No, British cities are not all young and diverse

Paddington: less representative than one might think. Image: Getty.

The latest instalment of our weekly series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data to crunch some of the numbers on Britain’s cities.

When you think of cities, what images come to mind? Trams clattering past as trendy young Devil-Wears-Prada types leap over puddles in overpriced shoes like upmarket gazelles? Small clusters of multicultural people sitting on small patches of grass smiling at each other in effortlessly enjoyable conversation like every university prospectus ever?

All this may just be the quirks of my unsound mind – but the point is, when we think of cities, we think of busy, bustling places, full of young people and people from a whole host of different cultures. Or, in the cruelly unsubtle language of statisticians, immigrants.

With a city like London, that’s obviously true. More than a third of London’s population is foreign-born, making it the most diverse city in Europe.

But much to the chagrin of Londoners, there is a country beyond the M25 – and its cities aren’t all the same. And surprise, surprise, the difference between them in large part reflects the North/South divide – though this isn’t absolute.

Look at the percentage of people born outside the UK living in cities across the country. (The data comes from the 2011 census). You can see that the big-hitting cities in the South and the Midlands have pretty high percentages.

London’s on around about a third, Luton’s on 30 per cent, Oxford’s at 26 per cent, Peterborough’s on 20 per cent, and Coventry comes in at a respectable 21 per cent. To the south of the Wash – my arbitrary metric for where the north starts – there’s a flush of green on the map, showing cities with higher immigrant populations.

North of that point, though, the dots on the map are – more often than not – yellowish, showing lower immigrant populations in those cities.

Take Liverpool, where only 8 per cent of city-dwellers were born outside the UK. Or Hull, also on 8 per cent, Wakefield, with 5 per cent, Wigan, with 3.5 per cent, and Barnsley, with 3 per cent.

That’s not to say that Northern cities are entirely devoid of foreigners, though. Manchester has a very solid 13 per cent, and Bradford comes in at 17 per cent.

Scotland is also a different picture. Dundee has only 9 per cent, but Aberdeen and Edinburgh both have 15 per cent of their residents born outside the UK.

There’s also something happening here with coastal cities all across the country. Belfast only has a 7 per cent first-generation immigrant population, while Plymouth, Basildon, Southend, and Portsmouth all come in around the 7 per cent mark. Swansea and Newport, both cities near the coast in South Wales, report only 6 per cent of citizens who were born outside the UK.

So, that’s our vision of your multicultural friends laughing on a patch of grass put to shame.

The same is true of age, too. Sticking with data from the 2011 census, the colours on this map work the other way around. The greener a city’s dot on the map comes up, the less young it is.

The yellow cities – cities with fewer people over the age of 65 – are mostly clustered in the South and the Midlands. London and Cambridge are on 12 per cent, Oxford and Milton Keynes on 11 per cent, and Crawley and Cardiff have 13 per cent of people over 65.

Further north, those numbers rise. Sheffield, Stoke, Warrington, and Wigan all have around 16 per cent of citizens who are of pension-claiming age.

Again, coastal cities buck that north-south trend. The city with the highest percentage of over-65 residents is Bournemouth, with 22 per cent, and Worthing comes in third with 21 per cent. Swansea, Southend, Newport and Plymouth all make appearances towards the top end of the table.

Looking at 20-29-year-olds – the “peak yuppie” age – reflects much the same pattern (though the colour of the dots is inverted). There are more green dots down south, and more yellow dots up in the Northern Powerhouse.

Oxford and Cambridge come top trumps, with 26 per cent and 25 per cent of their citizens in their 20s, while the coastal cities of Southend and Worthing languish at the bottom of the table, with 11 per cent.

Essentially, the lesson is this: those hip cities filled with youngsters sitting on university-prospectus patches of grass with their multicultural friends? They’re almost certainly inland cities south of the Humber. Plenty of the country’s cities are awash with older people and bereft of many immigrants.

But don’t just take it from me. You can check out the Centre For Cities’ data here.

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Urgently needed: Timely, more detailed standardized data on US evictions

Graffiti asking for rent forgiveness is seen on a wall on La Brea Ave amid the Covid-19 pandemic in Los Angeles, California. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

Last week the Eviction Lab, a team of eviction and housing policy researchers at Princeton University, released a new dashboard that provides timely, city-level US eviction data for use in monitoring eviction spikes and other trends as Covid restrictions ease. 

In 2018, Eviction Lab released the first national database of evictions in the US. The nationwide data are granular, going down to the level of a few city blocks in some places, but lagged by several years, so their use is more geared toward understanding the scope of the problem across the US, rather than making timely decisions to help city residents now. 

Eviction Lab’s new Eviction Tracking System, however, provides weekly updates on evictions by city and compares them to baseline data from past years. The researchers hope that the timeliness of this new data will allow for quicker action in the event that the US begins to see a wave of evictions once Covid eviction moratoriums are phased out.

But, due to a lack of standardization in eviction filings across the US, the Eviction Tracking System is currently available for only 11 cities, leaving many more places facing a high risk of eviction spikes out of the loop.

