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A spatial analysis of immigrant entrepreneurship at the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre


  • UnderinvestedIngenuity A spatial analysis of immigrant entrepreneurship at the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre

  • A special thanks to Suzanne Hall, an exceptional dissertation advisor, for the support and inspiration you

    provided during my studies at the LSE Cities Programme.

    Savitri Lopez Negrete, 2011Cities ProgrammeThe London School of Economics and Political Science


    On Thursday May 26th 2011, the first iterations of renderings for the future redevelopment of the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre were revealed. The renderings displayed a pristine glass faade, one option with three towers growing out of the glass structure proposed to be office buildings, residential housing and a hotel (figure 1). The images show little resemblance to the current life of the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, and perhaps the image eludes to the perception of the Centre at its grand opening in 1965, when the area was still called the Piccadilly Circus of the South, renown for its theatres, entertainment and the first indoor Shopping Centre in Europe. Much has changed since then, not only in its physical appearance but most pronounced in its occupations and appropriations of space. While the area slowly degraded since its heyday at the beginning of the 20th century, it was devastated by bombings during the London Blitz and then received large-scale redevelopment through the ideology of Modernism. Large slab-block housing and a gyratory traffic system began to dominate the terraced streets. However, just as the Shopping Centre, the area remained resilient, even in the face of underinvestment, ethnic communities grew in the area and began occupying the vacant spaces of the Shopping Centre transforming it into a hub of entrepreneurship and culture. This dissertation will argue that the presence of entrepreneurship at the Shopping Centre is not solely due to the common perception of ethnic inclination towards self-employment, rather it has manifested in large part due to specific spatial characteristics present at the Centre. These dynamics allow the building to continually re-invent itself into new iterations through its diverse inhabitants and their appropriations of space.

    There is a wide array of literature covering the topic of migration, transnationalism and growing ethnic enclaves in cities fueled by globalization (Barrett, 2001; Kloosterman, 1999; Portes, 2002). The relationship between immigrants and their inclination towards business start-ups and entrepreneurship has also been cited repeated times, often attributed to exclusion from the formal employment sector in market-based post-industrial economies (Barrett, 2001; Kloosterman,1999). Additionally, the impact of migrant communities in their settlement countries has been explored showing how immigrants are able to revitalize neighborhoods, introduce new products and create niche markets while maintaining links with transnational economies. The spatial implications of immigrant entrepreneurship is an area yet to be investigated in detail, which will be the focus of this dissertation. Revealed through a fine-grained analysis, spatial intricacies and particularities associated with immigrant entrepreneurship will be uncovered through a case study of Londons Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre.

    Various studies have demonstrated shopping centers and particularly shopping malls in the United States as spaces void of social capital, accessible only through private automobiles, usually located in the suburbs and consisting of a series of chain stores that can be valued in purely economic terms (Crawford, 1992). However, the Shopping Centre at the Elephant & Castle differs dramatically from the common stereotype. The objective of this paper is to uncover the basis of such disparate realities, focusing on the Shopping Centres particular urban form and

    spatial attributes that allow it to stand apart from its sterile counterparts. The dissertation will address three core questions:

    In what ways does the cultural and ethnic diversity of the Elephant & Castle neighborhood shape the occupations of space in the Shopping Centre?

    How do the opportunities and constraints of entrepreneurship manifest spatially in the forms and distributions of small businesses in the Shopping Centre?

    What are the policy implications at city, borough and Shopping Centre level that effect the spatial manifestation?

    The first question addresses the wider literature on the changing landscapes of cities as immigrants integrate themselves economically, socially and in policy terms within their countries of settlement. Attention will be given to the persistent connection between immigrant communities and self-employment. Specifically how ethnic minority businesses compete in saturated spatial markets and are concentrated in economically vulnerable sectors while depending heavily on the surrounding local demographic (Barrett, 2001). Also, the types of businesses that ethnic minorities start-up including wholesale, retail and restaurants will be explored in terms of their low barriers to entry and the fierce competition that accompanies these dynamics (Kloosterman, 1999).

    The second question will deliver an ethnographic study through methods of sustained observation, in-depth interviews and relevant literature to deliver a spatial analysis of the Shopping Centre. There will be a focus on the ethnicity of groups that inhabit the space and the particularities of their trade. The second question will provide a spatial overview of the Centre, and additionally present an in-depth analysis of the nuances of a specific section of the building.

    Thirdly, relevant policy documents dealing with town center retail strategy such as the PPS4, and borough-wide policy will be analyzed against the case study findings. The future redevelopment plans thus far for the Shopping Centre will be scrutinized, exposing how regulatory and planning frameworks can either aid or inhibit the role of entrepreneurship as a means of upward mobility. Contrary to widely held principles on functioning urban design, the spatial and policy analysis delivered through this dissertation will unveil that the Shopping Centre, as other similar retail sites, does not comply by the ordinary rules of effective management, a good laid-out site and access (Watson, 2006: 51), rather it functions as an organic, spontaneous and often chaotic system whose vitality depends on a certain degree of de-regulation.

  • 2Figure 1Source: St. Modwen, 2011The top image shows the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre in its current appearance. The renderings are concept images showing the design possibilities of the Centres future redevelopment.


    On-site research was carried out pertaining to this dissertation during a two month period where the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre was frequented three to six times per week during a variety of times of day to exercise observation techniques, conduct interviews and engage with the vendors, consumers, products and spaces of the Shopping Centre. In addition, the research was also informed by a one year period of living in proximity to the Shopping Centre. Therefore the Centre was investigated in both a research and consumer capacity, by using the site as a retail amenity and part of everyday routine. Information on the evolution of the Shopping Centre and its current iteration was obtained primarily from vendors that have traded within and outside the Centre ranging from ten to thirty years. Additional information was gained from local residents of the Elephant & Castle, and through personal observations of the activities occurring during the relatively short period of one year. The management of the Shopping Centre was generous in allowing the undertaking of research during a two-month time period, unfortunately they were unable to actively contribute their knowledge of the Centre since they were unable to provide an interview. Literature relevant to the topic is used to provide a theoretical platform to support the dissertations on-site approach, ethnographic basis and pragmatic spatial focus in

    addition to including relevant literary studies that supplement the dissertations findings. Information on the regeneration of the area and the preliminary stages of redevelopment of the Shopping Centre was obtained by interviews with the Elephant & Castles main developer, architects, local authorities, the Shopping Centres property owner and the attendance of community forums involving various stakeholders. Customary with sociological practice all individuals, establishments, organizations and firms have been renamed to protect anonymity. Please refer to the appendix for further information on interviews conducted.

    ...the presence of entrepreneurship at the Shopping Centre is not solely due to the common perception of ethnic inclination towards self-employment, rather it has manifested in large part due to specific spatial characteristics present at the Centre.


    Immigrants are often associated with business start-ups and entrepreneurship in their countries of settlement and overall have a higher frequency of self-employment compared with total populations (Barrett, 2001: 244; Kloosterman, 1999: 3; Portes, 2002: 279; Drinkwater, 2010: 189). According to Kloosterman, immigrants propensity towards entrepreneurship heavily depends on the interplay between socio-economic and ethno-social characteristics of the group in question and the opportunity structure (Kloosterman, 1999: 3), which he illustrates through the term mixed embeddedness (Kloosterman, 1999:2). The opportunity structure that Kloosterman refers to is a complex mix of economic and political