Why The East Sides of Cities Are Poorer Than The West

November 14, 2018

In cosmopolitan hubs like London, Paris, and Glasgow, the east side of town contains the poorer neighborhood. But the pattern holds true in Toronto, Casablanca, and Helsinki, too, even if each place has a distinct history and shape. Economists from the University of Bristol and the University of St. Andrews tested one of the more popular explanations for this pattern by modeling 71 British cities as they existed in 1880 -- and precisely recreating air movements, topography, and the location of 5,000 industrial chimneys, Cheddar investigates the research and explores this urban phenomenon.


FEMALE_1: Check out this map of Helsinki.

FEMALE_1: The grey shaded area is home to

FEMALE_1: the city's more economically deprived neighborhoods.

FEMALE_1: Now, here's Paris and London and Manchester, same story.

FEMALE_1: A trio of economists set out to test their theory.

FEMALE_1: Why do so many cities have poor east sides?

FEMALE_1: [MUSIC] These researchers modeled

FEMALE_1: 70 English cities as they would have existed in 1880,

FEMALE_1: during the height of the industrial revolution.

FEMALE_1: To build their model of each city,

FEMALE_1: they started with detailed maps made by

FEMALE_1: Victorian-era surveyors who were very thorough.

FEMALE_1: The economists used those maps to

FEMALE_1: locate each industrial chimney within a given city.

FEMALE_1: Once they had located all of these chimneys,

FEMALE_1: 5,000 of them in all,

FEMALE_1: they used a cutting-edge

FEMALE_1: atmospheric dispersion modeling system

FEMALE_1: to tell them literally which way the wind was

FEMALE_1: blowing in 1880 and how the smoke from

FEMALE_1: those chimneys would be

FEMALE_1: dispersed throughout a given city.

FEMALE_1: [MUSIC] The pollution from those chimneys was no joke.

FEMALE_1: There were hundreds of industrial chimneys in a city like

FEMALE_1: Manchester pumping black coal smoke into the air.

FEMALE_1: An observer at the time compared

FEMALE_1: Manchester to an active volcano.

FEMALE_1: The researchers found a strong correlation

FEMALE_1: between air pollution

FEMALE_1: and low-skilled workers in a given neighborhood in 1881.


FEMALE_1: Those who could afford it moved away from the sootiest,

FEMALE_1: most polluted neighborhoods leaving

FEMALE_1: behind a lower-income population.

FEMALE_1: But why were

FEMALE_1: those polluted neighborhoods always in the east?

FEMALE_1: That's because the middle latitudes,

FEMALE_1: where most cities are located,

FEMALE_1: have westerly prevailing winds,

FEMALE_1: meaning they blow to the east

FEMALE_1: carrying that air pollution with them.

FEMALE_1: The economists also looked at whether the pattern of

FEMALE_1: poor east sides existed before the Industrial Revolution.

FEMALE_1: When they looked at the neighborhood makeup for

FEMALE_1: these same cities before the rise in coal use,

FEMALE_1: the pattern of poor east sides wasn't there.

FEMALE_1: They also ran the models to see what happened after

FEMALE_1: the 1968 passage of England's Clean Air Act.

FEMALE_1: For the most part, the effect

FEMALE_1: eased up as the pollution did,

FEMALE_1: except in areas where it had been really polluted.

FEMALE_1: Once pollution levels passed a certain tipping point,

FEMALE_1: the neighborhood tended to remain

FEMALE_1: deprived even after pollution declined.

FEMALE_1: This isn't to say that this is the one theory to

FEMALE_1: rule them all when it comes

FEMALE_1: to how cities grow and develop,

FEMALE_1: but if you're looking at

FEMALE_1: the socio-economic distribution of

FEMALE_1: a formerly industrial city in the middle latitudes,

FEMALE_1: this might be your answer.

MALE_1: Slag heaps and smoke.

MALE_1: Soot upon the fields.

MALE_1: Forests of chimney stacks.

MALE_1: In 150 years, we have changed the face of Britain.

MALE_1: We have changed it forever.

FEMALE_1: The others point out that their results

FEMALE_1: are helpful to keep in mind for

FEMALE_1: policy-makers and planners in

FEMALE_1: rapidly developing places like China.

FEMALE_1: As their study shows,

FEMALE_1: even a temporary environmental disadvantage can have

FEMALE_1: lasting effects on a neighborhood

FEMALE_1: and the people who live there.

FEMALE_1: For you and me, it's just cool to know

FEMALE_1: that part of the reason things are the way they are

FEMALE_1: today can be chalked up to something as seemingly

FEMALE_1: unrelated as which way the wind

FEMALE_1: was blowing over 100 years ago.