Each city included in the Eviction Tracking System shows rolling weekly and monthly eviction filing counts. A percent change is calculated by comparing current eviction filings to baseline eviction filings for a quick look at whether a city might be experiencing an uptick.

Timely US eviction data for a handful of cities is now available from the Eviction Lab. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

The tracking system also provides a more detailed report on each city’s Covid eviction moratorium efforts and more granular geographic and demographic information on the city’s evictions.

Click to the above image to see a city-level eviction map, in this case for Pittsburgh. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

As part of their Covid Resource, the Eviction Lab together with Columbia Law School professor Emily Benfer also compiled a scorecard for each US state that ranks Covid-related tenant protection measures. A total of 15 of the 50 US states plus Washington DC received a score of zero because those states provided little if any protections.

CityMetric talked with Peter Hepburn, an assistant professor at Rutgers who just finished a two-year postdoc at the Eviction Lab, and Jeff Reichman, principal at the data science research firm January Advisors, about the struggles involved in collecting and analysing eviction data across the US.

Perhaps the most notable hurdle both researchers addressed is that there’s no standardized reporting of evictions across jurisdictions. Most evictions are reported to county-level governments, however what “reporting” means differs among and even within each county. 

In Texas, evictions go through the Justice of the Peace Courts. In Virginia they’re processed by General District Courts. Judges in Milwaukee are sealing more eviction case documents that come through their courtroom. In Austin, Pittsburgh and Richmond, eviction addresses aren’t available online but ZIP codes are. In Denver you have to pay about $7 to access a single eviction filing. In Alabama*, it’s $10 per eviction filing. 

Once the filings are acquired, the next barrier is normalizing them. While some jurisdictions share reporting systems, many have different fields and formats. Some are digital, but many are images of text or handwritten documents that require optical character recognition programs and natural language processors in order to translate them into data. That, or the filings would have to be processed by hand. 

“There's not enough interns in the world to do that work,” says Hepburn.

Aggregating data from all of these sources and normalizing them requires knowledge of the nuances in each jurisdiction. “It would be nice if, for every region, we were looking for the exact same things,” says Reichman. “Instead, depending on the vendor that they use, and depending on how the data is made available, it's a puzzle for each one.”

In December of 2019, US Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado and Rob Portman of Ohio introduced a bill that would set up state and local grants aimed at reducing low-income evictions. Included in the bill is a measure to enhance data collection. Hepburn is hopeful that the bill could one day mean an easier job for those trying to analyse eviction data.

That said, Hepburn and Reichman caution against the public release of granular eviction data. 

“In a lot of cases, what this gets used for is for tenant screening services,” says Hepburn. “There are companies that go and collect these data and make them available to landlords to try to check and see if their potential tenants have been previously evicted, or even just filed against for eviction, without any sort of judgement.”

According to research by Eviction Lab principal Matthew Desmond and Tracey Shollenberger, who is now vice president of science at Harvard’s Center for Policing Equity, residents who have been evicted or even just filed against for eviction often have a much harder time finding equal-quality housing in the future. That coupled with evidence that evictions affect minority populations at disproportionate rates can lead to widening racial and economic gaps in neighborhoods.

While opening up raw data on evictions to the public would not be the best option, making timely, granular data available to researchers and government officials can improve the system’s ability to respond to potential eviction crises.

Data on current and historical evictions can help city officials spot trends in who is getting evicted and who is doing the evicting. It can help inform new housing policy and reform old housing policies that may put more vulnerable citizens at undue risk.

Hepburn says that the Eviction Lab is currently working, in part with the ACLU, on research that shows the extent to which Black renters are disproportionately affected by the eviction crisis.

More broadly, says Hepburn, better data can help provide some oversight for a system which is largely unregulated.

“It's the Wild West, right? There's no right to representation. Defendants have no right to counsel. They're on their own here,” says Hepburn. “I mean, this is people losing their homes, and they're being processed in bulk very quickly by the system that has very little oversight, and that we know very little about.”

A 2018 report by the Philadelphia Mayor’s Taskforce on Eviction Prevention and Response found that of Philadelphia’s 22,500 eviction cases in 2016, tenants had legal representation in only 9% of them.

Included in Hepburn’s eviction data wishlist is an additional ask, something that is rarely included in any of the filings that the Eviction Lab and January Advisors have been poring over for years. He wants to know the relationship between money owed and monthly rent.

“At the individual level, if you were found to owe $1,500, was that on an apartment that's $1,500 a month? Or was it an apartment that's $500 a month? Because that makes a big difference in the story you're telling about the nature of the crisis, right? If you're letting somebody get three months behind that's different than evicting them immediately once they fall behind,” Hepburn says.

Now that the Eviction Tracking System has been out for a week, Hepburn says one of the next steps is to start reaching out to state and local governments to see if they can garner interest in the project. While he’s not ready to name any names just yet, he says that they’re already involved in talks with some interested parties.

*Correction: This story initially misidentified a jurisdiction that charges $10 to access an eviction filing. It is the state of Alabama, not the city of Atlanta. Also, at the time of publication, Peter Hepburn was an assistant professor at Rutgers, not an associate professor.

Alexandra Kanik is a data reporter at CityMetric.