The Dynamics of Neighbourhood Change and Decline, 1983

Neighborhood policy is invariably based upon some “theory of the problem.” Plainly, if that theory is inaccurate or incomplete, as we think current theories are, it may lead to “solutions” that are unavailing or worse. Currently, public intervention to arrest neighborhood decline assumes that it is premature or unnecessary. However, if as some persons feel, neighborhood decline — like the decline of living organisms is the inevitable consequence of advancing age, it is not a problem that can be prevented or corrected. Similarly, if neighborhood decline involves no more than an inevitable transfer of obsolescing structures to ever-lower income groups, one might view the phenomenon as simply an occurrence having neither positive nor negative connotations. The problem for policy in this situation would have to do, instead, with the distribution of income in society. Finally, to the extent that decline of individual neighborhoods is the consequence of rising living standards and the concomitant rejection of marginal segments of the housing inventory by those who can afford to maintain homes ingood-as-new condition, one can regard decline in a generally positive light. Depending on the situation, therefore, neighborhood policies either could seek to prevent and reverse decline or could focus on techniques that would help neighborhoods adjust downward and prevent the effects of decline from influencing surrounding areas. This essay examines the meaning and causes of neighborhood succession, and the relationships between succession and decline. Its purpose is to cut through the conceptual morass of definitions and assumptions about neighborhood change and in this way to clarify the “theory of the problem.” The essay has six substantive parts.

Understanding Neighbourhood Dynamics: A Review of the Contributions of William G. Grigsby

This paper summarises William G. Grigsby’ s contribution to our understanding of neighbourhood change. We discuss seven contributions among Grigsby’ s most-lasting. First, he staked out the boundaries of the still-nascent field very early in his career. Secondly, he situated the subject within the broader framework of metropolitan housing market dynamics. Thirdly, he developed a theoretical framework for investig ating the subject that featured the analysis of housing sub-markets, the market process of neighbourhood succession, and residential segregation. Fourthly, he identified the economic, social, institutional and demographic forces that create neighbourhood change. Fifthly, he linked neighbourhood decline and deteriora tion to the spatial concentration of poverty. Sixthly, he underscore d the significance of this understanding for formulating public policies to deal with deteriora ted neighbourhoods. And seventhly, he provided a remarkably complete and robust framework for analysing neighbourhood change. This last-mentioned contribution is the culmination of his lifetime work and will prove perhaps to be his most significant. It provides a road map to future research on neighbourhood dynamics that others may wish to follow.


What We Know About Neighbourhood Change (2004 Literature Review)

Our starting point was to understand how people conceptualise neighbourhood change, and how concepts of neighbourhood and of change can be operationalised in research designs. We identified four key issues of debate: the concept of neighbourhood itself; issues of space and time; issues about the interpretation of change and the need to take on board different perspectives, arising both because people have different levels of involvement in and stake in their neighbourhoods; and the question of whether relative or absolute change is most relevant to measure.  Reviewing these debates leads us to conclude that neighbourhood research needs to:

  • find a balance between using composite indicators in order to be able to identify patterns and generalise about neighbourhood types and trajectories, and illuminating the nuances of change within these overall patterns.
  • be underpinned by a theoretical understanding of which changes should be measured at which spatial levels and over which timescales, and to incorporate different tiers of measurement of space and time.
  • evaluate changes and outcomes for different groups of people within neighbourhoods, and also ensure that different perspectives are considered in making evaluative judgments of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ change.
  • be clear about whether absolute or relative change is being measured and why.

Who Cares About Neighbourhoods?

The purpose of this paper is to reflect on the current revival of interest in ‘community’ and ‘neighbourhood’ in much of the western academic and policy literature and to explore some of the different ways in which the idea of the neighbourhood continues to have resonance with the contemporary world. In other words, why should we care about neighbourhood and in what ways? The paper approaches the neighbourhood from different angles: as community, as commodity, as consumption niche and as context. The idea of the neighbourhood is a necessarily fluid concept and for the purposes of research its definition must vary according to the questions being addressed. The paper is concerned as much with the ways in which neighbourhoods are packaged and sold as with their social construction over time. It is also impossible to discuss neighbourhoods without some reference to debates around the concept of globalisation. Finally, there is the need to consider the continuing relevance of the neighbourhood cross culturally. There is a strong element of ethno or Eurocentrism in conceptions of the neighbourhood and its role in contemporary urban society. The literature on neighbourhood derives in the main from US or European studies.

Theories of neighbourhood change and neighbourhood decline: Their significance for post-WWII large housing estates

In the 1920s, researchers of the Chicago School developed what is often considered as the first theories and models designed to explain neighbourhood change. Subsequent research into neighbourhood change has been carried out in many different ways and has focused on different fields. The early researchers considered neighbourhood change as a more or less inevitable result of a filtering process that causes changes in areas with an ageing housing supply. Others have paid more attention to the importance of a strong neighbourhood attachment, while again others have referred to the impact of larger economic and social transformations on neighbourhoods. Researchers have also aimed to capture the process of neighbourhood change, and of decay in particular, in all-embracing models in which several variables and developments are linked. Despite the comprehensiveness of many models, we think none of them is all-embracing; there is still room for improvement and addition. This paper sets out an approach, which combines crucial elements of different theories, approaches and models. The aim is to find out how we can use the existing theories in the case of the post-WWII large housing estates in Europe. Especially in these areas significant physical, economic and social changes have emerged in the past two decades. The central questions to be addressed in this paper are therefore: To what extent can models and theories explaining neighbourhood change, and decay in particular, be applied to post-WWII large housing estates in European cities? And how can the useful elements of these models and theories be combined to explain the development of European post-WWII housing estates?


