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Trends in Racial and Socioeconomic Residential Segregation

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Published: 13th Dec 2019

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Since 1970, racial residential segregation has declined, but in recent years socioeconomic residential segregation has increased. Write an essay in which you trace these trends and the factors involved in them. Summarize the explanations that scholars have offered for these trends and discuss whether you see these trends continuing as well as the reasons for your position. Include supporting references to the research literature.

In this essay, I provide a historical and contemporary account of the forces that impact racial and economic segregation trends in the United States. Research indicates that racial segregation has declined since the 1970s, and economic segregation has increased in recent years (Swanstrom, Dreier, and Mollenkopf 2002; Fischer 2003; Bischoff and Reardon 2014; Drier, Mollenkopf, Swanstrom 2014). I discuss these trends, and I also argue that although racial segregation has lessened, certain low-income and minority groups are continually concentrated in disadvantaged neighborhoods emphasizing the persistent nature of both racial and economic segregation. I conclude with a discussion of the implications for persistent residential segregation and highlight proposed policy efforts raised by urban scholars.


At the turn of the twentieth century, the United States experienced early industrialization and the influx of European immigrant groups (Jackson 1980/1985). Both of these trends led to urbanization as workingmen and immigrants increasingly settled into cities. At this time, racial and economic segregation were fairly low as the wealthy often lived in close proximity to the middle and working classes regardless of racial and ethnic differences (Jackson 1980/1985; Massey and Denton 1993; Drier, Mollenkopf, and Swanstrom 2014). However, advancements in transportation and regional infrastructure, such as roads and highways, allowed the classes to geographically spread out. The affluent were now able to spatially distinguish themselves from the lower classes establishing a culture of exclusivity (Drier, Mollenkopf, and Swanstrom). Further, the nation’s economy was booming. The United States was seen as the leading competitor in manufacturing on a global scale (Jackson 1980/1985). The prosperity of immigrants and workingmen was not shared with Southern blacks who asynchronously migrated to industrialized northern cities during the Great Migration (Lieberson 1980; Wilson 1987).

African Americans from the South migrated to northern cities in search of a “piece of the pie,” or their share in the economic prosperity experienced by workingmen and immigrants (Lieberson 1980). Unfortunately, the Great Migration of African Americans occurred during a non-industrial boom. This created a tumultuous receiving environment plagued by racial discrimination as Southern blacks entered northern cities in droves and the affluent increasingly migrated out of cities (Wilson 1987). Initial negative racial sentiments toward blacks were now amplified through growing competition for factory jobs. Employer racial politics further exacerbated poor racial sentiments as northern employers encouraged blacks to migrate north and serve as strikebreakers in attempts to enforce factory conditions. All of these factors were further intensified as the United States entered the Great Depression in the 1930s.


The federal government had a minimal role in housing policy prior to the 1930s as housing was seen as a strictly private endeavor (Jackson 1980/1985; Schwartz 2010; Drier, Mollenkopf, and Swanstrom 2014). The government intervened in response to the Great Depression as half of all mortgages experienced default (Jackson 1980). The shocking rate of mortgage default was primarily attributed to high-cost down payments, short-term home loans, and floating interest rates (Schwartz). The home lending crisis was also impacted by high rates of national unemployment.

The government intervened by implementing national housing policies, such as the Federal Home Loan Bank Act of 1932, which revised mortgage loan characteristics (Jackson 1980/1985; Schwartz 2010). The Homer Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC) provided federal regulations on low-cost down payments and long-term mortgages characterized by uniform payments at a fixed-interest rate (Schwartz). Further, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) created a pro-suburban housing policy that favored new construction and single-family homes, and subsequently pulled affluent and middle class whites out of the city (Jackson 1980/1985; Drier, Mollenkopf, and Swanstrom 2014).
FHA loans were dispersed based on a rating scale, which avoided old, multiunit, and minority neighborhoods while favoring new construction in well-off suburban neighborhoods as the government and lenders were logically attempting to minimize risk (Jackson 1980/1985; Massey and Denton 1993; Schwartz 2010; Drier, Mollenkopf, and Swanstrom 2014). The unfavorable geographic areas were outline in red, and were refused mortgage loans (Jackson 1980/1985). This overt form of housing discrimination was outlawed in the 1960s, but subtly persisted into the 1990s (Schwartz). Further, realtors were known for steering minority clients by limiting rental choices, denying housing altogether, or increasing rent prices.

