The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: (Im)Migrants in the Urban Renewal and State-Led Gentrification of Madrid and Barcelona

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 09:10
Oral Presentation
Sonia ARBACI, University College London, United Kingdom
The role of the State as producer of urban inequalities through regeneration programmes has been focus of a burgeoning literature (Lees et al. 2016). However, the multiple ways in which migrants have been instrumentalized in these processes are less explored (Porter & Shaw 2009). This paper contributes to this debate by examining the complex interlink between international migrations, urban renewal, and gentrification in Madrid and Barcelona, where radical transformation started with the 1990s’ “liberalisation” of the Spanish housing and credit system.

Using geo-referenced and multiple linear-regression analyses, this study contrasts and relates the location of investment/disinvestment cycles led by local governments’ urban renewal programmes, and the residential patterns of large immigrant groups. Narrowing on a set of neighbourhoods paradigmatic of this entanglement, it examines (i) socio-spatial and housing changes (2001-2016) that show the regressive effects of these programmes and (ii) how migrants have been used or framed in these policies.

The paper shows ethnically diverse areas (where worse-off immigrants settled) as primary targets of renewal programmes. These were mostly run-down, but central and pericentral neighbourhoods with valuable historical/cultural heritage, and thus locking potentially high investment returns. Narratives of decay but also of celebration of local ethnic communities’ symbolic attachment to these neighbourhoods were used to justify public interventions aiming at attracting private investment and well-off international migrants, and simultaneously "normalizing" the neighbourhood’s social configuration. This was achieved through a mixed strategy of stigmatization and improvement of both their built and symbolic environment (Wacquant et al. 2014; Weber 2002). In both cities, despite major differences, the interplay between state-led gentrification and (im)migration operates at both material and symbolic levels, revealing the dual use of migrants to foster urban accumulation strategies. Unveiling the role of the State in these processes further contributes to the comparative urbanism’s debate on rent gaps (Slater 2017).