UCL Urban Laboratory


Remembering Ruth Glass

Ongoing research project to catalogue and present the work of urban sociologist Ruth Glass (1912-1990) and the Centre for Urban Studies (1958-c.1980)

Ruth Glass Times Newspaper article

25 August 2021

Ruth Glass (1912-1990) is a key writer and thinker for a wide range of debates and approaches central to Urban Studies. Perhaps best known for coining the term ‘gentrification’ in 1964, her work encompassed important and often foundational contributions to urban sociology, migration studies, community planning, race relations, comparative urbanism and much more.

Ruth Glass was based at UCL for over three decades and was founder of the Centre for Urban Studies. In its explicitly cross-disciplinary and cross-Faculty institutional structure and commitment to engaged and mixed-methods work on London and beyond, the Centre for Urban Studies can be understood as an important predecessor to the UCL Urban Laboratory.

Yet there are very limited resources, at UCL or elsewhere, that have been compiled documenting Ruth Glass’s writing and legacies – especially in comparison to many leading male urbanists of the 20th century. These webpages seek to begin to rectify this and not only better acknowledge her pioneering role in urban scholarship but help point to ways her often prescient work can continue to resonate with and critically inform future urban engagement. As she wrote in one of her last pieces from 1988:

The old fears and fantasies which the very term “urban” evokes in many parts of the world are once again powerful. Dusty dogmas, though often dressed up in a new obtuse verbiage, are still influential. Nor have the old utopian dreams become extinct.

Details here (see links below) were compiled by Alexander Salem, Thomas Tzortzi, Gemma Romaine and Sam Johnson-Schlee, and coordinated and assembled by Dr Andrew Harris with Dr Clare Melhuish.

This work is ongoing: do please contact urbanlaboratory@ucl.ac.uk if you have any further material, corrections or suggestions.

Key Resources

In terms of biographical details to Ruth Glass’s life, the best account currently, written by Anne Pimlott Baker in 2004, is found in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography but requires a subscription to view. Michael Edwards, a student and colleague at UCL, has some reminiscences here.

Cliches of Urban Doom, and Other Essays (1988), a compilation of Ruth Glass's writings from 1932 to 1988, provides an excellent initial overview to her work. The cover is ‘Burning City’ by the Berlin artist Louis Meidner, from 1913, the year after Ruth Glass was born in Berlin. Cliches of Urban Doom can be read via archive.org

Divya Subramanian wrote a superb account in 2020 in the New York Review of Ruth Glass's contributions to social science beyond simply 'gentrification': see here (registration required).

In 2014, to mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of London: Aspects of Change, Andrew Harris organised an event at UCL to ‘explore how its arguments, details and rationale are still relevant to thinking about and exploring twenty-first-century London’. All the presentations can be listened to via the UCL Urban Lab Soundcloud. Sam Johnson-Schlee, in a 2019 paper in City, draws closely on Ruth Glass’s introduction to London: Aspects of Change to develop a critique of urban epistemologies.

Other research that details key contributions to Ruth Glass’s work includes:

  • Mark Clapson (2012): Anglo-American Crossroads. Urban Planning and Research in Britain, 1940-2010. Bloomsbury Press
  • Kenny Cupers (2016) Mapping and Making Community in the Postwar European City. Journal of Urban History 42, 1009–1028.
  • Abby Gondek (2018) Jewish Women’s Transracial Epistemological Networks: Representations of Black Women in the African Diaspora, 1930-1980. Florida International University Thesis.


  • ‘Obituary: Ruth Glass: A passionate sociologist’, Eric Hobsbawn, 9 Mar 1990, The Guardian
  • ‘Appreciation: Ruth Glass: Gender politics at LSE’, Hilary, 17 Mar 1990, The Guardian
  • ‘Ruth Glass: Penetrating academic research into far-reaching social change’, 9 Mar 1990, The Times
  • ‘Obituary: Ruth Glass.’ Kenneth Leech. 13 Mar 1990, The Independent
  • ‘Obituary: Ruth Glass.’ John Westergaard 13 Mar 1990, The Independent

Key sources used to produce list below: UCL Explore, JSTOR, Taylor & Francis, LSE Library, ProQuest, Jisc Library Hub Discover, British Library and WorldCat


Waitling: a survey of social life on a new housing estate, Ruth Glass (Durant), 1939, P.S. King

A Profile of Bethnal Green, Ruth Glass and Maureen Frenkel, 1946, Association for planning and regional reconstruction

The social background of a plan: a study of Middlesbrough, Ruth Glass, 1948, Routledge & Kagan Paul

Town and country planning textbook an indispensable book for town planners, architects, and students, Ruth Glass, Hans W Singer, William Graham Holford and Mark Abrams, 1950, London Architectural Press