Homeownership was no longer limited to the wealthy as federal policies of the 1930s provided additional housing opportunities to middle and working class families (Schwartz 2010; Drier, Mollenkopf, and Swanstrom 2014). Trends in pro-suburban housing policy disproportionately biased metropolitan growth and led to economic segregation as working, middle, and affluent classes migrated outward from city centers. Pro-suburban housing policy also led to increased spatial inequalities as metropolitan governments fragmented into typically one city and many suburban jurisdictions (Drier, Mollenkopf, and Swanstrom). As central cities lost wealthier residents to the suburbs, they also lost a substantial local tax base to support local institutions. The decline of central cities amplified the out-migration of city dwellers in search of better-off suburban neighborhoods. This middle class flight continued through to the 1990s.

Housing policy legally reified racial bias, discrimination, and segregation up until the 1960s. Racial covenants, or agreements that prevented sellers from choosing minority buyers, were not outlawed until 1948 (Schwartz 2010). The Fair Housing Act of 1968 outlawed any discriminatory practices in mortgage lending and by real estate agents (Jackson 1980/1985; Schwartz). After these federal policies were enacted, the nation believed racial segregation was solved. However, these policies were poorly enforced and subtle forms of racial discrimination persisted (Massey and Denton 1993).


In the 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement sought to ameliorate urban unrest, racial inequality, and discrimination (Wilson 1987; Massey and Denton 1993). Scholars argue that affirmative action policies disproportionately helped minority populations. For instance, middle class-to-affluent African Americans were more likely to take advantage of higher education opportunities. Affirmative action policies, coupled with lifted restrictive covenants and increased residential options, enabled the black middle class to move out of low-income inner city neighborhoods (Wilson). The out-migration of middle class blacks left the most disadvantaged members of those communities in concentrated poverty.

Concentrated poverty devastated the economic and social resources of once booming commercial districts (Wilson 1987; Jargowsky 1994; Squires 1994). These communities quickly deteriorated due to the loss of a more affluent local tax base, but also the informal support that middle class blacks provided for community-based institutions, such as schools and churches. Communities in concentrated poverty lost supportive social networks and experienced social isolation impacting future educational and occupational success (Wilson; Kleit 2008).

In the 1970s and 1980s, America experienced changes in the urban economic structure as cities deindustrialized, global competition became increasingly fierce, and production technologies advanced (Jargowsky 1994; Squires 1994). In response, city factories relocated to the suburbs in efforts to reduce costs. The deindustrialization of cities created a spatial mismatch, or the dislocation of a person’s residence and place of work, that primarily affected low-wage factory workers (Wilson 1987; Kleit 2008). Spatial mismatch led to racial and economic segregation as inner city neighborhoods, home to low-income minorities, became increasingly isolated and lost vital social support networks and job opportunities. Even those who sought suburban factory jobs faced negative racial sentiments, as they were often African American workers seeking jobs in white suburban neighborhoods.

After the 1970s, global competitors challenged the American manufacturing industry (Drier, Mollenkopf, and Swanstrom 2014). The United States was no longer seen as the global competitor, but now, a global competitor. American manufacturers set out to increase their global competitiveness by improving their production technologies (Wilson 1987; Jargowsky 1994; Squires 1994). These advancements reduced the availability of low-skill jobs, as jobs increasingly required advanced educational degrees and skill levels, which financially impacted low-skill laborers.


Overall, racial segregation rates have declined in the United States since the 1970s (Fischer 2003; Bischoff and Reardon 2014). Racial segregation has largely declined due to the buffering effects of other minority groups, such as Hispanics or Asians, moving into white neighborhoods (Logan and Zhang 2010). Economic segregation increased in the 1970s due to economic restructuring, deindustrialization, and suburbanization (Schwartz 2010; Drier, Mollenkopf, Swanstrom 2014). Economic segregation declined in the 1990s at a time of economic prosperity, but continues to rise today as the American middle class disappears and economic inequality flourishes. The contemporary trends in racial and economic segregation, desegregation, and resegregation are not equally shared across all social groups and neighborhoods.

Contemporary trends indicate that racial integration is occurring, but a racial divide persists between predominantly white and black neighborhoods (Logan, Stults, and Farley 2004). Although progress has been made, African Americans continue to be the most segregated racial and ethnic group regardless of socioeconomic differences (Massey and Denton 1993; Fischer 2003; Logan, Stults, and Farley). Further, the black middle class continues to be exposed to low-income inner city neighborhoods despite socioeconomic advances (Pattillo 1999). Black-white segregation continues to follow a slow and steady linear decline, but research shows that one trend has yet to occur—the in-migration of whites into primarily African American neighborhoods (Massey and Denton; Logan and Zhang 2010).

Contemporary urban scholars argue that concentrated poverty researchers miss a major mechanism for continued inequality and residential segregation—the spatial distribution of the American class structure in relation to local politics (Swanstrom, Dreier, and Mollenkopf 2002; Drier, Mollenkopf, and Swanstrom 2014). They also argue that the concentrated poverty literature overlooks the presence of disadvantage in other places, such as inner-ring suburbs (Drier, Mollenkopf, and Swanstrom). Yes, economic forces, such as deindustrialization and global competition, and social problems, such as racial discrimination, impact residential segregation, but local, state, and federal policies also enforce residential segregation.

