Research

The Patchwork Metropolis

The Morphology of Crosscutting Urban-Suburban Class Divides

Abstract: This research examines the new divides and changing structure of the modern city and metropolis. Ever since the classic Chicago School models of urban form, the metropolis has been conceived as divided by affluent suburbs surrounding a less advantaged core. More recently, the concept of a great inversion has been advanced to capture the return of more advantaged groups to the urban center and the outward shift of poverty and disadvantage to the suburbs. To gain insight into the actual changes in urban and metropolitan form, we map the locations of three major classes — the growing ranks of knowledge workers and professionals who make up the creative class, the declining blue collar working class and the rapidly rising low-wage class of service workers in routine jobs like food preparation, and clerical work — across a dozen of America’s largest metro areas and their core cities. We find a new pattern of class division and urban form that we refer to as the patchwork metropolis, where class divides cut across city and suburb alike. These divides are conditioned by the location of the advantaged creative class which occupies and clusters around the most functional and desirable areas of the metropolis — close to the urban core, around transit, near knowledge institutions and along areas of natural amenities. The less advantaged classes are shunted into the spaces left over or in between — either traditionally disadvantaged areas of the inner city or the far fringes of the suburban and ex-urban periphery.

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