Urban Studies


Cities and other urban centres are laced with segregation in multiple forms. Among these, the most common types of segregation are racial and class-based segregations. Racial segregation stems from the gruesome history of slavery. African-Americans suffered during this dark period of history and the effects of this are still present today. Racial segregation also arises from the high number of immigrants coming into urban areas annually, more so major cities. Specific immigrants of a certain race or ethnic origin form micro-communities within these urban areas. Immigrants also struggle in a harsh socio-economic environment. This factor, coupled by their illegality, makes them offer cheap labour. Consequently, labour prices flop and class segregation emerges especially in urban environments.

Though this societal segregation is mostly detrimental, it is still profitable to a group of few elites. Over time this group of elites, namely businessmen, politicians, and policy makers, has positioned itself to gain from the high levels of segregation in urban areas. Multiple avenues have been used to champion this oppression of the economically deprived. The avenues include immigration laws, labour policies, urban development policies, electoral politics, and other profit oriented strategies. It can be argued that this group of individuals is to blame for the prevalence of class-based and race-based segregation in cities and other urban environments. Ultimately, segregation breeds inequality. This is an undesirable situation where a certain group of people is held in high regard as compared to another. The former enjoys certain privileges and generally flourishes while the latter suffers because of inequality. A desirable society is one that embraces equality at all levels in order for all individuals to prosper regardless of their race or socio-economic status.


Class and race-based inequalities, which are the part of the cause of poor living conditions in urban environments, can be attributed to the efforts by an elite group in society to maintain segregation on the basis of race and socio-economic status.

In Poverty despite Family Ties, Peter Kwong describes the Chinese immigration system. For the purpose of this study it is important to understand the background surrounding the Chinese immigration. In so doing, one gets to know the circumstances surrounding these immigration patterns and hence one can picture the role played by these immigrants in society. The bulk of the Chinese immigrants come from Fenzhou and Wenzhou rural outskirts. Immigration from these regions is fuelled by lack of employment as a result of rural-urban migration. The unemployed population is as a result of rapid development in urban areas. Fenzhounese families look for alternative means of earning, and the search leads them overseas (Kwong, 2001). The result is a carefully organised smuggling cartel that ships huge numbers of illegal immigrants annually. Peter Kwong states that the smuggling is an expensive affair. On average, one has to pay between $35,000 and $40,000 in order to get into the United States. The newly arrived immigrant then pays off the debt to his/her relatives. Such immigrants often represent an unskilled lot who are in debt. The immigrants flood the labour market with cheap labour. As a result, the labour prices plummet giving rise to socio-economic segregation and ultimately inequality. The situation is aggravated by the illegal labour practices and degrading working environments imposed on the immigrants by their employers. Kwong says, “In other cases employers help the immigrants to ‘cook’ their W-2 forms so that their incomes appear to be below the poverty level, which would make them eligible for food stamps and Medicaid” (Kwong, 2001, p. 68). Apart from the fact that the employers are clearly oppressing this group of immigrants, the policies and laws usually add salt to injury. For instance, garment factories in New York, which hire mainly Fuzhounese immigrants, stay open until 4 AM creating long and tiresome working hours. Kwong compares this with other seemingly unregulated factories in Hong Kong that close at six (Kwong, 2001). In addition, there is laxity in convicting criminal businessmen on the part of authorities. This is shown by the hundreds of cases received against Chinese employers. Out of the filed complaints, only two convictions have been made. The loopholes in the law used by employers, coupled by the lack of implementation of the protective laws, only makes the situation worse for the immigrant workers. From this one can draw the conclusion that both the laws and the profit-oriented businesses are taking advantage of the immigrants’ desperate situation. Consequently, they are oppressed further and hence cannot liberate themselves from their impoverished position.

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In The Indelible Color Line, Gregory Squires looks both at the racial and socio-economic aspect of segregation. Squires considers this segregation a result of discrimination by banks and realtors towards minority communities such as the African-American and Hispanic communities. On the aspect of real estate agents’ discrimination, Squire begins by quoting Federal Housing Association (FHA) advisor Homer Hoyt who said, “Blacks and Mexicans have a very detrimental effect on property values” (Squires, 2001, p.1). The weight of this statement is witnessed in the discriminative practices by real estate agents as shown by Squire. For instance, the National Association of realtors carefully segregated its customers into different neighbourhoods on the basis of race/ethnicity or economic status. Such practices result in formation of affluent and impoverished neighbourhoods that are evident throughout the country. The FHA approved insurance for ‘white suburban areas’ but not for the urban markets’ that were home to many of the minority communities. However, laws have been enacted to counter these discriminative policies and trends, for instance, the Federal Fair Housing Act (1968). Another law, The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (1974) criminalizes mortgage lending on the basis of race. Squire also mentions the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act which calls for mortgage lenders to provide the location of lent mortgages as well as the race, gender, and income of the mortgage applicants (Squires, 2001). Initially it could be argued that the inadequacy of the laws fostered the discriminative mortgage lending and insurance practices. However the tide is changing with the implementation of new laws that seek to change these practices. This argument is cemented by Squire’s assertion that the nation recorded a 60% increase in the mortgages issued to minority groups between 1993 and 1997 (Squires, 2001). Squires suggests a paradigm shift in the real estate and insurance sector in order to ensure equal housing opportunities for every individual.

