The Real Estate Frontier


Africa’s major cities are experiencing dramatic transformation as a result of growing real estate investment. This article explores whether existing theories can explain the dynamics of urban redevelopment in an African context, and how African cases can inform new theorizations of real estate driven urban transformation. Examining the utility of theories of gentrification and speculative urbanism for understanding urban redevelopment in Accra, Ghana, it argues that urban redevelopment in this city has been shaped by its particular (post)colonial history of state land acquisition and urban planning. Rather than simply identifying empirical variation on established theories, however, the article draws on recent research on commodity frontiers to propose an original theorization of urban redevelopment in Accra in terms of the production of a ‘real estate frontier’. This real estate frontier is characterized by the incremental and contested commodification of state land to enable the growth of the real estate sector in the city. The article concludes by calling for a comparative research agenda to better understand real estate frontiers globally.