Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Why are the east of cities usually poorer? (thejanuarist.com)
260 points by spxdcz 2751 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 99 comments

Yep, it's similar over here in Hong Kong too, though a bit more complicated and the directions are different. When you go up north of the Kowloon Peninsula into the mountains, there's a lot of commuter towns built in valleys, where you can find surprisingly cheap housing. Now, the thing about valleys is, wind direction depends on time of day. In the daytime, the sides of the valley get hotter than the centre, so winds blow out of the valley, making the air nice and clean --- but no one's home to enjoy it because they're all off at their jobs in other districts. And at nighttime when the sides of the valley cool faster than the centre, winds blow down into the valley. Just in time for the people coming home to enjoy everyone else's pollution, PLUS whatever they generate locally. Car exhaust is one obvious source, but cooking exhaust is a surprisingly big problem too --- you'd never think of it until you live in a place full of 50-story apartments, closely packed together, where everyone comes home at about the same time and cooks up a stir-fry for dinner.

Conversely, the most expensive houses (aside from the ones up on hilltops with nice views) are generally on the south of the main island. You've got mountains to your north and the ocean to your south. So in the summer, when prevailing winds come from the south, you get a clean ocean breeze. In the winter, when prevailing winds come from the north, you get all of mainland China's factory pollution plus all of Hong Kong's car and power plant exhaust blowing in your direction --- but you're protected by the mountains, so most of it goes around you and blows out to sea.

1 day out of 7 I might be able to see out my window for more than a mile here whether its winter or summer and I'm on the main island looking north. Now I'm not sure if it's the China pollution or general smog which every major city suffers from?

Must be China.

53% of the time, Hong Kong-based sources of pollution are to blame. Primarily cars idling in traffic, boats (which don't have to use low-sulphur fuel), and CLP's filthy power plants (which are worse than some in Shenzhen and Dongguan)


Just saying that I haven't noticed smog as a rule in other big cities. But I have never been to megacities, I am talking about London or Berlin when I say big cities.

cooking exhaust is a surprisingly big problem too --- you'd never think of it until you live in a place full of 50-story apartments

I was in HK only once, for three days, so my experience is extremely limited. But it was my understanding that the local culture doesn't do a lot of cooking in the home, they generally eat out. The one apartment that I saw didn't even have a real kitchen.

Short and to the point, lacking any kind of fluff. Very refreshing.

Almost every other article of this kind is so incredibly long that it feels like a game of "spot the explanation".

Thanks. (I wrote it!)

Ooh! I have a question. Do you know what the situation is in Seattle? Is it so odd, with water separating cities and neighborhoods, impacting traffic, and a corporate empire in the eastern part, that it's hard to make out? Would it have been easier to see the situation you describe decades ago?

Seattle's interesting. The traditionally more-affordable and more-diverse neighborhoods have been rapidly gentrifying, and are—for the most part—pushing minorities north and south.

I just found this interesting (and hideously formatted) PPT deck from the University of Washington that explores the topic further: http://faculty.washington.edu/morrill/papers/Gentrify.ppt

It makes me sad when someone does this much work but fails at the final hurdle to get the point across :(


Seeing that he's a Professor Emeritus and 76 [1], I'm willing to cut him some slack :)

He definitely compiled some very useful data. I'd argue that the tool failed; he didn't fail the tool.

[1] D.O.B. 1934 per http://faculty.washington.edu/morrill/

edit: funny, I just realized I only live about two miles from the PPT deck's author.

As a Brit-in-the-US, I don't know that much about the history of US city growth (sorry!). From a quick Google, it seems Seattle has a potted history of urban planning, with perhaps a greater focus on beautification/planning than many similar cities: http://www.seattle.gov/planningcommission/docs/Introduction%...

Probably not - Seattle wasn't settled until the Industrial Revolution was effectively over, so I'm not sure this article applies. Its early industries were timber and coal exporting, and supplying the Klondike gold rush. Manufacturing, and the air quality problems it creates, didn't really hit until WWII.

