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Issues of Growth & Decline in Urban Areas

Instructor: David Juliao

David has a bachelor's degree in architecture, has done research in architecture, arts and design and has worked in the field for several years.

Growth and decline in urban areas can both bring problems for the people living there. In this lesson, learn about some of the common housing and social problems that often arise in cities when they are either growing or decaying.

Urban Growth and Decline

Bad times of depression and difficulties affect the development of a city, but good times of economic prosperity isn't always a good thing. All processes that transform urban areas have an impact on the people living there.

Urban growth is a process of population rise, either by occupying new land or by developing existing areas. It's usually the consequence of employment, educational and lifestyle opportunities. Urban sprawl is when the outer parts of the city (suburbs) expand over rural land.

Urban sprawl
Urban sprawl

However, an urban decline is when businesses start to leave, people lose their jobs and residents relocate. The decay might lead the city, or parts of it, into a state of despair.

Housing Issues

Housing issues can arise both from growth and decline, especially among low-income populations.

Housing Affordability

Housing affordability is a common problem in growing areas. When demand is high because many people want to move there, prices usually increase. There might be plenty of housing, but only if you can pay the high cost.

Many low-income residents can't afford to buy, and if rent prices go up, they might be unable to pay. Also, developers often find it more profitable to build for higher-income groups, limiting the options for low-income residents. As a result, these people often end up settling in poorly developed areas with low land value, a process known as segregation.

Gentrification

Gentrification is the transformation of areas once occupied by low-income residents into high-end areas occupied by wealthier residents. In this scenario, new development takes place and property values (and rents) rise. Many of the old residents move away because they can't afford to pay the increased rent. If they own property, developers usually encourage them to sell. New, higher-income residents then occupy the area.

Gentrification brings new business and developments, but the low-income residents often end up relocating far away from their jobs and face serious housing problems.

This happened in the North End of Boston, Massachusetts after the Big Dig, a project that put an old elevated highway underground. Young middle-class residents started to move to the area and the traditional immigrant population gradually left.

Heygate Estate in London was demolished and its 1214 residents evicted in a regeneration project.
heygate, london

Zones of Abandonment

Urban decay is a big problem too for housing too. The lack of jobs, big declines in land value and falling demand can cause properties to become abandoned, extending even to entire neighborhoods. These areas are zones of abandonment.

As more people leave, even more businesses close. The empty buildings are often vandalized and become places of garbage accumulation and crime.

For example, due to industrial decay, Detroit, Michigan has suffered the abandonment of many properties and some areas are now empty.

Housing Discrimination

When a city is growing and the demand for housing is high, landlords, owners and realtors sometimes feel they can be more 'selective' and choose one population group over the other. This housing discrimination means that an individual or family is treated unequally when trying to buy, sell or rent housing properties, based on race, social class, sexuality, religion, or any other characteristic. Minorities often end up locating in lower-value areas where members of their same group already live. Housing discrimination leads to segregation.

Although discrimination has diminished somewhat in the last century, it remains a problem. For example, some landlords refuse to rent to certain minorities and realtors sometimes encourage an ethnic group not to buy in specific zones.

Racist sign in Detroit, 1942. Today, people still face housing discrimination
Racist sign

Social Issues

Social issues may also be caused by rapid expansion or decay. Social issues are problems preventing a group or the entire population from functioning at an optimal level.

Access to Food

Grocery stores are companies that need to make a profit to stay in business. In decaying zones, grocery stores struggle, and many shops eventually close. For those still living there, access to food becomes more challenging.

Then again, access to food can also become an issue when a city expands. Existing food stores and distribution channels face higher demand, so products can become expensive and cost-prohibitive to many residents.

Public Services

Many urban areas in the developing world are growing faster than the governments can provide services and infrastructure for. Growth then leads to a limited access to drinking water, sewage, garbage disposal and even electricity. The population often faces limited access to schools and hospitals as well.

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