These maps show how hard it is to measure inequality in English council areas

Maps! Maps! Maps! Image: author provided.

As heads of state, billionaires and other influencers pondered the issue of inequality at the World Economic Forum in Davos, an unlikely hero emerged in the form of Dutch historian Rutger Bregman. His memorable take down of the super wealthy on tax avoidance clearly resonated, at a time when the deep social divisions associated with inequality are manifesting themselves forcefully across the world: from the gilet jaunes protests in France, to the ongoing fallout from Brexit.

In the UK, people often think about inequality in geographical terms: for example, places such as Kensington in London are considered “rich”, while Blackpool in Lancashire is considered “poor”. In reality there are rich and poor areas almost everywhere, but they are not distributed evenly across England.

Inner urban neighbourhoods are often associated with deprivation, as are the so-called “left-behind” towns so often associated with Brexit, but quite often rural poverty is overlooked. When we began investigating inequality in England, as part of a new project funded by the Nuffield Foundation, we quickly found that the truth is far more complex.

Kensington constituency. Image: Alasdair Rae and Elvis Nyanzu, University of Sheffield.

Take Kensington, for example: when we mapped out data from government statistics on deprivation, we found that it’s actually a very unequal area.

We want to cut through old stereotypes and divisions, by presenting data in a new way, which sheds light on the longstanding inequalities within and between places – no matter how big or small, or urban or rural they are.

By the time we complete our project in 2020, we hope to produce an atlas of inequality, which illustrates the scale and severity of inequality across England, right down to a local level – since that’s where its impacts are felt most keenly.

Divided cities?

Looking at the data for English cities, the problems with mapping inequality become clearer. The maps below show eight major English cities, plus Greater London. Areas shown in red are among the 10 per cent most deprived in the whole of England, whereas the blue areas are among the 10 per cent least deprived. The ratio of red to blue areas is shown in the bar along the bottom of each city map.

Divided cities? Areas among the 10 per cent most and least deprived in England. Image: Alasdair Rae and Elvis Nyanzu, University of Sheffield.

Some cities look very deprived, others are quite mixed. In Sheffield in particular you could almost draw a straight line between the red and blue areas. Where boundaries are drawn matters a lot. Take Manchester, for example: its official boundary doesn’t include places which are functionally part of the city, such as Salford, where a lot of people work.

The City of Manchester (black outline) and surrounding areas. Image: Alasdair Rae, University of Sheffield.

Looking at the map of Manchester above, you might think it’s quite deprived, but you only have to look beyond the boundaries, in the map to the left, to see things in a different light. By contrast, Leeds has a wide boundary which extends far beyond the core of the city, and takes in wealthier places like Wetherby.

The blue areas all sit outside the functional core of the city, yet from an administrative point of view, they’re still part of Leeds. So although you might assume that Manchester is considerably more deprived than Leeds, the reality is more complex.

Is inequality inevitable?

Our initial findings have raised some critical issues, which prompted us to think more deeply about what level of inequality might ultimately be considered “acceptable” in the first place – and especially, whether areas with greater levels of inequality have worse outcomes.

This might seem like a strange thing to consider, but it’s important because it speaks to the issue of what kind of society we want to live in – and, as a result, what policies can be put in place to bring that about.

What would an ‘acceptable’ deprivation profile look like? Image: author provided.

The graph above looks at a very simple measure of inequality across three of England’s 149 official labour market areas (also known as “travel to work areas” or TTWAs). It shows what proportion of neighbourhoods are within each deprivation decile (i.e. poorest 10 per cent, 20 per cent and so on) for Lincoln, Liskeard and Liverpool. For example, you can see that a large proportion of Liverpool’s neighbourhoods are within the 10 per cent most deprived areas across England (the tallest bar on the Liverpool chart), yet this is not the case in Lincoln or Liskeard.

Lincoln has a more balanced profile, and Liskeard has far more areas in the middle. The key question here is how these variations in local inequalities impact both the life chances of individuals and overall levels of economic vitality.


At a time when society is defined more by its cleavages than its cohesiveness, it’s more important than ever to have a clear-eyed understanding of where inequality exists, and what impact it has on local people.

