Urban Riches


The nature and distribution of wealth is an emerging area for urban studies. Urban Riches is the thematic area of the Urban Institute examining the spatial distribution, inequalities and forms of wealth in urban settings. Wealth, understood simply as money or capital, has massively expanded under contemporary systems of accumulation, wholesale tax avoidance and the complicity or weakness of national governments in regulating excesses. Alongside these developments many now ask what constitutes a good, urban life and what kind of assets or needs need to be satisfied for us to consider ourselves capable of flourishing in our daily lives.

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 are settings in which the interests of the rich and their agents operate to enable capital to flow, for advantages to accrue to the few and for wealthy individuals to enlarge their fortunes. 

The theme offers a space in which we can examine how cities are run by and for wealthy groups. Perhaps more important than this, we wish to relate these forms of advantage and ‘riches’ to wider effects on urban life property, finance, welfare, housing, public space, culture and leisure, among other areas in which effects may be felt. At the core of all this lies the question of what it really means for citizens and cities to be considered rich and what kinds of damage inequalities of wealth may do to urban life.

Research Questions

  • International urban finance systems – how are ‘chains’ of wealth and capital linked to specific urban centres and how do they offer a means of extracting further value from urban centres?
  • Unequal articulations – how are rich denizens and the areas they inhabit linked to wider social, economic and political outcomes, particularly in those neighbourhoods occupied by citizens with significantly poorer life-chances and outcomes?
  • Circulations and mobilities – what are patterns of bodily/personal and capital mobility within and between urban centres? What is the relationship of the rich to other regions and hinterland destinations (including islands, major homes, and other towns dominated by the rich at certain times of year)?
  • Phenomenologies of urban wealth – how do specific city conditions and spaces serve to insulate, protect or expose wealthier urban groups? What kind of social politics may emerge from the relationship between place? Are specific sets of  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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