Views seem to be a powerful anchor for property values, to start with. Which is why you get dicier areas like the Rainier Valley, and multi-million-dollar homes just over the hill on either side.

I would appreciate some evidence for whether that is actually true. Chicago and Milwaukee are both examples in the midwest for which that is not true - the east side is the nicest, very valuable waterfront property.

In Santiago, Chile, the East side is richer. I thought this was an exception to the rule until I realised that in the Southern hemisphere the winds are Easterlies!

Here in Brazil Rio has a richer southern zone and a poorer northern and western zones. São Paulo has a tiny rich western zone and a large and much poorer eastern zone. I think that both are exceptions.

Actually it isn't being south of the equator. In general (there are variations), between 30 degrees and the equator, both north and south, prevailing winds are easterlies; between 30 and 60 degrees, they are westerlies; then above 60 degrees they are generally easterly again.

Same here (Montevideo, Uruguay) - the eastern part has the most expensive neighbourhoods (also, the south part of the city is more expensive than the north, but that's because the southern part is the waterfront).

Another interesting thing is that the hill to the west of downtown, which should be the most expensive part of the city if it followed some European city pattern (it has a beautiful view, and even a golf course), is actually one of the poorest (same for Río de Janeiro, which has the "favelas" in the hills IIRC).

In Australia, where the prevailing winds are also westerlies, the opposite is true. i.e. the east of most cities is more prestigious than the west.

True for Sydney, false for Brisbane. In Sydney it's because East means harbour and/or beach. In Brisbane east is flat industrial wetlands, West is hilly with views/breezes, with the exception of Clayfied/Hamilton/Ascot. However, if you travel further west towards the city fringes, this reverses quite quickly. I'd say on balance true for Melbourne, but I'm not enough of an expert to say for sure.

Generally I would say that the desirability of certain areas comes down to : - topography (low, hot bad, hilly, views, breezes good) - orientation : people (in general) like to live on or near the water, assuming the water is clean. Areas that face into hot sun are less desirable. - history : sometimes older parts of cities have bigger houses and land, and are more established.

Melbourne's western suburbs are definitely regarded as less desirable than the eastern suburbs.

Historically (in the 1880s), the western suburbs were where the working class lived, and where heavy industry was located.

Today, the majority of the wealthy suburbs are still east of the city - Toorak, Camberwell, Kew, Hawthorn etc.

The History of Western Civilization, by TISM:


That's funny. I actually have a relative who was in TISM. Some of their better work.

I also have a friend who never liked them, because in one of their songs they list everyone they hate, and it includes 'anyone called Trevor' : this is my friends name.

TISM : the original acquired taste.

Except in WA, where many prestigious suburbs are in the West (Peppermint Grove, etc), and Adelaide where they are distributed around the center (North Adelaide to the North, Unley Park & Springfield to the South, as well as some in the East).

I think that in Australian cities factors other than wind direction have a larger influence.

Adelaide is a big exception, since it is bordered on the west by the ocean, and the east by the hills. All the prestigious suburbs are around the city, with the North and South regions having the worst places. The most prestigious places are to the south and east, then north, and lastly west.

Sydney, the further west you go, the worse it gets. The population center of Sydney is actually 10km west of the city. Pretty much all the nice suburbs are either East, or North.

That's because the West is further inland, away from the cooling ocean breeze, and gets bloody hot compared to the city.

Out of interest, is that typical on both coasts? Just wondering if the river direction has anything to do with it.

On the east coast it tends to be true. As others have mentioned it might not hold on the west coast. I just wanted to give a counterexample that shows how shallow the OP's argument is. The reality is that there are many factors which make certain parts of a city more desirable to live in than another. In Australia proximity to the beach is strongly correlated with desirability. In other places the reasons will differ. Whatever the reason, I don't believe for a second this oversimplified fairy tale about the prevailing wind.

Whatever the reason, I don't believe for a second this oversimplified fairy tale about the prevailing wind.

Agreed. Here (Twin Cities of Minnesota) the location of lakes and rivers has much more to do with what areas are the wealthiest. The wealthiest towns are west or southwest of Minneapolis, terribly located for prevailing winds or for commuting without the sun in drivers' eyes.

