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Agent-based models as a tool for exploring complex segregation processes : simulating scenarios of residential segregation in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area

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Title: Agent-based models as a tool for exploring complex segregation processes : simulating scenarios of residential segregation in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area
Author(s): Page, Mathew
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Science
Degree program: Master's Programme in Urban Studies and Planning
Specialisation: USP Peoples
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2021
Tiivistelmä – Referat – Abstract With rising income inequalities and increasing immigration in many European cities, residential segregation remains a key focus for city planners and policy makers. As changes in the socio-spatial configuration of cities result from the residential mobility of its residents, the basis on which this mobility occurs is an important factor in segregation dynamics. There are many macro conditions which can constrain residential choice and facilitate segregation, such as the structure and supply of housing, competition in real estate markets and legal and institutional forms of housing discrimination. However, segregation has also been shown to occur from the bottom-up, through the self-organisation of individual households who make decisions about where to live. Using simple theoretical models, Thomas Schelling demonstrated how individual residential choices can lead to unanticipated and unexpected segregation in a city, even when this is not explicitly desired by any households. Schelling’s models are based upon theories of social homophily, or social distance dynamics, whereby individuals are thought to cluster in social and physical space on the basis of shared social traits. Understanding this process poses challenges for traditional research methods as segregation dynamics exhibit many complex behaviours including interdependency, emergence and nonlinearity. In recent years, simulation has been turned to as one possible method of analysis. Despite this increased interest in simulation as a tool for segregation research, there have been few attempts to operationalise a geospatial model, using empirical data for a real urban area. This thesis contributes to research on the simulation of social phenomena by developing a geospatial agent-based model (ABM) of residential segregation from empirical population data for the Helsinki Metropolitan Area (HMA). The urban structure, population composition, density and socio-spatial distribution of the HMA is represented within the modelling environment. Whilst the operational parameters of the model remain highly simplified in order to make processes more transparent, it permits exploration of possible system behaviour by placing it in a manipulative form. Specifically, this study uses simulation to test whether individual preferences, based on social homophily, are capable of producing segregation in a theoretical system which is absent of discrimination and other factors which may constrain residential choice. Three different scenarios were conducted, corresponding to different preference structures and demands for co-group neighbours. Each scenario was simulated for three different potential sorting variables derived from the literature; socio-economic status (income), cultural capital (education level) and language groups (mother tongue). Segregation increases in all of the simulations, however there are considerable behavioural differences between the different scenarios and grouping variables. The results broadly support the idea that individual residential choices by households are capable of producing and maintaining segregation under the right theoretical conditions. As a relatively novel approach to segregation research, the components, processes, and parameters of the developed model are described in detail for transparency. Limitations of such an approach are addressed at length, and attention is given to methods of measuring and reporting on the evolution and results of the simulations. The potential and limitations of using simulation in segregation research is highlighted through this work.
Keyword(s): Residential segregation agent-based model complex systems social distance homophily residential preference simulation

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