Is it time to rethink concentrated poverty, the service hub and the sink estate?

In today’s guest blog author and academic Geoffrey DeVerteuil shares his views on the importance and value of inner city communities and the attendant support organisations around them as a positive force for transformation…

Geoffrey DeVerteuil

Geoffrey DeVerteuil

There has been a longstanding tendency in the popular imagination that condemns the spatial concentration of poverty and its attendant landscapes and services.

In the US, this has been particularly dominated by the African-American ghetto and its hyper-segregation of poor Blacks to inner-city neighbourhoods, leading to failed lives, institutions and places.

In the UK, where poverty and race are less concentrated, fears have been stoked in the wake of the 2001 unrest in northern cities and the 2005 terrorist attacks, producing reports (Cantle, Philipps) that ultimately warned about the over-concentration of poor minorities, that in effect Muslims in particular were creating ‘parallel societies’ not so far removed from the American context.

Scatter the poor

These older debates have fed into larger policy ideas in the past ten years about the dismantlement of so-called ‘sink estates’ in order to improve local areas but also the lives of poor people. Thus, the proposed policy solution is to deconcentrate poverty and its services, to scatter the poor around (and more often than not, beyond) the inner city where they have become seemingly rooted.

Some social scientists, however, take a more sanguine view of concentrated poverty, arguing that it may provide some positive aspects such as sustenance, solidarity, and the ability to press concerns to politicians, celebrating the flinty strength derived from the co-location of poverty and institutions of survival.

I believe that we should celebrate the recalcitrant ‘staying put’ of ‘service hubs’, those concentrations of voluntary sector organizations that provide sustenance and care to the most downtrodden of populations – the homeless, substance abusers, the mentally ill, and so forth.

My research of service hubs in three global cities – London, Los Angles and Sydney –  found that there are three larger arguments that show this ‘staying put’ resilience is not only about holding on to previous gains but also about holding out for transformation.

First, that resilience becomes more critical, of how residuals of the Keynesian era actively persist in the so-called post-welfare city, acting as de-commodified sanctuaries for populations deemed non-producing and non-consuming.

Second, that the voluntary sector itself becomes more ambivalent and supportive of these populations, rather than just containing or hiding them.

Third, that inner-city space is not just a prison or a dead-end, but rather potentially supportive of poor people’s survival.

And moving beyond this last point, I believe that service hubs can represent more than just survival but also a ‘commons’, a de-commodified haven that not only outflanks gentrification but also exists entirely beyond the neoliberalised confines of the post-welfare city.

Resilience in the post-welfare inner city: Voluntary sector geographies in London, Los Angeles and Sydney by Geoffrey DeVerteuil is now available to purchase in paperback from the Policy Press website here for a special 20% discount price of £21.59

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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