New project on the suburbanization of poverty


A new project fundet by the German Research Foundation (DFG) will start at the professorship "Analysis and Monitoring of urban Areas ". The topic is Suburbanization of poverty: New spatial (De-)concentrations of low-income and poor Households in German City Regions bearbeiten. The project is a cooperation between the Chair of Cultural Geography (Prof. Carmella Pfaffenbach) at RWTH Aachen University and the research group "Social Space" (Dr. Sabine Weck) at ILS -Research Institute for Regional and Urban Development gGmbH. The work packages of the professorship für "Analyse and Monitoring of urban Areas" aim to identify and characterize disadvantaged residential areas in selected cities that remain as potential living spaces for low-income households when most other areas experience upgrades in quality of life and increasing living costs.

Research on the spatial distribution of poor and low income households has so far mainly been discussed in the context of large cities and the rural periphery. Newer studies also observe an increase of affected households in suburban areas. Spatial sciences are only beginning to describe the underlying socio-economic processes and understand the drivers: on the one hand there is evidence that inner city locations are increasingly attractive for higher income households. On the other hand some aging suburban locations are losing their attractiveness over time. Local residents in these areas are potentially threatened by poverty, lower income might move households into these area.

Internationally, these trends are discussed as suburbanization of poverty. The destinations of households that form new concentrations of poverty in suburban areas can vary on a very small scale. Overall, however, it seems to be a steady trend. Social systems in Germany are known to mitigate the effects with affordable housing and related subsidies for low income households. Recent observations show that the continued migration of higher income households to large cities puts pressure on the social systems. For some city regions households relying on social benefits have seen increasing rates or have decreased less in suburban areas when compared to core cities. This is not to say, however, that this is a spatial trend. So far, methodological problems restrict further analysis, since it is not possible to identify low income households in the needed fine grained spatial resolution. In addition, there is little information on locational disadvantages that low income households might be exposed to, for example in terms of deficient infrastructure, the lack of care facilities, or environmental pressures.

On this basis the project is designed as an explorative research with three main objectives: (1) In a first step we examine the analytical potential of data combinations, based on official regional statistics, panel data, and data from commercial providers, in order to operationalize measures of poverty concentrations and related locational disadvantages between suburban and other urban locations; (2) in parallel we explore arguments from the international debate for explaining spatial development specifics and the influence of social policies in Germany; (3) succeeding, we will study locational characteristics and explanations as well as stakeholders’ perceptions in case studies where we previously identified suburban concentrations of poverty.

The results will help to understand analysis options and advance studies on the suburbanization of poverty in the German context.