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The inner city is the central area of a major city or metropolis. In the United Statesmarker, Canadamarker, United Kingdommarker and Irelandmarker, the term is often applied to the poorer parts of the city centre and is sometimes used as a euphemism with the connotation of being an area, perhaps a ghetto or slum, where residents are less educated and more impoverished and where there is more crime. Sociologists in these countries sometimes turn this euphemism into a formal designation, applying the term "inner city" to such residential areas rather than to geographically more central commercial districts.

Such connotations are less common in other countries, where deprived areas may be located in outlying parts of cities. For instance, in Viennamarker, Moscowmarker, Sydneymarker or Amsterdammarker, the inner city is the most prosperous part of the metropolis, where housing is the most expensive, and where elites and high-income individuals dwell. Poverty and crime are more associated with the distant suburbs. The Spanish and French words for "suburb" (suburbio and banlieue respectively) often have a negative connotation similar to that of the English term "inner city", especially when used in the plural.

The peculiar American sociological usage is rooted in the middle 20th century. When automobiles became affordable in the United States and forced busing ensued, many middle and high-income residents, who were mostly white, moved to suburbs to have larger lots and houses, and less crime and diversity. The loss of population and affluent taxpayers caused many inner city communities to fall into urban decay. Late in the century, many such areas underwent gentrification, especially in the Northeast and West coast, depriving them of the "inner city" label despite their unchanged location.

Regardless of their degree of prosperity, city areas that are literally more central tend to have higher population densities than outer suburbs, with more of the population living inside multi-floored townhouses and apartment buildings.

Old and new

A rival contemporary North American movement is that of New Urbanism, which calls for a return to traditional city planning methods. Those methods provided for mixed-use zoning that allowed people to walk from one kind of land-use to another, as was done before the invention of mass transit and zoning. The movement seeks to have housing, shopping, office space, and leisure facilities (sometimes even light industry) located within walking distance of each other, thus reducing the demand for roadways and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of mass transit.

The thriving of "old urbanism" in inner cities, in which prosperous individuals and families move into formerly poor neighborhoods, is known as gentrification.

Further reading

Harrison, P. (1985) Inside the Inner City: Life Under the Cutting Edge. Penguin: Harmondsworth. This book takes Hackneymarker, Londonmarker as a case study of inner city urban deprivation.

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