San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood. (credit: Street Advisor)

Today we’re witnessing the rise of a new urban phenomenon: the segregated affluent neighborhood. These aren’t gated communities or condo high rises. They are isolated, rich neighborhoods that arise, seemingly spontaneously, from the shifting real estate in city centers. Armed with new data sets and computer-generated models, two urban planning researchers at UCLA have figured out where these enclaves come from and how they are changing our cities.
Income segregated neighborhoods
Urban planning professors Michael C. Lens and Paavo Monkkonen published the results of their research this month in the Journal of the American Planning Association after an intensive analysis of new data on the 95 biggest cities in the United States. Though it’s widely known that income inequality has risen in US cities over the past 40 years, very little research has been done on how this affects neighborhoods. Most researchers assumed that income inequality led to segregated poor neighborhoods, or ghettos. But Lens and Monkkonen found it actually led to the opposite: enclaves of the ultra-rich.
Of course, cities have always had rich and poor neighborhoods. What’s shrinking out of existence today are mixed neighborhoods that include people from different class and cultural backgrounds. And that’s a problem, say economists who have done longitudinal studies of kids who grow up in income segregated cities. Kids who grow up in neighborhoods where everyone is poor tend to stay poor, while kids in mixed neighborhoods enjoy the kind of class mobility that the US prides itself on fostering. There are some obvious reasons for this. In many cities, wealthy neighborhoods have their own local school systems and community centers with abundant resources to prepare kids for college or skilled jobs. In poor neighborhoods, resources are stretched thin. There are few after-school enrichment programs and little support for kids who need help with learning. We can see the same discrepancies when it comes to hospitals, public parks, and other neighborhood amenities.
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