We cannot consider the future of cities without considering diversity. Ethnic and cultural diversity are a driver and a symptom of change. There are few parts of the world which are entirely homogeneous, while an increasing number of urban communities routinely comprise dozens of different groups in visible numbers. Major cities such as New York, London or Singapore are now 'world cities', microcosms of the world in all its teeming diversity. This diversity plays itself out differentially as developmental processes vary around the globe: a pride in diversity in some places; the rise of ethnic cleansing in others, such as in the Balkans or between Shias and Sunnis in Iraq.

Diversity in its many forms is the primary element of a vibrant place, diversity of business, diversity of activities and diversity of built form creating visual stimulation.

Most places are very diverse when you look deeply enough and the diversity of cities is perhaps the central urban question of the 21st century, as mobility increases and reactions to it too.

For example, Britain has always been a far more diverse and heterogeneous nation than that imagined to comprise simply the English, Scots, Irish and Welsh: from the North Africans that patrolled Hadrian's Wall on behalf of the Romans and the interplay of Celtic civilizations with successive waves of medieval invaders and settlers, such as the Vikings and Normans, to the deep-seated communities of Jewish and Huguenot origin, even Yemenis in the Northeast, the post-colonial immigrants such as the African-Caribbeans, Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Chinese, and also Europeans, from Germans, Italians and Portuguese to Scandinavians, Poles and Russians, Australasians, Arabs, Nigerians, South Africans, Moroccans, Somalis, South and North Americans.

London is now one of the most diverse cities that has ever existed and its diversity played a role in it getting the 2012 Olympics. Altogether, more than 300 languages are spoken by the people of London and the city has at least 50 non-indigenous communities with populations of 10,000 or more. Virtually every race, nation, culture and religion in the world can claim at least a handful of Londoners. London's Muslim population of 607,083 people is probably the most diverse anywhere in the world, besides Mecca. Only 59.8 per cent of Londoners consider themselves to be White British, while 3.2 per cent consider themselves to be of mixed race.38 New York and Toronto are equally diverse.

The rest of Britain too is changing. There are foreign-born people in large and smaller British cities you may not have heard of and the same is true all over Europe, America and Australasia. There are now over 1000 French people living in Bristol and Brighton, 650 Greeks in Colchester, 600 Portuguese in Bournemouth and Poole, 800 Poles in Bradford, 1300 Somalis in Sheffield, 770 Zimbabweans in Luton, 370 Iranians in Newcastle and 400 in Stockport and 240 Malaysians in Southsea. And these figures only represent those who are foreign-born and not the much larger numbers of second generation and beyond, of people whose nationality and identity will be hyphenated.

The fundamental question is whether increased interaction between ethnic cultures will produce social and economic innovations which will drive the prosperity and quality of life of our cities; whether intercultural mixing is a source of dynamism for cities. Historically the great cities of the world, from G├║angzhou (formerly Canton) to Delhi, Constantinople/Istanbul, Rome, Amsterdam or New York, have been hubs of ethnicity where the interplay helped achieve their prosperity, innovativeness and stature, although people often lived parallel lives.

The notion of cultural mixing shifts the perspective on diversity away from multiculturalism. In the multicultural city we acknowledge and ideally celebrate our differing cultures. In the intercultural city we move one step beyond and focus on what we can do together as diverse cultures in a shared space.

Without undermining the achievements of multiculturalism, the charge levelled at it is that it has created a false sense of harmony, which worked for a while yet imperceptibly moved from being part of the solution to part of the problem. Particularly at the local level, the system - in Britain, for example - encouraged the creation of culturally and spatially distinct communities, even ghettoes, fronted by 'community leaders' and that difference became the very currency by which importance was judged and progress made. This has proved challenging for second and third generation members of such communities, who find it difficult to find a place which acknowledges or rewards their new, often hybrid senses of identity, so alienation often ensues.

Multiculturalism spoke only for the minorities, it has been argued, hindering a two-way conversation with British culture. It is also accused of having devalued and alienated the culture of the white working class, driving them further away from the goal of tolerance and into the arms of extremists.39

This is not the way diversity is perceived everywhere. In societies in which immigration lies at the heart of national identity, such as the US, Canada and Australia, diversity has been far more widely regarded as a source of potential opportunity and advantage. The private sector evolved the idea that there was a 'business case for diversity' where diverse teams of people brought new skills and aptitudes, which broadened a company's business offer and which in combination might produce new process and product innovations which would advance competitiveness.40

The idea emerged that a more heterogeneous city or nation is better equipped than homogeneous ones to weather the storms of the global economy and adapt to change. Such a charge, for example, has been levelled against Japan and Germany as they have fallen behind the economic performance of more diverse G8 member states. It is argued too that success at the level of local and regional economics will also be influenced by the extent to which cities can offer an open, tolerant and diverse milieu to attract and hold mobile wealth creators.41 Such thinking has made fewer inroads into many European countries, especially those where even ethnic cleansing emerged after the break-up of the communist bloc, such as the former Yugoslavia.

