The widening gap between rich and poor is leading to segregation in more and more European cities. The rich and the poor are living at increasing distance from each other, and this can be disastrous for the social stability and competitive power of cities. These are the conclusions of joint research of Prof. Maarten van Ham, ERC grantee at Delft University of Technology, and Prof. Tiit Tammaru, Dr. Szymon Marcińczak and Prof. Sako Musterd.
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"This spatial segregation of rich and poor can become a breeding ground for misunderstanding and social unrest," said Prof. Van Ham.
This study compares the situation in 2001 to that in 2011 for thirteen European cities. It concludes that social mixing is declining in many areas. With some delay, socio-economic inequality is causing people in different income classes to live farther and farther away from each other.
"Recent riots in Paris, London and Stockholm cannot be considered separately from the concentrations of poverty in these cities," said Prof. Van Ham. "Our study demonstrates that this problem is growing."
Teams in London, Amsterdam, Riga, Vilnius, Tallinn, Madrid, Milan, Athens, Budapest, Oslo, Stockholm, Prague and Vienna examined comparable information (e.g. on income and jobs) for each city. Drawing on the literature, they developed predictions concerning segregation in each of the thirteen cities and tested them in practice. They linked the assessment to an in-depth analysis of the unique local situation and policy in each city.
Ethnicity and special segregation
Although the study focuses on income segregation, ethnicity sometimes clearly plays a role. This is the case in Stockholm, as well as in Tallinn, the European leader in the area of socio-economic segregation. In this city, disadvantaged communities with high concentrations of low-income groups are populated largely by ethnic Russians. It is interesting to note the remarkably low levels of segregation in the other Baltic capital cities of Riga and Vilnius.
The study argues that socio-economic segregation reduces the competitive power of cities. Middle-class residents who are able, tend to leave predominantly low-income neighbourhoods. This accelerates the process of segregation, making cities more susceptible to social unrest and less attractive as areas for locating a business.
Solution: Investment in education and social mobility
Prof. Van Ham says that a limited amount of segregation need not be a bad thing, but extremes should be avoided. This can be accomplished by investing in neighbourhoods and communities, but especially by reducing inequality through investments in education and social mobility. “This is not a matter of ability, but one of will. Segregation is partly a result of political choices, and the political system can also turn the process around.” The study has important policy implications for the European Urban Agenda.
The study, entitled Socio-Economic Segregation in European Capital Cities, is now available from the Routledge publishing house. The introduction and conclusions are available freely on line “in open access".