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Project information

Project team

Isolde Brade, Günter Herfert, Carola S. Neugebauer, Christian Smigiel, Karin Wiest


Konstantin Axionow (University of St. Petersburg), Iskra Dandolova (Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia), Zoltán Kovács (Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest), Dovile Krupickaite (University of Vilnius)

Duration of project


Funded by

German Research Foundation

Further information

Isolde Brade
Tel.: +49 341 600 55-112

Between gentrification and decay

Sociospatial change and persistence in residential areas of selected urban regions in Central and Eastern Europe

Since the disintegration of centralized regulatory mechanisms in the early 1990s, processes of fragmentation in the urban regions of Central/EasternEurope have intensified, segregation is increasing and an onset of social polarization between residential areas can be observed. These changes in socio-spatial patterns in the urban regions may be the result of a more or less independent development path that differs clearly from that of western countries, or they may be due to differentiated transition processes in Central and Eastern Europe.

The aim of the Project was to compare post-socialist development paths in urban regions in Central / Eastern Europe, with regard to examples of persistence as well as their growing socio-spatial differentiation by means of status enhancement and downgrading in residential areas. Both socio-spatial and symbolic patterns of differentiation in the respective urban regions under the new social and economic conditions were examined. These processes have been examined in four urban regions: St. Petersburg, Budapest, Sofia, Vilnius, Leipzig.


Although the metropolitan regions presented here are all highly individual, nevertheless some shared socio-spatial trends can be identified:

In all of the metropolitan regions (with the exception of Leipzig), isolated upgrading processes in the form of the improvement of the building fabric and in-migration of high-earning, well-qualified population groups can be observed in the inner city residential areas. Typically, social and architectural decay and upgrading are found close together. At the same time, however, demand on the part of the upper middle and upper classes for apartment complexes and suburban single family homes is concentrated in the metropolitan regions.

The large-scale housing complexes of the 1970s studied here currently demonstrate both persistent residential structures as well as trends towards social decline. Decline is evident in metropolitan regions where the housing supply exceeds market demand e.g. in Leipzig und Budapest. To what extent this socio-structural decline in the large-scale housing complexes will be consolidated or restarted in the future seems primarily to depend on the extent to which the metropolitan region succeeds in quickly and effectively coping with the major refurbishment needs of these housing complexes. For the large-scale housing complexes are still widely accepted by the population in Eastern European urban regions and their populations generally have a sustainable mixed structure.

Housing ideals in Central and Eastern European cities are dominated by the dream of a house of one's own with a garden. Only in the Leipzig metropolitan region can a trend away from this ideal and growing demand for inner city housing forms be observed. It is not yet clear to what extent corresponding reurbanisation trends could become established in Central and Eastern European cities in the future or whether long-term preferences will tend more towards suburban living.

Gated and guarded housing complexes in the suburbs and in different types of inner city housing projects represent a new type of housing form that is developing rapidly. In all of the urban regions studied here, apart from Leipzig, this type of housing has gained considerably in significance.. In fact, they are a new genre of housing production. This mushrooming is closely connected with a new level of capital accumulation in a neo-liberal era that is producing social inequalities and injustice. Gated and guarded housing also reflect a new interplay between public and private actors. Private stakeholders are the dominant key actors in Central and Eastern European cities since public actors have virtually withdrawn from active policy-making. Furthermore, gated housing estates can be seen as a milieu which plays a significant and specific role in redefining the social structure of a whole region. Gated housing estates are a modernised milieu, perhaps even more effective in creating differences between social classes than other outward displays of income or education. Looking inside they appear to be rather contradictory places. Indeed, research of gated neighbourhoods in Budapest, Sofia, St. Petersburg and Vilnius has shown that internal conflicts seems to be an essential element of these new way of living.

Analysis of the case studies completed so far shows that the metropolitan regions of Central/Eastern Europe studied here are especially characterised by simultaneity and close proximity of architectural and social upgrading and decline. Ongoing analyses focus on the extent to which this parallelism leads to socio-spatial polarisation (in the sense of increase and amplification of social differences between population groups and its expression in space) or whether instead it produces socio-spatial fragmentation (loss of social coherence and spatial continuity through the division of space into small, highly differentiated socio-spatial units).