I don't know about Perth, but it's definitely true in Sydney (Ocean on the east) and Melbourne (Ocean on the south).

Access to the surf is definitely a big factor in Oz cities. Also many of the cities started as coastal settlements, so the older parts of the city tend to be closest to the coast (and they tend to be the richer bits??).

In Brisbane much of the east of the city is taken up by port and airport, so not such a desirable area.

It's better to live in the east since you don't have to look at the sun on your commute.

I used to live on the north east side of Edinburgh and commute by bicycle to a location on the south west side of the city (Riccarton campus) - this was great as it was up hill and into the prevailing wind in the morning and down hill and wind behind you at night.

Nice reasoning. (Though only applicable to 'newer' cities, or at least more recent expansion of cities).

Also only to people that commute at rush hour +/- and into/out of the city.

Which for smaller cities is most people

Assuming you drive in a western direction to get to work, sure.

I go directly north.

Actually in most of the major US cities, the south side is bad. For example, SE DC, south side Chicago, south-central LA

Curiously, the "east side" of Chicago is where the wealthy people live, largely because that's where the lakefront is. For Chicago, in very rough terms, poor people live in the south and west, rich people in the north and east.

Missing from the article, it seemed to me, is evidence of the claim that the east side is generally poorer. I mean, that seems to jive with my anecdotal experience and the explanation for the phenomenon makes intuitive sense, but is there any hard evidence for this statement?

The lakefront on the south side is much further east than in the north side. Once you get into those southern shore areas it does get significantly poorer. I'm not sure of it still would fit in win his point because of the layou but it's something to consider.

While technically true (although Hyde Park/Kenwood, home of the US's current first family is part of that south side as well), I think that misses the point. If anything, the south side of Chicago is a more specific counter-point to the claim since the south-west side generally poorer than the south-east side.

Here's a 1999 map of median per capita income by census track: http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/su/maps/percapitaincomecity199...

Note that Chicago proper is outlined in bold. While the southern shore is poorer and more easterly than the south loop/downtown/north shore areas, I think you'd be hard pressed to argue that the east side of Chicago is poorer than the west.

Also of note, the north and east is not only where the rich people in Chicago live, it is simply where the people in Chicago live. I wasn't able to find a raw population distribution map, but here's one showing multi-unit vs. single family homes: http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/su/maps/dwellingtypescity2000....

(FWIW, I lived on Chicago's south east side for ~15 years. Depending on what you are looking for it is one of the best and most unappreciated areas of the city.)

Interesting. Applies to Boston too - to the north are the rapidly gentrifying yuppie suburbs of Cambridge, Somerville and Medford, while to the south are the more depressed areas of Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan.

Same for the non-San Jose parts of Silicon Valley: Palo Alto and Mountain View are ritzier than neighboring Sunnyvale and Santa Clara. I don't know enough about San Jose itself to say, nor about San Francisco. In SF, though, it seems like many of the ritzier areas (Pac Heights, Marina, Marin) are to the north.

NYC is a notable exception: Harlem and the Bronx are in the north, while SoHo, Tribeca, Greenwich Village, etc. are all in the south.

The difference between Mountain View and Sunnyvale is negligible in comparison with the difference between Palo Alto and East Palo Alto though.

San Francisco shows both trends -- South San Francisco is poorer, and so is Oakland to the East (although there are lots of other non-weather-related reasons for Oakland).

I've never understood why South San Francisco is quite so neglected while commuter cities like Redwood City do so well. It's literally the next-closest town, why is it not super-expensive there?

Are we talking about southern San Francisco (Bayview-Hunters Point, Visitacion Valley, etc.) or South San Francisco?

For the neighborhoods of southern San Francisco, you are looking at historically highly industrialized areas. White collar workers didn't want to be there and ended in San Mateo County.

For South San Francisco, I disagree on it being neglected. Sure it isn't as rich as Redwood City, but it is a far cry from say East Palo Alto or Richmond. (You can also note the many luxury apartments and high-end office buildings popping up). Like southern San Francisco, it historically was hurt by being, as the San Bruno Mountain sign reminds everyone, the industrial city.

