Clarifying Neil Smith’s Rent Gap Theory of Gentrification

Tom Slater


Neil Smith’s rent gap theory of gentrification is one of the most influential explanations in a huge literature on the process. Whilst the theory has enhanced academic and activist understandings of profit-seeking reinvestment in cities, there are major misunderstandings, errors of interpretation and sometimes downright lazy critiques that still circulate widely, which distort not only the debate over the theory, but the field of gentrification studies more generally. This article opens with a critique of Glasgow’s resilience agenda to show the rent gap in action (how profits are extracted from the city), and then offers three clarifications of the rent gap theory in response to misunderstandings. First, it is not narrowly economistic, but a theory of the state’s role in creating the economic conditions for gentrification; second, it helps us understand the circulation of interest-bearing capital in urban land markets, and speculative landed developer interests; third, that rent gaps are produced via the activation of territorial stigma. The argument is that the rent gap theory is more relevant than ever, at a time when staggering fortunes that are made from speculative investment in cities at the expense of homes, communities and working class lives.

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Copyright (c) 2017 Tom Slater

TU Tracce Urbane - Rivista Italiana Transdisciplinare di Studi Urbani - Italian Journal of Urban Studies. Rivista telematica scientifica della Sapienza Università di Roma registrata presso il Tribunale civile di Roma n 77 del 2017. ISSN: 2532-6562