Urban decay

Urban decay

Urban decay is a process by which a city, or a part of a city, falls into a state of disrepair. It is characterized by depopulation, economic restructuring, property abandonment, high unemployment, fragmented families, political disenfranchisement, crime, and desolate and unfriendly urban landscapes.

Urban decay was associated with Western cities, especially North America and parts of Europe during the 1970s and 1980s. During this time period, major changes in global economies, transportation, and government policies created conditions that fostered urban decay. [" [http://books.google.com/books?id=uf0vS1A-0dkC Urban Sores: On the Interaction Between Segregation, Urban Decay, and Deprived Neighbourhoods] " By Hans Skifter Andersen. ISBN 0754633055. 2003.]

The effects of urban decay run counter to the development patterns found in most cities in Europe and countries outside of North America, where slums are usually located on the outskirts of major metropolitan areas while the city center and inner city retain high real estate values and a steady or increasing population. In contrast, North American cities often experienced an outflux of population to city suburbs or exurbs, as in the case of white flight." [http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0195049837 Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States] " by Professor Kenneth T Jackson (1987)] This trend has started to reverse in some cities, where affluent parts of the population have moved back into erstwhile blighted areas (see gentrification).

There is no single cause of urban decay, though it may be triggered by a combination of interrelated factors, including urban planning decisions, poverty, the development of freeways and railway lines,"The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York" by Robert Caro. Page 522.

The construction of the Gowanus Parkway, laying a concrete slab on top of lively, bustling Third Avenue, buried the avenue in shadow, and when the parkway was completed, the avenue was cast forever into darkness and gloom, and its bustle and life were forever gone.
] suburbanisation, redlining, [ [http://books.google.com/books?id=TWo8OFJpFtAC How East New York Became a Ghetto] by Walter Thabit. ISBN 0814782671. Page 42.] immigration restrictions, [http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0813339529 Comeback Cities: A Blueprint for Urban Neighborhood Revival] By Paul S. Grogan, Tony Proscio. ISBN 0813339529. Published 2002. Page 139-145.
"The 1965 law brought an end to the lengthy and destructive -at least for cities- period of tightly restricted immigration a spell born of the nationalism and xenophobia of the 1920s." Page 140
] and racial discrimination.


During the Industrial Revolution, people moved from the countryside into cities to find employment in the manufacturing sector. Industrial manufacturing was largely responsible for the population boom cities experienced during this time period. However, subsequent economic change left many cities vulnerable. Various studies, including the Urban Task Force (DETR 1999), the Urban White Paper (DETR 2000), and a study of Scottish cities (2003) have argued that areas of industrial decline – with its legacy of high unemployment, poverty, and a decaying physical environment (sometimes including contaminated land and obsolete infrastructure) – prove "highly resistant to improvement". [Lupton, R. and Power, A. (2004) The Growth and Decline of Cities and Regions. CASE-Brookings Census Brief No.1]

Changes in transportation (specifically the private motor car) eliminated some of the cities' advantages. With the end of World War II in particular, many political decisions were employed that favored suburban development that further encouraged suburbanisation. Such decisions have drawn the financial resources from the cities in favour of providing infrastructure for remote suburban areas. Racial discrimination, in this context known as "white flight" in the United States, also played a part, as many chose to abandon cities and take part in an urban sprawl.

After World War II, Western economies lifted tariffs and outsourced most manufacturing. During the change from a manufacturing to a service-based economy, private motor transportation was growing in availability. In the United States, the federal government aided the suburbanization process by mandating discriminatory lending practices through the FHA in the form of redlining. ["Principles to Guide Housing Policy at the Beginning of the Millennium", Michael Schill & Susan Wachter, Cityscape] [ [http://www.public.asu.edu/~wplotkin/DeedsWeb/fha38.html "Racial" Provisions of FHA Underwriting Manual, 1938]

Recommended restrictions should include provision for the following ...Prohibition of the occupancy of properties except by the race for which they are intended...Schools should be appropriate to the needs of the new community and they should not be attended in large numbers by inharmonious racial groups. Federal Housing Administration, Underwriting Manual: Underwriting and Valuation Procedure Under Title II of the National Housing Act With Revisions to February, 1938 (Washington, D.C.), Part II, Section 9, Rating of Location.] Later, under president Dwight D. Eisenhower, urban centers were drained further through the building of the Interstate Highway System. In North America this shift has manifested itself in strip malls, suburban retail and employment centers, and very low-density housing estates. Large areas of many northern cities in the United States have experienced population decreases and a degradation of urban areas. [ [http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0815710534 Urban Decline and the Future of American Cities] By Katharine L. Bradbury, Kenneth A. Small, ., Anthony Downs Page 28. ISBN 0815710534
Ninety-five percent of cities with populations greater than 100,000 people in the US lost population between 1970 and 1975.
] Inner-city property values declined and economically disadvantaged populations moved in. In the U.S., the new inner-city poor were often African-Americans that migrated from the South in the 1920s and 1930s. As they moved into traditional white European-American neighborhoods, ethnic frictions served to accelerate flight to the suburbs. [ [http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/i8043.html White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism] ] In Western Europe the experience differs in that the effect was often unknowingly assisted by public sector policies designed to clear 18th and 19th century slum areas and movements of people out into state subsidised lower density suburban housing.