The United States experienced great economic expansion from 1991 to 2000 with low rates of unemployment, low inflation, and high homeownership (Yang and Jargowsky 2006; Bischoff and Reardon 2014; Drier, Mollenkopf, and Swanstrom 2014). However, all did not equally share in this prosperity. The rich became richer while low-wage workers fell behind. The economic boom experienced by low-wage workers was met with rising housing and rental prices. Low-income inner city neighborhoods experienced higher-cost amenities and necessities, such as the cost of groceries, and poorer quality schools, emphasizing the importance of place-based inequalities. The nation’s polarized class structure not only separated in regards to income, but geographically as well. This geographic departure, or growing economic segregation, creates often-conflicting political agendas for greater metropolitan areas. Metropolitan politics often favors the wealthier suburbs and hinders poorer inner city priorities, amenities, and neighborhoods.


Racial segregation is far from eradicated, and economic segregation continues to rise. These trends are especially detrimental for those in neighborhoods experiencing concentrated poverty. Concentrated poverty persists for the most disparaged social groups—low-income inner city African Americans (Massey and Denton 1993; Fischer 2003; Logan, Stults, and Farley 2004). Further, contemporary research emphasizes the hazardous effects of extended exposure to concentrated poverty, such as low high school graduation rates (Wodtke, Harding, and Elwert 2011), high crime, and poor health and economic outcomes (Wilson 1987; Massey and Denton; Drier, Mollenkopf, and Swanstrom 2014). Beyond individual exposure, recent research also emphasizes the legacy of disadvantage for families exposed to concentrated poverty across generations (Sharkey 2008).
The growth of economic segregation and concentrated poverty will not subside without a concerted effort from unified policymakers, researchers, and political parties. Existing and proposed remedial efforts include: income integration strategies, metropolitan political collaborations, targeted research, and national public services (Fischer 2003; Schwartz 2010; Drier, Mollenkopf, and Swanstrom 2014).

Income integration strategies include: (1) dispersing low-income households to higher-income neighborhoods, (2) and constructing and enforcing mixed-income housing (Schwartz 2010; Drier, Mollenkopf, and Swanstrom 2014). The dispersal strategies include mobility and voucher programs, such as Moving to Opportunity (MTO) (Schwartz). The mixed-income housing strategies attempt to place households of varying racial and economic characteristics in close proximity, such as in the same apartment complex. The federal HOPE VI program worked toward mixed-income housing by revitalizing already-existing public housing and implementing income integration strategies to reduce the negative effects of living in concentrated poverty, such as social isolation, stigma, school, and job outcomes. Dispersal and mixed-income housing strategies sound promising in theory, but they suffer from poor internal validity and mixed results (Schwartz). For instance, MTO programs show varying successes and failures, which are often conflated with methodological selection issues (Schwartz; Sampson 2012).

Income integration will not be an easy task as the United States continues to recover from the 2007 Great Recession (Schwartz 2010). First, America is experiencing a polarization of its class structure. The middle class is disappearing as the nation diverges toward an affluent and low-income class structure. This hollowing-out of the middle class will impact efforts of integrating an increasingly economically polarized class structure (Drier, Mollenkopf, and Swanstrom 2014). Second, the recent fiscal turmoil surrounding the Great Recession and its housing crisis resulted in skyrocketing foreclosure rates that were up 130% in 2007 compared to one-year prior (Schwartz). It will be difficult for the federal government to implement and enforce policies to reduce economic segregation when many Americans are struggling to simply keep their homes from foreclosure.

Other policy recommendations include efforts to improve regional planning and centralize regional politics. Fragmented metropolitan areas often create diverging interests between wealthier suburbs and poorer inner cities (Drier, Mollenkopf, and Swanstrom 2014). These diverging interests create competition over limited institutional resources perpetuating levels of economic segregation and place-based inequalities for lower-income areas, which are often inner cities and inner-ring suburbs. A unified metropolitan area would create an integrated local tax base and reduce resource competition. As with integration strategies, a unified metropolitan area sounds promising, but it will be difficult to unify suburban and inner city politics since suburban residents are content with their place-based advantages.

