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Mobility and Deprived Urban Neighbourhoods in the Focus of Integrated Urban Development Policy

Klaus J. Beckmann, Tilman Bracher, Markus Hesse

Mobility and Deprived Urban Neighbourhoods in the Focus of Integrated Urban Development Policy

1. Social Inequity and Spatial Mobility in the City
2. Deprived Urban Neighbourhoods - Characteristics, Causes of Deprivation, Development Dynamics
3. Consequences for Action on Mobility and Transport/Traffic
4. Growing Social Inequity: A Challenge for Urban Mobility Policy


This article addresses the links between deprived urban neighbourhoods and mobility, transport and traffic. On the basis of a succinct assessment of socio-spatial development trends in cities and urban regions and a systematic account of various forms of urban spatial deprivation, we discuss specific patterns of mobility practice in deprived urban areas. We also examine the problems prevailing there, as well as the possibilities available to residents to escape or cope with them. An integrated urban development policy worthy of the name must begin at both ends of the effect chain and develop appropriate strategies for reducing neighbourhood disadvantagement and promoting a social balance in mobility.


1. Social Inequity and Spatial Mobility in the City

Questions of social inequity and the spatially inequitable distribution of affluence and quality of life and of environmental burdens and life contingencies have been the focus of urban research for decades. Theoretical approaches and far-reaching empirical studies are available, especially in segregation research (cf. Friedrichs 1995, 79 ff.) and gentrification studies (cf. Blasius/Dangschat 1990). Differentiated descriptive and explanatory concepts of the socio-spatial classification of urban areas have been developed, showing the spatial distribution of the population by social and ethnic status. The concentration of socially deprived population groups in certain urban areas (e.g., inner-city neighbourhoods), whose dynamic change in the process of up and down-grading and the concomitant conflicts is now one of the determining patterns of urban development and urban structure (cf. Heitmeyer et al. 1998).

While such studies long concentrated on housing stock, social infrastructure, and the quality of the public space, etc., mobility and transport/traffic have only recently attracted attention. From the 1980s and 1990s, transport development plans were drawn up in Germany with both environmentally sound and socially balanced urban development in mind. They were influenced not least of all by the fact that socially deprived sections of the population are highly exposed to the adverse impacts of motorised transport, e.g., along busy main roads. The goals adopted, such as congestion reduction and the urban integration of traffic facilities related to this socially inequitable pattern of nuisance distribution.

With the advent of mobility research grounded in the social sciences, the perspective on these problems has broadened (cf. Bonß/Kesselring 2001). Mobility is seen not only as a means of physical motion but also an important prerequisite for participating in society. Where there are limited possibilities for mobility (for instance where access to a car is lacking, public transport services are inadequate, and the infrastructure is poor, as in peripheral rural areas), this can have a socially selective and discriminatory impact. Even though it is an extreme example, the hurricane “Katrina” that hit New Orleans in the USA on 29 August 2005 clearly demonstrated what dramatic consequences the socially inequitable distribution of mobility opportunities can have, when part of the (white) middle and upper classes were able literally to escape from the floods by car while African-American neighbourhoods without access to private motorised transport and without a functioning public transport system were practically abandoned to the flood waters.

Spatial mobility is now also discussed under the headings social exclusion and social inclusion. In the United Kingdom, a commission was set up by the Labour government in the late 1990s to address this subject (DETR 2000; see also Lyons 2003; Preston/Rajé 2007). Among the aspects of social exclusion that Lyons enumerates (2003, 340) are the decline of public facilities and services, the discrepancy between individual aspirations and the given possibilities, as well as the deprivation of individuals (although the dividing line between social exclusion and inclusion is blurred). In this context, the particular importance of mobility is that pedestrian access is often no longer available; accessibility depends on mobility facilities. This means that access to opportunities depends on the availability of transport. In the United States, too, these problems have long been recognised and much discussed, for instance with regard to the obstacles that non-motorised population groups have to overcome to participate in the labour market (cf. Bullard/Johnson 1997).

In an increasingly flexibilised, mobile society, the problems of social exclusion are compounded by inadequate access to mobility. In peripheral rural regions, where public transport falls below the threshold of economic viability, mobility is considerably restricted, at least for the non-motorised sections of the population (e.g., older people without a car or driving licence) (cf. Gray et al. 2006). This problem could be exacerbated by demographic change.