On continental Europe and Oceania the historical core of major cities usually remains relatively affluent; it is generally the inner city districts and the edge of town suburbs made up of single-class state subsidised housing, such as the French "cités" and British "council estates", which suffer the worst decay and blight. Due to higher population densities in Europe, economics dictates that extremely low-density housing would be impractical.

Examples of decay

The car manufacturing sector was the base for Detroit's prosperity and employed the majority of its residents. When this industry began relocating outside of the city, it experienced massive population loss with associated urban decay, particularly after the 1967 riots. In 1950 the city's population was (according to the U.S. census) around 1.85 million; by 2003, this had declined to 911,000, a loss of nearly 940,000 people (52%).

Britain experienced severe urban decay in the 1970s and 1980s. Major cities like Glasgow in Scotland, the towns of the South Wales valleys, and some of the major English industrial cities like Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, and East London all experienced population decreases with very large areas of 19th century housing experiencing market price collapse.

Large French cities are often surrounded by decayed areas. While the city center tends to be occupied mostly by middle- as well as upper-class residents, the city is often surrounded by very large mid to high-rise housing projects. The concentration of poverty and crime radiating from the developments often cause the entire suburb to fall into a state of urban decay as more affluent citizens seek housing in the city, or further out in semi-rural areas. In early November 2005, the decaying northern suburbs of Paris were the scene of severe riots sparked in part by the substandard living conditions in public housing projects.


The main responses to urban decay have been through positive public intervention and policy, through a plethora of initiatives, funding streams, and agencies, using the principles of New Urbanism (or through Urban Renaissance, its UK/European equivalent). The importance of gentrification should not be underestimated and remains the primary means of a 'natural' remedy.

In the United States, early government policies included "urban renewal" and building of large scale housing projects for the poor. Urban renewal demolished entire neighbourhoods in many inner-cities; in many ways it was a cause of urban decay rather than a remedy...] [ [http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1295.html Encyclopedia of Chicago History]

"(In Chicago) while whites were among those uprooted in Hyde Park and on the North and West Sides, urban renewal in this context too often meant, as contemporaries noted, “Negro removal.” Between 1948 and 1963 alone, some 50,000 families (averaging 3.3 members) and 18,000 individuals were displaced."
] Housing projects became crime infested mistakes. These government efforts are thought by many now to have been misguided. [ [http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0674008308 American Project: The Rise and Fall of a Modern Ghetto] By Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh. ISBN 0674008308. 2002.] ..] Some cities have rebounded in spite of these policy mistakes for multiple reasons. Today however with many people interested in moving back to the inner cities, gentrification has renewed and restored some of these neighborhoods. Meanwhile some of the inner suburbs built in the 1950s and 60s are beginning the process of decay as those who are living in the inner city are pushed out due to gentrification. [" [http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1749-8198.2007.00020.x?cookieSet=1 The Decline of Inner Suburbs: The New Suburban Gothic in the United States] " By Thomas J. Vicino.]

In Western Europe, where land is much less in supply and urban areas are generally recognised as the drivers of the new information and service economies, urban regeneration has become a quasi industry in itself, with hundreds of agencies and charities set up to tackle the issue. European cities have the benefit of historical organic development patterns already concurrent to the New Urbanist model, and although derelict, most cities have attractive historical quarters and buildings ripe for redevelopment. In the suburban estates and cités the solution is often more drastic with 1960s and 70s state housing projects being totally demolished and rebuilt in a more traditional European urban style, with a mix of housing types, sizes, prices, and tenures, as well as a mix of other uses such as retail or commercial. One of the best examples of this is in Hulme, Manchester, which was cleared of 19th century housing in the 1950s to make way for a large estate of high-rise flats. During the 1990s it was cleared again to make way for new development built along new urbanist lines. The area is held up as an excellent example of Urban Renaissance.

ee also

* Black flight
* California Proposition 14
* Eyesore
* First Friday
* Gentrification
* Modern ruins
* Mortgage discrimination
* Planned shrinkage
* Principles of Intelligent Urbanism
* Redlining
* Unfinished building
* Urban planning
* Urban riots
* White flight


External links

* [http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Society/documents/2005/11/22/UTF_final_report.pdf Towards a Strong Urban Renaissance'] Follow up report to UK Government's 'Urban task Force' report
* [http://www.urban-renaissance.org/urbanren/index.cfm U.S based 'Urban Renaissance Institute']
* [http://www.urbandecay.ca Website with pictures of Urban Decay]
* [http://www.m-u-d.ca Website with Urban Decay photographs]
* [http://www.flickr.com/groups/decay/ Flickr Group dedicated to Urban Decay]
* [http://visual-archaeology.com/ Visual-Archaeology: Photographs of Historic Industrial Buildings in Williamsburg, Brooklyn]
* [http://krstfr.com/urbandecay/URBAN_DECAY_Fanzine_%232.pdf Urban Decay #2- 1985 punk zine (PDF)]
* [http://krstfr.com/urbandecay/URBAN_DECAY_Fanzine_%233.pdf Urban Decay #3- 1985 punk zine (PDF)]

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