Publications (by theme):

Large scale housing estates

Brade, Isolde / Carola S. Neugebauer / Axenov, Konstantin (2011): Großwohnsiedlungen in St. Petersburg zwischen sozialräumlicher Polarisierung und Persistenz. In: Geographica Helvetica 66 (1), pp. 42-53.

Neugebauer, Carola / Wiest, Karin / Krupikaite, Dovile (2011): Zukunftsperspektiven mittel- und osteuropäischer Großwohnsiedlungen zwischen Wohnungsmarkt, Bewohnerinitiative und Förderpolitik. In: Raumforschung und Raumordnung: 69 (1), pp. 29-43.

Wiest, Karin (2011): Large scale housing Estates in Central and East European Cities: Between Residential Preferences and local Housing market Differences. In: Housing, Theory and Society (im Druck).

Herfert, Günter / Neugebauer, Carola Silvia / Smigiel, Christian (zum Druck angenommen): Living in residential satisfaction? Insights from large-scale housing estates in Central and Eastern Europe. In:Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie.

Herfert, Günter/ Kovacs, Zoltan (zum Druck angenommen): Development Pathways of Large Housing Estates in Post-socialist Cities: An international comparison. In: Housing Studies.


Smigiel, Christian / Brade, Isolde (2011): Suburbanisierung im östlichen Europa im Zeitalter neoliberaler Stadtentwicklung. In: disP – the planning review, 185, 2/2011 (im Druck).

Leetmaa, Kadri / Brade, Isolde / Anniste, Kristi / Nuga, Mari (2011): Socialist Summer-home Settlements in Post-socialist Suburbanisation. In: Urban Studies. Online

Brade, Isolde / Smigiel, Christian / Kovacs, Zoltan (2009): Suburban residential development in post-socialist urban regions: The case of Moscow, Sofia and Budapest. In: Kilper, H.(Eds.): German Annual of Spatial Research and Policy 2009, Springer Verlag Berlin, Heidelberg, New York, pp. 79-104. 

Socio-spatial change

Herfert, Günter; Neugebauer, Carola Silvia; Konstantin Eduardovitch Axenov (2012): Neue sozialräumliche Entwicklungstrends in innerstädtischen Wohnquartieren des mittleren und östlichen Europa? In: disP ? The Planning Review (4/2012): pages 29-44.

Isolde Brade, Carola Neugebauer (2010): Sage mir, wo Du wohnst, und ich sage Dir, wer Du bist: Sozialräumlicher Wandel in postsozialistischen Stadtregionen. In: Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung Halle (Eds.): Von der Transformation zur europäischen Integration. IWH-Sonderhefte 3, Halle. pp. 293-309.

Brade, Isolde / Herfert, Günter / Wiest, Karin (2009): Recent Trends and future prospects of socio-spatial differentiation in urban regions of Central and East Europe: A lull before the storm? In: Cities, 26 (5), pp. 233-244.

Brade, Isolde / Herfert, Günter / Karin Wiest (2008): Sozialräumliche Differenzierung in Großstadtregionen des mittleren und östlichen Europa – ein Überblick. In: Europa Regional 16 (1), pp. 3–15.

Gated and guarded housing

Smigiel, Christian (2010): Ein neuer Eiserner Vorhang im östlichen Europa? Eine Bestandsaufnahme des Booms geschlossener und bewachter Wohnkomplexen am Beispiel Sofia. In: Bohn, Thomas M. / Calic, Marie-Janine (Eds.): Urbanisierung und Stadtentwicklung in Südosteuropa vom 19. bis zum 21. Jahrhundert. 47. Internationale Hochschulwoche der Südosteuropa-Gesellschaft.  In: Südosteuropa-Jahrbuch, H. 37. Sagner, München. pp. 319-332.

Smigiel, Christian (Ed.) (2009): Gated and Guarded Housing in Eastern Europe. forum ifl, H. 11. Selbstverlag Leibniz-Institut für Länderkunde. Leipzig.

Smigiel, Christian / G?decki, Jacek (2009): A paradise behind gates and walls: Gated communities in Eastern Europe and the promise of happiness. In: Bartetzky, Arnold / Schalenberg, Marc (Eds.): Urban Planning and the Pursuit of Happiness. European Variations on a Universal Theme (18th–21th c.). Jovis-Verlag. Berlin, pp. 198-217.

Exhibition Living Spaces in Central and Eastern Europe