Gentrification and the Causes of Social Unrest: Evidence from the 2011 London Riots

(with Juta Kawalerowicz)

Abstract: In recent years many of the world’s major cities have seen large episodes of social unrest. What is the relationship between the changes these cities have experienced, particularly in the form of gentrification, and urban riots? We address this question by examining how local gentrification affected participation in the 2011 London riots. We use an instrumental variable strategy that exploits exogenous variation in the amount of local destruction caused by the Blitz; this is a strong predictor of local gentrification in 2001-2011. We find that gentrifying neighborhoods had a lower participation rate than other areas; this was a result of changes in the type of resident (a composition effect) and in the context in which the residents made their participation decisions (a contextual effect). Our findings are consistent with qualitative evidence from the UK and the US, and highlight the effect that urban change can have on social order.