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The challenge of comparative urbanism: what is lost in translation when looking at gentrifying neighbourhoods in Rome and Brooklyn, NYC

Monday 19 January, 6pm

Exhibition Room, PBG07, Pearson Building, UCL, Gower Street (www.ucl.ac.uk/maps)

Interest in better understanding the phenomenon of gentrification has increased in Italy more recently. However, gentrification needs to be better contextualized in order to fully understand the way in which the process is shaping Italian cities and its socio spatial effects. This talk will explore the transnational journey of ideas and concepts between Italy, Rome, and Brooklyn, New York City, as I move towards my goal of framing gentrification in the Italian context. I argue that what is lost in comparison is crucial in order to see gentrification from a Southern European perspective, one that links it with the privatization of public housing, valorisation and regeneration processes, and ethnicity. One of the most interesting characteristics of the city of Rome is its complex social stratification and the relationships that different social classes have nurtured within urban space.  Space and sociability cannot be separated in many Roman neighbourhoods. Social diversity has been one of the richest resources of the so called popular neighbourhood. 

Focusing on the notion of popular, namely traditionally working class, helps us to mobilize the Gramscian notions of subalternity and hegemony, as well as the desire for a particular type of urbanity, as a property of social relationships based on difference, diversity, and tolerance. Romes popular neighbourhoods are rooted in the history of that city and gentrification emerged in Italy as a complementary and necessary evil of modernity, inseparable from heritage and the rehabilitation of historic city centres, later on called regeneration. Gentrification in Rome was/is not very political, as such comparing it with the social preservation and anti-eviction-based communities groups in Brooklyn enabled me to see gentrification in Rome from a critical perspective related to land exploitation and the private property paradigm. Indeed, the popular notion of urbanity is being both evicted and exploited in Rome. Even though popular neighbourhoods in Rome do not exist anymore because of the loss of working class populations, they still exist in circulating ideas and imaginations about a desired urbanity. The ideal of lively working class neighbourhoods remains very strong in collective representations in Rome, and although destroyed the ideal has re-emerged in the re-calling of specific forms of urbanity based on sociability and urban solidarity typical of the working classes. This paradox means the (re)production of a partial idea of urbanity, shorn from its context, deprived from its social components (the working classes) and based on the exploitation of otherness.

Dr. Sandra Annuziata is working with Professor Loretta Lees (co-organiser of the Urban Salon) at Leicester on a 24 month EU project titled AGAPE - exploring and improving our knowledge of anti-gentrification knowledges and practices in three Southern European cities - Rome, Madrid and Athens. She is also a visitor-critic on Cornell Universitys Rome program, where she teaches on European cities. She is the founder of the independent, not for profit research group www.eticity.it.

Sandra was awarded her PhD from the Department of Urban Studies, Faculty of Architecture, Roma Tre University, titledA Neighbourhood Called Desire: Neighbourhood transition in two case studies in Rome and Brooklyn won the Giovanni Ferraro National Award for PhDs in 2010. The key results of her PhD were presented at the International Forum of Urbanism in Delft, Holland, 2009, where she received the Best Paper Award. She has an MA Laurea in Architecture and Urbanism (2004) from University of Venice.

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