As the poor get pushed to the suburbs, our cities risk becoming playgrounds for the rich

Not for you. Image: Getty.

Successive governments in Europe have impressive visions for the future of our cities. These reject the divisive urban model of earlier decades, where richer people moved to low-density, car-dependent suburbs, leaving inner cities predominantly to the poor.

In the sustainable cities of the future, the vision is to attract richer people back to city centres. This will reduce their need to travel and increase public transport use. Importantly, these movements are supposed to bring about more mixed communities of people from different walks of life, living alongside one another harmoniously.

To achieve this urban renaissance, the UK has, for example, been directing housing development towards brownfield sites in the core of cities, limiting greenfield development at the edge. It has also been among those pushing substantial investment through urban regeneration schemes in land preparation or infrastructure.

Sure enough, this has halted and in some cases reversed the population losses which core cities have experienced for decades as richer people have been attracted back to the centres. Yet poorer people are being pushed out; poverty is “suburbanising”. We have seen this pattern in the US, and more recently in England, particularly London.

Scotland’s four largest cities are also experiencing this trend, as new data confirms. In Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee, the share of each city’s population living near the centre either stayed the same or rose between 2004 and 2016. At the same time, the proportion of poorer people has been falling (see graphs below).

Income-deprived population living in central city (%)


Non-deprived population living in central city (%)

The central area of Edinburgh has seen a loss of approximately 4,000 people in low income households over the period. In Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city, where this trend has been identified before, the figure is approximately 6,000. For the smaller cities of Aberdeen and Dundee, the losses were around 400 and 700 respectively.


What is driving this change? As city living has become more popular, poorer households are finding it harder to compete for housing. Social housing stock has fallen for decades, meaning those in poverty are having to rely more on renting privately. When cities attract wealthier people, landlords can charge rents that poorer people struggle to afford.

Meanwhile, recent welfare reforms have successively cut the housing benefits that subsidise rent payments for those on low incomes – at the same time as inequality levels have been rising more generally. The net result is that these people are pushed towards cheaper areas, away from the more central neighbourhoods.

Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. Image: Andy Ramdin/Flickr/creative commons.

As in other countries, this suburbanisation of Scottish poverty looks to be a steady but largely hidden process. If it continues, the cities of the future will be far from the visions set out by policymakers and planners.

Instead, they will continue to be marked by segregation and deep division, only now with poorer households pushed to the edge. That has potentially serious implications for these people’s welfare, particularly their ability to access employment. It also threatens broader social cohesion.

If politicians are serious about their visions for the future, it is time we recognised these trends and started talking about how to halt them.The Conversation

Nick Bailey is professor of urban studies, and Jonathan Minton a quantitative research associate, at the University of Glasgow.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 

In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.