In urban areas, double forms of social deprivation occur through mobility-related pollution and the lack of access to mobility. Many cities in Europe still have highly stressed neighbourhoods and traffic corridors, which also have a high concentration of population groups with a low rate of motorisation or who are badly served by public transport. In such areas, the two categories of problem overlap: mobility (especially motorised transport) becomes a risk, contributing to the deterioration of living conditions; and the lack of mobility facilities prevents people from participating in society, limits access to education, the labour market, etc. Poverty and deprivation structures are thus reinforced, also from a socio-spatial point of view.

This poses particular challenges for urban and mobility policy: the general, unacceptably high pollution caused by motorised traffic is to be reduced while mobility opportunities have to be expanded. Sustainable mobility policy must therefore be socially balanced (“equitable”) and city-friendly. The far-reaching motorisation of socially disadvantaged population groups would be a short-sighted solution to this problem, for expanding motorised traffic only produces further problems and nuisances of the kind to which these very target groups would be excessively exposed.


2. Deprived Urban Neighbourhoods - Characteristics, Causes of Deprivation, Development Dynamics

In Germany, urban districts or neighbourhoods with special development or renewal needs that are considered deprived include large-scale housing estates built by the GDR housing industry and in West German cities, parts of historical city centres, Gründerzeit neighbourhoods (from the last quarter of the 19 th century), and the basic multi-family housing of the 1950s and 1960s. As a rule, they have structural and urban design deficiencies, as well as deficient infrastructure, and suffer from comparatively severe environmental burdens. Traffic makes a major contribution to the latter. The disadvantagement of such neighbourhoods has intensified in recent years in the context of globalisation, structural change, and transformation processes. Generally speaking, it is manifested:

  1. physically in the run-down, unrehabilitated, unmodernised state of the area, comparatively high vacancy rates, a wide range of derelict and vacant sites, a lack of greenery and open spaces, inadequate facilities in the social and employment infrastructure;
  2. functionally through the strong adverse impacts of traffic facilities and their operation (streets, railbound traffic, logistic centres), through relatively low environmental quality, deficient quality in existing facilities (e.g., schools, further educational and cultural facilities), through the lack of high-quality jobs;
  3. socially in the concentration of residents with low incomes, high unemployment, without school-leaving qualifications or vocational skills, and a high proportion of foreigners owing to the outmigration of financially well-off residents with higher social status. Incentives are lacking for upward social mobility and the concomitant contact opportunities.

In the future, demographic change and the upgrading of inner-city residential areas in some cities can be expected to cause declining property values, poorer marketing possibilities, and consequent vacancies in “simple” single family home areas on the suburban periphery. Deficiencies in infrastructure endowment, as well as objective and individual limitations to mobility options can intensify this development. “Many deprived urban neighbourhoods are additionally disadvantaged by poor transport connections and environmental influences. This limits the residential and living quality of these areas” (BMVBS 2007, 7).

Deprived neighbourhoods are associated with the actual or potential risk of social exclusion. “The term ‘social exclusion’ refers to more than poverty or low income, but it is closely related to them. It is used to describe a number of linked problems such as unemployment, poor educational achievement, low incomes, poor housing, physical barriers and bad health, which tend to have a cumulative and reinforcing effect on each other, preventing people from participating in society” (Social Exclusion Unit 2002). This self-reinforcing dynamic is the expression of complex problems, an amalgam of economic conditions, individual skills or the lack thereof, cultural specificities (e.g., lifestyles, language skills/acquisition), as well as problems of physical and mental constitution (e.g., age of population, illness, addiction).

These structures often reinforce each other if the quality of the locality is poor and there is little or no incentive to “break out.” Such incentives can be good schooling and training opportunities, sufficiently skilled jobs and attractive accessibility. These deficiencies have a particularly strong impact if lacking or inadequate facilities in a neighbourhood cannot be compensated by individual physical or virtual mobility. Examples of this are low car ownership, lack of access to cars for family members, lack of cycling practice, physical barriers for non-motorised mobility (for instance, lack of street-crossing facilities, railway lines, waterways, and fenced-in land) or public transport services with unfavourable times and routes and almost unaffordable prices.

