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Issues of social balance and mixed communities

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 3309 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Interest in social balance and mixed communities has arisen as a response to both increased management issues in social housing and to concepts of the underclass and social exclusion. The identification of significant and persistent inequalities between areas at the ward and neighbourhood level in recent research (e.g. Meen et al., 2005) has triggered a shift in housing strategy and policy. Social balance is now entrenched within English housing and planning policy where it provides a correction to the housing markets natural tendency to segregate (Goodchild and Cole, 2001). Although this state interventionist approach has come under-fire from academics such as Cheshire (2007), who argue that spatial policy cannot correct deep-rooted social and economic forces and that the focus of policy should be to reduce income inequality in society not just treat the consequences of it, social mixing has gained popular support in urban policy.

This literature review outlines the mixed community approach to urban gentrification in urban policy by discussing its latest iteration, the MCI. The MCI’s place in UK policy discourse is then analysed as a way of exploring its conceptual and theoretical ideologies for area regeneration. Finally, an in depth review of the literature is conducted which reengages with

‘Mixed Communities’ as an approach to area regeneration

Since 2005, the mixed communities approach to gentrification and the renewal of disadvantaged neighbourhoods has become firmly embedded in the UKs housing and planning policy. The approach was first announced in January 2005 in the ‘Mixed Communities Initiative’ (MCI) which formed part of New Labour’s five year plan for the delivery of ‘sustainable communities’. The MCI has four core components (Lupton et al., 2009);

A commitment to the transformation of areas with concentrated poverty, to provide a better housing environment, higher employment, better education, less crime and higher educational achievements.

To achieve these through changes in the housing stock and attraction of new populations, whilst improving opportunities for existing populations.

Finance development by recognising the value of publicly owned land and other public assets.

Integrate government policies to produce a holistic approach which is sustainable through mainstream funding.

Initially the MCI was delivered through twelve demonstration projects situated in the most deprived neighbourhoods in the UK. However, more recently the concepts behind the mixed community approach have grown beyond these projects and are now advocated by planning authorities in a diverse range of areas. Consequently, mixed community developments are emerging without demonstration project status and as such ‘mixed communities’ have become an approach to area regeneration in addition to being a government policy initiative (Silverman et al., 2006).

In response to this policy development the purpose of this literature review is two-fold. Firstly, through analysis of the theories of poverty, place and gentrification in policy discourse it is possible to gain an understanding of the rationale behind the mixed communities conception of the causes place poverty. Review Secondly…

Theories of Poverty and Place in Urban Policy

Any form of urban regeneration reflects a specific theoretical understanding of the causes of place poverty. Throughout the 20th Century UK urban policy has undergone a transformation in its understanding of the causes of place poverty and consequently the approach to urban regeneration has altered.

A broad distinction can be made in the UKs approaches to regeneration; between early regeneration by the Keynesian welfare state and that advocated by conservative governments. The former looked to correct the crisis of the neighbourhood through ‘neighbourhood improvement’. This approach understands the problems of declining areas as a product of the economic structures which cause spatial and social inequality (Katz, 2004). In response they looked to improve living conditions and try to equalise life chances through redistributive social welfare programmes.

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In contrast to ‘neighbourhood improvement’ is the ‘neighbourhood transformation’ approach, a discernibly neoliberal approach advocated by conservative governments. Here the problems of disadvantaged neighbourhoods are understood as the product of market failures rather than underlying economic structures. The creation of mass social housing estates and overly generous benefit regimes are some of the market failures which reportedly ‘trap’ the disadvantaged in social cultures of dependency (Goetz, 2003). In the neighbourhood improvement approach these areas are seen as a barrier to market forces; occupying inner city areas with good commercial and residential property investment potential. According to Lupton and Fuller (2009:1016) the ‘neighbourhood improvement’ approach understands the solution to be:

“not simply the amelioration of conditions in these neighbourhoods for the benefit of their current residents, but the restoration of market functionality through the physical change and transformation of the position of the neighbourhood in the urban hierarchy”

Perhaps the best example of this is the role of Urban Development Corporations which brought about the transformation of the London Docklands in the 1980s. Their presence instigated a fundamental change in the role of the state in urban development, from a regulator of the market to an agent within the market. The state was now responsible for fostering the economic conditions under which the economic productivity of areas and communities could be improved.

In 1997 New Labour’s urban regeneration policy was hailed as a divorce from this transformational approach and a return to the improvement approach. The government pioneered an array of new, enhanced public services under the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal. Included was the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit and the New Deal for Communities (NDC) which facilitated interaction between local agents on neighbourhood improvement. Whilst this strategy had the appearance of a strong local focus which prioritised residents, other elements of New Labour’s policies were characteristically neoliberal. As Fuller and Geddes (2008) remark, Labour’s urban interventions focus on an ‘equality of opportunity’ agenda which aspires to greater social cohesion and inclusion by devolving responsibility to local citizens. However, by not matching these responsibilities with appropriate state powers within the NRU and NDC there has been little support for local citizens except to merely compensate the individuals and places put at risk by market forces. As such New Labour’s initiatives have failed to deliver major redistributional interventions which relinquish local state agents from neoliberal targets, cultures and forms of control (Jessop, 1990).

