Cityscope essay on our DIVERCITIES Handbook

Cityscope essay on our DIVERCITIES Handbook

Cityscope correspondent David Hatch has written about the DIVERCITIES handbook on Cityscope’s website. It’s a great piece taking into account the substantial research we undertook in 14 cities. You can read the full text below. Image: Participants take part in this year’s Borgerrio festival in Antwerp, Germany. (Victoriano Moreno/

These cities are coming up with new ways to harness ‘hyper-diversity’

How do you govern a hyper-diverse city? A new handbook recommends approaches that promote urban diversity, foster interaction across communities and aim to increase civic participation.

A Handbook for Governing Hyper-diverse Cities was published by Divercities, a European Union-funded project. Compiled by more than 60 international researchers, the study is based on interviews in 14 countries with about 140 local initiatives. The handbook is designed to offer insights for city leaders and other policymakers on ways to strengthen social cohesion and social mobility, along with economic prosperity.

The authors begin with a simple premise: Diverse cities are an asset. A wide variety of backgrounds, viewpoints and life experiences makes for a dynamic urban society.

From there, the authors go on to suggest strategies that cities can use to make the most use of their diversity. These include:

  • Diversity awareness: New policies should be crafted with diversity in mind, then vetted for their impact on communities before introduction.
  • Enhance visibility: Authorities can improve awareness of new policies and programmes by partnering with local groups that act as intermediaries with citizens.
  • Bottom-up initiatives: To reach all residents, cities should consider funding programmes that are informal, open and participatory, and may not otherwise qualify for support.

[See: Healing Europe’s populist divisions depends on its cities]

The authors caution against one-size-fits-all solutions, warning that these won’t reflect each city’s unique demographic profile. “It is not possible to address the needs of increasingly complex and diverse urban societies with standardized policies and policy instruments,” they write.

Creative approaches

Across Europe, municipalities are implementing innovative methods to encourage diversity and social interaction. For instance:

  • Warsaw’s libraries initiative: Located in an economically depressed area, the small library includes chairs and couches that encourage visitors to linger and mingle.
  • Rotterdam’s “experimental garden”: The volunteer-run community centre has activities that range from knitting and cooking to sports.
  • Antwerp’s Borgerrio: The multicultural street festival in a diverse neighbourhood is a boon to nearby family-owned shops.

[See: What Athens, Amman learned about helping refugees amid tight budgets]

Other cities have launched youth-oriented employment programmes. London’s Project 2020 strives to help jobless and uneducated youth in the city’s Haringey neighbourhood, where unemployment is high. Youths are matched with professionals or trade specialists to learn new skills.

In Paris, the Neighbourhood Maintenance Corporation (Régie de Quartier) provides entry-level jobs such as cleaning and gardening in underprivileged areas. A key goal is to incentivize local residents to take pride in their community.

Leipzig has started an initiative called Godparent Programme for Asylum Seekers. The goals here are to welcome asylum seekers and overcome prejudice by pairing refugees with locals who pledge to serve as godparents for children.

And several cities are taking steps to help marginalized women and girls:

  • Toronto’s Women Moving Forward: Designed to help single-income mothers age 18 to 30, the initiative offers personal and professional mentoring and educational support.
  • Copenhagen’s Pastry Hill Integration House: Located in a former bakery, the programme serves immigrant women and girls in the Bispebjerg district who lack Danish language skills.
  • Istanbul’s Women’s Solidarity Foundation: Intended to empower women, the organization runs workshops that include vocational training.

Complex melting pots

The researchers recommend that cities provide spaces for start-ups, small businesses and training to create greater opportunities for refugees and minorities to achieve economic progress. Funding for such initiatives is critical, but other forms of support, such as expertise and guidance, also are essential.

[See: How a declining German city is reviving itself from the bottom up]

Governing such melting pots, however, isn’t easy. Immigration can stoke tension along religious and ethnic lines. Rumours and stereotypes often proliferate about misunderstood immigrant and minority communities. Resentment can build among isolated populations that may feel marginalized socially and economically.

