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Self-renovating neighbourhoods as an alternative to the false choice of gentrification or decline

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posted on 17.06.2022, 13:47 authored by Jess Steele

Can groups of local people in poor neighbourhoods take autonomous action that improves their neighbourhood without the displacement of gentrification, the disappointments of traditional regeneration, or the disempowerment of ongoing decline?

Rooted in ‘worlds of possibility’ literatures that insist on the relational nature of space and time and the openness of the future, the thesis moves iteratively between practice and theory. It considers the extent to which such action in two case study neighbourhoods fulfils or amends the hypothesised characteristics of self-renovating neighbourhoods outlined by Steele (2012).

Self-renovating neighbourhoods (SRN) is a term for DIY collective efficacy and an asset-based approach applied to long-standing neighbourhood problems arising from state and/or market ‘failure’, blindness or wilful exploitation.

Using existing and new research material, the thesis constructs Granby in Liverpool as a ‘classic’ case, a ‘jumping off point’ for a deeper dive into the  autoactionography’ of SRN in White Rock, Hastings. This seeks to refine understanding of the SRN characteristics and develop a conceptual framework to understand who is doing it (SELF), what they are doing (RENOVATING) and the object of their ambition (NEIGHBOURHOOD). Building on the urban commons literature, SRN takes commoning into a new field – the holistic regeneration of poor neighbourhoods – where it disrupts dominant models of property ownership and development, regen decision-making and everyday place-keeping.

The thesis reflects my own deep engagement in the active struggle to nurture self-renovating neighbourhoods as an alternative to the false choice of gentrification or ongoing disinvestment and decline. I have been directly and multiply involved in practice on the ground while simultaneously thinking through whether and how the existing human, social, cultural and built assets of neighbourhoods can be harnessed to resist and even subvert gentrification, stagnation or decline in new and more effective ways.



Loretta Lees; Gavin Brown.

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Author affiliation

School of Geography, Geology and the Environment

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

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