What Causes Urban Decay?

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Urban decay occurs when a part of a city falls into disrepair and abandonment. Characteristics of urban decay include high unemployment rates, high crime rates, depopulation, desolate-looking landscapes, abandonment of buildings and split families. Urban decay does not have one single cause, but rather a combination of many, including poor urban planning, redlining, poverty, suburbanization and racial discrimination.

1 Poor Urban Planning

Urban planning involves planning for land use and transportation. A city could propose to use land in poor ways so as to accelerate the urban decay. For example, when a major employer in the city decides to move outside the city, the city would experience high rates of population decline because people would move with the employer. A city could have made the company stay by offering more appealing offers, but instead, the moving of the company leaves more land unused and buildings abandoned.

2 Redlining

Redlining occurs when services--such as banking, insurance and access to jobs and healthcare--are denied to certain races or classes of people through increasing the costs. The term was coined in the late 1960s to refer to targeting of certain areas of Chicago where banks would not invest due to racial discrimination. As a result, those areas would remain underdeveloped, as no one was willing or able to invest there. The lack of investment increases the levels of unemployment and poverty, which in turn contributes more to urban decay.

3 Poverty

Poverty contributes to urban decay by helping to reinforce the shoddy and desolate urban landscape. High levels of poverty contribute directly to higher drug and street gang activities. Both are causes for suburbanization, as the middle class feel more and more unsafe living in the city. The drug and gang activities often increase the level of crime, which contributes to urban decay. As the level of crime increases, the property value of buildings in this area decreases, leading to higher levels of building disrepair and eventual abandonment.

4 Suburbanization

Suburbanization helps further urban decay by removing 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. Historically in the United States, 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—the so-called "white flight" phenomenon.

5 Racial Discrimination

Racial discrimination contributes to urban decay by providing for higher rates of unemployment. 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 neighborhoods. Discrimination, thus, promotes unemployment, which in turn promotes poverty, street gangs and illegal drug-trafficking activities and other crimes. Discrimination stifles opportunities which would normally be available to certain races and in turn stifles the growth of a city by promoting urban decay.