Urban Riches


A critical challenge for urban studies is to examine the nature of wealth and value today, understand those primarily holding wealth and to explore its spatiality and concentration in urban settings. Wealth has massively expanded under contemporary systems of accumulation, wholesale tax avoidance and the complicity or weakness of national governments in regulating excesses.

The politics, economics and sociological aspects of wealth have, of course, a spatiality and forms of concentration in city settings. Urban cultural and political economies provide the numerous settings where the interests of the wealthy and their agents operate to enable centres that privilege free flowing capital and wealthy individuals as a means of enlarging their own fortunes (London, Frankfurt, Hong Kong) or particular groups within them (Luanda, Mexico City). 

The theme examines how cities are run by and for wealthy groups and what the implications are for subsidiary systems (property, finance) that are devoted to the needs of the on and offshore wealthy to augment their wealth still further.

Research Questions

  • International urban finance systems – how are wealth chains linked to specific urban centres and how do they offer a means of extracting value from urban centres using advantageous tax instruments and legal yet corrosive impacts?
  • Unequal articulations – how are the rich denizens and the areas they colonise and inhabit linked to outcomes expressed within and through neighbourhoods occupied by citizens with significantly poorer life-chances and outcomes?
  • Circulations and mobilities – what patterns within and between urban centres, their relationship to regions and hinterland destinations that may also form urban nodal points including islands, major homes, towns dominated by the rich at certain times of year or for particular festivals which are more urbanised as a result?
  • Phenomenologies of urban wealth – how do urban conditions, spaces and topographies influence, insulate, protect or expose wealthier urban groups? What kinds of social politics emerge from the relationship between place and psychic constructs generated by conditions of more or less walled, gated, vertical and secured urbanity in relation to the wealthy self?


Theme Lead: Rowland Atkinson

Associates: Tom Goodfellow


Journal articles
  • McKenzie, R., & Atkinson, R. (2019). Anchoring capital in place: The grounded impact of international wealth chains on housing markets in London. Urban Studies, 0042098019839875.
  • Goodfellow, T. (2017). Urban fortunes and skeleton cityscapes: real estate and late urbanization in Kigali and Addis Ababa. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research41(5), 786-803.
  • Atkinson, R. (2016). Limited exposure: Social concealment, mobility and engagement with public space by the super-rich in London. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space48(7), 1302-1317.
Reports and other outputs

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