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How Ruth Glass shaped the way we approach our cities

13 January 2015

Ruth Glass footage

In her carefully crafted introduction to the book London: Aspects of Change in 1964, the urban sociologist Ruth Glass coined the term ‘gentrification’. The term, referring to demographic shifts within an urban community, subsequently spawned an extensive and ever-growing field of urban research and debate.

London: Aspects of Change was the result of work by the Centre for Urban Studies at University College London (UCL), established in 1958 and led by Ruth Glass. The Centre contributed to ‘the systematic knowledge of urban development, structure and society, and to link academic social research with social policy’. As such, it was strongly cross-disciplinary, although archives of the Centre are surprisingly limited.

The book brought together ten chapters by sociologists, geographers, planners, historians and health scientists to sketch a general social profile of a city that had undergone rapid contemporary change.

In the audio below, a number of academics explore how the arguments, details and rationale within London: Aspects of Change are still relevant to thinking about and exploring twenty-first-century London. It marks just over fifty years since Aspects of Change was published.

One by one, many of the working class quarters of London have been invaded by the middle classes -- upper and lower. Shabby, modest mews and cottages -- two rooms up and two down -- have been taken over, when their leases have expired, and have become elegant, expensive residences. Larger Victorian houses, downgraded in an earlier or recent periods -- which were used as lodging houses or were otherwise in multiple occupation -- have been upgraded once again. Nowadays, many of these houses are being sub-divided into costly flats or "houselets" (in terms of the new real estate snob jargon). The current social status and value of such dwellings are frequently in inverse relation to their size, and in any case enormously inflated by comparison with previous levels in their neighbourhoods. Once this process of "gentrification" starts in a district, it goes on rapidly until all or most of the original working class occupiers are displaced, and the whole social character of the district is changed.

Ruth Glass (1964)

The speakers investigate aspects of how London has changed – or not – over the half-century since the analyses and predictions were made in this book. Issues such as high-density housing, race relations, metropolitan governance, land values, transport access, and not least gentrification continue to play a major role in cross-disciplinary debates and discussions on London’s contemporary transformations and its future aspirations.


1. Introduction by Ben Campkin (UCL Urban Lab) and Claire Colomb (Bartlett School of Planning)

2. Phil Cohen (Birkbeck, University of London) on the introduction to London: Aspects of Change, glass ceilings and other scenes from the life of a pioneering urbanist

3. James Cheshire (UCL Geography) on how Ruth Glass would have utilised the 'big data' we now have access to

4. Michael Hebbert (Bartlett School of Planning) on metropolitan governance in London

5. Loretta Lees (University of Leicester) on how Ruth Glass introduced 'gentrification' to the lexicon

6. Margaret Byron (University of Leicester) on planning for race relations and migrant communities in post-1948 London

7. Panel discussion on the legacy of London: Aspects of Change

Page last modified on 13 jan 15 17:20

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