The doughnut effect is often used in the context of cities, especially in developed nations such as the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. But just like the actual doughnut is different depending whether you are eating it in Britain or the US, the doughnut effect has grown to have a slightly different meaning, depending on the city.

The definition of the doughnut effect

The doughnut effect refers to a development where the city centre becomes more hollow or empty, as businesses and people move into the outskirt of the city. This is the most commonly used definition of the doughnut effect, with cities like Houston in the US being a prime example of a doughnut effect.

The effect was first discussed in the 1960s, as the changing society meant changes in city structure. As cities develop and grow, the inner parts of the city become extremely crowded. Finding affordable and larger housing becomes a challenge and the population often starts to move towards the outer skirts of the city. As the population becomes more concentrated to the outskirts of the city, businesses often tend to follow. This creates the doughnut effect: concentrating the population and the businesses as a ring around the big city while leaving the centre of the city empty.

New addition to the doughnut effect

More recently, the doughnut effect has been used in a slightly different context, often called as the British doughnut effect. The British doughnuts typically don’t have a hollow centre but instead have a splash of the jam in the middle.

In terms of the doughnut effect and cities, this represents the recent development where finances start flowing back to the city centre. But this financial injection often happens in an uneven manner and, therefore, the newly improved city centre is surrounded by neglected areas.

The British city of Birmingham is often mentioned in the context of this new doughnut effect. The first effects of the doughnut effect are similar in both instances, with the exception of the financial development starting to flow back towards the city centre in the British doughnut effect.

Problems created by the doughnut effect

The doughnut effect has had some obvious, as well as less predictable, problems in terms of city development.

  • Segregation: The most obvious problem is often the segregation created in the city. Certain areas – the outer layers – have a concentration of affluent population and businesses, whereas the inner areas or the further outskirt have higher levels of poverty. The widening income gaps of recent years, together with industrial changes, have contributed to the doughnut effect in most cities. The wealth gap is apparent in the concentration of high-level of capital to the inner city, sandwiching poorer areas between the inner city’s rich and the suburban’s middle classes.
  • Pollution: On top of this, the doughnut effect has contributed to pollution problems in major cities. Inadequate transport networks from the centre to the outer skirts have contributed to the rise in pollution in many major cities. Much of the doughnut effect problems are also caused by the ineffective infrastructure. Decentralization has created pockets in and around the city and this has happened without proper urban planning.