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School of Geography

Deivi Norberg


PhD student



Title: The urban political economy and resistance to commercial displacement in East London

Unaffordable commercial rent levels in London have been slowly but steadily dismantling the unique and vibrant commercial fabric of the city. Many independent shops, decades-old family businesses and community organisations struggle to pay for their increasing rent bill and are in danger of becoming displaced. The Covid-19 pandemic significantly exacerbated this crisis – many businesses received almost no income during the lockdowns yet were still asked to pay rent. This left small businesses with unsustainable rent arrears which have forced many into bankruptcy. The struggle that commercial tenants face mimics the dynamics of the housing market. Yet, even when it is widely accepted that the commercial fabric of our cities plays a vital role in how we inhabit, use and value urban space, the question of affordability of commercial rents has so far not received the same level of interest as the affordability of housing rents.

In the last two decades, the Greater London Authority alongside the city’s Local Authorities have attempted to mend the situation by increasing the available affordable workspace through planning obligations. This doctoral research explores the dominant institutional values, structures and processes of urban governance that have simultaneously enabled and attempted to solve the crisis of affordable workspace in London. Further, the research investigates the dynamics of workspace struggles that have emerged in response to the permanent threat of displacement faced by so many of London’s small businesses. Through an ethnographic participant observation of the East End Trades Guild, an alliance of small businesses and self-employed people in East London, I investigate the strategies employed by local community groups to fight against unaffordable rent increases, growth-dependant planning regimes and commercial displacement. In doing so, it will not only analyse the resistance to the current situation but also provide a vehement defence for the need to protect small business through affordable rents by elaborating on what is lost if we fail to do so.

The doctoral project focused on the following themes: commercial displacement, urban governance, local state, urban planning, workspace struggles, community organising.

Supervisors: Dr Regan Koch and Dr William Monteith

Funding: ESRC LISS DTP 1+3


Norberg, D., & Norberg, K. P. (2024). Estonia's “Return to Europe”: The relationship between neoliberalism, statelessness, and Westward integration in post-independence Estonia. Political Geography, 108, 103009. doi:




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