UCL Urban Laboratory


Urban Lab Academic Explores Speculative Urban Statecraft in London

13 February 2024

Dr Joe Penny, Lecturer and Global Urbanism MASc Programme Director, is researching urban social justice, austerity urbanism and gentrification in London.

Central Hill Estate, Lambeth by Joe Penny

Dr Joe Penny’s research, supported by funding from the British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant Awards, examines the limitations, contradictions and risks of council-owned housing companies set up in London from 2012. The research, titled ‘“Revenue Generating Machines”? London’s Local Housing Companies and the Emergence of Local State Rentierism’, evaluates how urban infrastructures and services are financed and managed, as well as exploring the grassroots housing activism by tenants and leaseholders to push back against the demolition of their social infrastructures at a time of austerity.

Joe Penny’s research intersects urban political economy, economic and social geography, and urban planning, focusing on the reconfiguration of the local state under austerity, the financialisation of public land and housing, and rentierism in London. Since 2010, in an attempt to offset deep budget cuts, local government in London has more actively sought to monetise public assets and land, including through speculative urban development projects entailing a range of joint ventures and special purpose vehicles. Through his research, Joe tracks and analyses these developments, assessing how just, democratic and sustainable they are for London and the people who live in the city.

Joe has also recently co-authored a book with Dr Amy Horton from UCL’s Department of Geography, titled ‘Disrupting the Speculative City: Property, Power and Community Resistance in London’. The book, which will be published in September 2024 by UCL Press, tells the story of how a grassroots coalition of tenants, traders and activists managed to prevent what would have been one of the largest single programmes of state-led gentrification in London. The authors wrote the book to capture the effort, creativity and tenacity of those involved in the campaign, and to inspire future movements for more social and ecological justice in urban futures.

Joe’s current research is funded by the Public Interest Law Centre and titled ‘Working Class Displacement: Case Studies of Council Estate Regeneration Involving Demolition in London’.

More information

Recent papers from Dr Joe Penny

Image: Central Hill Estate, Lambeth by Joe Penny