‘It is a myth that creating socially mixed neighborhoods helps the original residents.’

We are very happy to have Maarten van Ham giving a keynote speech at the ISHF Opening Event (Tue 13 June, 9:30-17:00 hrs) on the topic of segregation. Van Ham holds two chairs, he is a professor of geography at the University of St Andrews and a professor of urban renewal at TU Delft. He also was co-editor of ‘Socio-economic segregation in European capital cities’. We asked van Ham about his latest work and what we can expect from his keynote.

Can you tell us a little about you background?

 I was born in the Netherlands, and I currently live in the The Hague area. I studied human geography at Utrecht University, and that is also the place where I did my PhD. After my studies, I worked at the University of Amsterdam, Delft University of Technology, and Utrecht University. In 2006, I moved to the UK to work at the University of St Andrews. There I was co-director of the Centre for Housing Research, and in 2011 I was appointed to a full professorship. In the same year, I moved back to the Netherlands to take up a full professorship at Delft University of Technology.

You are co-editor of the pan European research project, ‘Segregation Europe’, about socio-economic segregation in European capital cities. Based on what you found, are European cities more alike or more different with regards to segregation in cities?

In general, we found that segregation in European cities has increased over the last 10 years. The poor and the wealthy are increasingly living apart, where the wealthy are living more segregated than the poor.

Despite this general pattern, we found large differences between cities. With a high level of segregation in Madrid and Tallinn and London, and very low levels in, for example, Oslo. Stockholm was one of the cities with the largest increase in segregation.

Differences in segregation can be explained by changes in the labour market, the structure of the housing market, (owner occupation of rental) and the type of welfare state.

At ISHF’s press conference in March 2017 , Amsterdam Alderman Laurens Ivens stated that segregation in Amsterdam was low because of the high percentage of social housing. Do you see a relation between the share of social housing of a city’s housing stock and segregation?

Yes definitely. The level of segregation by income is relatively low, but increasing in more recent years. Dutch cities are unique because they have a very high percentage of social housing compared to other countries. Also, in central parts of cities there is ample social housing, which means that people with low incomes can live in desirable neighborhoods. This is currently under pressure, however, as demand for housing is high and social landlords sell dwellings in central areas.

Recently phd researchers published dissertations stating that mixing socio-economic classes in neighborhoods turned out to be counterproductive. Poor people don’t necessarily benefit from rich neighbors. Should we stop mixing, or are there other ways to reduce spatial segregation?

It is a myth that creating socially mixed neighborhoods helps the original residents. Mixing might even lead to more conflict in neighborhoods. There are even signs that for young people from low income households it is not always better to live among higher income households. For the betterment of society, it is more advantageous to invest in education than to invest in mixed neighborhoods.

For some neighborhoods, however, a mixed housing strategy may be beneficial. When new, higher income households are introduced, it may improve the livability of the neighborhood.

You will give a key note lecture at the ISHF opening event and speak about why it is important to understand processes of segregation. Can you give us a glimpse of what we can expect?

Segregation is increasing in many cities. In Canada and many US cities, we see the urban center of cities becoming getting richer and the suburbs becoming poorer. This may lead to people of different social classes living very separated lives. It may also lead to segregation in schools, work, and leisure. This will reduce social cohesion and understanding of others. Segregation by income also often has an ethnic dimension. This means if income groups live segregated, many ethnic groups live segregated as well, as many ethnic minorities have lower incomes than the majority population. Although, interestingly, in larger cities, majority and minority populations are changing quickly. The main differences are now between the city centers, the ring around the center, and the suburbs.

What are you expecting of the International Social Housing Festival in general?
It is a unique event which spans many days and involves a lot of organizations. I expect the festival to bring together lots of people from all over Europe who share an interest in social housing.


More information about the ISHF Opening Event, Tuesday 13 June, 9:30-17:00 hrs can be found here.

Register here

Picture: Elodie Burrillon / Hucopix

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