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Rock Street, San Francisco

The decline of inner cities is irreversible. How far do you agree with this statement? What are the implications of this for urban planning policies? In 1900, 10 per cent of the world’s population lived in towns, and there were 20 cities with more than half a million people. By 1990, 40 per cent of the population lived in towns, and there were almost 600cities of more than half a million people. These figures indicate that urbanisation, the trend for an increasing proportion of the population to live in urban areas, is one of the most significant processes affecting societies at the turn of the 21st century.

Urban growth is caused by two processes; migration and population increase. People migrate from rural areas due to poverty and unemployment, and the hope of finding a better lifestyle in a city where health and social facilities are better and more job opportunities. These extra occupants base themselves in largely residential areas around the out-side of the cities in the suburbs. These areas tend not to be as well sustained as the original residential areas near to the CBD. However, these original central occupants who live to a reasonable standard near to the CBD no longer need to live in the thick of the urban area due to transport improvement and tele-communication technology. The wealthier communities move out of the CBD and settle outside of the migrants zone in new housing.

This leaves the working class occupying the majority of the inner-city residential estates. Geographers have identified a spiral of decline that affects many parts of large cities. Population decline is linked to declining employment opportunities. Consequently, investment is withdrawn. Unemployment means that people have less money to spend, and this has a multiplier effect on other businesses, such as shops and other services. This area near to the CBD is perceived as a “problem area,” and it becomes difficult to attract staff for schools, hospitals and social services. These problems add up to what has been called an “urban crisis.”

This process carries on happening. Housing companies build new housing estates on the outskirts for wealthier families who can afford their properties and find the location ideal for commuting to work every day. This does not mean however that these areas have to be the only desirable areas of a city. Investment and renovation in inner-city areas or “gentrification” can counter act the separation of wealthy and poorer communities and make the CBD area an attractive place to live.

The whole gentrification process is fuelled by developers and estate agents who have renovated many of the older buildings, thus raising there value, and are looking to sell them to people who can afford to buy them, wealthier business men and women with little or no family. The process goes against the predictions of burgess’s model, which suggests that higher-income groups will seek to move away from the central areas of cities. Instead, some members of higher-income groups are seeking to move back into the city. There are a number of reasons for this. The CBD provides a huge array of facilities such as leisure, shopping, entertainment and industry.

These provide high-income employment for the tenants of the gentrified site; in addition, property in some parts of inner cities provides an attractive investment opportunity for these groups. Studies in North American cities have shown that inner city areas are attractive to professional women because they are to the CBD, they have well-developed social and informal networks, property here is modestly priced, and there is a wide range of community services.

This is sufficient evidence that investors in gentrification do have a market and will make money out of improving the quality of living closer to the CBD. It is not only housing corporations that can benefit from investment in the central city area. Industry companies can buy “brown-field sites”, reduced land near to the CBD that was once used for previous factories and residential areas. These areas are now derelict and are cheap and easy to buy and get planning permission for. This gives these companies a larger workman catchment area as public transport runs from all directs into the city. Land for industry is usually expensive near to the centre of a city so these companies have the same advantages as other businesses, but without the added expense of shelling out for high priced land.

In conclusion, I do think that inner city areas can be improved upon, however much thought and planning needs to go into these worn out areas of the inner city. Moving the worse off communities away from the CBD may work on a short time scale however there needs to be a permanent solution. There are always going to be worse off families which will need to be catered for by the city and by the council, and not just moved around to help the better off communities develop. If this happens, the privileged areas may find it back fires and degrades their own standard of living.

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