Saturday, 28 February 2009

A Typology of Deprived Areas

Some work I was involved in over the past couple of years has now been published by CLG (the government department responsible for planning and housing in England). It proposes a typology of deprived areas, based on population mobility.

Four types of area are suggested: 'isolates', 'transits', 'escalators' and 'gentrifiers'. The analysis is based on migration data from the 2001 UK Census. A research summary is available, but here's a quick synopsis.

Some areas are not well connected with less deprived areas and the majority of people tend to move to and from similarly deprived areas (isolates). In some deprived areas, people move in from and out to less deprived areas (transits). In other cases, people move into deprived areas from similarly deprived areas but move out to less deprived areas (escalators). Finally, we have those areas affected by processes of displacement where people move in from less deprived areas and out to similarly or more deprived areas (gentrifiers). These different kinds of patterns have implications for policy.

For more on this work (led by Professor Brian Robson at CUPS), see the links above. There is also an academic paper in Environment and Planning A.

Monday, 23 February 2009

White House urban policy - is the pot boiling again?

One of my main (if not the main) research interests is urban policy. So, the newly created White House Office of Urban Policy, to be headed by Adolfo CarriĆ³n, is of great interest to me. It also makes me wonder whether this will spark a much wider interest/debate about the way urban policy is developed, applied and evaluated (too optimistic?). Either way, it seems to be a recognition that urban issues need to be given more attention than they had been given in the past. In 1987 Donald Hicks said that urban policy was a 'pot no longer boiling' - there has been an upswing since then, but is the pot now really back on the boil? Or, is this all post-election gesturing?

I'm enthusiastic about these new developments, but realistic about what can be achieved and more than a little cautious about claiming this is a new dawn for urban policy, or some other such thing. Is this simply the US equivalent of the UK's New Labour re-dedication to urban policy in the late 1990s? Let's all wait ten years before we answer this question. For now, it's interesting, welcome and encouraging.

The image below is from behind the Lake Michigan skyline in Chicago's Near North Side - just on the edge of Cabrini-Green. As you can see in the photo, urban policies often involve demolition of existing neighbourhoods. Will this approach (much criticised) continue?

Friday, 20 February 2009

Area-based interventions: do they work?

Right now I'm working on a new paper, all about area-based urban policy interventions. This follows on from work in my PhD and, specifically, looks at whether the different geographically-targeted policies in operation in cities across the developed world are actually working. Although I've more recently blogged on more technical things, such as flow mapping, the field of urban policy and evaluation is my main area of interest.

One thing to mention first: terminology. In the United Kingdom, we tend to talk about area-based
initiatives, whereas in other places people use different terms (such as 'strategic, geographic targeting').

No matter what we call it, the subject matter is policy targeted towards specific places rather than on specific people. This has been popular in the United States, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere since the mid to late 1960s in its current form, though it has taken many different shapes. There are so many papers and books on the topic that it can sometime be hard to know
where to start...

Right now, I'm interested in finding out more about wh
y the approach has remained popular for 30-40 years despite the lack of success that has been had. I'm not saying there have been no successes - far from it. What I am saying is that the results seem at odds with the level of investment of time, money and effort. This appears to be the case whether you look at the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, France, New Zealand, Australia, or many other nations.

Successes in urban policy interventions are typically modest, and stand in contrast to the political rhetoric and optimistic enthusiasm which they are often founded upon.
So, what to do about this? Keep trying with the same methods? This seems a bit foolhardy. Try something new? If so, what? There are no easy solutions but it seems that the area-based approach to policy intervention is a bit of a puzzle. Like an old friend that you are still friends with but can't exactly remember why.

Before coming up with any great new ideas, I'm working on a framework for understanding 'urban problems', looking at why contemporary approaches have remained popular and then trying to think about what other approaches might be possible. I don't expect to find any radical new solution, but it seems that the time is right for a re-examination of the current situation...

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Keeping up to date with reading - my tip...

It can be very difficult keeping up to date with all the new academic literature that you may find relevant/interesting/useful. One useful tip here is to get an iGoogle account (it's very simple - see here) and then add a new tab for RSS journal feeds. After that, just go to journal home pages, copy the RSS feed address, and paste this info into the relevant RSS place in iGoogle - very simple.

This way you can keep up to date with all the journals you want to, rather than having 20 different e-mail alerts for the journals you're interested in - or however many it is. There's nothing more annoying than missing a paper that is exactly what you were looking for just because there is so much literature out there (okay, there are some things more annoying than this...). You can then check out all new articles that appear in one place and even share tabs with other iGoogle users. I've done a quick screentoaster screencast of this...