What we mean when we say “urban”

When we think of poverty and homelessness, we typically envision urban areas and not rural farm towns as the main hub of problems. This can be partially attributed to the fact that there are more people that live in and visit these areas.

But what exactly is an urban area?

“Urban” is loosely defined as relating to a city or metropolitan area. Socially, however, urban has earned a negative connotation. Urban has become synonymous with a low income area that is predominately Latino and/or African American. Cities like Chicago and Baltimore have been in the news recently for the increased number of crimes and deteriorating conditions. Before taking office, Donald Trump even said that there would be a crackdown on “urban crime” and stated that “Many African-Americans live in “beyond belief conditions”” in these cities.

But it can not be true that only poor minorities live in cities, right? Cities are being painted as a silos for criminals, minorities, and trouble. Numerous studies show that this is not even remotely the case, and that chunks of metropolitan areas are in fact very wealthy. Let’s take a look at Chicago for example:Screenshot 2017-02-16 10.04.00.png

The graph shows the distribution of wealth across Chicago and general demographics. In the yellow highlighted region, the average household income is over $170,000 with a majority of the population being white. Now let’s take a look at a different neighborhood on the south side of the same city:

Screenshot 2017-02-16 10.05.00.png

Notice something different? The population of this region is almost 100 percent black with a median household income of less than $30,000. No, this is not a different county, or a different state. It is a map of how income inequality can exist on a street by street scale, not just on a national or state level.

An article by Edward Glaser, Matthew Resseger, and Kristina Tobio explores the idea of urban inequalities. Their study found that almost half of the differences in income inequality in a given metropolitan area can be linked to the differences in skill distributions. This includes family life, experiences, and most importantly, level of education. Well-off schools with an abundance of resources will tend to produce students that are a step of ahead of their low performing school peers. The study also found that where inequalities exist, violence is more prevalent. This could further explain why crime rates continue to be so high in cities like Chicago.

So, is income inequality a national issue? I think that most people would agree that it is. But what about the recognition on a smaller scale? How does the distribution of wealth across a single zip code impact the population as a whole? Next time you find yourself in your nearest city, take a look around you. Everything may not be as it seems.

By Allison Smith


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