisham [a deprived borough to the south of the river Thames]. Now south London people are coming across the river and it's a free-for-all — they're coming here because they know there's no proper police station on the Island . . . a neighbour of mine was mugged on his own doorstep recently. It's no longer quiet and secluded, there are more and more people coming here now . . . there is no place where the different groups on the Island could meet and rub shoulders. This is the fault of the council, who understandably bend over backwards to accommodate business but do very little for local people . . . all these electronically gated and private developments encourage this feeling of isolation and separation . . . there is a juxtaposition of extremely expensive waterfront housing and the council housing — it's still not clear whether they can co-exist happily or not indefinitely . . . there is also a lot of tension between the Bangladeshi and older docker populations on the main part of the Island . . . although it would be misleading to say that all the ‘locals’ are resentful of the change. I think some of the older East Enders are happy that the Island is improving, looking better and so on (ID29, 41, 4, F).

In the end however, in sharp contrast to the huge investment other inner-London gentrifiers make in their immediate social relations many, if not most, Docklands respondents, whatever their age, actively disinvest in their Docklands environment for the kind of reasons expressed by this successful middle aged professional

I've actually got a house in Essex . . . I just have the flat on the Island as my work base . . . I'm at work all day and usually work-socializing in the evenings (ID6, 43, 5, F).


The development of Docklands initially seemed a very clear-cut case of ‘regeneration as gentrification’ in which there were unambiguous issues of displacement and the inward migration of a replacement population. This was clearly documented in the literature (Smith, 1989; Brownill, 1990) and, particularly, Foster (1999) whose careful ethnography of new and old, nuanced according to ethnicity and class, pointed to the complex nature of the gentrification process in which their worlds and cultures were, as she describes it, in ‘conflict and collision’. Docklands was, as it were, an undisputed case of Neil Smith (1979) style ‘gentrification by capital’ (Warde, 1991). However, looking at the process from the perspective of the people who have settled (or perched) there, it seems less clear how we should understand what has been happening in Docklands. The gentrification process has been qualitatively different from that which has taken place elsewhere in inner London, not just because it was driven by capital rather than the socio-cultural values of the new professional class, nor simply because of its new ‘design and build’ architecture which is most normally found in the brash waterside central city developments elsewhere in Britain and across the globe, but mainly because of the relationship its denizens are apparently seeking with the city of which they are physically very much a part. These aspirations echo those of the classic ‘suburbanizer’— to be near but not in or of the city. This clearly has been a major deciding factor for those who have become fed up with the increasingly delayed, stressful and uncertain commute into jobs in industries which work long hours often dictated by the global nature of their operation. They want to be able to arrive on time, but they also want the security that Savage and Warde (1993) identified as being the dominant suburban discourse in contrast to the ‘excitement’ of urban gentrification. This narrative of security appeared time and again in the accounts of Docklands respondents whilst those of ‘urbanity’ were striking in their absence. The demographics are also different; there are a disproportionate number of single people and those who have not yet had children, are not contemplating them or have had them. They do not wish to feel obligations to their neighbours and to socialize. What we seem to be witnessing in Docklands is a coming to the city of a new kind of suburb but with a very different profile in terms of gender and family structure — suburbia for singles and empty nesters, as it were. This is the same process, except on a larger scale, to that noted by Lambert and Boddy (2002; Boddy, 2007) in Bristol which they describe as one of re-urbanization (but see Davidson and Lees, 2005 for a strong defence of this being gentrification albeit ‘not as we know it’). It also has similarities to the reordering of city and suburban living noted in North America by, amongst others, Low (2004) and discussed by Atkinson (2006) as ‘incarceration’. It provides a significant variation to the metropolitan habitus which underlies much contemporary inner-city gentrification (Butler, 2007; Webber, 2007).

In the last two decades, according to Low (2004), the middle classes in North America have been seeking new forms of living in and around its cities. The most spectacular growth has been in gated communities, which are perceived to meet the needs both of those approaching and entering retirement and those who are bringing up young children — all are seeking ‘security’. Some are looking for a lost sense of communality that they last experienced in urban and small town America as children, whilst others are fleeing social obligations, property taxes and home maintenance having had a life full of all three. It might be argued that Docklands provides this model of urban living, but there is little talk in Docklands of a ‘work–life balance’ (Jarvis, 2005). Rather it appears that Docklands’ function is to provide a new kind of urban dormitory for those working in the 24-hour global service economy. We noted that 40% had a second home: they spent their work week ‘full on’ in central London retiring to Docklands simply to sleep, often socializing late with work colleagues or clients and then resuming a life elsewhere at weekends. In many cases, especially amongst the younger groups, they only return to flats decked out with expensive electronic entertainment when not at work, or being hedonistic in London or on frequent but short holidays. In other words, Docklands is lacking the ‘sociability’ of either the gentrified inner city or the suburban housing estates. As such, I hypothesize that it represents a lifecycle stage which comes between others and may be returned to after a period in the suburbs or abroad. It is perhaps what Hannigan (1998) describes as ‘fantasy city’ in which the excitement of being a ‘city adventurer’10 is obtained with none of the risk or frisson that is at the heart of the apparently more insecure but socially more stable gentrifying areas in Hackney, Brixton or even Telegraph Hill despite their yellow police boards seeking help in solving the latest ‘incident’. The tight distinction drawn by Savage and Warde (1993) between the suburbs and the gentrified inner city on the basis of their inhabitants’ attitudes to security and risk, may now be fracturing into myriad forms of risk management and urban living — to which there are multiple responses — such as gated communities and inner-urban developments. Docklands provides a good example of this, representing a form of voluntary incarceration in the city (Atkinson, 2006).