What’s Wrong With Inequality

Inequality concerns persisting and widespread disparities among the resources available for people to sustain themselves and their families in secure and healthy ways, to make adequate provision for their old age, to take advantage of amenities beyond bare subsistence, to participate in political or community affairs, to engage in volunteer activities, and to pursue valued long-term goals such as succeeding in their occupations or developing talents (as for artistic enjoyment and creation or engagement in hobbies or sports). The contrast is a social ideal where, as several political philosophers conceive of it, distribution of resources is sufficient for everyone to have realistic a chance of leading a meaningful, satisfying, or happy life.


The Language of Globalization

The language of globalization deserves some explicit attention. The issue is more than one of careless use of words: intellectually, such muddy use of the term fogs any effort to separate cause from effect, to analyze what is being done, by whom, to whom, for what, and with what effect. Politically, leaving the term vague and ghostly permits its conversion to something with a life of its own, making it a force, fetishizing it as something that has an existence independent of the will of human beings, inevitable and irresistible. This lack of clarity in usage afflicts other elements of the discussion of globalization as well, with both analytic and political consequences. Let me outline some problem areas, and suggest some important differentiations.


What’s So New About Divided Cities?

A divided city is certainly nothing new, historically. Invidious differentiation may be the most accurate, if not the most monosyllabic, formulation for the real issue. Not inequality per se, but inequality that reflects a hierarchical relationship, one of domination and subordination, inclusion and exclusion, privilege and deprivation, is the policy concern.  Whether the new outweighs the old depends on the purpose of the question.

Globalizing Cities – Conclusion: A Changed Spatial Order

This concluding chapter of Globalizing Cities: A New Spatial Order? describes the changes in the spatial order of cities. Reflection on the importance of governmental action in determining the extent and nature of changes in the spatial order of cities leads us to the single most important conclusion of our study: that the pattern of development of cities today is subject to control, is not  the result of uncontrollable forces, is not  the result of iron economic laws whose effects states are powerless to influence. On the contrary, in case after case we have found agency to have a major impact on structure: the actions of the state, of nation states, determined by the balance of power between/ among contending forces in the economic and political sphere, is a major determinant of a city’s spatial pattern, heavily influenced though it may be by the contingencies we have mentioned.


Divided cities in the 21st century: challenging the importance of globalisation

In this paper the focus is on the explanation of divided cities. We will make clear that many elements of older theories are still very relevant whendivisions within cities have to be explained. This is  obviously still the case in aworld which is described by a large number of geographers and urban sociologists as increasingly globalising. A main argument could be that in the last three decades or so the process of globalisation has become enormously in?uential in explaining changes within cities, but in this paper we want to modify this notion. Our argument will be that attention for globalisation is useful, but that we should never exaggerate the in?uence of this process in a city as a whole and in parts of that city. In other words: we want to challenge the importance of globalisation when explaining divided cities or urban change in general.

The New Divided City: Changing Patterns in European Cities

Over the last 20 years there has been a vigorous discussion of evidence related to new and more intense social and spatial divisions within European cities. These contributions have identified social and spatial polarisation associated with globalisation, deindustrialisation and the increasing income inequalities arising from these. However, various ‘moderating’ factors were identified to explain why different outcomes were emerging in European cities than in their American counterparts. In this context much of the literature has focused on types of national welfare state and as these arrangements have come under pressure across Europe it may be expected that differences from the USA may decline. However there are other literatures that, rather than emphasizing the importance of national welfare states, refer to the stronger interventionist traditions of European governments and the distinctive characteristics of European cities. Differences in these dimensions within Europe – including those related to urban planning and decommodified housing – do not correlate with typologies of national welfare states and suggest continuing divergence within Europe and between Europe and the USA. Working within this framework, this introduction to a special issue argues that although European welfare states have weakened, other factors continue to sustain differences between European and American cities.

Neighbourhood Trends in Divided Cities: Income Inequality, Social Polarization & Spatial Segregation. An Annotated Bibliography

The focus of this bibliography is on the way in which Western cities (i.e.,generally the OECD countries) are internally divided (or partitioned) on the basis of socio-economic and ethno-cultural status, and the reasons why these divisions exist and the ways in which they are changing. The focus is:

  • the socio-economic and spatial impacts of the gentrification and related neighbourhood change processes
  • the impact of macro level contexts such as globalization and neoliberal policies on urban outcomes and neighbourhoods;
  • changes in the nature, extent and impact of discrimination and segregation oncities and neighbourhoods; and
  • the changing location of wealthy and poor neighbourhoods, and the changing nature and extent of income inequality and income polarization within and among neighbourhoods in a city.

This bibliography is partially annotated with the original summaries (abstracts) as provided by the author or publisher. It was complied as part of the Neighbourhood Change Community University Reseach Alliance. Though large, by searching with keywords, this bibliography should help researchers build upon the existing literature.