Agent-based modelling of urban economic and cultural dynamics under the rent-gap hypotheses


This work proposes a theoretically grounded, generative approach to the study of urban dynamics, based on the Critical Geography line of thought. We implemented a variant of the ’Rent-Gap theory of gentrification’ in a set of agent- based models of varying degrees of abstraction. A stylised model of the theory - coupled with residential mobility and cultural exchange in a city-wide context - is capable of reproducing certain observed dynamics of the past century of urbanisa- tion. Cycles of investment, the formation of persistent pockets of disinvestment, the emergence and dissolution of culturally homogeneous areas, and phenomena such as gentrification were all dynamics emerging in the simulation solely as the product of profit-driven investment in housing. A more descriptive version of the model, informed with official data derived from the UK Census and the Land Registry, provides an empirical validation of the core tenets of the theory in the context of contemporary British cities. The descriptive model is also employed to hypothesise on the mechanics and possible outcomes of large scale regeneration programmes, demonstrating a potential impact in the formulation and evaluation of urban policy. Ultimately, this work wishes to challenge the view that theory might be an un- necessary extravagance in an era of large datasets and suggestions of ’algorithmic governance.’ At the same time, it wishes to highlight the actuality and insightfulness of the critical geographical approach, especially in the wake of the decidedly urban nature of the current economic crisis

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