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The Wicked Problems of British Cities

             The idea of `wicked problems' (Rittel and Webber, 1973) is by no means new in terms of social issues in the UK, indeed it has long been recognised that there are a series of problems/issues which, like the poor, and despite the `best efforts' of government, always seem to be with us and appear to be almost impossible to resolve. The problems of Britain's cities fall into this category; if we look back over the Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries we find problems of poverty, unemployment, crime, etc, constantly reoccurring (see Steadman-Jones, 1976). However, at different times, the problems have been `thought', conceptualised and addressed in different ways. For instance over time the poor have been variously categorised as the cause of their own problems (i.e. the social pathology approach), the victims of wider forces (i.e. the structural approach) or a combination of the two; equally the distinction between the `deserving' and `undeserving' poor has constantly been present, while more recently notions of welfare dependency have moved to the forefront of the debate. All of these terms have been used to categorise and organise `the poor' and rationalise who merited assistance (and who did not), the manner in which that assistance was provided and what recipients had to do in order to qualify for assistance. .
             Moreover, the political and policy relevance of particular problems/issues has varied in terms of the attention they have received and the particular way in which problems have been understood and `solutions' developed. Thus in the 1980s the urban problem seen as most important was that of economic decline/restructuring, the attendant high levels of unemployment and poverty that accompanied these processes were seen as significant but secondary in terms of a causal hierarchy, the basic assumption was `get the economics right' and the benefits will `trickle down' thereby automatically resolving the situation; the attendant problems of high unemployment were seen as a temporary problem that would be resolved once the economy was on the right track and thus a `price worth paying'.

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