Conferences on social policy and the social sciences, Group II: Design and planning--buildings, towns & countryside, Ruth Glass (Convenor) & Sir W. Holford (Chairman), 1953, British Sociological Association

Studies on Society, Ruth Glass and David Victor Glass, 1958, George Allen & Unwin Ltd

Newcomers: the West Indians in London, Ruth Glass assisted by Harold Pollins, 1960, Centre for Urban Studies / George Unwin Ltd

Urban Sociology, Ruth Glass, 1962, Routledge & Kagan Paul

Urban-rural difference in Southern Asia : some aspects and analysis : Report on Regional Seminar, Delhi, 1962, Ruth Glass, 1964, Allied Publishers (New Delhi)

London: Aspects of Change, Ruth Glass, 1964, MacGibbon & Kee

London’s housing needs: statement of evidence to the Committee on Housing in Greater London, Ruth Glass and John Westergaard, 1965, Centre for Urban Studies

Clichés of urban doom and other essays, Ruth Glass, 1989, Basil Blackwell

The birth of a monster : the growth of racist legislation since the 1950s, Ruth Glass and Kenneth Leech, 1990, Runnymede Trust

Book chapters and articles

SOCIAL ASPECTS OF TOWN PLANNING: the sociologist's job, Ruth Glass, 1945, The Architectural Review, EMAP Publishing

The Need for Figures: Estimating Housing Needs, Ruth Glass, 1947, The Architectural Review, EMAP Publishing

The Size of Dwellings. A memorandum, etc. (Reprinted from The Architects' Journal), Ruth Glass, 1947, Architects Journal

The social context of the New Towns, Ruth Glass, 1949, Architects’ Yearbook

Household structures and housing needs, Ruth Glass and F.G. Davidson, 1951, Population Studies: A Journal of Demography, Taylor and Francis

The Lansbury redevelopment in practice :three studies of its progress and effects, Ruth Glass, A.G. Sheppard & G.V.D Mills, 1951, Town Planning Institute

A Profile of Lansbury, Ruth Glass and John Westergaard, 1954, Town Planning Review, Liverpool University Press


The application of sociological knowledge to regional and town planning, Ruth Glass in: Transaction, World Congress of Sociology, 1961, World congress of sociology

Cuba Week, Ruth Glass, 1962, New Left Review

Insiders - Outsiders, Ruth Glass, 1962, New Left Review

The Centre for Urban Studies: Extracts from the Quinquennial Report, Ruth Glass, 1963, Town Planning Review, Liverpool University Press

Social Determinants of Housing Design, Ruth Glass, 1965, Official Architecture and Planning, Alexandrine Press

Coherent Many-Sidedness, Ruth Glass, 1967, Economic and Political Weekly

Housing in Camden, Ruth Glass, 1970, Town Planning Review, Liverpool University Press

Bengal Notes, Ruth Glass, 1971, Monthly Review

The Evaluation of Planning: Some Sociological Considerations, Ruth Glass in: A Reader in planning Theory, A. Faludi, 1973, Pergamon Press

The Mood of London, Ruth Glass in: London: urban patterns, problems, and policies, D. Donnison & D.E. Eversley, 1973, Heinemann

Exit Mrs. Gandhi, Ruth Glass, 1977, Monthly Review

Verbal Pollution, Ruth Glass, 1977, New Society

Foreword by Ruth Glass in: A new immigration policy, Ann Dummett, 1978, Runnymede Trust

Divided and downgraded: the downtrodden peoples of India [policies toward, and condition of, various scheduled castes and tribes; some emphasis on "protective discrimination" policies], Ruth Glass, 1982, Monthly Review

Gujarat: Divided and Degraded, Ruth Glass, 1982, Frontier

A Minority Government in Britain, Ruth Glass, 1983, Economic and Political Weekly

Newspaper Contributions

Key research sources included Gale Primary Sources and ProQuest. Please note sources were accessed with an institutional login. All sources below are listed chronologically.

Selected newspaper articles

‘Town planning and the social scientist’, Ruth Glass, 14 Jun 1951, The Listener (London)

‘Planning in practice: an inquiry into the control of "development"’, Ruth Glass, 13 Jan 1954, The Times

‘A versatile "advancer": ancestor of the welfare state’, Ruth Glass, 17 Aug 1955, The Times

‘London on the move: changes in travel to work over thirty years’, Ruth Glass, 18 Jun 1956, The Times

‘London on the move: need to reduce pressure of million commuters’, Ruth Glass, 19 Jun 1956, The Times

‘The new negro in the United States’, Ruth Glass, 11 Dec 1958, The Listener (London)

‘West Indian Search for Exits’, Ruth Glass, 22 Nov 1961, The Times

‘Ashes of discontent: Ruth Glass on Jamaica today’, Ruth Glass, 1 Feb 1962, The Listener (London)