The fog

Not necessarily true about NYC. Pre mass-transit, wealthy citizens of Manhattan vacationed on the northern part of the island. During the early 20th century, as the subway system and metro-north were developed, these same people migrated to the north, or what is now referred to as Westchester.

While westerlies may have caused dislocation during a certain time period, most major cities have experienced other events which have also had a significant impact on their demography.

The interesting thing about NYC is that Manhattan is not aligned perfectly North-South; it's actually oriented about 30° to the east from the meridian.

In other words, the most northern parts of the island are also the most eastern, so it currently fits the pattern quite well.

Should say easterlies, not westerlies. Sorry about the double post; went over my HN limit for the day.

Not necessarily true about NYC. Pre mass-transit, wealthy citizens of Manhattan vacationed on the northern part of the island. During the early 20th century, as the subway system and metro-north were developed, these same people migrated to the north, or what is now referred to as Westchester.

While easterlies may have caused dislocation during a certain time period, most major cities have experienced other events which have also had a significant impact on their demography.

And New Jersey to the west

Saratoga, Campbell and Los Gatos are in the south of San Jose and Silicon Valley. Hardly poor areas. The poorer areas are East-Palto Alto, which is not south and has nothing to do with prevailing winds. This has basically turned into attempting to find patterns in television static.

I don't know about DC and LA(though I wonder if both have developed recently enough that the effect would be negated) but in Chicago the souh side is the furthest east (due to lake michigan) and the suburbs to the east of the city aren't exactly wealthy either.

South Los Angeles is a poor region of greater Los Angeles. There is more crime and unrest there. One historical example: it was the location of the LA Riot back in '92(?).

South LA is about 20 minutes from the ocean, by car. I would generalize that any part of Los Angeles that's further than 15 minutes from the ocean or the mountains (there are several mountain ranges to choose from) is relatively poor.

I think for Chicago it is less about "developing recently enough that the effect would be negated" and more about Burnham's "forever free and clear" plan for the lakefront (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burnham_Plan) which, unlike many cities, kept the waterfront from becoming industrialized.

This is true in most cities. Charlotte is the only major city I know of that has the south side of town as its most desirable area.

Tulsa, OK has this property as well. Also, West and North Tulsa are where the poor whites and blacks live respectively.

San Jose as well (Almaden).

There's an interesting discussion (and some suggestions) about the North/South divide here: http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=1126279

My guess is that it's just a coincidence. The south side of Chicago is not intrinsically undesirable. There is a lot of open space, there is good public transportation, and there are a lot of beautiful historical buildings. There just happens to be a lot of crime, which pushes the affluent out, who have enough money to not have to deal with that problem. (Of course, there is Chinatown, Bridgeport, and Hyde Park, which are generally fine neighborhoods. The President of the United States lives on the South Side...)

West Philadelphia born and raised?

The article would be much stronger if there was some quantitative backing of the assertion that east sides are poorer.

East Philadelphia is also known as Camden, NJ, but I don't think that means anything. West Philadelphia was originally a middle and upper class community, before its decline in the second half of the 20th century. If you ride the el through it, you can see some fine office buildings from the era, and you can see the history in the architecture of the rowhouses, too.

Well here's an extra data point: It's definitely true of Montreal. The poor live in the north and east ends whereas the rich live in the "West Island" (the west side of the island where all the suburbs are) and Westmount (which is roughly the west/southwest side of Mount Royal).

Most of the majorly polluting industry is just off the east side of downtown Montreal.

In my country => Uruguay is the other way round.. east part of the cities is the richest one.. but i believe it's related with the coast line and the ocean :)

Sorry, hadn't seen your reply, posted the same :)

(OT: more than 1 Uruguayans on HN, on the same thread? Nicolas Jodal pointed me towards here, you?)

Just and old time lurker, recently started commenting here..

Ok, nice to see you here (sorry for even more OT).

As others have pointed out, in the southern hemisphere, the prevaling winds are easterlies.

