The role of the middle class in deprived urban neighbourhoods


Anouk Tersteeg and Gideon Bolt of Utrecht University discuss the role of the middle class in the policy on deprived urban neighbourhoods

Like in many other European countries, municipalities and housing corporations in the Netherlands have made concerted efforts to attract middle class residents to deprived urban neighbourhoods, amongst others because their presence is thought to help residents with a lower socioeconomic position here. Yet, our research shows that income groups in mixed income settings see each other in local public spaces but hardly meet, let alone develop positive relations. This is because they use different neighbourhood spaces. Higher income groups use facilities and services that are hardly accessible to lower income groups and spend less time in the neighbourhood (except for families with young children). In this sense, one might argue that it is higher income groups who participate poorly in everyday neighbourhood life in diverse, deprived urban neighbourhoods, rather than lower income groups, which urban policy often suggests. To counteract segregated social networks along lines of income, one way forward is to facilitate inclusive meeting spaces. Our research indicates that local schools, community centres and sports clubs are already key facilitators of social relations between diverse people, albeit mostly with a low income. It is in these spaces that policy makers should invest. If local schools, sports clubs and other community services and spaces that are accessible to low income groups offer a higher quality of products and services, this will also seduce higher income groups to use them.

Urban Environments in Amsterdam and Rotterdam

In our research in Amsterdam and Rotterdam we came across several spatial management practices that give precedence to the lifestyles of relatively privileged resident groups, (white) middle class households:

  • During a walk in the research area in Rotterdam, a civil servant of the Municipality of Rotterdam told that a particular part of the area was ‘getting better’. When asked what he meant by ‘better’, he explained that more middle class residents were moving in and there was an increase in facilities that cater to them (such as organic shops and coffee bars).
  • In another part of the research area a civil servant, a shopping street manager, explained that he was busy with attracting more ‘mainstream’ shops to a shopping street with many shops that cater to low income groups and migrants.
  • In IJburg, a neighbourhood in Amsterdam, owner-occupiers occupying public spaces in front of their houses with flowers, bikes and benches are accepted by the Municipality of Amsterdam, housing corporations and other owner-occupiers, however the same parties have been very successful in preventing minority ethnic residents (owner-occupiers and renters) from attaching an antenna dish to the private space of their house.
  • In the researched estate in IJburg owner-occupiers and the housing corporation have implemented logs in the shared yard to prevent the children of renters from playing here.

Inclusive shared spaces

In our view it is very important that the shared spaces – public, semi-public or private – highly diverse contexts are managed in an inclusive way. Positive experiences of differences cannot develop when resident groups are not on an equal footing. Highly diverse contexts require inclusive management practices. That is, practices that acknowledge, listen to and accommodate as much as possible the multiplicity of needs of residents, also those of minorities and low income groups. Neighbourhood professionals (such as civil servants and professionals of housing corporations) can only do this when they move beyond the privileged treatment of (white) middle class households.


Dr. Anouk Tersteeg

Dr. Gideon Bolt

Faculty of Geosciences – Utrecht University

Tel: +31 30 253 1399

Further reading can be found here. 


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here