In Europe there are five distinctive policy frameworks for immigration, integration and citizenship: corporate multiculturalism; civic republicanism; ethnic nationalism and the Gastarbeiter (guest-worker) system; the southern Mediterranean unregulated and then restrictive regime; and the minority nation idea.42 These differences shape the sense of belonging and identity urban citizens can achieve in different countries.

While change on the ground has been relatively speedy, the public discourse around diversity was slow. Since the turn of this century debate has become a bubbling ferment. It is not just a re-emergence of old questions and arguments but something qualitatively different. It is no longer a question of how many foreigners a country can accept but rather what it means to be German, Norwegian, Chinese or British in a very different world.

Many argue that the future lies not in finding better ways of integrating outsiders into, say, British society but in fundamentally reappraising what we understand British society to be. British (or German, Italian or Finnish) culture and values cannot be reduced to a set of unchanging principles, but is an evolving and transforming entity which responds to the ongoing process of hybridization that accelerating change is bringing about. What will hold countries together is not the social glue of 'shared values' but the social bridge of 'shared futures'.

The intercultural city idea, without denying that there are great problems of economic disadvantage and racism, switches the focus. Instead of discussing diversity largely as a dilemma it asks: 'What is the diversity advantage for cities which can be achieved through intercultural exchange and innovation.' To unlock this advantage requires new skills and aptitudes on the part of professionals such as cultural literacy and competence. To assess the preparedness of a city achieving diversity advantage there need to be indicators of openness and there is an intercultural lens through which professionals can re-evaluate their work.

Openness is key. It is connected to curiosity: the desire to know what lies beyond one's spatial, cultural or intellectual boundaries and the capacity to pursue the interest. Multiculturalism was founded upon the belief in tolerance between cultures but it is not always the case that multicultural places are open places. Interculturalism, on the other hand, requires openness as a prerequisite, and while openness in itself is not the guarantee of interculturalism, it provides the setting for interculturalism to develop.

Economic structures and legal systems play a fundamental role in determining the openness of a society. 'Openness', in the context of the intercultural city, means the degree to which differences and diversities between individuals and groups are acknowledged, respected and encouraged in law. The ideal of this city Sandercock calls 'cosmopolis'. It requires a fundamental reappraisal of the city and how it must respond, root and branch, to the changing world.43

Cosmopolis is the new model hybrid city or the mongrel city. A place of a thousand daily encounters, interactions, negotiations, accommodations and reformulations. Within a cosmopolis inter-culturalism is key. The term emerged in the Netherlands and Germany in the educational field and was concerned primarily with communication between different nationalities in border regions, while across the Atlantic it responds to the growing needs of American government and business to sell their message and their goods overseas.44

Comedia's take on interculturalism moves on from this. It is not a tool for communication but a process of mutual learning and joint growth.45 This implies a process of acquiring particular skills and competences which will enable one to interact functionally with anyone different from oneself, regardless of origins. It implies a different way of reading situations, signs and symbols and of communicating, which is cultural literacy. Intercultural competence in a diverse society becomes as important as basic numeracy and literacy.

It allows us to re-envision our world or profession through an intercultural lens. Cities are increasingly driven by the need to innovate - economically, socially, culturally - to solve the problems that they as cities create.46

There are significant differences between the 'community cohesion model' and interculturalism. Foremost is the attitude towards harmony and disagreement. The aim of the former may be harmony at all costs and the avoidance of disagreement or dispute, even though this may require the imposition of a blanket set of communal values and viewpoints upon an increasingly diverse and hybridizing community. Disagreement and dispute should be embraced rather than swept under the carpet and should be accepted as a vital component of a healthy and vibrant community. Interculturalism requires rules of engagement to negotiate and actively resolve difference. By way of a concise definition of interculturalism, we have argued in the past that:

The intercultural approach goes beyond equal opportunities and respect for existing cultural differences to the pluralist transformation of public space, institutions and civic culture. It does not recognize cultural boundaries as fixed but in a state of flux and remaking. An intercultural approach aims to facilitate dialogue, exchange and reciprocal understanding between people of different backgrounds.47

Interculturalism is not a monolithic creed, but a process and interactive approach.