The Brexit vote in the United Kingdom and the ascendency of real-estate mogul Donald Trump to the U. S. presidency were fueled by fervour over immigration and its impact on security and jobs.

The handbook defines hyper-diversity as more than just demographics, ethnic identity and socio-economic status. The term also encompasses the wide variance of lifestyles, attitudes and activities that comprise an urban environment, along with gender, race, class, ability and sexual orientation.

Learn more about Diversities here, www.

Divercities Handbook

Divercities Handbook

A Handbook for Governing Urban Diversity, the DIVERCITIES handbook and final deliverable for the EU FP7 funded DIVERCITIES project, is out now. It features detailed information gleaned from DIVERCITIES research in 14 countries by a team of 60+ international researchers who interviewed over 140 interesting local initiatives. The aim of the handbook is to provide insight for policy makers on how to improve social cohesion, social mobility and economic performance in cities and to give policy makers ideas on how to unlock the positive aspects of urban diversity.

It is available as a PDF on the DIVERCITIES website.

Toronto City Book

Toronto City Book

The Toronto City Book brings together four years of in-depth research undertaken in the Jane and Finch district in the northwest of Toronto as part of the EU funded DIVERCITIES project. As the Team Leader for the book my role was to oversee the research and content. Toronto, unlike many of its European counterparts, takes a positive approach to diversity, as reflected in its official slogan: Diversity our Strength. Nonetheless, Toronto’s approach has also been criticized for utilizing diversity as a marketable asset (Boudreau et al., 2009) or for ignoring unemployment, poverty and the issue of socio-spatial inequality. The district has a population of approximately 80,000 residents, making Jane and Finch truly hyper-diverse with regard to many indicators including ethnic and cultural background, place of origin, legal status, income, age, educational level, housing and the built environment. The Toronto City Book can be downloaded as a PDF from the DIVERCITIES website.

Meaningful Encounters

Meaningful Encounters

Meaningful Encounters is an exploratory research project attempting to understand the relationship between meaningful encounters in public spaces and place making activities in the city. Together with Sara Ozogul, I organised an event at Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam on 25 October 2016 titled The City as a Lab #2: Creating Meaningful Encounters in Cities of Diversity. We had several questions: When do encounters become meaningful? When do they bring diverse people together and provide new ways of relating beyond presumptions and stereotypes? And can we plan for those encounters? We held a ‘mobile urban lab experiment’ in Amsterdam Oost with a small group of participants from different disciplinary and professional backgrounds. During an organised walk they explored different spaces and initiatives in order to gain insight into the practices, challenges and opportunities of creating meaningful encounters. You can read a report on the DIVERCITIES website.

Giving voice to planning practitioners

Giving voice to planning practitioners

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”*: giving voice to planning practitioners is the title of an article published in the Planning Theory & Practice Journal. The abstract is below and you can read the full article at Taylor & Francis Online.

Planning schools follow a more or less similar path in educating young practitioners as true guardians of “public interest.” Although planning theory and education define certain ideal roles for planners along this path (e.g. provider of equal access to urban services, distributor of rights to the city, facilitator, negotiator, reflective practitioner, mediator, decision-maker), the actual role of the practicing planner is shaped by the changing contemporary conditions of political economy. We often describe these as neoliberalism, market-led urban development, opportunism, entrepreneurialism, consumerism, financialization, and so on. The rules of the game in the city are defined by these forces, which influence not only the main field of action in planning, but also the experiences of planners in practice. While planning students are taught to be the guardians of the public interest, in the face of the power relations that are shaped by these dynamics, planners usually lack the power to fulfill that role, which surely frustrates them (Forester, 1982 Forester, J. (1982). Planning in the face of power. Journal of the American Planning Association , 48 , 6780. 10.1080/01944368208976167 [Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]).

* Muhammad Ali (world heavyweight boxing champion).