U.S. Inner Cities: Characteristics & Challenges

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  • 0:02 Inner City
  • 0:52 Different Definitions
  • 2:28 Gentrification
  • 4:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

When people use the phrase 'inner city,' what do they mean? What is the inner city? Watch this lesson to find out the formal and euphamistic definitions of inner city, including characteristics of and some issues facing inner city neighborhoods.

Inner City

Olivia grew up in a poor neighborhood in a big city. There's a lot that she loves about her neighborhood. It has beautiful old buildings and great restaurants, and the people are very friendly. But there are some not-so-nice things about her neighborhood too. Many of the buildings are not well-maintained, and there's a problem with crime in the area.

Olivia's neighborhood is described as the inner city. This makes sense to her; the neighborhood is very close to the center of the city, and it is inside city lines, both of which make it likely to be described as 'inner.' But is that really what people mean when they talk about the inner city? Let's look closer at the definitions of inner city, its characteristics, and the effect gentrification has on it.

Different Definitions

As we've seen, Olivia isn't sure exactly what people mean when they say 'inner city' about her neighborhood. Are they talking about the proximity to the center of the city, or something else?

It's hard to say. Formally, inner city is used to refer to the part of the city immediately surrounding the central business district of a city. That is, the neighborhood or neighborhoods that surround downtown are part of the inner city. In this regard, the term 'inner city' is about how close it is to the center (the interior) of the city.

But there's another informal definition of inner city too. Inner city is also sometimes used as a euphemism for impoverished urban neighborhoods. This is because in the years after World War II, most of the middle class moved out of the center of the city and into surrounding suburbs. As a result, the areas of the city near downtown were populated by people with fewer economic options.

When Olivia thinks of her neighborhood, she realizes that it has many of the characteristics of inner city neighborhoods that are impoverished: there is a high density of housing and a lack of green spaces, a decline in industry as factories and businesses close down, and a lack of services like grocery stores and banks. Because Olivia's neighborhood is close to the central business district of the city and because it is a lower class neighborhood, it meets both the formal and euphemistic definitions of inner city.


As we've seen, Olivia's neighborhood is struggling financially, but there are a lot of really great things about it. Olivia wants to see those great things continue on and also to help ease some of the issues in the neighborhood. As such, she's been hired by the city government to try to help make the neighborhood better.

The first thing that Olivia thinks of is to try to fix up some of the older buildings and make nice new apartments for people. She thinks that having nice apartments will help bring new people into the neighborhood.

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