Neoliberal theories of poverty and place within the MCI

Within this policy discourse the MCI exists as a more characteristically neoliberal initiative. It is clear in its understanding of the problem, concentrated poverty, and the solution, de-concentration through gentrification and neighbourhood transformation. By doing this the MCI subscribes to a policy discourse which understands concentrated poverty as a ‘spatial metaphor’ (Crump, 2002). This metaphor inherently undermines complex economic, social and political processes and uses the individual failings of the poor within concentrated spaces to justify their dilution or removal.

The concentrated poverty thesis originated from the US (e.g. The Hope VI Urban Revitalisation Programme) where it provides legitimacy to policies which alter cities spatial structures through market forces. Such influences have encouraged British policy makers to adopt a more ‘radical’ approach to urban regeneration and advocate extensive demolition and gentrification to restore functioning housing markets, imposing a neoliberal agenda on struggling housing environments (Imbroscio, 2008).

The MCIs focus on market restoration is clearly articulated:

“the aim is that success measures should be choice. Reputation, choice of staying and that people want to move in – it’s about market choice” (Senior CLG official in Lupton et al., 2009:36)

The government realises that while public service improvements will help create this market, it is not enough alone – physical change is required to enhance people’s attraction to the neighbourhood and its market. The state’s role is therefore not just to invest directly but improve and diversify the housing stock whilst decreasing public housing ratios with the explicit goal of stimulating market processes. However, a further consequence of this is the re-population of

The mixed communities approach requires the state to fund the improvement of services, in many cases to attract better-off residents, and sell or gift land to the private sector. The removal of social housing through its gift to the private sector inherently creates a ‘spatial fix for poverty’ and incentivises the development of mixed-income housing developments. In such a situation there is potential for the private sector to change social housing in co-ordinance with market dynamics and consequently complex and marginal developments will be neglected (Adair et al., 2003).

CONCLUDE and develop a little mention gentrifiction

Impact of Mixed Communities

As long as 30 years ago, Holcomb and Beauregard (1981) were critical of the way it was assumed that benefits of urban revitalisation through social mixing would ‘trickle down’ to the poor. Despite the consequential academic debate, which disputed whether gentrification leads to social exclusion, segregation and displacement, it has become increasingly popular in urban policy where it is assumed that its application leads to a more socially mixed, integrated, and sustainable urban environment. The following review will explore the literature which questions whether moving middle-income populations into low-income neighbourhoods or vice versa has a positive impact on resident’s urban experience. – link to mixed communities

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Schoon (2001) identifies three rationales behind social mixing in policy debates. Firstly, there is an assumption that the middle-class are more likely to attract public resources and as such the lower-income household will fare better in socially mixed communities. Secondly, mixed income developments are in a better position to support a local economy than areas of concentrated poverty. Finally and most controversially, the networks and contacts argument advocated by Putnam (1995) poses that socially mixed neighbourhoods create an environment which improves the bridging and bonding of social capital between social classes. Consequently, lower-income residents have more opportunities to network and break out of poverty than they would in areas of concentrated deprivation. The Social Exclusion Unit (1998:53) expands on this:

“[socially mixed neighbourhoods] often brings people into contact with those outside their normal circle, broadening horizons and raising expectations, and can link people into informal networks through which work is more easily found.”

These three arguments are the cornerstone of a global policy discourse which has received very little critique in the UK. One of the reasons for this is the way it is framed. The social mixing agenda which has been prominent in western efforts to decentralise poverty is a discourse which actively avoids the word ‘gentrification’. Instead it uses terms like ‘urban revitalisation’, ‘urban regeneration’, and ‘urban sustainability’ to redefine itself as a moral discourse which helps the poor (Slater, 2005; 2006). By doing this the discourse deflects from the class restructuring processes which define its implementation.

Previous Studies

As of yet there is little consensus around the ability of gentrification to achieve the goals asked of it, neither is it clear what type of social mix is most desirable or the outcomes of different mixes (Walks and Maaranen, 2008). For instance, Tunstall and Fenton (2006) who claim to amass the best UK research on social mix conclude that although knowledge gaps exist the founding arguments for mixed communities remains valid. Yet, in contrast, Doherty et al. (2006) undertook quantitative analysis of the UK census and Scottish Longitudinal Study and concluded that there is little evidence to support the mixing of housing tenures in developments with the premise of improving social well-being. Purpose sentence

Randolph and Wood (2003) note that much of the research conducted so far has concentrated on social mixing in public housing estates (Atkinson and Kintrea, 2000; Cole and Shayer, 1998) and there has been little exploration of the social mixing occurring in new build developments.

