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News & opinion

21 FEB 2020

Connectivity used as a tool against urban segregation

Can a city’s infrastructure be used to reduce inequality? It can if the city is built with the key concept of connectivity at the forefront of its planning.

A city’s connectivity relies on the infrastructure that flows between neighbourhoods and urban centres carrying people and goods. In an era of rapid urbanization that sees cities around the world struggling to meet the demand for new housing, sprawling neighbourhoods can create distance and barriers to essential needs like grocery stores, hospitals, greenspace and community centres. But is it better to ensure each neighbourhood serves its own needs or to reduce barriers to other areas?

When urban planners consider connectivity, they’re creating efficient links between residential neighbourhoods and commercial centres. A focus on connectivity encourages planners to contrast a more traditional approach to planning that aims to improve accessibility to local services and amenities with innovative thinking that encourages people to move more freely around the city.

When considering investments in infrastructure, is it better to invest in connectivity or bringing more services to neighbourhoods in need? Does building connection between less affluent neighbourhoods and urban centres create opportunity for social improvement?

Connectivity requires a change in how planners think – allowing for the movement of people between distinct sections of the city to be top of mind, creating opportunities for social relations to evolve along the way. Mobility, in its literal sense, enables social and economic mobility when it is woven into the fabric of a city.

Studies developed in Sweden, and published by Prof. Karin Grundstrom, in the Nordic Journal of Architectural Research, point out that planning with a focus on connectivity has increased movement through disadvantaged and segregated neighbourhoods, and this has contributed to a regeneration of those regions. It is important that planners also understand broken mobility as a barrier to the economic and social vitality of certain regions.

Atlanta, Georgia city

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Buildings in Stockholm, Sweden
Swedish studies found that planning with connectivity in mind has contributed in part to the regeneration of disadvantaged and segregated neighbourhoods

Also worth noting, however, the Swedish study shows that the process of implementation matters. Although the segregated regions benefit from the being more connected, the wealthier districts can get the most benefit, since the implementation of this model allows for even better connectivity for non-segregated regions.

When implemented in a piecemeal way, this unfortunately causes the pattern of relative segregation to persist, even with investments to reach the most segregated regions. Consequently, the study points out that new investments should have sufficient scale to break the existing pattern of segregation, seeking to balance more and less segregated regions.

While investments in connectivity can make it easier for people to move around the city, on the other hand, they can bring the risk of reducing investments at the local level, since when there is ease of movement, the presence of public equipment and quality social services might become less relevant on the neighbourhood level.

Access to local services and amenities remains crucial for many, depending on their age, economic situation or physical mobility issues. Therefore, although connectivity can and should be used as an instrument against urban segregation, this must be done while considering the impact on local neighbourhoods. In doing so, investments must not be neglected in regional improvement.

  • Claudio Bernardes is a civil engineer with a Master of Engineering. He is a Professor in Urban Development, former President of Secovi-SP, current Chairman of the Advisory Board of Secovi-SP and of the Management Council of the Urban Development Secretary in São Paulo City. He is a member of the Environmental Council for São Paulo State Government, a columnist for Folha de São Paulo, CEO of Ingaí Incorporadora S/A and a member of the RICS Governing Council for Brazil.
Claudio Bernardes headshot
Claudio Bernardes