Urban decay (also known as urban rot, urban death and urban blight) is the sociological process by which a previously functioning city, or part of a city, falls into disrepair and decrepitude. It may feature deindustrialization, depopulation or deurbanization, economic restructuring, abandoned buildings or infrastructure, high local unemployment, increased poverty, fragmented families, low overall living standards or quality of life, political disenfranchisement, crime, elevated levels of pollution, and a desolate cityscape known as greyfield land or urban prairie.
Since the 1970s and 1980s, urban decay has been a phenomenon associated with some Western cities, especially in North America and parts of Europe. Cities have experienced population flights to the suburbs and exurb ; often in the form of white flight. Another characteristic of urban decay is blight—the visual, psychological, and physical effects of living among empty lots, buildings and condemned houses.
Urban decay has no single cause; it results from combinations of inter-related socio-economic conditions—including the city's urban planning decisions, the poverty of the local populace, the construction of freeway roads and rail road lines that bypass—or run through—the area,
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. depopulation by suburbanization of peripheral lands, real estate neighborhood redlining, How East New York Became a Ghetto by Walter Thabit. . Page 42. and immigration restrictions. Comeback Cities: A Blueprint for Urban Neighborhood Revival By Paul S. Grogan, Tony Proscio. . Published 2002. pp. 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", p. 140
Changes in means of transport, from the public to the private—specifically, the private motor car—eliminated some of the cities' public transport service advantages, e.g., fixed-route buses and trains. In particular, at the end of World War II, many political decisions favored suburban development and encouraged suburbanization, by drawing city taxes from the cities to build new infrastructure for towns.
The manufacturing sector has been a base for the prosperity of major cities. When the industries have relocated outside of cities, some have experienced population loss with associated urban decay, and even urban riots. Cut backs on police and fire services may result, while lobbying for government funded housing may increase. Increased city taxes encourage residents to move out. Libertarian economists argue that rent control contributes to urban blight by reducing new construction and investment in housing and disincentivizing maintenance.
Some historians differentiate between the first Great Migration (1910–1930), numbering about 1.6 million African-American migrants who left mostly Southern rural areas to migrate to northern and midwestern industrial cities, and, after a lull during the Great Depression, a Second Great Migration (1940–1970), in which 5 million or more African-Americans moved, including many to California and various western cities. William H. Frey, "The New Great Migration: Black Americans' Return to the South, 1965–2000", The Brookings Institution, May 2004, pp. 1–3 . Retrieved 19 March 2008.
Between 1910 and 1970, African-Americans moved from southern States, especially Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas to other regions of the United States, many of them townspeople with urban skills. By the end of the Second Great Migration, African-Americans had become an urbanized population, with more than 80% of Black Americans living in cities. A majority of 53 percent remained in the South, while 40 percent lived in the Northeast and Midwest and 7 percent in the West.AAME
From the 1930s until 1977, African-Americans seeking borrowed capital for housing and businesses were discriminated against via the federal-government–legislated discriminatory lending practices for the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) via redlining. Principles to Guide Housing Policy at the Beginning of the Millennium, Michael Schill & Susan Wachter, Cityscape. "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. In 1977, the US Congress passed the Community Reinvestment Act, designed to encourage commercial banks and savings associations to help meet the needs of borrowers in all segments of their communities, including low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.
Later urban centers were drained further through the advent of mass car ownership, the marketing of suburbia as a location to move to, and the building of the Interstate Highway System. In North America this shift 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 experienced population decreases and a degradation of urban areas. Urban Decline and the Future of American Cities By Katharine L. Bradbury, Kenneth A. Small, ., Anthony Downs Page 28.
Ninety-five percent of cities with populations greater than 100,000 people in the U.S. 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 neighborhoods, ethnic frictions served to accelerate flight to the suburbs.
Population decline in particular was noted to be faster in inner city areas than in outer ones, however a decline was noted throughout the 1970s, 80s, and 90s in both inner and outer city areas. Jobs declined between 1984 and 1991 (a decline observed particularly among men), while outer areas saw job growth (particularly among women). The UK also saw urban areas become more ethnically diverse, however urban decline was not limited to areas which saw population changes. Manchester in 1991 had a non white population 7.5% higher than the national average, but Newcastle had a 1% smaller non white population.
Urban decay has been found by the Foundation to be "more extreme and therefore more visible" in the north of the United Kingdom. They note this trend of northern decline has been observed not just in the United Kingdom but also in much of Europe. Some seaside resort towns have also experienced urban decay towards the end of the 20th century. The UK's period of urban decay was exemplified by The Specials' 1981 hit single "Ghost Town".
From the 1950s to the 1970s, publicly funded housing projects resulted in large areas of mid to high-rise buildings. These modern "grands ensembles" were welcomed at the time, as they replaced shanty towns and raised living standards, but these areas were heavily affected by economic depression in the 1980s.
The banlieues of large cities like Lyon, especially the northern Parisian banlieues, are severely criticized and forgotten by the country's territorial spatial planning administration. They have been ostracised ever since the French Commune government of 1871, considered as "lawless" or "outside the law", even "outside the Republic", as opposed to "deep France" or "authentic France", which is associated with the countryside.Anne-Marie Thiesse (1997) Ils apprenaient la France, l'exaltation des régions dans le discours patriotique, MSH.
In November 2005, the French suburbs were the scene of severe riots sparked by the accidental electrocution of two teenagers in the northern suburbs of Paris, and fueled in part by the substandard living conditions in these areas. Many deprived suburbs of French cities were suddenly the scenes of clashes between youngsters and the police, with violence and numerous car burnings resulting in huge media coverage.
Today the situation remains generally unchanged; however, there is a level of disparity. Some areas are experiencing increased drug trafficking, while some northern suburbs of Paris and areas like Vaulx-en-Velin are undergoing refurbishment and re-development.
Some previously Monotown towns in France are experiencing increasing crime, decay, and decreasing population. The issue remains a divisive issue in French public politics.
However, various events, starting with the 1980 earthquake in Irpinia, led to urban decay inside this project and in the surrounding areas. Many families, left homeless by the earthquake, squated inside the Vele. The lack of police presence, led to a rise in Camorra drug trade, as well as other gang and illicit activity.
"(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, "***** removal". Between 1948 and 1963 alone, some 50,000 families (averaging 3.3 members) and 18,000 individuals were displaced."These government efforts are now thought by many to have been misguided. American Project: The Rise and Fall of a Modern Ghetto By Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh. . 2002.
For multiple reasons including increased demand for urban amenities, some cities have rebounded from these policy mistakes. 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.
In the inner-city estates and suburban cities, 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.