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Conflict theory is one of the three main perspectives in sociology. Conflict theory holds that the societies in which we live are the scenes of constant conflict between various groups. These groups come into conflict with each other over a variety of scarce resources. Such conflicts occur in the area of urban development no less than in other areas. Conflict theorists look for and highlight these conflicts.
One type of conflict is that which arises between the rich and the poor. This sort of conflict often involves the desire of the rich to take land occupied by the poor and use that land for purposes that will help the rich. We can argue that urban renewal, such as was seen in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s, involves this sort of conflict. Rich business interests, most of whom were white, moved poorer people, many of whom were nonwhite, out of their homes to make way for such things as freeways and office buildings. The poor resisted these efforts, but were largely unsuccessful. We can also see this sort of conflict in issues of “environmental racism.” This is the practice of placing environmentally hazardous sites such as garbage transfer stations in poor neighborhoods whose populations are manly nonwhite. Better-off residents (of all races) do not want these things in “their backyards” and so they are placed in the neighborhoods that have the least power. This, too, comes about (conflict theorists would say) through conflict between the haves and the have-nots.
We can also look at conflicts over urban resources that occurs between different factions that are (economically at least) both “haves.” In American cities today, these conflicts often arise over environmental issues. They tend to pit different parts of the middle to upper classes against one another. One example of this would be conflicts over the amounts of green space that will be created in an urban environment. Often, people such as developers want to use all or essentially all of the land in a city for profitable purposes. They are opposed by people like middle class homeowners who want things like parks and landscaping to improve their quality of life. Another example of this would be conflict over street space. We have seen this in various cities that have tried to become more bicycle-friendly. Some groups, mainly in the middle class, want extensive bike lanes put in to make it safer to commute around the city by bicycle. They see this as a quality of life issue and as an important environmental action because it could reduce reliance on cars. However, these groups are opposed by other groups that feel that bike lines add to congestion and make it harder for those who rely on cars to get around.
In all of these cases, we can see that urban development involves conflict between groups. Conflict theorists would focus on these conflicts, saying that they are typical because all aspects of our society come about through conflict.
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