Urban scholars increasingly examine the relationship between race and class differences in residential segregation (Fischer 2003; Iceland and Wilkes 2006). Contemporary researchers have also developed advanced statistical methods for residential segregation measures beyond arbitrarily defined neighborhood boundaries in order to examine the extent of racial and economic segregation at different geographic scales, such as in regions or suburbs (Grannis 1998; Crowder and South 2008; Lee, Reardon, Firebaugh, Farrell, Matthews, and O’Sullivan 2008; Lichter, Parisi, and Taquino 2015). In order to influence public policy, additional research is needed that targets the connection between race, class, and housing (Fischer).
How can the United States prevent continued economic segregation and concentrated poverty? The steady decline of racial segregation shows promise, but racial biases and white avoidance from minority neighborhoods have lasted for decades (Wilson 1987; Massey and Denton 1993; Quillian and Pager 2001). I do not believe race-specific policy interventions will further reduce concentrated poverty in low-income inner city African American neighborhoods. Race-specific policy efforts, such as the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and affirmative action, have failed to reduce racial segregation for the most disadvantaged minority groups (Wilson).

I believe that universal programs that target social isolation will be key. For instance, the United States could adopt European models of national public services rather than services and amenities funded by localities (Drier, Mollenkopf, and Swanstrom 2014). National funding, rather than funding through local tax bases, would create more equal social institutions and public resources to help eliminate place-based inequalities. These efforts would also unify fragmented city and suburban governments who would no longer need to compete for funds. This could provide equal access to quality education, healthcare, public transportation, and childcare all of which would spur advanced job opportunities and greatly reduce economic segregation and concentrated disadvantage.


A historical and contemporary overview of racial and economic segregation trends in the United States emphasizes the negative consequences associated with place-based disadvantage.

In order to prevent the continued rise in economic segregation and concentrated poverty, policymakers, regional politicians, and urban scholars must: work toward developing sound integration strategies void of implementation and selection issues, unite regional politics, and continue research on the interplay between race and class differences in residential segregation.

REFERENCES (Question 2)
Bischoff, K. & Reardon, S.F. 2014.  “Residential Segregation by Socioeconomic Status, 1970-              2009.” In US2010: America in the First Decade of the New Century. Edited by J. Logan.               New York: Russell Sage.

Crowder, Kyle, and Scott J. South. 2008. “Spatial Dynamics of White Flight: The Effects of               Local and Extralocal Racial Conditions on Neighborhood Out-Migration.”               American Sociological Review 73(5):792-812.

Drier, Peter, John Mollenkopf, and Todd Swanson. 2014. Place Matters: Metropolitics for the Twenty-First Century. Kansas: University of Kansas Press.

Fischer, Mary. 2003. “The Relative Importance of Income and Race in Determining

Residential Outcomes in U.S. Urban Areas, 1970-2000.” Urban Affairs Review  38(5):669-696.

Grannis, Rick. 1998. “The Importance of Trivial Streets: Residential Streets and Residential               Segregation.” American Journal of Sociology 103(6):1530-1564 .

Iceland, John and Rima Wilkes. 2008. “Does Socioeconomic Status Matter? Race, Class, and               Residential Segregation.” Demography 45(1): 79-94.

Jackson, Kenneth T. 1980. “Federal Subsidy and the Suburban Dream: The First Quarter Century               of Government Intervention in the Housing Market.” Records of the Columbia Historical Society 50:421-451.

Jackson, Kenneth T. 1985. Crabgrass Frontier: Suburbanization of the United States. New               York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Jargowsky, Paul A. 1997. Poverty and Place: Ghettos, Barrios, and the American City. New               York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Kleit, Rachel Garshick. 2008. “Neighborhood Segregation, Personal Networks, and Access to               Social Resources.” Pp. 237-260 in Segregation: The Rising Costs for America. Edited by               J. H. Carr and N. K. Kutty. New York: Routledge.

Lee, Barrett, Sean Reardon, Glenn Firebaugh, Chad R. Farrell, Stephen A. Matthews, David               O’Sullivan. 2008. “Beyond the Census Tract: Patterns and Determinants of Racial               Segregation at Multiple Geographic Scales.” American Sociological Review 73(October):766-91.

Lichter, Daniel T., Domenico Parisi, and Michael C. Taquino. 2015. “Toward a New Macro-              Segregation? Decomposing Segregation within and between Metropolitan Cities and               Suburbs.” American Sociological Review 80:843-873.

Lieberson, Stanley. 1980. A Piece of the Pie: Blacks and White Immigrants Since 1880.  University of California Press.

Logan, John R., Brian J. Stults, and Reynolds Farley. 2004. “Segregation of Minorities in

the Metropolis: Two Decades of Change.” Demography 41(1):1-22.

Logan, John R., and Charles Zhang. 2010. “Global Neighborhoods: New Pathways to

Diversity and Separation.” American Journal of Sociology 115(4):1069-1109.

Massey, Douglas S., and Nancy A. Denton. 1988. “The Dimensions of Residential Segregation”.
Social Forces 67 (2).

Massey, Douglas S. and Nancy A. Denton. 1993. American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Pattillo, Mary. 1999. Black Picket Fences: Privilege and Peril among the Black Middle Class.               Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Quillian, Lincoln and Devah Pager. 2001. “Black Neighbors, Higher Crime? The Role of Racial               Stereotypes in Evaluations of Neighborhood Crime. “ American Journal of Sociology               107(3):717-767.

