Like all big cities, Brussels has its wealthy districts and its poverty-ridden pockets. Economic opening to the outside world is producing social divides made opaque and diffuse by complex structures of governance and social aid. Tensions between generations, ethnicized groups and individual trajectories are nonetheless generating mobile social identities.
Both in Lisbon and in Istanbul, prestigious urban planning operations of the past decade are revealing how deep social antagonims are in the city. Luxuary apartment buildings and dilapidated strip buildings are zoned on either side of the new Nations Park in Lisbon. Tourist renovation of the Wall of Istanbul with the help of much international funding is drastically changing the occupancy of the city by the poorest sections of its community.
The restructuring of derelict industrial land has considerably changed European urban areas. Issu-les-Moulineaux and Nord Lanarkshire are suburbs that lost their industrial substance nearly half a century ago and have only recently found new activities oriented towards the tertiary economy and the new technologies. International businesses and local institutions are the driving forces behind this new trend in which some areas are being redeveloped to the detriment of others.
When cultural criteria are added to the material elements that define poverty, this increases the difficulty of quantifiying it. Poverty levels are less sensitive to job market variations than to regional economic development variations owing to social transferts that benefit pensioners seeking attractive localities. The more the observation scale is refinded to locality level the closer the link between poverty and pressure on the housing market.
Masses of migrants flocking towards cities from the countryside now account for 15% of China’s economically active population. In Shanghai, this rural-urban migration is increasing disparities in urban conditions, particularly among the displaced populations. Economic globalization which is now reaching the country is resulting not only in a worsening of social and urban segregation but also in new forms of interplay between the organized economy and informal work.
Economic and cultural globalization of societies is generating its fringes, with populations that are abused and displaced as far as their survival limits. Sporadic riots, ethnic war, violent repression of social conflicts, when taken to extremes, are driving people away from urbanity. In situations of extreme destitution, the right to life that is dependant upon humanitarian action is the first stage in winning back the right to the city.
The dominant classes have always controled their living space. It has been their constant concern to preserve their living meeting and leisure places from any invasion from the dominated classes, at the cost of considerable investments. By social filtrering and by maintaining disparities, they have created specific territories for themselves, which defy the boundaries and rhythms of life of the great majority.
Social status inequalities have suddenly worsened in Russia since the end of the Soviet era. In the past few years, owners-hip of hight-quality housing has become a major sign of wealth. However, public control of the housing market introduced by recent reforms guarantees the right to housing for many low-income house-holds.
International experts have long used income indicators of financial resources as a basis for defining social poverty. The introduction of national, regional, or urban variables is reducing the relevance of models aggregated around economic values. Besides the increasing integration of cultural factors, scientific representations of poverty now converge towards contextualized, co-ordinated approaches to local exclusion processes.
The poverty issue in France is back at the forefront of the public scene after a century of social policies. Unskilled young people, homeless individuals and non-European Union immigrants are increasingly becoming the new poverty-stricken characters. Degraded cities, abandoned industrial zones and depopulated country towns are just the visible manifestations of widespread precarity that is challenging the selective mechanisms of urban production.
For the past two decades, economic liberalization in Argentina has resulted in mass unemployment of wage-earners, at increasingly high levels in the social scale. The recent wave of privatizations imposed by international financing bodies is ousting even the middle social strata from the "wage society". General bankruptcy is now giving rise to new urban social movements combining across-the-board claims and local solidarity.
Over and above pictures of wandering vagrants, urban movements of homeless individuals are bringing to light the somewhat heterogeneous nature of situations and itineraries. However links are becoming dimly perceptible between precarious pratices down town and on the outskirts of Marseille. Areas of erratic movements between transitional spaces and relief institutions reveal the city’s residual resources.
The large housing estates that were the pride of yesterday’s socially progressive urban planning are now a focus of representations of poverty with its accumulation of social handicaps. This about-turn has also been due to the municipalities of the former "red suburbs", such as those of Montreuil, analysed as an exemple. The change of face is explained not only by the pauperisation and ethnic labelling of large housing estates but also by the political necessity of controlling foreign immigrations and top-down broadening of sociology in the city.
In France, the increasingly influential middle classes fear an erosion in the quality of education through democratization and co-education policies. Their concern is not only for good standards but also for the school climate and the pupils’ development. Status differences are only equalled by the ambivalence in opinions. The gap between official policy and local pratices is increasing to the same degree.
Inner London has become a preferred place of residence of the new middle classes. Child education structures, artistic supply and good neighbourliness are key factors influencing the choice of lifestyle in the centre of the metropolis. Involvement in city matters and the propensity for social and ethnic mixing vary considerably from one district to another, depending on economic and cultural levels.
In the past twenty years, the need to make neighbourhoods safer has become one of the major urban phenomena in both North and South America. Protection against the new dangerous classes, too colours-skinned or too poor, is the obsession of their inhabitants. Far from reducing their fear of theft or aggression, life in these neighbourhoods seems rather to keep it alive on a daily basis, particularly when they have to go outside the protected confines.
The survey by the sociologist Harvey W. Zorbaugh is an exemple of an ethnographical study of local social life in Chicago in the late 1920s. It particularly shows the limits of attempts to achieve community organization of poor neighbourhoods by philantropic societies that have grown up in rich neighbourhoods. Sociologist from the Chicago School, who are "social disorganization" theorists, have broadened the reforming perspective to embrace the urban complex with its diversity of dynamics.