This is not true for Manhattan. The upper west side has seen quite a renaissance lately, but it is nowhere near the upper east side in terms of price.

Saying 'east' is an oversimplification, but generally the prevailing wind theory seems to hold up. Atlanta, for instance, the wind is SSE, with the richer areas being in the north. It doesn't really explain how the west is poorer than the east, however.

While it's hard to know if the distribution of any given city is the result of this trend, St. Louis is certainly a great example - East St. Louis is tied with Opa-Locka, FL as the most dangerous city in the United States.

Never heard of Opa-Locka. What's so dangerous about it?


Any special kind? Wikipedia doesn't tell me much, and from the map it looks like it could just be a high-crime corner of Miami which has the misfortune of being a town of its own.

East-blowing pollution was a huge problem in early industrial London, where many American settlers came from. Whether or not there was a pollution problem where they later built cities, the meme of west=fancy, east=working class was ingrained. Certainly in places like East Palo Alto, the problem is not being downwind of something. It's just that the name "East" is a self-fulfilling prediction of being worse. It only takes a tiny nudge to tip the economic divide towards one side of town or the other.

Rochester NY, a city with a strong industrial history, is yet another anecdotal counterexample. The very finest houses are in fact directly east from the city center (the Kodak mansion, for example), and in general the nicest neighborhoods are to the east and southeast. To the north and east of the city are the poorer, generally more dangerous areas. Of course as you start to get far enough from the city center to the north and west you'll see the wealthier neighborhoods again.

Salt lake is a bit different the east bench along the mountains is much more expensive. These areas are also much older. Things get cheaper the further west you go.

It seemed true in Washington DC. Northwest DC (Georgetown, tourist spots, etc) was considered better than Southeast DC - albeit recent real estate developments in the past couple years. Same thing with East Palo Alto although there has been some major improvement happening in that area. Can't be true for all though.

This effect seems to be the opposite in Austin. If I'm interpreting the map correctly, the winds blow SW, and most of the affluent/rich areas are out there. The counterpoint is that west austin has more geographical features such as hills, lakes and rivers to offset it.

The east side of Austin is the poorer side of town. That seems to support the assertion of the article.

Are there any maps that plot mean/median income levels across different regions of large cities?

I always thought the western side of most cities was poorer as a result of having to look into the sun each way on a commute.

The concept of a commute wouldn't have been around in medieval times when many European cities were founded. Or even when American cities were born. People who lived in cities tended to work there, and rural communities worked the land. The concept of satellite towns is a recent phenomenon.

Which neighborhoods are considered poor has changed drastically over time in most American cities that I'm aware of.

Interesting. It's kinda true for Tokyo too, though probably due to historical reasons, not just polluted winds.

In China, the opposite. Coastal cities (in the east) are usually richer.

The OP was discussing the east side of cities, not cities on the east side of the country.

The high-speed railway network being created across China reduces travel times so much it's often quicker to go between cities than between two places within one city, e.g. only 30 minutes Beijing to Tianjin, or 3 hours Wuhan to Guangzhou, one section of which is now the fastest railway line in the world. Perhaps soon all of mainland China could be considered as one city.

I can't speak for the other cities, but East Beijing actually is much wealthier than West Beijing.

random link dump: Beijing air pollution statistics by district http://www.bjepb.gov.cn/air2008/Air.aspx

Yes, you are right :)

The article's referring to wealth distribution within a city, not wealth distributions between cities within the country.

Stockholm (capital of Sweden) seems to be an exception to this.

this is certainly the case in Houston- the east side is all industrial/chemical/refineries...

counterexample: Louisvile, KY

Maybe because the city underwent a massive transition post Industrial Revolution? "In late January and February 1937, 19 inches (48 cm) of rain fell during a month of heavy rain. It caused the "Great Flood of '37".[23][24] The flood submerged about 70% of the city, caused the loss of power, and forced the evacuation of 175,000 residents. It led to dramatic changes in where residents lived." (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louisville,_Kentucky)

Sun rises in the East.

Fung Sui

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact