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]