The city is the focal point of urban geography and can be linked with all other aspects of human geography. Winston Churchill once said, ” We shape our cities and then they shape our way of life. ” So in effect they can be seen as the most important of our products. In 1978, the inner cities contained 7 % of the total British population, that is 3 800 000 people, a statistic continually changing. Firstly it is necessary to define the term `inner city’ as it is not a concept easily answered.
The Lambeth Inner Area Study (GB 1977) defines its study area by reference to where the inner city problems are, not the other way round. Peter Dicken and Peter E. Lloyd (1977) consider the study area as the contiguous central industrial zone immediately adjacent to the central business district and Valerie A. Karn (1977) was concerned with the inner areas of nineteenth century terraced housing. These interpretations of inner city areas, although approached from different angles, all relate to this same specific area of inequity and disregard.
In order to comprehend exactly why perhaps inner city areas are the codeword for social neglect and discrimination, it is at first necessary to determine how they became to be derelict and unattractive places to live. Britains urban problems are aggravated because of the way the majority of cities developed in the early stages of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-late nineteenth century. Due to this early and rapid industrialization of the country, towns and cities sprang up around huge factory sites based on industries which were themselves dependent on cheap local unskilled labour.
The war years caused devastation with extensive loss of buildings due to bombings. Rent controls turned private inner city housing into slums. Since the early 1960’s, all Britains major cities have experienced massive industrial decline, particularly in their inner parts, due to the lack of demand for their products and the onset of cheap foreign (usually Far Eastern) competition. In central Clydeside, for example, the numbers employed dropped from 808 000 to 704 000 between 1961 and 1971; this decrease of 8. 4 % was the largest fall of all the conurbations outside London.
At the same time there was an increase in employment in the rest of Great Britain outside the conurbations of 7. 9 %. It is generally accepted that the most significant decline in employment has been in manufacturing industry rather than services. One explanation of this is that major core cities historically contain a high proportion of firms and industries that in recent years have become uncompetitive. In addition to the decline in manufacturing industry, the development of factory lines has meant that production technologies have become more spatially extensive.
Since the Second World War there has also been a revolution in communications, particularly with the general improvement in the roads network and the building of motorways, but also in rail transport. These changes together with the greater locational freedom and flexibility of multi-plant firms has meant that the periphery of the conurbations or areas outside the conurbations have become more attractive to industry than the inner cities. The overall impact of these various components of change has been the decentralisation of industry.
In determining how inner city areas came to be derelict and neglected, it is essential to consider the layout of the houses, the general appearance of the regions and the personal stress of the residents involved. In the nineteenth century, as industrialization was taking place, it was necessary to purposely build privately rented housing for the cheap and unskilled working men and their families. The cheaper housing was usually owned in substantial blocks by large landlords, and some of the better housing was built in groups of three or four houses, one of which would often be occupied by the landlord.
This nineteenth century terraced housing typically suffered from a number of defects. For example, the original layout of the property and streets is obsolete;densities are very high;there is little open space and there is often unattractive industrial property in the vicinity. Where the doors of the houses open straight onto the street, the streets are tree and hedgeless. The two main designs of houses are `tunnel-back’ and `back-to-back’, both of which have been outlawed by the public health regulations since the First World War. Apart from the problems of the original design, the houses have experienced neglect and blight.
In general, the longer the houses were owned by private landlords, the more deterioration they suffered as a result of landlords’ neglect of maintenance and repairs. Most of these houses, especially in Birmingham, continued to be rented until they were demolished in slum clearance programmes, whilst some other better quality housing were taken up by owner-occupation, and still stand today. In 1978, the inner cities contained 20 % of the households in housing stress; up to ten times the national proportion of families living below the Supplementary Benefit poverty line; and up to four times the domestic overcrowding found elsewhere in ities.
Together with the obvious negligence of the housing layout, there is also its general appearance which causes discrimination and prejudice against these inner city areas. A recent study of Glasgow had a spread of familiar scenes: “… broken windows, weary faces, posed dossers all sandwiched between a travelogue on Crete, and a large advertisement explaining `how to gain more benefit from nature’s lavish gifts’… ” These inner city areas contain old housing, old factories and old civic buildings. Their rivers have been allowed to become polluted and they suffer from a lack of any total concept or vision.
In general, from the outside, the inner city areas look like dereliction sites with boarded up buildings and abandoned wasteland. On the other hand, the problems that occur inside the houses are more cause for concern. A study in Stockwell revealed that approx. one in seven families were deprived, ie were suffering from three of the following six measures of deprivation: low income, overcrowding, lack of household amenities, lack of car and telephone, disability and job instability. These are clearly external measures of deprivation.
There is also, however, evidence for personal stress. In some parts of Inner Liverpool, over one in six families has only one parent. In Nottingham, a recent study showed that concentrations of schizophrenia were higher in the inner city than elsewhere in the city, which the author attributed to the pressures of the environment. Finally, as far as personal safety goes, a study of London (1970’s), revealed that air-pollution was a lot higher in inner city areas and was very dangerous in causing respiratory diseases.
In the U. S. A. everal studies have shown a high incidence of physical disease, such as heart disease, tuberculosis, syphilis, amoebic dysentery and salmonellosis, within inner areas. All of the above evidence shows that inner city areas are not the most attractive places to live which is why their populations are declining severely. Since the 1950’s, economists, geographers, political scientists and traffic engineers have isolated the problems within the inner city areas and sought after the correct results and solutions. This has been no easy task, as shown by the five Comprehensive Development Areas (CDA’s) in Birmingham.
The aim of this scheme was to create a sound economy and adequate employment, to improve the urban environment and to provide services and sufficient social amenities. The five areas in question have gained more open spaces and smaller populations. There is less industry and more schools, public buildings, roads etc. In short, they have been completely renovated. However, many more problems have been encountered. Inhabitants complain of visual quality, noise, traffic, parking and generally there is a lack safety for fear of crimes at all levels.
Unemployment is still very high in these areas; 36 % are without jobs and 56 % more are out of work each year. Also, during the post-war reconstruction period, much emphasis was placed on developing New Towns outside of the old urban conurbations. In the mid 1970’s a new direction was signalled by the government; New Town expansion was to be halted (though the programme would continue to reach pre-set target limits), and more strident attempts would be made to refocus investment on the inner city areas.
Strategic action continues today on these areas, but they are generally still thought of as areas of deprivation, disinvestment and mass unemployment. Collins Concise English Dictionary 1992 (3rd ed. ) defines `inner city’ as, “… the parts of a city in or near its centre, especially when associated with poverty, substandard housing, etc… ” The very fact that this is its definition shows that inner city areas are nationally and internationally thought of as districts of social neglect and discrimination, and possibly will be until the best solutions are carried out to improve these regions.