Sampson, Robert J. 2012. Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect.  Chicago: University of Chicago.

Schwartz, Alex F. 2010. Housing Policy in the United States. 2010. New York, NY: Routledge.

Sharkey, Patrick. 2008. “The Intergenerational Transmission of Context.” American  Journal of Sociology 113:931-969.

Squires, Gregory D. 1994. Capital and Communities in Black and White: The Intersections of Race, Class, and Uneven Development. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Swanstrom, Peter Dreier, and John Mollenkopf. 2002. “Economic Inequality and Public Policy:               The Power of Place.” City and Community. 1(4):349-372.

Wilson, William Julius. 1987. The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy.” Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Geoffrey Wodtke, David J. Harding, and Felix Elwert. 2011. “Neighborhood Effects in Temporal               Perspective.” American Sociological Review 76(5):713-736.

Yang, Rebecca and Paul A. Jargowsky. 2006. “Suburban Development and Economic  Segregation in the 1990s.” Urban Affairs Review 28: 253-273.



One of the earliest concerns of urban sociologists was understanding why social, political, and economic functions and social groups are distributed across urban space. Write an essay that describes the theoretical perspectives that urban sociologists have proposed to explain the differential distribution of functions and groups across urban space; your essay should include a discussion of how and why these processes have changed over time.


In this essay, I describe the major theoretical perspectives conceptualized by urban theorists to better understand the complexities of city life and the differential distribution of urban processes and social groups. I explain why and how theoretical perspectives have changed over time through a historic contextual analysis of national trends. I then argue for the necessity of continued attention on urban organizational patterns and the distribution of social groups in reference to contemporary debates on whether or not “place,” or urban perspectives, still matter.


The turn of the twentieth century was characterized by large-scale economic changes through early industrialization in the United States. Workingmen increasingly left the farm in search of economic opportunities in city factories (Jackson 1980/1985). Simultaneously, European immigrants entered the United States and primarily settled in urban centers. Early urban theorists, such as Ferdinand Tönnies and Georg Simmel, attempted to understand the social and organizational processes of city life during this period of early urbanization.

As workers migrated to the cities, early urban theorists conceptualized the complexities of city life by differentiating the characteristics of city dwellers and small town folk. Tönnies (1887) and Simmel (1904) believed that city dwellers’ consciousness was transformed in urban settings. Social relationships within cities were viewed as increasingly impersonal, transitory, and superficial compared to the intimate and meaningful relationships present in small towns (Tönnies 1887). Small town life operated through agreed-upon social norms, values, and beliefs adhered to by homogenous social groups, or community members who formed exclusive familial, racial, social, and cultural bonds. Conversely, city life represented a more complex society, which lacked a clear collective conscience, and consisted of heterogeneous, or diverse, social groups (Tönnies; Simmel 1904). Further, the impersonal relationships in urban centers emphasized the rational and economistic nature of early urban thought as social interactions were reduced to financial transactions.

A defense mechanism to protect city dwellers from urban complexities was to organize urban settings through increased social and functional differentiation (Tönnies 1887; Simmel 1904). It was theorized that city dwellers would attempt to create homogeneous social groups in heterogeneous urban settings. This led to the organizational differentiation of space through segregation by commonalities, such as racial, ethnic, or class differences.