  • I am grateful to two anonymous referees who read a previous draft of the article, and to one in particular who provided many pages of comments and criticism almost all of which were helpful and who suggested the formulation used in the first sentence for how I might ‘pitch’ the article — who said professional collegiality had died! I am also grateful to Chris Hamnett for comments on an earlier draft and to the Observatoire Sociologique de Changement at Sciences-Po in Paris who provided two months stimulating company in which I drafted the article. Thanks also to Tom Slater for reminding me that gentrification is not simply a victimless process but one in which being a winner is often at the expense of creating a loser. I am also grateful to the Economic and Social Research Council for funding the research that underpinned this article with a grant (number L13025101) for a project entitled ‘the middle class and the future of London’ which was part of the Cities: Competitiveness and Cohesion programme.

  • 1

    This is not dissimilar to Goldthorpe et al.'s (1969) critique of the ‘embourgeoisement’ process in the 1960s in which the working class was held to be becoming middle class. Interestingly, gentrification used to be described as a process of embourgeoisification in non-Anglophone countries although this has now been recognized as an inaccurate translation, but see the recent article by Preteceille (2007).

  • 2

    Interestingly, the recent massive influx of workers from the newly admitted East European members of the EU (the so-called A8 countries), has resulted in an immigration which is often into rural and small-town Britain as well as big cities.

  • 3

    In a recent study of ethnicity and gentrification in inner London, we have found that amongst black and ethnic minority groups and particularly Asian groups, there is a positive desire to move out of the inner city to the suburbs. This appears to be part of a wider ‘strategy of aspiration’ in which a better life is associated with suburban living (particularly its quality of life, schooling and semi-detached housing). It is also associated, less positively, with a desire to move away from class origins and those coevals who have not been so successful — a process we term ‘evasion’. See Butler and Hamnett (2007) for further details.

  • 4

    Lash and Urry (1987) cite Bernice Martin's work on the extended period of ‘liminality’ of contemporary middle-class youth before they have to settle down to the reality of earning their living.

  • 5

    In many ways, what happened in Docklands was not dissimilar to the processes of incorporation that occurred in suburban developments in the United States, in which affluent suburbs did not bear the social costs of the cities from which they detached themselves — see Clapson (2003).

  • 6

    Mrs Thatcher once claimed that ‘there is no such thing as society; there are individual men and women and there are families’. Prime minister Margaret Thatcher, talking to Women's Own magazine, 31 October 1987.

  • 7

    The data which are discussed in this section were collected as part of a large- scale survey undertaken into the gentrification of inner London during 1999–2000. Five fieldwork areas were chosen in inner London (Barnsbury, Battersea's ‘Between the Commons’, Brixton, Telegraph Hill in New Cross, London Fields in Hackney and three areas in Docklands described above). Seventy-five face-to-face interviews were undertaken with home-owning ‘gentrifiers’ in each area. These interviews lasted at least an hour and included both questionnaire data and more unstructured interviews at the end, which were then reconstructed from the written notes — for a full discussion of the methodology and findings see Butler with Robson (2003).

  • 8

    Oxbridge is a term used to indicate an Oxford or Cambridge university background, i.e. an elite university similar to a member of the Ivy League in the United States.

  • 9

    SQ refers to Surrey Quays, the number 23 is the respondent ID, 29 is their age, 3 is the number of years they have lived in their current home. ID is Isle of Dogs and BV is Britannia Village. Gender is indicated by M(ale) or F(emale).

  • 10

    It is instructive to note that the Mosaic geo-demographic system of classification clusters most of the inhabitants in the Docklands postcodes into a type it calls a ‘city adventurer’. Although city adventurers are predominantly a London phenomenon (67% being located there), the remainder are found in the centre of Britain's major provincial cities such as Edinburgh, Sheffield, Bristol and Manchester. City adventurers mainly comprise twenty-something singles who command extremely high salaries working in high-pressure jobs in city centres, especially central London. Most spend very small amounts of time in their smart, studio flats that are located in the inner suburbs. Many of them are, like Dick Whittington, white ‘immigrants’ who have arrived from distant regions of the country via university. For many city adventurers their work is their world: they work long and irregular hours and for much of the time that they are not working, they are acquiring intelligence that will prove useful in the development of their careers. Though many have partners, many of these relationships are perhaps somewhat ornamental rather than long-term, and it can often be only much later in life that they move into the stage of marriage and families. Likewise, whilst many have incomes that would allow them to purchase a house or flat, even in London, many are too busy working to want the responsibility of maintaining a home, let alone a garden. Consequently, many live in quite small flats with only one or two bedrooms that are more likely to be rented than owned. In this type of neighbourhood there are few children and few old people. However side by side with these successful singles there is a significant minority of poor people. These parallel worlds seldom intersect as the more affluent singles spend much of their leisure time in restaurants and clubs in central London or enjoying breaks with parents in the country or with parties of young people on short break holidays (a Mosaic publicity CD is available from Experian plc []).