Does Gentrification bring about social mixing?

Contrary to the assumptions which link gentrification to improved social mixing, most research suggests that gentrification is likely to reduce social mixing at the neighbourhood level. Interviews conducted by Butler (1997), and Butler and Robson (2001; 2003) suggest that local middle-income gentrifiers engaged in little social interaction with lower-income residents. Their research found that gentrifiers generally sought out people with similar cultural and political interests which often lead to little interaction between middle and low-income residents. Accordingly, they found that interaction was greatest in areas where gentrification had homogenised an area and pushed out other groups. In areas where this had not occurred, Butler and Robson (2001) reported that, the difference between tenants resulted in ‘tectonic juxtapositions’ which polarised social groups rather than integrating them. In their later research, Butler and Robson (2003) not only reinforced their earlier findings but found that children formed a key facilitator in resident integration:

“there was no evidence that the children played outside these middle class networks, our fieldwork strongly suggests that the middle class preschool clubs were highly exclusionary of non-middle class children” (Butler and Robson, 2003:128)

Although Butler and Robson’s research rightly questions the role of gentrification in a policy discourse which looks to foster a sustainable urban environment it does so primarily through the experiences of the gentrifier. Davidson’s (under review) research of new build, middle income development on the River Thames, London engaged with both gentrifier and non-gentrifier to reinforce scepticism over the ability of housing type to influence class relations. Davidson found no evidence to suggest that any of the development’s desired outcomes had been achieved through the introduction of a middle class population. Both the temporary nature of new build residents and the spatially segregated nature of the development itself meant the development fostered little integration between low and middle income residents who do not work in the same place, use the same transport or frequent same restaurants or pubs.

In a similar study Freeman (2006) researched two black gentrifying neighbourhoods in New York City. Like Davidson, Freeman found that social networks rarely crossed and that gentrifiers and longer term residents generally moved in different spaces. Additionally, Freeman experienced that residents were hesitant to pass comment on social mixing, they rarely expressed their opinions in overly positive or negative tones.

In accordance with this literature it seems unrealistic to assume that different social groups will integrate when living together. As some of the authors have highlighted, increased neighbourhood diversity does not correlate with increased social interaction and can in some cases promote social conflict as much as it does social harmony.

Mention how it’s all based on a class representation of society

The mixed communities policy agenda has been used to help improve inequality in social housing (estates managed by local authorities, housing associations, and other non-profit housing agencies) and more controversially to regenerate social housing. This concentration on social housing comes out of a

Since its conception social housing in the UK has experienced slow ‘residualisation’ – a tendency to house only certain types of household; the poor, unemployed, those in debt, with a history of mental illness and experiencing a relationship breakdown (Cole and Furbey, 1994). For much of social housing’s history this process has been ignored and consequently has been accompanied by a sorting process forcing the most vulnerable households into the most unattractive housing (Willmott and Murie, 1988). MIXED COMMUNITIES

DEFINE EVERYDAY EXPERIENCE – what is encapsulated within this?

Social interaction…

Previous Studies

There are three studies which are relevant to this research. They examine the impact of mixed community housing on social interaction:

Atkinson and Kintrea (2000) conducted an exploratory study which analysed diaries made by 38 households. The research suggested that patterns of social life vary by tenure and as such little interaction occurred between residents of owner occupied housing and social housing tenants. The neighbourhood was seen as a focus of interaction for social housing residents only.

Cole and Shaver’s (1998b) survey of 52 residents in a new build, mixed-tenure redevelopment in Sheffield again found ‘only weakly developed social networks’.

Jupp’s (1999:10-11) analysis of interviews with over 1,000 residents living in ten-mixed-tenure estates in England, concluded that ‘the street’ is a more significant social unit than the estate. The case studies analysed often had social and private housing located on different streets and consequently there was little mixing reported between the two groups. Jupp reported that fostering social interaction would extremely difficult because of the overwhelming belief between residents: they ‘do not think that they share many common interests with their neighbours’.

Individually these studies offer little scope, but taken together they provide a consistent view that mixed tenure developments foster little social interaction between residents of different social backgrounds. However, it must be realised that these studies only examine the ‘grass-roots’ neighbourhood, that is to say that they often ignore the way external perceptions have defining role in the development’s success. Atkinson and Kintrea (2000) identify it as a key area for future research when they report that residents welcomed the influx of higher income residents because they improve the ‘reputation and appearance’ of the area.

There is one fundamental understanding that underpins urban policy in the UK; as stated in the foreword of the Urban White Paper: “How we live our lives is shaped by where we live our lives


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