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Economic growth and social cohesion in cities (GROSE)

Research project TA/00/26 (Research action TA)

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Description :

The project GROSE (growth and social exclusion) intends to study the complex relationship between economic growth and social inequalities in urban areas, the existing political responses to this question and possible alternatives.

Even though metropolitan areas have recently recovered economic growth rates higher than their national average, after decades of relative stagnation or depression, this growth has generally not produced the expected positive social effects, especially in the deprived urban areas.

To explain this dual process, some make the hypothesis that it is a structural trend caused by the new metropolitan growth, based on the knowledge economy. This type of economy has a growing demand in highly skilled and technical sectors which are not adapted to the characteristics of parts of the local labour markets. At the same time, for the low-skilled part of the production process, the growing competition and flexible organization of the work produces more and more precarious working conditions. In consequence, in urban areas where low-skilled workers are numerous, the socio-economic situation of an important part of the population is declining, whereas economic indicators are generally positive, thus leading to increasing social polarization.

Through real estate constraints, this polarization may reinforce the socio-spatial inequalities in the city, for example by the increasing prices of properties in the wealthiest neighbourhoods or in some gentrified districts. In return, the growing gaps between neighbourhoods in the city could increase the difficulty of insertion of the inhabitants of the poorer areas into the formal labour market. The process is further reinforced when the urban political authorities invest in the attractiveness of the city for high-skilled services companies (city-marketing, flagships, etc.) to the detriment of social policies.

Alternative answers to top-down development should be considered as credible, for example the development of new employment niches (proximity services, retail trade, cultural industries…).

Our main objective is then to investigate these processes at the scale of the five major cities in Belgium (Brussels, Antwerp, Liege, Ghent and Charleroi), in a comparative perspective. We can split these general objectives into different major research steps as follows:

1- to demonstrate the relevance of the metropolisation process from an empirical perspective;
2 - to investigate the new forms of growth and their impact on the social polarization in the city, focusing on the types of jobs created in the knowledge-based economy in those urban areas ;
3 - to show the global and specific relation between new forms of economic growth and socio-spatial polarisation within cities. On the one hand, we will test if the growing social polarization, related to the new metropolitan growth, produces a growing spatial polarization. On the other hand, we will test if those inequalities between neighbourhoods may reinforce the social difficulties of the population of the more deprived neighbourhoods, through discrimination mechanisms;
4 - to evaluate existing economic policies, in order to estimate the types of jobs promoted by public authorities;
5 - to think about alternative policies of urban development, especially what we could call “bottom-up development” with social cohesion as the main objective.

Our research will combine a quantitative approach, based on the study of the inadequacy between the evolution of employment and jobseekers’ profile and of socio-spatial changes, with a more qualitative approach, including the analysis of urban policies in these areas and the exploration of alternatives by means of field studies of employment niches.

The added-value of this research could be significant, both in the scientific knowledge point of view, providing new elements in an issue that is only partially treated by the scientific literature, and from a political point of view, providing empirical results at the Belgian scale, a critical analysis of the current employment policies and proposals for alternative policies.

Documentation :

Economische groei en sociale cohesie in de stad: synthese    Brussel : Federaal Wetenschapsbeleid, 2011 (SP2246)
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Economic growth and social cohesion in cities: summary    Brussels : Belgian Science Policy, 2011 (SP2247)
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Croissance économique et cohésion sociale dans la ville : synthèse    Bruxelles : Politique scientifique fédérale, 2011 (SP2248)
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