DoIP Spotlight: Sahar Abdollahi

The impact of Urban Morphology on social and spatial segregation

In a monthly interview series, the Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity Initiative turns the spotlights on one of their PhD candidates. We learn more about their research projects, their link with inclusive prosperity and their long term goals. This edition features Sahar Abdollahi who studies urban segregation issues like income inequality, social and spatial exclusions, and residential segregation.

What is your research about?

My research argues about the issue of urban segregation from the urban planning perspective and morphological studies. The insight into the association of urban forms, class interactions, and spatial exclusion contributes to explore the features of the urban structure that impact the segregation processes. Recently, the issues of income inequality, social and spatial exclusions, and residential segregation have received substantial policy attention, and segregation as a prominent subject is becoming a serious concern for urban scholars and policymakers.
Urban segregation is an inherent feature of cities and becomes a problem when excluding or hindering certain groups from accessing services, activities, and spaces. Fundamentally, in the European context, the most important causes of socio-economic segregation are linked to social inequalities, differences in welfare states, and the unequal spatial distribution of social housing. Segregation is a multi-dimensional process, requiring a multidisciplinary approach. Relevant subject fields are ranging from human geography, urban planning, urban design, architecture, and sociology to cultural studies. Hence, it is inherently a complex and fundamentally spatial phenomenon. Therefore, segregation is considered a barrier to integration, social sustainability, economic growth, and public service efficacy. For this reason, my research aims to shed some light on how segregation can be produced in different urban morphologies and how a physical city can affect the process of social and spatial segregation. 

Research Project: The impact of Urban Morphology on social and spatial segregation in ancient cities of the Netherlands

How are you progressing so far and what are your main findings?

As a first-year Ph.D. candidate, I have conducted a study on the historical overview of low countries- the historical territory that today coincides with the Netherlands and Belgium with addition of Luxembourg and a large part of Northern France- their institutional arrangements, and urban governance in order to identify the association between morphological factors and socio-spatial segregation in the context of Low Countries. The main research question that I am trying to answer is “How and to what extent does urban morphology influence the social and spatial segregation in ancient cities of Netherlands?” Moreover, the research is expected to provide a recommendation for the government to strengthen the governance in urban policies and welfare states in order to witness lower levels of social and spatial segregations in the cities and more sustainable urban developments. Hence, the objective of my research is to contribute to the understanding of how urban development strategies and policies in the context of the Netherlands, Belgium, and France affect the structure of the cities that leads to social and spatial segregation in the early twenty-first century.  

In what way is your research project contributing to inclusive prosperity?

‘Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable is one of the fundamental goals of Sustainable Development of United Nations in 2015. With regards to sustainable development agendas, for the transition towards an inclusive society, it is necessary to provide equity and equality of opportunity for citizens to improve the quality of their life. The equity approach developed in urban planning implicates that urban amenities and workplaces must be equally available for everyone in a way that they receive a similar treatment, regardless of their income level, housing location, or ability to pay. Therefore, urban segregation is one of the factors that impede the realization of spatial justice at the metropolitan level; High levels of segregation in urban areas can exacerbate the concentration of poverty and the resulting deprivation, including lack of job opportunities, public services, and severe discrimination, which itself has consequences such as rising crime rates. As a result, my research will delve into the dynamics of social and spatial inclusion in European countries. My research aims to study the issues based on morphological perspectives specifically urban governance frameworks to open up a considerable debate on how the future cities should be built and what conditions and prospects for people with different resources and backgrounds should be created that leads to a more integrated and inclusive society. Therefore, the results of my research will be useful for those who attempt to anticipate the evolution of cities and their efforts to plan for these spaces. It is significant to plan and design cities that vulnerable social class would not exclude, isolated and marginalized from important urban services, amenities, and access to labor market. 

What is the added value in doing your PhD at the Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity Initiative?

My research is a multi-disciplinary study and considers the link between urban developments and inclusivity,  that fits well within the overall aim of DoIP, which is to contribute to the transition towards more inclusive cities. However, due to several negative impacts of segregation such as social isolation, low accessibility to amenities and services distributed by the government, difficulty accessing the labor market, the concentration of poverty, creating vulnerability and crime, and ultimately housing conditions, it is important to elaborate on the features of urban development that may impact the segregation of different social classes, income groups, ethnicities, and racial groups. In this regard, what is considered an inclusive city, is based upon a concept of inclusion with value creation that is a central idea of DoIP initiatives.
Thanks to my supervisor, promoter and co-promoter, doing my Ph.D. in both the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS) and the Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity Initiative (DoIP) provides me a good opportunity to benefit from excellent supervision and a great academic environment to improve my knowledge and experience in my research. These international and inclusive academic environments enhance my research and networking skills, creativity and innovation in order to achieve my career goals.

What are your ambitions for the future?

My ambition for the future is to pursue an academic career to have the opportunity to promote my knowledge and experience both in academia and in practice and contribute effectively to address contemporary societal challenges and enable as many people as possible to transition towards more inclusive prosperity.

PhD student

Sahar Abdollahi

More information

Promotor: Prof. Martin de Jong (ESL/RSM)
2nd- Promotor: Prof. Jurian Edelenbos (IHS/ESSB)
Co-Promoter: Dr. Jan Fransen (IHS)

Starting date of PhD: October 2020
Expected end date: October 2024

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