Research: increased resident participation in city planning produces extreme wealth segregation

Urban planning advocates like Jane Jacobs argued that people who live in neighborhoods should be active in the planning decisions around their homes.

But a new study from UCLA's Michael Lens and Paavo Monkkonen shows that in major cities, the wealthy have used the planning process to prevent increased density in their neighborhoods, freezing out lower-income residents who require more modest homes.

Cities have always had their share of wealthy and poor neighborhoods, but the result of decades of this kind of intervention, coupled with the exclusion of state-level governments from US city planning decisions, has greatly reduced the number of mixed-income neighborhoods where moderately wealthy, middle class, and poor people live close to one another.

This segregation has real effects on poor families, as studies have shown that poor kids who grow up in poor neighborhoods are more likely to become poor adults than those who grow up in mixed neighborhoods.

The study's authors recommend that cities shift their planning strategy from "beautifying" poor neighborhoods to get rich people to move there, to overriding residents NIMBYish objections in rich neighborhoods and building "inclusionary housing" there.

Lens and Monkkonen believe that regulations got us here, and it's possible that changes to the regulations could get us out. In a set of policy recommendations for city planners, they suggest that income segregation might be eased if states were more actively involved in regulating land use. They also suggest that cities relax density restrictions. Cities might also want to create incentives for people to live in mixed neighborhoods. Write Lens and Monkkonen:

We also urge a more extensive implementation of inclusionary housing in the wealthier areas of cities. Such policies have a much greater potential to reduce segregation than the alternative approach of incentivizing affluent households to move into lower-income parts of the city.

Data analysis reveals that US cities are segregating the wealthy [Annalee Newitz/Ars Technica]

Notable Replies

  1. You don't understand. The people who matter want it that way. Whose big idea was it to put a slum next to my mansion?

  2. I live in a small liberal city with a high proportion of NIMBYish residents who are altogether too active in local government. Anecdotal, but I can attest to this. The city is in deep, deep denial about it's serious housing issue and rent is disproportionately out of line with the population. Tell people you want to build a city-run waste treatment plant that will incinerate contaminants collected from any one of the five EPA brownsites and people freak the fuck out and will leave the ecological hazard sitting there and do nothing because they don't want anything with the word "waste" in their backyard. (and these people are basically Hippie eco-warriors). We have a serious housing shortage and that maybe new laws maxing out the number occupants who are unrelated that can share an abode is contributing to the problem. Tell people that and you get complete silence.

  3. Forty years of urban planning has failed, therefore the solution is more urban planning.

  4. In my area influential (and usually, rich) people prevent the construction of through roads in their neighborhoods, because they want to live on cul-de-sacs with no traffic. They'll even send paid lawyers (who live locally, so they can't be kept out) to governmental meetings to represent them, and of course the meetings are held at times and places that discourage participation by working class people.

    This means all the traffic from wealthy communities has to use roads that existed before those communities were built. But unfortunately those old existing roads were mostly laid out during an era when the important traffic was huge ox-drawn wagons pulling grain from Chester County Pennsylvania to water-powered mills on the Red Clay in Delaware - so the roads are not optimal for modern traffic, and contribute to the degradation of water quality statewide by running through critical watersheds and mere inches from drinking water supplies.

    So everybody loses. It's much like the situation with charter schools - a mother wants the best for her children, so she sends them to charter school and lives in a neighborhood with no through roads. Thus her children grow up in a corrupt and degenerating system, because she wanted the best for them... it's the tragedy of the uncommons.

  5. jerwin says:

    Democracy can be little more than a figleaf for oligarchy.

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