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Young adults and the city: suburbanisation, gentrification and their socio-spatial consequences (YAC)

Research project TA/00/01 (Research action TA)

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Over the last decades, a range of far-reaching socio-demographic processes have led to a large increase in the share of small-sized non-family households. In addition, lifestyles have been reshaped by rising individualism while new conditions of instability and precariousness have spread on the labour market. This set of processes has been particularly significant for young adults since it leads to extend and complicate the transition phase to adulthood, reshaping in turn patterns of residential mobility, housing careers, insertion on the labour market and modes of consumption of young adults in the urban environment.

The research starts from the hypothesis that these processes entail important restructuring of urban space, both in central neighbourhoods and suburban areas.
On the one hand, new conditions weighing on the transition to adulthood seem to bring about a reappraisal of the advantages of an inner city residence for young adults (e.g. in terms of housing types, use of services and consumption infrastructure, access to jobs opportunities), for a short- or long-term period. This materialises in processes of rejuvenation and gentrification.
On the other hand, patterns of suburbanization are being reshaped since households moving out of central cities towards the suburbs in the 1990s and 2000s differ from suburbanising households of the 1960s and 1970s (e.g. move towards more distant suburbs or rurbanization, decline of "old suburbs" facing both disinvestment by new suburbanites and out-migration of its ageing population). This set of processes affecting both central neighbourhoods and suburban areas is of particular importance as far as policies of urban regeneration and control of urban sprawl are concerned.

Firstly, changes in the composition of migrant households and in migratory patterns of different types of households over the last decades will be investigated. A special focus will be put on the 20-35 age group. The analysis will focus on the 17 Belgian urban regions and on central neighbourhoods in Brussels, Antwerp and Liege.

Secondly, the spatial strategies followed by young adults will be investigated in order to explore the balance made by different categories of young adults between moving to the suburbs or settling in central neighbourhoods with long-term perspectives. In this respect, semi-structured interviews with different groups of young adults in different types of space will be conducted. This part of the research will focus on Brussels as a case study.

Finally, results got in phases 1 and 2 will be compared to the evolutions of the housing and labour market, supply of services and structure of households in central and suburban areas in Brussels over the last decade. This will give depth for the elaboration of recommendations for policy-makers.

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