  •  The early Chicago School’s urban ecologists, such as Robert Park, Ernest Burgess, Roderick McKenzie, Louis Wirth, and Walter Firey, advanced Tönnies (1887) and Simmel’s (1904) theoretical work of reducing urban complexities with social group and functional differentiation through an economistic point of view. Urban ecology developed during a time when urban sociology was attempting to establish itself as a scientific field of study (Park 1915). Urban ecology borrowed terms from human and plant ecology and applied them to urban social processes and geospatial differentiation. The Chicago-based theorists attempted to understand the demographic and structural changes occurring in their very own city—urbanization, industrialization, and immigration. The urban ecologists viewed city organization and residential segregation as organic processes where people naturally sorted themselves in an effort to establish mechanisms of social control (Park 1915/1936; McKenzie 1924; Burgess 1925; Wirth 1938).
  •  Wirth (1938) explained city processes through ecological terms, such as competition and invasion. He analyzed the varying factors that impacted city processes through systematic means. He used population size, density, and heterogeneity to describe how city dwellers dealt with the complexities of city life. Fort instance, Wirth theorized that density created increased differentiation, which heightened the divisions of labor and aspects of role specialization. City dwellers’ residences and work locations became differentiated. This differentiation impacted the geographic layout of cities with districts specializing in specific uses, such as resident and business districts. Density also created greater social and economic inequality as space was allocated through affordability.
    Burgess (1925) primarily focused on the spatial expression of social order through his concentric zone model. Burgess theorized concentric circles to explain the processes of expansion and differentiation of the physical geography, but also the social organization of urban life. The zones emphasized the differentiation of purpose and land use. Burgess theorized that urban processes would always favor higher land values. For example, the “Loop,” served as the economic center of city life. It was the home of central businesses, such as banks and big department stores. The “Loop,” in the face of urban expansion, would invade the first zone outside its boundary, or the “Zone in Transition,” illustrating that invasion was based on economic holds. The concentric model organized city life in a hierarchical manner, as the subsequent zones outside the “Zone in Transition” were representative of zones for workingmen, residences, and commuters. The better quality middle class and affluent homes were located further from the chaotic city center representing an economic differentiation of social groups.
  •  Urban scholars have re-conceptualized Burgess’ concentric zone model as urban centers became more specialized, transportation improved, and diversity thrived. For instance, the multiple nuclei model focused on how cities may have more than one center due to the specialized differentiation of city districts, such as a business district in the city’s center and a manufacturing port district located near a waterfront (Harris and Ullman 1945). Further, the sector theory focused on the axial development of cities based along main transportation routes. Rather than re-conceptualizing the concentric model, Michael Dear (2002) challenged the Chicago School’s urban ecology altogether by providing a postmodern view of the city, which focused on the importance of a city’s periphery rather than its center for urban organization. According to Dear (2002), the city’s social and physical organization was a more fluid process as the city constantly restructured itself.
    Although Park (1915) and Firey (1945) conceptualized place-based sentiment, or how individuals reacted to place through unique history and cultural understanding, the early Chicago School theorists were often criticized for being overly economistic. They were also criticized for overlooking aspects of social group discrimination beyond economistic explanations. Early critics did not view the stratification of social groups as natural; rather, they viewed stratification as a result of political forces (Lefebvre and Enders 1976; Castells 1978; Logan and Molotch 1987). A political critique of urban ecology gave rise to a new urban sociology through the study of Marxist urban theory and the political economy of place.


Marxist urban theory developed out of a historical period of urban unrest, which included the urban riots and racial inequality of the 1960s and 1970s (Lefebvre and Enders 1976; Castells 1978; Harvey 1992; Massey and Denton 1993). This historical time greatly emphasized that cities were not simply ecological units, but political units. This group of theorists, including Henri Lefebvre, Manuel Castells, and David Harvey, were inspired by Karl Marx and Antonio Gramsci and believed that segregation was not natural as they witnessed discrimination in federal housing policy and growing rates of income and racial inequality (Lefebvre and Enders; Castells; Harvey).

The Marxist urban theorists conceptualized that space was produced from byproducts of the capitalist modes of production, and that those who held political power also controlled the city’s spatial organization (Castells 1978; Harvey 1992). For instance, the powerful city dwellers focused on improving urban infrastructure, such as roads or bridges, to enhance the city’s capital production and increase profits. Further, the theorists believed that the powerful city dwellers not only controlled the city’s production of space and spatial relations, but also the city’s social relations illustrated through exploitation and class conflict. This view emphasized aspects of urban inequality, such as racial discrimination, redlining, and segregation, which plagued cities at this time (Massey and Denton 1993).

Beyond the Marxist urban theorists, other urban scholars similarly challenged the Chicago School by further conceptualizing urban processes through a political lens. These scholars, including Harvey Molotch and John Logan, theorized the political economy of place in response to increasing levels of spatial inequality in the United States, such as racial segregation and uneven development (Logan and Molotch 1987; Massey and Denton 1993). In 1976, Harvey Molotch first described the city as a growth machine (Logan and Molotch). He believed that there was a hidden power structure that influenced city growth. Molotch’s growth machine theory claimed that urban politics and democratic processes favored urban expansion. The city worked as a “growth machine,” which consisted of local elites represented by the government, politicians, media, and utility companies. Logan and Molotch (1987) challenged growth politics for not always maintaining the public’s best interest as urban growth processes often hurt disadvantaged social groups.

To illustrate how space can be theorized as political and disproportionately impact disadvantaged social groups, I will discuss Sharon Zukin’s cultural application of urban Marxism and the political economy of place. Zukin (1995) conceptualized the role of culture as a growth dimension in the capitalist economy. Culture acted as a tool for capitalism and urban development. It symbolized who does or does not belong in specific places, which illustrated aspects of exclusion and entitlement. Urban residents with greater resources had influence over the collective cultural identity and the urban decision making process compared to resource-disadvantaged residents. This exclusionary control led to uneven development as powerful urban residents had greater say over the growth agenda. The growth of cultural consumption in cities also led to the privatization of public space. The privatization of public space often led to the private surveillance of public space, which excluded certain individuals and reinforced social inequality. A contemporary example is the removal of homeless individuals from “public” places, such as the High Line in New York City (Loughran 2014).

