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World Cities - Urban Decline

Urban decline and regeneration within urban areas

Characteristics and causes of urban decline.

 Urban Decline in Scotswood
Urban decline in Scotswood

The case study of this is covered by the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Case study.  This section deals with general characteristics and causes of urban decline.


Urban decline is the deterioration of the inner city often caused by lack of investment and maintenance.  It is often but not exclusively accompanied by a decline in population numbers, decreasing economic performance and unemployment.

Urban deprivation is a standard of leaving below that of the majority in a particular society that involves hardships and lack of access to resources. Places suffering from urban deprivation have visible differences in housing and economic opportunities been the rich living alongside poor people.


Characteristics of Urban Decline

  • Poor quality housing - with outside toilets, overcrowding, no hot water or central heating
  • Poor building maintenance - many buildings would have leaking roofs, draughty windows and crumbling stonework
  • Many empty buildings, and these have the potential to be vandalised; gap sites where buildings have been knocked down turn into derelict land
  • Empty factories
  • High levels of air, noise, land and water pollution
  • Social characteristics of urban decay include high unemployment rates, high crime rates, depopulation, and split families.


Clearance of Scotswood, Newcastle, an area that has suffered urban decline

Causes of Urban decline.

  1. Political decisions – governments can favour some cities over others, and encourage the development of some areas over others.  London is a city that attracts lots of investment, but the UK government has tried to decentralise some of its functions.

2.     Another cause is the outmigration of wealthier and more skilled people leaves a lesser qualified population. Often tied in with Suburbanisation, this removes people who are better off economically, leaving the area to those who are usually poorer, which contributes to higher unemployment rates, a characteristic of urban decay. In the USA this has become known as “White flight”, as the white middle class gradually left the cities for suburban areas because of the perceived higher crime rates and danger caused by African-American migration north toward cities after World War I

  1. Decline in Quality of housing stock - The old pre-war buildings get worse because of poor maintenance because the owners are unwilling to spend money on maintenance or because the tenants cannot afford to spend money on maintenance. The stock can also decline in quality if population densities become too high. In Byker, poor quality housing stock resulted in poor living conditions for residents and had to be replaced.
  2. There was lack of urban planning in the past. Things such as narrow streets cause traffic congestion and can force people and investment away. This happened in the London Docklands where traffic into and out of the Docklands was initially limited for security reasons, and later became a reason for lack of investment because of poor communications.

5.     The loss of an industry through changing market conditions or a lack of/withdrawal of government support. This has happened in the UK, such as Scotswood in Newcastle or large parts of Middlesbrough.  In the USA many of the heavy manufacturing industries were located in the North of the country in cities such as Chicago and Detroit.  This has become known as the “Rust Belt” as globalisation and out sourcing of many industries to low wage Asian countries has decimated those industries. In cities like Detroit, entire neighbourhoods have been abandoned as high paying manufacturing jobs vanished and the workers along with them. Rust belt to sun-belt migration has also occurred, with people moving to warmer climates in the South of the USA.

  1. The concentration of low income groups in one area of a city can lead to urban decay because of poverty.. The residents in the inner city are often low-income group (or new immigrants) for easy access to work. This carries with it social issues. Indeed, high levels of poverty can result in higher drug use and increase the level of crime, which contributes to urban decay. When crime levels go up, property prices decrease, leading to higher levels of building disrepair and eventual abandonment
  2. Racism and a lack of ethnic integration.  In the past in some countries people were discriminated against because of their race.  In the USA African-Americans were most likely to be declined jobs and loans, both of which would help their economic status as well as the health of their neighbourhoods. Discrimination can therefore promote unemployment, which in turn promotes poverty, street gangs and illegal drug-trafficking activities and other crimes. In the UK this did not occur in the same OVERT way, but ethnic segregation and poor integration can occur, particularly when incoming migrants groups are poor and cluster in poorer districts. This stifles growth in these areas and can promote decay.


Your case studies are from Mumbai and Newcastle upon Tyne, but it may be worthwhile investigating changes in Detroit and London.

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