We can measure how ethnically diverse a city is. It is harder to measure how intercultural it is. There are shortcomings with exist ing data in most places. In Britain, the standard 18-class ethnic categorization used is essentially a Commonwealth classification which distinguishes Black African, Black Caribbean, Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi but treats all non-British Whites as one and anybody else as 'other'. Second, data is usually not available at a low enough level to produce reliable statistics for individual cities. So the standard data only tells us the degree to which a place is ethnically diverse or multicultural, but cannot take us much further.

One measure that does go further is the index of isolation. The formula produces a statistic that can be interpreted as the ratio of two probabilities - that your neighbour is BME ('black and minority ethic') if you are BME yourself and that your neighbour is BME if you are white.

The ratio is a measure of how isolated the two groups are from one another. The higher the ratio, the greater is the isolation. In Bristol, a BME Bristolian is 2.6 times as likely as a white Bristolian to live next door to someone who is BME. By contrast, Burnley, whose BME population is the same as Bristol's, has an equivalent ratio of 8.7. This may be one important contributor to the latter's relative disharmony.48

Getting beyond the physical proximity of ethnicities the Comedia research identified four principal spheres of influence, the openness of:

1 the institutional framework;

2 the business environment;

3 civil society; and

4 public space.49

The openness of the institutional framework is determined principally by the regulatory and legislative framework within national or local government. Easy access to citizenship is an indicator, and the means of measurement would include the naturalization rate, provision of language classes to learn the new language, or access to health and social welfare for refugees.

In policy areas such as education, the presence of an intercultural/multicultural citizenship curriculum is an indicator. At a city level an indicator and measure would be the existence of an intercultural strategy.

The openness of the business environment refers to trade and industry, the job market and training. Indicators might be drawn from commitments of businesses on recruitment and training.

A means of measuring this at a city level might be the ethnic composition of staff and leadership positions and cultural awareness training in major companies.

In terms of employment, one might assess the percentage of jobs requiring minority languages, interpreters in hospitals or community settings or intercultural mediators, people who help 'translate' across cultures. Alternatively one could ask how many ethnic minority firms are winning tenders from the city.

The openness of civil society is the extent to which the social fabric of a place is more or less intercultural. Nationally one could measure the incidence of mixed marriages via the census or the index of isolation mentioned above. At the city-level indicators might include the inter-ethnic and interfaith representation on health, welfare and education boards or management and community forums. The ethnic mix of top management tiers in the 20 top public, voluntary and private sector organizations could tell a story.

Cross-cultural economic, social, cultural and civic networks could be measured from observation and interviews to establish whether there are any ethnically and culturally mixed business associations, social clubs, religious groups, political parties and movements. In addition it is useful to look at projects that involve different ethnic groups.

Much of the openness in public attitudes is seed-bedded in schools, and aside from assessing the overall curriculum, relevant indicators could include the number of school children learning foreign languages or the percentage of overseas or minority ethnic students in universities. Looking at a city's internal and external place marketing one could assess how it has decided to project itself into the world.

The openness of public space focuses on the extent to which people feel they have the 'freedom of the city' or whether there are spaces or whole neighbourhoods which feel closed or even hostile to one or more groups within the city. The indicators would measure the degree of mixing in housing and neighbourhoods; safety and mobility of ethnic minorities in all areas of the city; participation in public facilities such as libraries and cultural venues in the city centre; perceptions of cultural inclusiveness in public space; and views on which city institutions or events and festivals are welcoming and which are forbidding.

A way of applying the intercultural logic to the city is to look at potential and assess things through an intercultural lens. Cultural literacy is the precondition to decode the varied cultures that are interwoven in a place. It is a form of cultural capital which enables us to act sensitively and effectively in a world of differences. It is crucial for survival. The intercultural lens makes it possible to take an apparently familiar issue or discipline and to look at it afresh.

It is difficult for individual urban professionals to accumulate an in-depth cultural knowledge of every group represented in their city. With more intercultural dialogue, knowledge about and between cultures can occur more seamlessly on a day-to-day basis. This involves having questions in mind such as: 'Are our expectations different?', 'Are my assumptions valid in this different context?' or 'Are people interpreting what I say differently than I think?'