A particularly strong reinforcing impact can develop from multiple disadvantagement in the form of social deprivation owing to low school qualifications, low or lacking vocational skills; a negative locational image; quantitative and qualitative endowment deficiencies; and a lack of access, whether for individual reasons or because facilities are inadequate. As far as possible compensatory effects are concerned, the World Bank regards it as crucial that the following structures be available or easy to reach:

  • day nurseries, kindergartens,
  • primary schools, secondary schools,
  • apprenticeships,
  • jobs,
  • cultural and further educational facilities,
  • public spaces and facilities.

Opportunities for social inclusion and integration and for economic development depend strongly on the accessibility of places of work, training facilities, supply, service, and leisure facilities. “Accessibility is important, not only for its role in facilitating regular and stable income-earning employment but also for its role as part of the social capital that maintains the social relations forming the safety net of poor people in many societies” (World Bank 2002, 25). A lack of services and limited accessibility can lead to disadvantagement in other areas of life, where, for instance it costs too much time or money to reach the appropriate facilities, or where the physical and psychological disabilities of residents more or less exclude access.

Particularly important for inclusion and participation – especially in old age – are therefore urban spaces, especially public spaces and their qualities with respect to sojourn, children’s play, communication/contact, opportunities for perception and experience, social service facilities (training, care, health, etc.), business (shops, medical practices, service firms, etc.), and finally transport and mobility services. If facilities and qualities are adequate, old people often develop no wish to move away (change of residence) because the circle of social contacts can be maintained – albeit on the additional condition that the locality is not stigmatised.

If better-off households move out of a neighbourhood, this lowers local purchasing power, private and to some extent public services thin out, and the image of the area suffers. Applying for training positions and jobs consequently become more difficult, as well as obtaining loans. Families that place great value on their children’s education abandon the neighbourhood when the proportion of immigrant children is considered too high. Ethnic, social, and age segregation (de-integration) grows, social exclusion establishes itself or stabilises. Where exclusion is accepted by society, this ultimately means wasting potential – potential for the labour market, for innovation in the social system, for political engagement, for engagement in the social system (neighbourhood help, social engagement, social capital), and for cultural enrichment.


3. Consequences for Action on Mobility and Transport/Traffic

For people’s everyday life, the place and neighbourhood where they live are particularly important as central nodes in their individual life and action space, as significant spaces in the socialisation of children and young people, as important social contact spaces. Opportunities for participation depend on how good and accessible business and schools, places of work, service and leisure facilities are (cf. Beckmann et al. 2006, 12). A lack of offerings and quality at the place of residence, i.e., in the residential neighbourhood, implies either long journeys to work, education, services and leisure facilities, or – where the effort and cost of travel is too great and individual means are available – a shift of residence.

The statistics on modal choice confirm this picture. The representative data for Germany analysed by Oeltze/Bracher (2007, 52) point to a link between modal choice and the urbanity of the place of residence, defined in terms of density, diversity, and building development. Residents of heavily built-up areas generally travel less by car than on foot and by public transport than people who live in less heavily built-up neighbourhoods. For economic reasons and owing to the lack of space for public parking, they are also often characterised by a lower rate of car availability. Thus, spatial and social effects overlap – to a certain extent in mutual reinforcement.

Jürgens/Kasper (2006, 126 ff.) show that in areas studied in Cologne, car ownership increases markedly from the inner city towards the suburbs, so that spatial location is the most powerful explanatory factor for household motorisation – especially when taken together with life situations (individual variables like age, gender, but especially household type and income). The number (frequency) of obligatory activities (work, education) is determined primarily by life situation characteristics (age and gainful employment), whereas the frequency of semi-obligatory and recreational activities can best be estimated on the basis of a combination of life situation, lifestyle, and spatial location characteristics. Semi-obligatory and obligatory activities were above average among women and younger residents of centrally located neighbourhoods, which can be explained by the lower intensity of women’s involvement in gainful employment and above all by the proximity of the offerings in question.

Representative traffic surveys also reveal what influences the life situation (income class, level of education, nationality, age) and spatial location exert on the type and extent of mobility options (car ownership or availability, public transport pass) and on mobility behaviour (activity frequency, modal choice, travel effort). Where incomes are high, private motorised transport is used almost twice as frequently as where they are low (cf. Oeltze/Bracher 2007, 62), while people from low-income households walk more, and travel more often by bicycle and public transport.

Although the data is not yet sufficiently differentiated to be able to identify disadvantaged neighbourhoods as deprived in terms of mobility and accessibility characteristics, there are nonetheless indications that if the infrastructure of a neighbourhood is poor and the residents have limited individual mobility options, as well as fewer personal options for involvement, the population of such neighbourhoods is particularly affected by restricted opportunities for sharing and participating in society. Such opportunities are essentially determined by the accessibility of services and activities and by the possibility of travel in order to take advantage of them (cf. Kemming/Brinkmann 2007, 1). Gender and age-group differences in driving licence holding and the corresponding – constant or occasional – access to a motor vehicle mean that women, the elderly, and households with extremely low incomes (e.g., less than € 900 per month) have limited private motorised mobility. A poor infrastructure in the neighbourhood limits the chances of participation. For instance, 80 per cent of men aged between 70 and 74 in North Rhine-Westphalia have a driving licence but only 56 per cent of women in the same age group. 72 per cent of older men and 30 per cent of older women hold a licence (cf., also with reference to the following account Kemming/Brinkmann 2007). 18 per cent of all households in North Rhine-Westphalia and 40 per cent of single-person households have no car. 69.7 per cent of households with an income under € 500,and 60.5 per cent with a monthly income between € 500 and € 900 are without a vehicle. Few apprentices, school pupils, single pensioners, and students have cars.

Accordingly, women and older people generally travel more frequently as passengers in private cars, on foot, or by public transport. In rural areas, minimum access to public transport stations and stops – e.g., a radius of 400 or 1000 metres – is much worse than in agglomerations or in regions dominated by larger monocentres.

Such findings on participation opportunities, also as regards their quality, have so far attracted little attention and have provided little support for moves to promote social inclusion. A high density of facilities (“settings”) and hence choice in the vicinity (“neighbourhood”) show that activities (e.g., daily shopping, restaurant visits; cf. figure 1) are pursued more strongly in the neighbourhood. Where offerings in the vicinity and individual mobility options are lacking (e.g., for the socially deprived and aged and people with restricted mobility), social deprivation can develop with respect to sharing and participation both in areas close to the city centre and in peripheral areas without infrastructure endowment – in principle in all types of residential area (multi-storey housing, single-family housing).


Figure 1: Behavior setting density and modal choice (shopping for essential commodities and restaurant visits)

Source: Schweer/Hunecke 2006, 146.

The effects of social disadvantagement – and social exclusion – have so far been investigated primarily with the focus on the uneven impact of traffic-related effects like traffic noise, traffic accidents, air pollution, etc. (cf. Beckmann 1991). The main concern has therefore been with stress caused by the mobility practices of other people, both in passenger transport and in household-related commercial traffic. High residential fluctuation on main roads and the consequent lower rents and falling property prices are phenomenologically ascertainable processes. The socially selective effects mentioned are associated with changes in residence. They are also motivated by deficiencies in the design quality and utility potential of these urban and street spaces.


4. Growing Social Inequity: A Challenge for Urban Mobility Policy

Growing social inequity in cities poses considerable challenges for mobility policy that far exceed the canon of conventional urban and transport planning practice. But the attempt to operationalize the reduction of disadvantagement in the transport sector causes not only practical problems. Conflicts arise even in defining the subject matter. While social and poverty reports determine indicators for individual and household forms of deprivation, their application to a spatial context is controversial. The threshold for classifying neighbourhoods as “deprived” is not easy to establish, and there are cases where local residents have rejected such a categorisation, since merely labelling a neighbourhood as “deprived” can constitute a further form of stigmatisation.

From a pragmatic point of view, it would be important first of all to identify the forms of deprivation that are typically associated with transport and traffic and to localise them in the urban space. This means that the classical domains of transport-related analysis, measurement, and data collection need to be supplemented by an important social dimension. Another important prerequisite is to promote a general awareness of these problems and circumstances – in the city, among municipal politicians, and in urban and transport planning. On this basis, strategies for action can be developed and readied for application. In urban neighbourhoods described as deprived, however, there are also problems of implementation. The forms of participation that are now obligatory in many cases of planning can be realised only to a limited degree, because it is difficult to win the “typical” clientele of deprived urban neighbourhoods for such processes, and the necessary preconditions are often lacking. However, active civil engagement is required if a paternalistic welfare-state policy style is to be avoided.

Fundamentally, the adverse impacts of motorised transport in deprived urban neighbourhoods must be reduced; at the same time, actually or potentially deprived population groups must be given access to mobility and transport to enable them to overcome social and economic disadvantages of their own accord. The approach adopted in Britain for promoting social inclusion – or eliminating social exclusion – attempts to incorporate social integration more strongly in local transport development planning and in accessibility planning by ensuring mobility and participation opportunities. In 2000 in the United States, Congressman John Lewis and others called for the “development of a regional transportation system that ensures equal access to all places of employment, housing, worship and public facilities, including access for populations that do not own or operate motor vehicles, without imposing disparate cost and travel time burdens on such populations” (quoted from: Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, s.a., 20).

This is a shift in paradigm in transport planning in the sense that consideration of locality-related opportunities has been added to the view of transport as a quantitative phenomenon. It means that particular emphasis is placed on accessibility for people from different social backgrounds and in different spatial situations – mostly from an overall socio-spatial perspective encompassing locational quality, social composition, accessibility, and mobility options. Action is thus needed and possible over and above merely building and operating transport facilities: aspects of mobility system design pertaining to control, organisation, fares, and information have to be integrated. This is in keeping with the extension of urban renewal approaches from formal urban renewal rehabilitation to the organisational and supportive development of urban neighbourhoods as practiced in the “Socially Integrative City” programme or participative urban redevelopment.

There are specific possibilities for achieving these goals on three levels:

  • First, urban development strategies are essential: improving the public space by providing greenery, renovating roads and infrastructure, physically abating noise, and reducing the speed of road traffic.
  • Second, behaviour-related strategies are required: overcoming cultural and societal conflicts, e.g., with regard to women’s independence, appreciation of and competence in cycling, the use of public transport, a greater sense of responsibility in using motor vehicles.
  • Third, service-related strategies are needed: better public transport timetables and fares, accessibility of urban districts, maintenance and repair of public facilities, etc.

Measures to achieve these ends seek to improve opportunities and infrastructure in neighbourhoods, to improve the quality of existing facilities, and especially street space and open spaces, as well as improving access to opportunities and facilities outside the deprived residential areas. The quality of non-motorised access (for pedestrians, cyclists) is particularly important. This concerns route multiplicity (network meshing), route/road quality (barrier freedom), lighting, road safety, and social safety. It concerns accessibility in the immediate neighbourhood and beyond. Hazards and obstacles have to be eliminated, the experience and design quality of streets and open spaces must be improved. Where individual mobility options are limited, public transport services and their quality become more important, as well as major non-motorised means of travel within the neighbourhood (pedestrian and cycle traffic, wheel-chairs).

It is to be wished that the awareness of the social inequity problems that prevails in urban policy and planning were also to manifest itself in the field of mobility and transport. Appropriate strategies for promoting social balance and for eliminating social deprivation depend, however, on certain conditions and supportive settings if they are to be successful. In the first place, it must be ensured that measures taken to improve conditions in urban neighbourhoods do not accelerate gentrification. This would amount to displacing precisely the groups whose living conditions were to be improved. However, the potential for alleviating social deprivation by physical planning means is limited. Presumably only a mixture of approaches to promote social integration, enhance employment prospects and improve opportunities can bring success in this domain. On the other hand, over and beyond the necessary mobilisation of urban resources and scope for action (activation, public services), the responsibility of government as a whole must be considered. A number of problems that occur in aggravated form in cities cannot be solved there alone and not even primarily. The idea of the city as an “integration engine” has always had to depend on the support of the welfare state. The elimination of the socially inequitable distribution of mobility opportunities and risks and adverse impacts in the city must hence rely on government action: for instance in setting (and enforcing) limit values in environmental and health protection, in maintaining infrastructure, in providing transfer income.

Safeguarding and promoting mobility is thus an integral part of a policy of sustainable urban development. It is closely bound up with European urban development policy – as set out, for example, in the “Leipzig Charter” (BMVBS 2007) – and with strategies of the federal government (memorandum “Towards a National Urban Development Policy,” BMVBS/BBR [2007]).



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