Week 3: City Structure

Mar 28, 2021

Welcome back everyone! This past week, I researched how city structure affects social mobility.

The future of America’s social mobility lies in our metropolitan cities. The problem is many of the “big” cities across the country are highly economically segregated. Cities that are more economically segregated tend to have lower mobility rates. This may make sense intuitively, but let’s dive into the specifics.

Image from US Census Bureau and Business Insider


One city that I believe would be easy for us to understand is DC, since many of us have probably been there on numerous occasions given its distance from where we live. According to Business Insider, the eastern and southern side of DC is very low-income, whereas the northern and western sides of DC are more high-income. Many of the DC landmarks, including universities and sports venues, are located in the Northwest quadrant, which is predominantly white. On the eastern side, many neighborhoods have a median household income of lower than $50,000, less than 50% of the median household income of the DC Metro area ($100,732).

It is unfortunate that even the single neighborhood you grow up in can determine your future via your education. According to the DC Public School System records, many of the high schools in the Southeast region are considered as “low-performing schools”, but some of the best schools in the area are in the Northwest quadrant. In addition to this, economically disadvantaged areas tend to have more violence and less of an opportunity for social networking. With poor neighborhoods comes gentrification, which prevents low-income families from moving into affordable housing after more wealthy families move into and revamp the neighborhood the low-income families used to live in.

So how can we fix this problem? At an event with Brookings.edu, Professor Raj Chetty suggested six ideas. Target housing vouchers more effectively, build public housing in low-poverty areas, reform exclusionary zoning laws, better enforce fair housing rules, invest in infrastructure, and promote school choice. As a near adult and college student, infrastructure improvements and school choice are important for other students. If the high-paying jobs are in the wealthy areas, but low-income families have to live in neighborhoods far away from those jobs without being able to pay for transportation, how do we expect low-income families to work those jobs? If all the good schools in a city are in the wealthy areas, how are students from low-income families supposed to succeed academically. One way that we can improve this is by creating more charter schools in low-income neighborhoods. This allows for these students to gain a high-level education without their parents having to spend a penny.

If you are just as curious as I am about this, you can check out MIT’s Atlas of Inequality! This is a project that tracks inequality in cities based on the places people visit and it allowed me to see city segregation in a way I never thought of before. See you next week!

3 Replies to “Week 3: City Structure”

  1. Eric M. says:

    Well researched! But did you come across any counter-evidence/arguments in your research? And how would you respond to those? I’m just thinking that if it really were this clear cut, that we would already be implementing a solution. Unless there’s a reason why not for that too?

    1. Neel D. says:

      I actually didn’t come across any counter-arguments in my research. I’m with you, I don’t really understand why there isn’t a solution for this. I think we have to face the harsh reality that resources in America can be limited to those who can afford them, in this case education. It seems hypocritical that I am saying this as a private school student who is only able to do this project because I go to BASIS, but I went to public school, so I have seen the problems first hand. According to the NCES, the U.S spent $739 billion, or $14, 439 per public school student on elementary and secondary education, which makes up 3.5% of the U.S’s GDP. I believe an increased spending on education can solve this problem, but that’s for politicians to decide. Hopefully I can talk to an expert in education or even a politician to learn about what and how policies could be implemented to improve our educational systems.

  2. Mr. Loomis says:

    Yes, I agree it is sad that where a person just happens to be born and grows up has a huge effect on that person’s ability to obtain a proper education.

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