‘Census casts light on social change’, Ruth Glass, 30 Jun 1965, The Times

‘The settlers: where they live’, Ruth Glass, 1 Jul 1965, The Times

‘The new nonconformists’, Ruth Glass, 26 May 1966, The Listener

‘Not civil, but human’, Ruth Glass, 22 Sep 1966, The Listener

Selected letters to newspaper editors

‘London on the move’, Ruth Glass, 12 Jul 1956, The Times

‘Compulsory purchase’, Ruth Glass, 28 Nov 1958, The Times

‘Dead end for planners’, Ruth Glass, 29 Nov 1958, The New Statesman

‘Stubborn prejudice’, Ruth Glass, 28 Jul 1960, The Times

‘Unrest in Cuba’, Ruth Glass, Chorley, David Glass, L. C. B. Gower, 18 April 1961, The Times

‘Crisis in the West Indies’, Ruth Glass, 22 Jan 1962, The Times

‘Jamaica today’, Ruth Glass, 15 Feb 1962, The Listener (London)

‘Cuba’, Ruth Glass, 10 Oct 1962, The Times

‘Krishna Menon under fire’, Ruth Glass, David Glass, 7 Nov 1962, The Guardian

‘The Rachman affair’, Ruth Glass, 20 Jul 1963, The Times

‘Expanding South-East’, Ruth Glass, 6 Apr 1964, The Times

‘Race situation’, Ruth Glass, 22 Oct 1964, The Times

‘Applying the break’, Ruth Glass, 9 Aug 1965, The Times

‘A calculated gamble’, Ruth Glass, 26 Nov 1965, The Times

‘A calculated gamble’, Ruth Glass, 7 Dec 1965, The Times

‘The Guyanese people can win’, Ruth Glass, 10 Dec 1965, Tribune (Liverpool)

‘Opposition to Vietnam policy’, Ruth Glass, D.V. Glass, 15 Jul 1966, Tribune (Liverpool)

‘Large powers: in a small country’, Ruth Glass, 11 May 1966, The Times

‘Immigration bill’, Ruth Glass, 26 Feb 1967, The Times

‘Necessary justice’, Ruth Glass, 5 Aug 1967, The Times

‘A divided society’, Ruth Glass, 4 May 1968, The Times

‘The problems of Enoch ap Hywel’, Ruth Glass, United Kingdom Committee for Human Rights, 20 Nov 1968, The Guardian

‘The technique of Powellism’, Ruth Glass, 9 Jan 1969, The Guardian

‘Action to end these slums’, Ruth Glass, 10 May 1969, The Guardian

‘Immigration issues’, Ruth Glass, 4 Aug 1969, The Times

‘The invasion of Cambodia’, Ruth Glass, David Glass, Peter Townsend, Eric Burhop, Martin Pollock, 4 May 1970, The Times

‘World aid for Bengal’s refugees’, Ruth Glass, 3 Jun 1971, The Times

Untitled, Ruth Glass, 21 Dec 1973, The Times

‘Planners and the devouring cities’, Ruth Glass, 8 Jun 1976, The Times

‘The alarming but tired clichés about urban doom’, Ruth Glass, 4 Aug 1976, The Times

‘The politics of race and immigration’, Ruth Glass, 16 Feb 1978, The Times

‘Long-term destiny of inner cities’, Ruth Glass, 6 Aug 1981, The Times

‘Tory pledge to abolish GLC’, Ruth Glass, 24 May 1983, The Times

Other selected newspaper articles (written about Ruth Glass)

‘Ambiguity "elusive enemy of coloured immigrant": Mrs Ruth Glass calls for positive philosophy of tolerance’, unnamed, 6 Oct 1960, The Times

‘Woman in the news: teacher, sociologist, housewife and mother’, unnamed, 6 Oct 1960, The Times

Centre for Urban Studies

The origins of the Centre for Urban Studies begin in 1951 with the establishment of the Social Research Unit at UCL’s Department of Town Planning. The Nuffield Foundation funded a two year study of ‘the contribution of the social sciences to the principles and techniques of town and country planning and for a survey of the processes of planning’. This inquiry was led by Ruth Glass and assisted by John Westergaard.

This work fed into the launch of the Committee for Urban Studies in 1955 drawing on scholars across the University of London and the universities of Leeds and Glasgow with ‘a joint concern for the advancement and application of knowledge on urban problems and phenomena’. Their statement of objectives sought to address how:

In Britain, the most highly urbanised country in the world, there is an acute lack of systematic knowledge of urban conditions and ways of life ... It can be said that more is known about life and conditions in British towns of the mid-19th century than about the towns of today.