Of course, data and maps aren’t the only way of gaining insights into inequality – nor are they always as compelling as other media, like striking photographs, or people’s personal stories. Our approach is only one way of understanding the world. But it can help to inform leaders in local and national governments about inequality, and, we hope, lead to action which makes life better for people living in relative poverty.

The Conversation

Alasdair Rae, Professor in Urban Studies and Planning, University of Sheffield and Elvis Nyanzu, PhD Candidate in Urban Studies and Planning, University of Sheffield.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

How can cities become more bike friendly? The Netherlands offers useful lessons

(Aurore Belot/AFP via Getty Images)

It might seem like cycling is in the DNA of the Netherlands, a country where even the prime minister takes his bicycle to work. But the Dutch haven’t always lived as one with their bikes. In the Amsterdam of the early 1970s, cars were considered the wave of the future. They can be seen filling up squares and streets in historical photographs, and killed an average of over two Amsterdammers per week, including many children.

It is nothing more than an “accident of history” that the Netherlands embraced cycling, says Marco te Brömmelstoet, the director of the Urban Cycling Institute in Amsterdam and a man better known as the city’s cycling professor. Today’s bike rider’s paradise was created after parents and activists took to the streets to protest “child murder” by car. A Saudi oil embargo, rising gas prices, concerns about pollution and anger about the destruction of entire neighbourhoods to build motorways did the rest. 


Amsterdam, 1958. Not a cyclist's paradise. (Keystone/Getty Images)

What’s important about this history is that it can be replicated in other cities, too. Of course, the Netherlands has certain advantages – it’s flat as a pancake, for example. But in the eyes of traffic reformers, the rise of e-bikes (and even cargo bikes) means there’s no excuse for prioritising cars everywhere. 

So how can cities, flat or not, follow Amsterdam’s path to creating places where cycling is a pleasant, safe and common way to get around? The Dutch have some tips. 

Separate bikes from car traffic

Any city could start painting dedicated bike lanes on the streets. But in the Netherlands, those white marks indicating space for cyclists are considered just a minor first step. 

“A line on the road is not enough. Motorists will ignore it,” says Frans Jan van Rossem, a civil servant specialising in cycling policy in Utrecht. If other cities want their residents to choose bikes instead of cars when dodging pandemic-era public transport, protecting them from fast-moving car traffic must be the priority, Van Rossem says. 

The Dutch research institute CROW developed a widely praised design manual for bicycle infrastructure, full of tips for creating these protected lanes: A row of vertical white posts or a curb can serve as a physical separator, for example. Still, cyclists tend to feel safest in a "solitary" path, separated from the road by grass, trees, or an elevated concrete island. 

“The main bottleneck, the main reason why people don’t cycle, is that they don’t feel safe,” Van Rossem notes. “To start, construct separate paths.”

Turn those bike paths into a network

Many cities may have some bike lanes on some streets, but leave cyclists to roll the dice everywhere else. Will conditions still be safe when they turn left or right? Often they have to continue their way without any protected facilities for cyclists. 

“In many cases, cities take fast action, without thinking it through very well,” says Lucas Harms. He leads the Dutch Cycling Embassy, a partnership between the Dutch government and several companies, which promotes Dutch bike knowhow globally. “Don’t build small pieces of bike lane from nothing to nowhere. Think about a network of cycling infrastructure.” 

Utrecht aims to have cyclists within 200 to 300 metres of a connected path anywhere in the city, Van Rossem says. Avoid constructing those paths in sketchy industrial areas, he warns. “A connection through an unattractive area may be fast, but won’t be used a lot.”

Embrace the ‘fietsstraat’, a street where bikes come first


On some streets, drivers have to give up their privileges. (Rick Nederstigt/AFP via Getty Images)

A peculiar Dutch invention called "fietsstraat" (cycling street) holds strong potential for the rest of the world, Kevin Krizek says. He’s a transportation professor from Colorado who spent three years at Radboud University in Nijmegen. 

On cycling streets, cars are “guests”, restricted by a speed limit of 30 kilometres per hour. Drivers are not allowed to pass, so cyclists comfortably dominate the road. In the Netherlands the fietsstraat is usually paved with red asphalt, to resemble a bike path and notify drivers of their secondary status. But creating a cycling street can be easy. “All you need to do is put signs at intersections,” Krizek says. The effect is revolutionary in his view. Drivers have to give up their privileges, and cyclists can take the lead. 

Some Dutch traffic experts worry the cycling street won’t work if a city doesn’t also have a robust cycling culture. In the Netherlands, drivers are aware of the perils of urban cycling because they too use bicycles. Moreover, Dutch cities use sophisticated “circulation plans” to direct cars away from city centres and residential areas, onto a few main routes. 

Without “calming” traffic this way, the cycling street could be a step too far, Harms says. “In a city like New York, where all roads are equally accessible and full, it’s better to separate bicycles and cars,” he says.

Redesign intersections for cyclists' safety

If cyclists have to cross intersections “at the mercy of the Gods”, you’re not there yet, says Harms. When he travels abroad, he often finds clumsily designed crossings. As soon as cars turn, cyclists may fear for their lives. 

Harms recommends placing physical barriers between cars and bikes in places where they must cross. The Dutch build elevated islands to direct traffic into separate sections. The golden rule: cars wait behind bicycles. That way, drivers can see cyclists clearly at all times. Barriers also force Dutch cyclists to turn left in the safest way possible. They cross the street first and wait for their turn again before making their way left.

“You can create that with simple temporary measures,” Harms says. Planters work fine, for example. “They must be forgiving, though. When someone makes a mistake, you don’t want them to get seriously injured by a flower box’s sharp edge.”

Professor Krizek points out how the Dutch integrated cycling routes into roundabouts. Some are small; some are big and glorious, like the Hovenring between Eindhoven and Veldhoven, where cyclists take a futuristic-looking roundabout lifted above the highway. Most of those traffic circles move high volumes of cars and cyclists through intersections efficiently and safely. For a simpler solution, the Dutch manual suggests guiding cyclists to quieter streets – crossing a block up or down may be safer. “Nobody knows how to do intersections better than the Dutch,” says Krizek. 

Ban cars, or at least discourage them


A man rides down from a three-level bicycle parking garage near Amsterdam's main train station. (Timothy Clary/AFP via Getty Images)

The quickest, most affordable way to make a city more bikeable is to ban cars, says Ria Hilhorst, cycling policy advisor for the City of Amsterdam. It will make streets remarkably safe – and will most likely enrage a significant amount of people. 

Amsterdam doesn’t outlaw cars, but it does deliberately make their owners feel unwelcome in the historic city’s cramped streets. Paid parking is hugely effective, for example. Many car owners decide to avoid paying and use bicycles or public transportation for trips into the city. Utrecht, meanwhile, boasts the world’s largest bicycle parking garage, which provides a dizzying 12,500 parking spots.

To further discourage drivers from entering the city’s heart, Amsterdam will soon remove more than 10,000 car-parking spaces. Strategically placed barriers already make it impossible to cross Amsterdam efficiently by car. “In Amsterdam, it is faster to cross the city on a bike than by car,” Harms says. “That is the result of very conscious policy decisions.”

Communicate the benefits clearly

Shopkeepers always fear they will lose clients when their businesses won’t be directly accessible by car, but that’s a myth, says Harms. “A lot of research concludes that better access for pedestrians and cyclists, making a street more attractive, is an economic boost.”

Try replacing one parking space with a small park, he recommends, and residents will see how it improves their community. Home values will eventually rise in calmer, bike-friendlier neighbourhoods without through traffic, Van Rossem says. Fewer cars mean more room for green spaces, for example.

“I often miss the notion that cycling and walking can contribute a lot to the city. One of the greatest threats to public health is lack of exercise. A more walkable and bikeable city can be part of the solution,” says Ria Hilhorst. “But in many countries, cycling is seen as something for losers. I made it, so I have a car and I’m going to use it, is the idea. 

“Changing this requires political courage. Keep your back straight, and present a vision. What do you gain? Tranquility, fewer emissions, health benefits, traffic safety, less space occupied by vehicles.” 

Again, she points to Amsterdam’s history. “It is possible; we were a car city too.”

Karlijn van Houwelingen is a journalist based in New York City.