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Increasing segregation in European cities due to income inequality

A comparative study from Routledge publishing house

Brussels, 2 September 2015 | Published in Research

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 conclusions are based on the comparative study entitled ‘Socio-Economic Segregation in European Capital Cities’.

Edited by Tiit Tammaru, Szymon Marcińczak, Maarten van Ham & Sako Musterd, and based on research receiving EU funding, this study compares the situation in 2001 to that in 2011 for thirteen European cities.

The study 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.

“This spatial segregation of rich and poor can become a breeding ground for misunderstanding and social unrest” argues Maarten van Ham, Professor of Urban Renewal at TU Delft, one of the keynote speakers at the Housing Europe General Assembly thematic discussions in Lisbon. “Recent riots in Paris, London and Stockholm cannot be considered separately from the concentrations of poverty in these cities. Our study demonstrates that this problem is growing.”

Increasing inequality in response to globalisation, the restructuring of the economy and the labour market, neo-liberal politics and – in some cities – declining investments in the social rental housing sector are direct causes of the increasing segregation. Socio-economic segregation reduces the competitive power of cities. 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.

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According to Van Ham, 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 Introduction and Conclusions are Open Access and can be downloaded for free.