Urban neighborhoods are residential districts located in towns and cities. Researchers have found that their boundaries and size can be hard to determine. In general, most of the research on urban neighborhoods has been qualitative.
To a large extent, research in this field has been influenced by the Chicago school of sociology, which was marked by the work of sociologists at the University of Chicago and developed during the first half of the 20th century. It used methods like interviews and case studies to explore urban phenomena such as poverty and violence. The second half of the 20th century saw urban neighborhood studies focus on different types of segregation, based on race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.
Scientists have also sought to explore the impact of segregation. An area that has attracted much attention is the study of neighborhood effects, which measures the impact of the social contexts of neighborhoods on the behavioral norms and attitudes of residents. These factors have been blamed for the persistence of problems like crime, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy and dropping out of school. According to researchers, negative neighborhood effects are driven by three factors: teenage peer groups, inadequate adult role models and improper support from public institutions, including schools.
Urban neighborhoods can vary in their location regarding the city center, as some may be on the outskirts, while others are in the inner city. The early urban neighborhoods in the Western world were located within the cities, near industrial facilities, as employees had to live close to their workplace. The United States saw the sprawl of the neighborhoods toward the suburbs in the second half of the 20th century, due largely to the deindustrialization, which resulted in the closure of factories and massive job losses.
Urban poverty has become a common problem for many neighborhoods, with ghettos and slums experiencing this problem. US ghettos are defined as neighborhoods where at least 40 percent of residents are poor. This definition is in contrast to the common conception of ghettos as urban areas inhabited by ethnic minorities. In fact, many urban areas, such as Chicago's Bronzeville, have been inhabited by ethnic groups, although they were not ghettos as their residents were not poor.
From a historical perspective, ghetto is a legally sanctioned segregated area occupied by ethnic minorities. The term appeared in the 1200s, referring to separate neighborhoods for Jews in Italy, Germany and Portugal. Ghettos separated Jews from Christians and allowed them to practice their religious activities. The term derives from Italian "gettos" - iron foundries - as the first Jewish quarter in Venice was near to the city's foundries. Ghettos were barred in Italy in 1870 and were destroyed in the rest of Europe during the 19th century. The rise of Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) and Nazi Germany in the 20th century saw the return of Jewish ghettos in eastern European cities. Jews were locked within ghettos, left with limited food supplies and poor housing conditions.
Some of the biggest ghettos of the 21st century include Soweto in Johannesburg and KwaMashu in Durban. There are also ghettos in South Central Los Angeles, sections of Chicago and cities such as Flint, Michigan. In Brazil, a specific type of urban neighborhoods, called favelas has emerged. These neighborhoods take their name from Mount Favela, a point that had often figured in strategies during the Canudos expedition (1897). Favelas are usually located on steep hillsides or river lands, left vulnerable to a raft of environmental disasters. Not all of the favelas are characterized by high levels of poverty, but most of them include poorly constructed buildings, lack of official recognition and their residents are deprived of basic services like water supply. In this respect, favelas can be categorized as slums.
Slums are neglected urban areas that do not have basic municipal services, schools and healthcare centers, or places where people can meet and socialize. Slums are a global phenomenon but the problem is particularly acute in the developing world, where more than 300 million people live in appalling conditions. The largest slums include Neza-Chalco-Itza in Mexico City, Orangi Township in Karachi and Dharavi in Mumbai.
Many international organizations and activists have been engaged in upgrading slums. These programs provide a set of basic services including clean water supply, waste disposal, in addition to healthcare and education. Home improvement services are also provided. The key benefit of this approach is that living conditions in a neighborhood are improved without displacing the residents.