From this comes the awareness that in all forms of human communication, the information is making a journey through several filters. As Hall reminds us in The Hidden Dimension, 'People from different cultures not only speak different languages but, what is possibly more important, inhabit different sensory worlds.'50

In making a place you can take any topic and see it through an intercultural lens: public consultation and engagement, urban planning and development, how cities are attracting migrants, housing planning, business and entrepreneurship, education, the arts or sports development. Let's briefly look at master-planning.


Cultural preferences and priorities are etched into the mindscape of the professional urban experts who determine what the physical fabric of our cities looks like: the engineers, surveyors, master-planners, architects, urban designers, cost accountants, project managers and developers do not make decisions that are value free and neutral. What at first sight looks like merely technique and technical processes concerned with issues - Will the building stand up? Can traffic flow through? What uses should we bring together? - is shaped by value judgements. The look, feel and structure of the places planners encourage, help design and promote reflects our assumptions about what we think is right and appropriate. This is etched into codes, rules and guidelines. It sets the physical stage upon which social and economic life plays itself out. Even the aesthetic priorities people choose themselves have their cultural histories.

What happens then when different cultures meet and coexist in the same space? There have always been borrowings and graftings, they have been there so long we cannot see them. For centuries building styles and fashions criss-crossed Europe: there is English baroque just as there is French, or German and English gothic. Exceptions apart, the architectures of Arabia, India and China are not visible in exterior design in Europe - they have had much more influence on the interior. One only sees the mosque, the gurdwara, and Chinese gateway arches in Chinatowns. Should we learn from the great traditions of Arab and Indian architecture and their aesthetics?

Should the basic building blocks of the city be the same when looked at through intercultural eyes? Think of street frontages, building heights, setbacks, pavement widths, turning circles, the number of windows and their size, how we deal with enclosure, privacy or sight lines. Think too of the materials we use, colour, light or water. At its simplest, would streets or the colour palette used be different seen interculturally? One thinks here of the vivid colours of housing in Latin America or the use of water in Moorish culture. Should we structure space to reflect different cultures as they might see and use spaces in varied ways? Or should we create open-ended spaces that others can adapt, such as the Kurds who gather around the steps in Birmingham's Chamberlain Square?

Let's touch on a few other areas; for instance, consultation. Citizens cannot easily be ascribed to one homogeneous group. Thus consultation cannot simply be a one-off and standardized exercise but must be a continuous process of informal discussion and engagement. The orthodox, multiculturalist approach to public consultation requires that communities are defined by their ethnicity and consulted in isolation (e.g. 'the African-Caribbean community', 'the Asian community') as if ethnicity is the only factor influencing the way in which people lead their lives in the city. This limited perspective recognizes the views of the white population as the cultural norm and the views of ethnic minorities as inevitably different or aberrant - while hybrid identities and complex intercultural views are not anticipated.

What would intercultural education look like? All ethnic groups, including the majority 'white' groups, of whatever social class, would be encouraged to feel that their background, history and narrative are valued in the school context. An intercultural education would instil the following six competences in young people:

1 cultural competence - the ability to reflect upon one's own culture and the culture of others;

2 emotional and spiritual competence - the ability to be self-reflective, handle one's own emotions, empathize with others;

3 linguistic and communicative competence;

4 civic competence - the ability to understand and act upon rights and responsibilities and be socially and morally responsible;

5 creative competence; and

6 sporting competence.

By their very nature the arts are predisposed to being intercultural. Being interested in what lies beyond the horizon or across a boundary is often what inspires people to make a career in the arts. Being awkward, rule-questioning, transgressive even, are common characteristics that emerge from the lives of artists, and, more often than not, this leads to the curiosity to want to explore cultures other than their own. It might be added that addressing conflict, fusing opposites and resolving incompatibility are all processes reported by some artists as triggers in their search for a creative breakthrough.

Often working on a project-by-project basis, artists are constantly thrust into new situations with unfamiliar teams and surroundings, thrown back on their technique to survive. The secret is to 'create third spaces, unfamiliar to both [sides], in which different groups can share a similar experience of discovery. Sometimes such spaces allow people to detach aspects of their own identity (cultural, vocational, sexual) from what they have hitherto regarded as its essential and dominating character. It is in such spaces - youth groups, drama workshops, sports teams - that some of the most imaginative and successful forms of community healing have taken place.'51

Other shared spaces do not necessarily have to be located in buildings. Melbourne's mighty 'Dancing in the Streets' in Federation Square for its international arts festival in 2003 was one of the most successful ways of bringing communities together, as each taught the others their dances.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment