MATERIAL APPROPRIATION AND SYMBOLIC OWNERSHIP COMMERCIAL GENTRIFICATION, NIGHT-LIFE AND THE LEGITIMATE USES OF PUBLIC SPACES

ABSTRACT

The paper focuses on the dynamics and role of commercial transformations in processes of urban change. By investigating the transformations in the commercial and recreational landscape of a semi-central neighbourhood of the city of Torino, in the North-west of Italy, it argues that commercial transformations have a major role in challenging established uses and representations, strongly affecting the urban space in both symbolic and material terms.

The relevance of commercial premises in affecting the ways a neighbourhood is perceived, described and used in everyday life has been largely acknowledged and the creation of landscapes of leisure and consumption supporting distinctive lifestyles and social identities is a key dynamic in processes of urban upgrading. New shops, stores and recreational businesses embody, serve and represent a powerful discourse of urban change and, by legitimating some uses and users over others, they contribute in creating spaces of exclusion. However, only in recent times have scholars started wondering how processes of commercial transformation may play into broader dynamics of urban change and social inequality. While decades of researches on gentrification have mainly focused on residential, demographic changes and housing dynamics, the issue of neighbourhoods’ commodification and commercial transformation has only recently come to scholars’ attention.

Relying on almost two years of ethnographic research and on a body of around 70 interviews, the paper aims at underlining the relevance of commercial transformations in challenging and re-shaping the representations and everyday life of the neighbourhood of San Salvario, Torino. It investigates how commercial changes foster transformations at both material and symbolic levels, possibly ending up in producing exclusionary spaces.

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