This was the warning of Professor Brian Robson of Manchester University - a government adviser on urban policy - in his presidential address to the annual conference of the Institute of British Geographers at Royal Holloway College, London.
His warning was given greater poignancy by the shooting in Moss Side, Manchester, at the weekend. Professor Robson castigated the consistent failure of government to invest enough money in its urban policy or to achieve any long-term coherent policy towards cities.
Yet a decade of his and others' research at Liverpool University suggested that where government funds were targeted on cities, real benefits could be achieved, as had been the case in the 57 urban priority areas. For example, the unemployment gap between assisted and non-assisted areas had narrowed over the last 10 years.
The Government's claims to be spending pounds 4bn annually on urban policy were 'not far short of the mark', he said, and his findings suggested that urban policy 'had done more than merely provide a political sop to the demand of recognising the plight of cities'.
But he said the Government had in effect 'put up the shutters' after the Autumn Statement, with the stopping of new commitments under the Urban Programme, the end of City Challenge and the renegotiation of Urban Development Corporation budgets. In their place the only new money was the Department of the Environment's Capital Partnership, worth just pounds 20m.
'Segregation of poor and disadvantaged people into ghettos guarded by armed police, or better off neighbours hiring their own armed guards may sound like the stuff of a John Carpenter film, but could be a realistic end- product if there is continued failure to address the problems faced by too many people in our cities.'
It was not enough, he said, to rely on benefits 'trickling down' from large developments such as the London Docklands. 'When too many inhabitants of a city are without money, without work, without homes and, worst of all, without hope, then cities as entities must inevitably flounder.'
Professor Robson said Britain should find inspiration in the success of northern European cities, such as Hamburg, Paris and Amsterdam and not regard the north American experience of depopulation and decline as inevitable.
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