Beyond ecological and political perspectives, it is necessary to consider how the intersections of gender and race operate in the spatial and social structures of the urban built environment. I will first provide the historical context of gender inequality in the United States and how it relates to urban spatial structure. I then will discuss the intersection of race and place, as well as race, gender, and place.
At the turn of the twentieth century, women stayed home while men left for work in industrial factories (Spain 2014). Men existed in the public sphere of labor production at the city’s center, and women remained in the private sphere of peripheral homes. The private sphere was seen as isolated, individualistic, labor intensive, and unpaid. Men were seen in the public sphere, which was described as more social, collective, mechanized, and paid. Women challenged the patriarchal urban setting as they entered factory jobs during World War II (Spain 2014). However, women either returned to the private sphere of the home or experienced a lower wage compared to workingmen after the war. Moreover, the rise in homeownership and extensive suburbanization after World War II further isolated women in the household. In the 1970s and 1980s, women were outraged by gender inequality and challenged the patriarchal design of urban space with material feminism, and specifically with feminist urbanism.

Feminist urbanism connected space to gender by analyzing urban spatial organization, such as housing, architecture, and land use (Hayden 1981; Spain 2014). Gender was seen as a social structure that influenced the distribution of space and reinforced inequality through gendered spheres. The field focused on housework, children, and time management. Material feminists focused on collectivizing housework and redesigning the domestic workplace. For instance, Dolores Hayden (1981) challenged the design of single-family homes as they were seen as isolating toward women. She challenged the isolating tasks of childcare, meal preparation, and house cleaning, which were often seen as women’s work. She provided a concrete and practical solution for architects and planners to build a non-sexist city. Hayden discussed the creation of “HOMES” groups, or Homemakers Organization for a More Egalitarian Society. This solution included a forty-household complex with common spaces. HOMES would put an end to residential segregation by including families of all classes, ages, and races. Additionally, it would work toward an egalitarian division of household labor as women and men from multiple families would work together in a collective arrangement.

The intersection of race and place is commonly conceptualized as racial segregation, or the spatial concentration of racial and ethnic groups associated with unequal access to social institutions and place-based resources (Massey and Denton 1993). Racial segregation peaked in the 1960s and 1970s and has been tied to social, political, and economic trends, such as racist ideals, discriminatory federal housing policy, the War on Drugs, deindustrialization, suburbanization, and urban economic restructuring (Jackson 1985; Wilson 1987; Massey and Denton).

The spatial concentration of low-income inner city African Americans disproportionately exposes this group to social problems, such as high levels of neighborhood crime, poor schools, concentrated unemployment, incarceration, and non-marital childbearing (Wilson 1987). A place-based legacy of disadvantage is created by the concentration of low-income inner city African Americans into common neighborhoods (Wilson; Massey and Denton 1993, Sharkey 2008/2013). A multigenerational analysis illustrates how inequality is spatially organized and how structural disadvantages can be inherited from one generation to the next (Sharkey 2008/2013). Essentially, disadvantaged groups are “stuck in place” as they are more likely to live in similar low-income neighborhoods as previous generations. The inheritance of place leads to persistent inequality as generations after generations are exposed to place-based social problems.

The theoretical intersections of race, gender, and place help illustrate the disproportionate social group distribution in urban processes and spatial organization (Gilbert 1998; Spain 2014). Feminist urbanism can also be applied to race and class as it challenges the spatial entrapment thesis, or the concentration of poor black women in low-income neighborhoods plagued by social problems. This challenge argues that poor women are not completely disadvantaged because they also resourcefully use their “rootedness,” or their extensive social ties and kinship networks. Women use their urban environment as a resource of personal network connections for jobs, housing, and childcare. As a challenge to the negative characteristics of concentrated disadvantage (Wilson 1987; Massey and Denton 1993), working poor women are socially integrated within their communities, and can use extensive social networks to overcome economic and spatial disadvantage (Gilbert 1998).


Thus far, I have illustrated the complexities of city life through the shifting social, political, and economic trends in the history of the United States. However, two additional trends challenge the assumption that place still matters for the organization of urban space, social institutions, and social processes—globalization and Internet technologies. So, has community, or the significance of place, been lost, saved, or liberated (Wellman and Leighton 1979; Hampton and Wellman 2003; Stern and Dillman 2006)?

