Everyday gentrification of Ljubljana or how the city slipped through our fingers

A few years ago, we wrote an article about the gentrification of Ljubljana. Analytical tools show that a lot of people still read it, so we decided to write a follow-up. We will not explain the basic features of the urban process called gentrification, which is about adapting the city to those with more money and prestige, i.e. the upper social classes. This time, we will focus on how gentrification is occurring in Ljubljana and how it affects everyday life in the city. If you want to know more about the process itself, we suggest you read our article from 2018 first.


Gentrification 2023

Gentrification is still part of Ljubljana’s vocabulary. Although the word gentrification was quite new for the city ten years ago, it has been appearing in different forms in recent years. In particular, the gentrification of Ljubljana was highlighted during the eviction of the Autonomous Rog. Although gentrification is much talked about, it is very hard to confirm it with data, because it is also to some extent a subjective feeling of less well-off communities that they are losing their spaces in the city, that they are losing their city.

Dalmatinova street, Ljubjana. Photo: Aidan Cerar


City air liberates

Cities have always been places of freedom. From the “city air liberating” those who escaped the nobility to the fact that the most creative people, minorities, eccentrics and artists have historically always migrated to cities. In cities there was enough critical mass to collaborate, too many people to make their eccentricities conspicuous, enough spaces in which to develop innovative practices, and enough diversity in which to lose and find themselves.


A degraded city

The 1980s and 1990s were a period of degradation for cities. Industry was moving out, shopping was moving to the suburbs, and so were the people. New York was nearly bankrupt in those years. Ljubljana did not fare so badly, but it was no exception in being kept alive by artificial respiration – urban and alternative culture. The BTC (big shopping complex) pulled the economic life out of Ljubljana, and people moved to the smaller surrounding towns with good road connections. The city’s cinemas closed, only the Kinoteka survived, and at the same time the Kinodvor and Kino Šiška developed, but clearly they were no longer cinemas. While the city’s shops, shopping centres and department stores declined, the BTC flourished. Ljubljana’s urban culture was also flourishing – from Metelkova, K4, Bikofei, Makalonca to Saxpub and Trubarjeva.

As in other cities, this trend has been reversed and Ljubljana has started to develop at an accelerated pace, as shown by 15 years of growth in tourist arrivals. If the city centre used to stay alive mainly thanks to urban and alternative culture, this has changed. Many of these cultural or alternative venues have given way to more lucrative amenities, and Metelkova has found its way into tourist brochures. This has hit the younger generation the hardest, who no longer find a place for their development, creativity and identity in the city centre, and thus (self-)organise spaces for themselves by squatting behind Bežigrad.


Squat PLAC Ljubljana. Photo: Nikos Ntounis


Gentrified city

Gentrified cities are characterised primarily by two phenomena: the emigration of long-time residents and the decline of urban diversity. Emigration is a consequence of higher rental prices. As a large share of housing in Slovenia is private, this impact is slower and less pronounced. In cities with this specificity, it therefore makes sense to measure the difference between those who move out and those who move into a particular urban area. If we find that the population is smaller and the economic status of the newcomers is significantly higher than that of the emigrants, then this is a sign that the area is gentrifying. We don’t collect this data in Ljubljana, but the first victims of gentrification are probably students who have given up their flats in the city centre to tourists, who pay more in a day or two than the students would pay in a whole month. The inaccessibility of housing in Ljubljana is not only due to gentrification, but mainly to the fact that Slovenia does not have a housing policy. It has left housing provision to the invisible hand of the market, which is perfectly at home with gentrification. A gentrified city is first and foremost a generator of real estate projects and profits. But the invisible hand kicks out those who do not want to participate in the city as a consumer machine.

Graffiti in Ljubljana / IPoP (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Another phenomenon typical for gentrification is the decline of the city’s diversity. The offer becomes more generic and more similar to what is available in other cities. Real estate is expensive, so it has to make a profit. Multinationals find it easiest to afford expensive city-centre properties, but at the same time landlords are keen to rent out space to them, as large global brands are unlikely to default on rent. At the same time, there are more and more users in the city who are not looking for the nuances and “deep identity” of a city. They are satisfied with a pleasant waterfront where they can sit and drink a latte or a pale ale… That’s why the waterfronts are full of bars that no one knows the name of, because they are all the same. So the city loses its authenticity and becomes a generic urban backdrop.

Source: Nina Stubičar, 2022,v Marot, N. in Uršič, M., 2022, MESTNI TURIZEM V SLOVENIJI: značilnosti in upravljanje. Univerza v Ljubljani – Biotehniška fakulteta.



Why nobody likes gentrification

Where cities used to be the refuges and sanctuaries of the most prolific, creative, innovative and even weird individuals and communities, gentrification is the reverse process. In a more or less soft way, it is precisely these individuals and communities that are being pushed out, because cities can no longer afford them. Instead of a place where new trends, cultural movements and even innovations are born, it becomes a spectacle of consumption of culture, goods and services, a kind of spectacle of the city. The everyday life lived by the citizens must give way to the spectacle that makes the city a machine for private profit.

Cities are built over years, over centuries; it is therefore no coincidence that they are called ‘capital’ in English, since they represent the historical accumulation of the capital of an area and/or a nation. They are the accumulation of the capital of several generations of the wider area, who have paid directly and indirectly for the development of the city. At the same time, the city is something more – this surplus is the people who have created and continue to co-create the city. The pulse of the city, the identity of the city and the brand of the city. If they are pushed out of the city, the city becomes a spectacle to be driven by (also public) investment. The crucial question is who benefits. If the inhabitants feel that they are losing their city, that it is slipping through their fingers, then it is probably gentrification that will make the city a nice backdrop for the usual, sterile and generic city visit.


Recipes for gentrification symptoms relief

Emigration and forced displacement is a feature of gentrification that usually affects city dwellers the most. Housing policies that provide affordable housing are therefore essential. It is important for the local economy to add spaces where residents can develop new businesses, as this creates quality jobs. Jobs in multinationals selling overpriced coffee and sweaty clothes are not that.

Some places in the city do not generate much profit, but they may create social value. Since this is no less important for the city, it makes sense to protect spaces that generate social value from market pressures.

Tourist attractions or programmes that attract tourists should be dispersed throughout the city or even the region, thus relieving the pressure on the city centre. The city centre should remain accessible to residents and maintain services for their daily lives.

With the investments that have helped to develop the city centre into a pleasant ‘living room’ for the city, it makes sense to experiment in the residential areas of the city. More and better public spaces and streets tailored to the people should not be the reserved for the city centre alone. People need an urban living room where they live, and most of Ljubljana’s inhabitants live in neighbourhoods and in the suburbs.

However, we must be aware that gentrification is a spatial manifestation of socio-economic differences. As the gap between rich and poor widens, so does the city and the difference between spaces for those who have and those who do not. Reducing the differences between social classes cannot be the aim of urban policies, as these are only part of a broader economic policy – international deregulation in recent decades and the broader turn towards laissez-faire economic policies from the 1970s. This is not to say that urban policies cannot mitigate their adverse effects on the everyday lives of citizens.


Write a response

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your custom text © Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.