Shaping Urban Space in Peripheral Capitalism: Real Estate Investment in Warsaw

Developers are the primary actor shaping the space of large cities in Central and Eastern Europe. The public sector is not present as an investor and has retreated from spatial planning following the policy of progressive deregulation of the economy. As a result, social and political conflicts have sprung up around urban areas and begun to re-affect the process of shaping the space. This is particularly evident in large cities such as Warsaw, which is one of the fastest-rising real estate markets in Europe.

The object of my research are three groups of actors taking an active part in the shaping of urban space: property developers, city officials and active residents from urban movements. However, the category of developer is crucial, because the rationality of this key actor remains opaque and not well described.

The research is aimed at reconstructing the mutual perception of the actors. I will present the results of qualitative interviews with Warsaw developers. How do they define their business goals and how do they achieve them? How do they define their role in shaping urban space? Do they see themselves as modernizers or just moneymakers? How do they assess city activity and cooperation with local government? What are their normative visions of the urban order? Finally, how do they relate to the urban movements’ agenda? In the end I will confront it with quantitative data.

The main reason behind my research is the need to understand rationality behind the current selling out of urban space. This process, driven by globalization and financialization, results in privatization and fragmentation of the city, which in turn, leads to the vast evaporation of public space and broad social conflict. My ambition is to broaden the horizon of research by providing the much needed knowledge of the workings of investment capital and its relations with local authorities.

Krzysztof Gubański is an urban sociologist based in Warsaw, Poland. He has been pursuing his Phd at the University of Warsaw. His main research interests are real estate market and urban developement, which he investigates using tools of economic sociology and anthropology. He works as an expert on urban research and policy for local authorities in Poland. He was awarded with a research scholarship for up and coming researchers by the Ministry of Science and Higher Eduction of the Republic of Poland. After hours, he works in the NGO “Green Masovia” where he deals with issues of mobility and sustainable transport.