In American Apartheid, Massey and Denton show the adverse effects of segregation on the African-American community. Segregation has led to the creation of the ‘ghetto’ and has also caused denial of employment opportunities. This has led to poor living conditions amongst the black community. Like Squires, Massey and Denton mention the inadequacy of the law in curbing racism and discrimination on matters of housing. The authors then tackle the race-class debate. Even though the discrimination of African-Americans was initially based on racism, it has evolved into a class-based segregation. The years of racial discrimination and hatred have fostered the current black-white disparity in terms of class. Additionally, geographical differences due to selective housing also bring about gaping economic differences. However it is important to note that self-segregation contributes to the black community’s situation. Some African-American families prefer to live within ‘black communities’ and neighbourhoods thus contributing to the aforementioned geographical and economic segregation. Though this may be true for some cases, a majority of the black community support desegregation and integration as shown by the Detroit Area Survey. The survey demonstrates that over 90% vote for integration (Massey & Denton, 1993). On the other hand, the white populace supports desegregation in principle rather than in practice. Mass and Denton show the discriminative practice by real estate agents, mortgage lenders, as well as insurance bankers towards the African-Americans and the ‘ghetto’ neighbourhoods. Practices are still ongoing despite the laws and policies that declare them illegal.

In the Politics of Bread and Circuses, Peter Eisinger shows the resulting economic disparity from ‘building a city of visitors’ (Eisinger, 2000, p. 317). Modern-day local authorities have shifted their focus from providing the basic social amenities to building entertainment facilities in a bid to boost the economy. The already economically-deprived locals cannot enjoy these entertainment facilities and hence they form a labour force for the incoming middle-class visitors. Such ventures are usually championed by politicians with the backing of local elites who profit immensely from them. Additionally these ventures use taxpayer money either voluntarily or by bypassing the local electorates entirely. The residents of the state of Pennsylvania and Washington resoundingly defeated moves to build more entertainment centres. Shockingly, the local authorities came to the aid of the proponents of these entertainment facilities (Eisinger, 2000). Despites a public refusal, these entertainments centres were still constructed. Politicians overstate the economic potential of these huge investments to the public. Rudolph Giuliani, NYC mayor, claimed that a new Yankee stadium would bring in about 1 billion dollars, as compared with an assessment by an independent consulting firm that estimated the gains at 100 million (Eisinger, 2000). Even though these ventures absorb most of the city’s resources they do not live up to the unrealistic expectations that the politicians use to sell them to the public. The funds utilized on these entertainment facilities could be used on other worthy projects such as housing, youth centres, funding the police, and water projects just to name a few. This in turn creates a conflict of interests with some locals supporting alternative projects and the elites and politicians pushing for these entertainment centres. It is also important to note that these entertainment facilities are profitable to investors and seldom to the entire community; a factor that enhances the socio-economic segregation in society.

Mike Davis in Fortress Los Angeles: The Militarization of Public Space compares affluent neighbourhoods to struggling neighbourhoods. The former is laced with security measures to ensure safety. Affluent neighbourhoods are characterised by private security personnel and high-tech surveillance systems (Davis, 1992). These limit social interaction and foster socio-economic segregation in Los Angeles. Davis mentions how the present-day Los Angeles has embraced segregating policies. He shows how the tax payer money builds the city’s skyscrapers housing shrewd bankers who abandoned the city ages ago. Public space and democracy are now a thing of the past. These segregation policies are fostered by the elite and are propagated by politicians. Consequently, there exists a rift between the affluent residents of Los Angeles and its impoverished populace.

The political inequality that has plagued the city of New York is highlighted by John Hull Mollenkopf. He demonstrates the basis for political inequality is group succession. Specific racial/ethnic communities elect their own to the mayoral seat. This phenomenon is however challenged by the fact that it was not until 1989 when the first African-American New York City mayor, David Dinkins, was elected. This was despite the fact that New York has a considerably large number of African-American resident voters (Mollenkopf, 1991). This alludes to another form of political inequality in which electoral participation is influenced by level of education, level of income, and political efficacy. As a result, many of the black voters were unable to participate in the electoral process resulting to monopoly of authority by their white counterparts. Mollenkopf shows how aspects of individuals such as race, economic status, and religion amongst others influence party affiliations and ultimately voting patterns. In another explanation, political inequality could be attributed to a skewed and faulty political system. Mollenkopf shows how the “rules of the political game, the candidate selection process and apportioning of districts” is systematically designed to foster exclusion of minority communities (Mollenkopf, 1991, p. 338). However, the causes of the exclusion are also internal. For instance, the African-American and Latino communities lack political leadership and political cohesion hence their voting is divided and weak.


In conclusion, racial and class-based discrimination is evidently among the causes of economic deprivation of minority groups. The mortgage lending system for instance, which is discriminative on a racial/ethnic basis, denies African-American and Latino communities equal housing opportunities. The same could be said for the insurance and loaning requirements by banks. Thus segregation breeds inequality. Those who stand to gain often propagate segregation and champion for inequality as seen in the exploitation of Fuzhounese immigrants by employees. Another case is the real estate agents who selectively issue housing on the basis of race/ethnicity. The politicians and investors who champion for “a city of visitors” at the expense of the locals’ tax subsidies is another example. On the contrary, some factors that breed segregation and inequality are seen to be internal such as the lack of political organisation and cohesion in minority communities that results in their political exclusion. On the issue of housing, a number of African-American residents (10%) preferred exclusively black neighbourhoods to racially diverse ones. So in some cases the segregation and inequality is not propagated by the elite or politicians but is caused by the segregated groups’ mindsets. Additionally, there exist laws enacted by politicians to foster for desegregation such as the Fair Housing Act. However enacting laws and policies is not sufficient to curb this issue of segregation and inequality that is deeply entrenched in society. For instance the aforementioned laws did not stop realtors from discriminating against certain races. Cessation of segregation and inequality requires a paradigm shift, a change in the stereotypic views and prejudice based on race/ethnicity and economic status. This is necessary in order to achieve a multicultural society built on the principle of equality.

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