With funding from the Sir Halley Stewart Trust and Ford Foundation, the Committee was formally established in 1958, employing full-time staff including Ruth Glass, and changed its name in February 1959 to the Centre for Urban Studies. The first Chairperson was James Mackintosh, Emeritus Professor of Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Public Health, but Ruth Glass was the central figure and its Director of Research throughout its existence. The Centre, although ‘inter-university’, was ‘headquartered’ in the Department of Town Planning at UCL, shifting to UCL’s Department of Geography in 1969.

The Centre of Urban Studies was particularly active through the 1960s and early 1970s. It published several important studies which included Newcomers: the West Indians in London (1960, Ruth Glass assisted by Harold Pollins), British towns: a statistical study of their social and economic differences (1961, Claus Moser and Wolf Scott) and London: Aspects of Change (1964, edited by Ruth Glass). The Centre was also involved in teaching activities running a Postgraduate Course on Urbanisation in Developing Countries from 1967/68 to c.1973.

Many of the Centre for Urban Studies’ aims and activities resonate closely with those today of the UCL Urban Laboratory and indeed debates and approaches within Urban Studies more widely around interdisciplinarity, big data, postcolonial comparisons and forms of engaged urbanism.

The Centre’s emphasis was on ‘the systematic knowledge of urban development, structure and society’ with surveys and other enquiries developed to produce ‘cumulative knowledge’ often involving new statistical and cartographic approaches to urban data. This included efforts in the early 1960s to produce a Third Survey of London Life and Labour (as a successor to Charles Booth’s earlier work). Although funding was received from the Nuffield Foundation and London County Council, the intended four volumes of the overall Survey remained incomplete and unpublished.

The Centre also placed particular importance on comparison, ‘both of intra-urban and inter-urban classifications’, seeking to create and collate ‘comparable studies of urban development, structure and society in this country and abroad’. The geographical focus for these comparisons soon expanded globally from the early days of the Committee, as documented in the Centre’s 1963 Quinquennial Report:

While the initial programme stressed the need for comparative studies of European urbanism … the Committee members and the research staff have increasingly been concerned with problems of urbanisation in the so-called underdeveloped countries of the world … Observations of the current trials of Asia, Africa, and Latin America show at once how little we know of our own past and present.

The Centre, moreover, emphasised the necessity of working across disciplines, attempting ‘to bring together the interests of the social sciences and those of allied fields, such as public health and town planning’. Members of the Centre included statisticians, planners, geographers, historians, epidemiologists, anthropologists, sociologists, demographers, lawyers, architects and health scientists (with core members all male apart from Ruth Glass). This interdisciplinary engagement was crucial throughout to the Centre’s activities:

[We are] convinced of the need for, and of the potentialities of, interdisciplinary collaboration both in research and research training to bridge the divisions which now exist within and between the various branches of the social sciences and related disciplines.

The Centre also highlighted the importance of linking ‘academic social research with social policy’ and the need for independent assessments in government thinking:

Statements from academic bodies, which are not directly or indirectly involved in local government, have been apparently rather rare. As an inter-university research organization, we ourselves have “no axe to grind”. (1959)

Statements of evidence were provided by the Centre, for example, to the Royal Commission on Local Government in Greater London (1959) and to the Committee on Housing in Greater London (1964).

Centre for Urban Studies publications

Details here drawn from WorldCat.org and UCL Library Catalogue. See also ‘The Centre for Urban Studies: Extracts from the Quinquennial Report’ written by Ruth Glass, 1963, Town Planning Review.

Statement of Evidence by the Centre for Urban Studies to the Royal Commission on Local Government in Greater London (1959)

Tangley, E. Minutes of Evidence: Witnesses: London: H.M.S.O (1960)

Glass, R. (with Pollins, H.) Newcomers: The West Indians in London (1960). C.U.S. Report No. 1

Moser, C. and Scott, W. British Towns: a Statistical Study of their Social and Economic Differences (1961). C.U.S. Report No. 2

Land Use Planning and the Social Sciences: A Selected Bibliography : Literature on Town and Country Planning and Related Social Studies in Great Britain, 1930-1963 (1964)

London; Aspects of Change. Macgibbon & Kee (1964) C.U.S. Report No. 3

Ferguson, T., Benjamin, B. And Daley, A. Public Health and Urban Growth (1964). C.U.S. Report No. 4

London’s Housing Needs: Statement of Evidence to the Committee on Housing in Greater London. Ruth Glass and John Westergaard. Report No. 5 (1965)

Westergaard, J. Scandinavian Urbanism: A Survey of Trends and Themes in Urban Social Research in Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Copenhagen: Institute of Organization and Industrial Sociology, Copenhagen School of Economics and Social Sciences (1967)

Report on the Housing Rents Study Housing in Camden, Volume 2 (1969)

Land Use Planning and the Social Sciences : Supplement 1964-1970: A Selected Bibliography: Literature on Town and Country Planning and Related Social Studies in Great Britain (1971)

Jeffy, P. Towards understanding employment situation in Liberia : an essay in social research and development (1977)