Cities are increasingly seen as sites which will solve the big economic, social and environmental challenges of society. However, the types of cities which are being produced are increasingly unequal and polarised. The result of this is that the benefits of urban life are increasingly becoming restricted to those with the means to live in our major cities. This growing social and spatial inequality is the biggest urban challenge because it limits cities’ potential to offer genuine solution for these major problems.
My approach is that inequality does not just happen. It is the product of economic, business and political decisions of what, how and where to investment and distribute money and resources. My aim is to better understand the production of urban inequality (at different spatial scales), its geography (both within the city and between different types of cities) and how this inequality is experienced by different residents.
This research questions who benefits from today’s contemporary urban renaissance. It will also challenge some of the key assumptions or drivers of sustainability. What does it mean to be a ‘sustainable city’ with high quality of life, good public transport, cycle routes and top amenities if it costs around $1,000,000 for a family home? This is the reality in cities that we are increasingly celebrating and holding up as models of dynamism, resilience and quality of life (Vancouver, Toronto, Amsterdam, London). In declining cities such as Detroit, the pockets of revival further polarise and fragment an already unequal city. Here, infrastructure is becoming more focused on the core area; the new streetcar line under constructing will only serve the gentrified parts of the city. In a growing era of socio and spatial inequality, who has access to the (sustainable) city is as important a question as ever.
This research is currently under development. It builds on my on-going work on topics such as gentrification, urban entrepreneurialism, inequality and shrinking cities such as Detroit.