Are neighborhood visits skewed? The case of Singapore

Physical mobility patterns have the potential to offer insights into asymmetries of movement. And this matters for our understanding of segregation. Using GPS records for Singapore, research by ACI studies how mismatches in wealth and ethnic mix relate to daily neighborhood visits. In other words, authors quantify how neighborhood visits are affected by mismatches in wealth and ethnicity. There are two key findings. First, a mismatch in wealth increases visits from poorer neighborhoods to wealthier ones. Second, a mismatch in ethnicity decreases visits, driven by lower visits from majority-ethnic neighborhoods to minority-ethnic ones.

It has been well-established that an individual’s social exposure and network influence their social and economic outcomes. While residency in census records has been historically used to understand social networks, the latter “extend far beyond where people reside”. Social interactions occur elsewhere, such as where people travel and eat. Further, these interactions need not be symmetric. The study quantifies asymmetries in the experienced segregation such that the effect of mismatches in wealth and ethnicity on daily neighborhood visits is mediated by where people come from.

Using data from multiple sources (as detailed in the paper), the datasets are spatially merged to get neighborhood demographics and characteristics. The first set of results reveals that the effect of mismatch by wealth depends on who travels out, with poor to wealthy having a greater magnitude and a positive sign. In other words, one direction of social interaction – poor to wealthy – drives all of the observed mismatch by wealth. The utility gain, therefore, is asymmetric – those from poorer neighborhoods have more to gain in visiting wealthier neighborhoods than vice-versa. Second, neighborhood visits increase when coming from a majority-ethnic neighborhood to a minority-ethnic neighborhood rather than vice-versa.

To demonstrate the utility of the analysis, the authors evaluate the Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP) to show the projected segregation had there been no EIP. They consider two towns – Bukit Merah and Bedok – with legacies as ethnic enclaves. Comparing predicted (without EIP) and actual ethnic composition in 2000, it was found that visits to and from these towns on a daily basis on average 8.7% higher than it would have been without the EIP. Figure 1 contextualizes how effective EIP is, where each point on the curve indicates a percentage increase in neighborhood visits implied by the corresponding percentile decrease in ethnic mismatch. The implementation of the EIP prevented the formation of ethnic enclaves in the country.

While the context of this study is Singapore, its findings have far-reaching implications for urban planners around the world. The asymmetries where the poor are more likely to visit the wealthy and where the majority ethnic are less likely to visit the minority ethnics are consistent with urban inequality. Such asymmetries may lead to a disproportionate concentration of amenities in neighborhoods that attract more people. This implies that urban planners may need to consider asymmetries in segregated interaction when planning the distribution of public goods.

By GUPTA, Shubhangi

Researchers: LIM, Jingzhi, SHEN Yan Shun, Lucas

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