#1 Theory of Urban Space – 01. Urban Segregation

In 2014 United Nation released a prospect which showed that we have reached the point where more than half of the world’s population, 54%, lives in the cities. Prognoses suggest that by 2050 it will amount 66%, an increase equal 2.5 billion habitats that will immigrate or be born in the city’s limits.


Nowadays over 90% of this urban growth relates to demographic surge of developing countries with annual raise of habitats estimated on 70 million. Every third lives in slum.


During Habitat III summit organized by U.N. Habitat in October 2016 Horacio Corti, an author of “Right to the City, Cultural Rights, Culture of Rights” said: “Without social and urban justice there is no citizenship”. In his provocative words, he regarded to purposed disability of margined social classes to participate in any type of decision-making processes that relate to urban changes. People that are weaker in maintaining their own needs and basic rights on a market-driven scene, are left unspoken or even repressed. The major problem that occurs is that maintaining a spatial balance is here not a solution where everyone benefits, at least not in a short term. In some cases, developers or investors would lose their financial benefits when the marginal space, segregated from profit-producing areas, began to improve its assets, because some of offered services would no longer have any saleable value. For instance, if due to enhancement of social inclusion would notably advance the safety matters in deprived areas, the need of intense monitoring of gated community will start to be questionable. If the walkability together with expenditure of local micro economy of one space is established, then the importance of a car to cross the whole city for shopping purpose would be also not that certain. In developing countries, the question of cumulating capital still plays a main role on the economic scene. Although the 1st world countries are also profit-oriented, this process is shown not that directly and still, the investments in social capital takes place and are executed on a big scale.


How the spatial discrepations really look like?

There are 3 main types of urban segregation: spatial, sociocultural, and economic-political. Although separate in characteristics, they all anticipate in creation of the same image through mutual influence.

Spatial segregation refers to every visible social discrepancies and relationships between them that are to be observed in the given area. It is defined through the scale of differentiations in living conditions and their eventual exclusion. Any combination of gated community together with informal settlement, as favela or squat, exhibits the great level of social contrast. The space segregates not only housing types or public and green spaces but also access to such urban assets like sewerage, water supply or electricity. It defines their quality and quantity, amount of performed investments and general interest from the governing level. This kind of spatial favouritism leads to exclusion and mutual hostility and distrust. There where different living conditions coexistence together and profit from one another, occur the urban mixture, which enables to lower the social antagonism and improve quality of living.


Graphic 1: Unequal Scenes: Segregation of urban spaces in South Africa

From sociocultural level, urban segregation relates to differentiation of groups due to financial status, descent, ethnics or believes. The visibility of differences regards to the level of allowance to participate in one’s activities as well as in general access to basic social assets that would be same for every individual, like equal level of education or health treatment. Regarding to Csaba Deák the affiliation to particular social group most probably will determine one’s further development, as the poorest due to lacking financial support that would improve their situation mostly stay in the depriving area. In Latin America, the element of exclusion exhibits a very high contrast between one another and most importantly, it is mutual. For this reason, the wealthy elites detach themselves in every possible aspect through their financial dominance, but in the same way the low-income groups establish unspoken forbiddance of entering their neighbourhoods. This social antagonism, with a long history and record of associated distrust, creates a great challenge of territorial exclusion and mutual animosity. In most cases, it is the financial dominating class who does not perform any of kind of social embracement, but who does profit from beneficial services, which mostly on purpose are held on a low paid level, to maintain the distance. This type of relation only reinforces the functioning hostility and reinsures the mutual exclusion process. “(..) the rich and poor are closely bound together, because the affluent areas provide jobs for the poor, at the same time profiting from low salaries. Even the chaotic street markers, where thousands of petty traders earn their money are closely interlinked with the formal sector, because many wholesalers and industries are involved in this business” (Ribbeck 2002: 30).

Fashionistas pose for photographs in front of a homeless man outside Moynihan Station following a showing of the Rag & Bone Spring/Summer 2013 collection during New York Fashion Week

Graphic 2: Fashionistas pose for photographs in front of a homeless man outside Moynihan Station following a showing

Economic-political aspect of urban segregation relates both to economic and structural character of the country or region. It is also associated with widely understood gentrification that “(..) may be driven by governments hoping to raise property values and increase revenue from taxes. It may be the result of fluctuating relationships between capital investments and the production of urban space” (Boundless, 2016). In some extreme cases character of practised politics might also lead to diverse types of partition.

Mutual although spatial segregated: gated communities and favelas

Because of sociocultural aspect of urban segregation, gated communities as well as informal settlements belong to the image of 90% of developing countries (cf.: Glasze 2003: 89-91). Interesting enough, even if visually and qualitatively different, those two polarising housing groups exhibit not only the same urban features but also similar working patterns. Detached plots, walls, entrances, surveillance as well as public space and services are typical components of both settlement types. Nota bene, spatial and functional structure of favela might be more efficient than one’s from gated community, because the existence of informal settlement emerges from urgent need and not from collected income that is relative. (cf.: Ribbeck 2002: 114-116). According to an interview with Jan Gehl, due to their human scale the informal settlements are much more people oriented that planned communities and reflect the natural demands on a built space. “(..) people [that] live in favelas have a lot of knowledge [about] what is good for them, and they use it when they put the things together, while the other one is done by a technocrat that comes from the outside and put it down and say ‘now go in there and be happy” (IQ Latino, 2015).

For instance, surveillance in favelas is better performed because there occurs a real need to monitor the surroundings. In some gated communities, the guards commit to their job but not to the neighbourhood which offers then nothing more than mostly a low wage salary.

Security matters

Urban segregation goes along with various safety issues, as the social differences are publicly visible and immediately recognizable. People lacking basic goods, proper occupation or any kinds of luxuries feel mostly socially discriminated and take their right to achieve those goals in an illegal way. Whether it is a prohibited drug dealing, trafficking or illicit work, the problematics become serious when too frequent and more brutal in the way of execution and in results. The associated participants cooperate mostly together to disable the track of their activities as efficient as possible. In Brazil, as well as in other Latin American countries, most of those actions are remote from informal settlements, where the police and governmental insight is not that deep and may not be perform as easily as in monitored areas. This has created a negative image of favelas and their habitats among many citizens, as some of them were observers and victims of crimes. Consequently, those with a bad address are often having more problems finding a proper occupation or another home when emerging from the lower class (cf. Neuwirth 2004: 30).

 “For decades national, state and local governments steadfastly refused to provide services to these communities. And with that neglect came criminality. So most of Rio’s favelas are controlled by highly organized and well-armed drug gangs. These gangs are both criminal and communitarian. They offer a trade-off.  In a city where assaults and violence can be common, there is no crime in the squatter communities–as long as people look the other way when the dealers are doing their business” (Neuwirth 2004: 35).


Graphic 3: One Way

Police for citizens not for favelians

In addition to general social exclusion of favelas, the inhabitants are also exposed to brutal police interventions. “There persists a deep distrust of police with roots in the military dictatorship. An NGO that monitors police violence recently found that Brazilian police kill on average six people a day” (Griffin, 2015). Although the situation in some favelas is far from being described as non-criminal and peaceful, the police violence often escalates here, reaching also innocent victims. Therefore, the habitants of informal settlements who are daily exposed to examples of injustice and human rights abuse, exhibit a great level of distrust to any external parties. On an example of Rio where social cleansing before World Cup 2014 and later before Olympics in 2016 it is shown how objective, ruthless, and promise-worthless those treatments can be.


The inalienable pattern of urban segregation can be found f.e. in the image of most Latin American or African cities. It creates a wide range of challenges and issues related with the implementation of socially more balanced urban mixture, because it does not correspond with interest of every involved group.  It “wilI remain until (..) society is transformed from an archaic elite society based on permanently hindered accumulation to a more egalitarian society allowing for a full development of its productive forces and providing its urban agglomerations with infrastructure at new quantitative and qualitative thresholds” (Deák 2001: 176).


Graphic 4: Boston, the city where Fast Company reported inequality has grown the most






Graphic 1: Johnny Miller/Millefoto/Rex Shutterstock/Australscope

Graphic 2: https://unassociatedpress.org/2014/07/22/poor-door-segregation-is-back/

Graphic 3: http://www.businessinsider.com/here-are-the-us-cities-where-the-poor-are-the-most-segregated-from-everyone-else-2014-3?IR=T

Graphic 4: Bill Comstock / Flickr

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