Organizational and network theories allow urban processes to extend beyond the confinement of arbitrarily outlined neighborhoodsby conceptualizing how macro-level processes impact and organize micro-level social processes (Wellman and Leighton 1979). Network theorists argue that neighborhoods limit the extensiveness of how place impacts social life (Wellman and Leighton; Hampton and Wellman 2003; Stern and Dillman 2006). In contrast, “communities” are conceptualized as networks of interpersonal social ties with a more lax spatial connection and a collective efficacy, or shared social norms and expectations (Wellman and Leighton; Sampson 2012).
Contemporary applications of organizational theory focus on current shifts in economic and global trends, and further support the importance of community. For instance, Allard and Small (2013) applied an organizational perspective to the most disadvantaged groups, such as those with criminal records, poor health, and undocumented citizenship status. These groups greatly relied on social programs, such as immigrant organizations, for survival, especially in response to the economic downturn of the 2007 Great Recession.

Individuals, especially those who are increasingly disadvantaged, continue to rely on institutional support (Sampson 2012; Allard and Small 2013). The Internet has transformed communities, but they are far from lost. Researchers have supported the importance of community ties and the enhancement of social support that Internet connectivity has on a global and local scale (Hampton and Wellman 2003; Stern and Dillman 2006).

Place continues to matter not only for quality of life, but also for the quality of our society. Local amenities, social institutions, schools, and environmental exposures are derivatives of place (Drier, Mollenkopf, and Swanson 2014). As illustrated, place continues to matter for the most disadvantaged social groups (Sampson 2012; Drier, Mollenkopf, and Swanson). Place holds a durable influence over the developmental processes and social outcomes of individual, households, and even generations (Sampson; Sharkey 2008/2013). Therefore, urban social theorists must continue to challenge and advance the field’s knowledge of urban spatial organization, social processes, and the differential outcomes of social groups.


Urban theory has continually evolved in response to contextual changes in social, political, and economic trends. Regardless of the contemporary forces of globalization, place is durable. The urban environment requires continued attention and theoretical conceptualization in order to advance the understanding of geospatial organization and the persistent inequality of disadvantaged social groups.

REFERENCES (Question 4)

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Castells, Manuel. 1978. “Collective Consumption and Urban Contradictions in Advanced               Capitalism.” In City, Class and Power. New York, NY: St. Martins Press.

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Drier, Peter, John Mollenkopf, and Todd Swanson. 2014. Place Matters: Metropolitics for the Twenty-First Century. Kansas: University of Kansas Press.

Firey, Walter. 1945. “Sentiment and Symbolism as Ecological Variations.” In The Urban  Sociology Reader. Pp. 89-96.

Gilbert, Melissa R. 1998. “Race, Space and Power: The Survival Strategies of Poor Women.” Pp.               190-199 in The Urban Sociology Reader.

Hampton, Keith and Barry Wellman. 2003. “Neighboring in Netville: How the Internet Supports               Community and Social Capital in a Wired Suburb.” City and Community 2(4):277-311.
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Harvey, David. 1992. “Social Justice, Postmodernism, and the City.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 16(4):588i-601.

Jackson, Kenneth T. 1985. Crabgrass Frontier: Suburbanization of the United States. New               York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Lefebvre, Henri, and Michael J. Enders. 1976. “Reflections on the Politics of  Space.” Antipode 8(2):30-37.

Logan, John R. and Harvey L. Molotch. 1987. Urban Fortunes. Berkeley: University of  California Press.

Loughran, Kevin. 2014. “Parks for Profit: The High Line, Growth Machines, and the Uneven               Development of Urban Public Spaces.” City and Community 13:1.

Massey, Douglas S. and Nancy A. Denton. 1993. American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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Sharkey, Patrick. 2008. “The Intergenerational Transmission of Context.” American Journal of Sociology 113:931-969.

Sharkey, Patrick. 2013. Stuck in Place: Urban Neighborhoods and the end of Progress towards Racial Equality. Chicago: University of Chicago.

Simmel, Georg. 1904. “The Metropolis and Mental Life.” Pp. 324-339 in Georg Simmel on Individuality and Social Forms. 1975, edited by D. Levine. Chicago: University of               Chicago Press.

Spain, Daphne. 2014. “Gender and Urban Space.” Annual Review of Sociology 40:581–98.

Stern, Michael J. and Don A. Dillman. 2006. “Community Participation, Social Ties and Use of               the Internet.” City and Community 5(4):409-424.

Tönnies, Ferdinand. 1887. “Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft.” Pp. 191-201 in Theories of Society.               Vol. 2, 1961, edited by T. Parsons, E. Shils, K. D. Naegele, and J. R. Pitts. New York:               Free Press.

Wellman, Barry and Barry Leighton. 1979. “Networks, Neighborhoods, and Communities:               Approaches to the Study of the Community Question.” Urban Affairs Review 14(3):363-

Wilson, William Julius. 1987. The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy.” Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Wirth, Louis, 1938. “Urbanism as a Way of Life.” American Journal of Sociology 44:1-24.

Zukin, Sharon. 1995. The Culture of Cities. New York: Blackwell.

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