Part 2 Opportunities: Designing, planning and maintaining culturally inclusive spaces
Despite the conceptual challenges I mentioned in my last blog Interculturalism and culturally inclusive space I, public spaces can be sites of huge intercultural opportunity. They may be the only sites where various groups interact at all and organised events, such as soccer matches, festivals or youth group events may offer important opportunities for inter-group contact (Dines and Cattrell 2006) and for generating shared experiences (Lownsbrough and Beunderman 2007). People who have emigrated from one country and culture to another tend to use public open spaces and parks to gather and congregate in ways that are reminiscent of their home country, transforming the parks of their adoptive community into familiar spaces. People grow attached to spaces, their aromas, textures and the overall ‘feel’ of a space.
Part 1 Challenges: Contact, conflict, separation, segregation.
In my blog Cities of (in)Difference I discussed Bloomfield and Bianchini’s (2002, p. 6) intercultural dream where “different cultures intersect, ‘contaminate’ each other and hybridise.” Clearly parks, public spaces and streets have a role to play in this. Unfortunately however, culturally inclusive spaces, those designed intentionally around the recognition of difference, diversity, and cultural heterogeneity have neither been a major focus of study in the planning literature nor are they well understood by practicing urban designers, planners and policy makers (Kumar and Martin 2004).
Orientation at NYC’s Flip the Table Youth Food Council (Credit: Mara Gittleman)
“Youth are prominent in the food justice movement today. This isn’t just because they are ‘included’ as afterthoughts to existing projects and programs. They lead and have their own, independent voice.” (Steel 2010). Many food justice organizations, sustainable farming projects or garden based education initiatives are connected to youth development programs. As children and young adults have become increasingly disconnected from their food sources, and as obesity and Type II diabetes become increasingly prevalent in young people, these programs provide a host of benefits for the participants and communities involved. Further, more than just participants along for the ride, young people have demonstrated tremendous initiative and leadership within just and sustainable food movements. However, considering that the food justice movement has touted itself as a diverse, inclusive movement where everyone may have a seat at the table, youth voices have been relatively absent from the food policy discourse.
It occurred to me recently that in the two years that I’ve been blogging, I’d never ‘set out my stall’ as it were, on my take on just sustainabilities. Each of my blog posts explore a part of the whole. So here goes on a broader framework. But be aware this is a teaser! The full version is in my forthcoming book Introducing Just Sustainabilities: Policy, Planning and Practice (Zed Books).
In my April 2012 blog post Cities of (in)Difference, I quoted Bloomfield and Bianchini (2002) and Sandercock (2003) on their visionary and transformative thoughts about the shift towards interculturalism. Like Amin (2002), Tully (1995) argues that our societies are intercultural rather than multicultural because of the cross-cultural overlap, interaction, and negotiation — the “politics of recognition” — that occurs out of necessity in the formation of our society. This is what Amin (2002 p 960) calls the “negotiation of difference within local micropublics of everyday interaction.” An acknowledgement of this dynamic cultural nature of society — both the “politics of recognition” and “negotiation of difference” — is a key distinction between intercultural versus multicultural theory and demands a culturally competent approach to both professional planning and urban design, and planning and urban design education.
From a just sustainabilities perspective, my interest in streets is in spatial justice (Spatial Justice on Södra Vägen) and how it can help in the democratization of streets (Democratizing streetscapes: Rethinking streets as public spaces). This democratization is demonstrated in the growing number of cities with successful road space reclamation and re-allocation schemes which favor pedestrians, cyclists and public transit. Such schemes are described by the increasingly prominent and related U.S. discourses of Complete Streets, Transit Oriented Development and Livable Streets. Combined, this narrative frames the message that streets are, ultimately public spaces, and that everyone in local communities should have equal rights to space within them, irrespective of who they are and whether or not they own a car.
I’ve been mulling over ideas for an economic model that fits in with the concept of just sustainabilities. In the research for my latest book Introducing just sustainabilities: Policy, planning and practice (and the Series to follow it) my co-researcher Duncan McLaren introduced me to the idea of co-production. In its broadest sense it reflects the capabilities approach of Sen (1999). It sees people as assets not as burdens, invests in their capacities, promotes mutuality and reciprocity, facilitates rather than delivering and uses peer-support networks in addition to professionals to transfer knowledge and capabilities. In narrower, economic terms co-production refers to the involvement of the consumer in the manufacture of the goods and services they consume thereby blurring the distinction between producer and consumer.
Cities of difference (Fincher and Jacobs 1998) are places where we are “in the presence of otherness” (Sennett 1990 p123) — namely, our increasingly different, diverse, and culturally heterogeneous urban areas. Yet as I travel around the world I see token, or very little recognition, understanding of, and engagement with this difference, diversity, and cultural heterogeneity in creative and productive ways. Moreover, I’ve seen no examples which could be said to be capable of fundamentally transforming civic institutions, the public realm, its discourses and city management practices.
I welcome innovations in our thinking which move us closer to realizing just sustainabilities and Kate Raworth/Oxfam’s A Safe and Just Operating Space for Humanity: Can We Live Within the Doughnut? is no exception. Its clarity and ease of visualization make it an excellent communication tool for students, academics, policymakers and activists alike.
The focus of just sustainabilities which I have articulated more fully elsewhere (Agyeman et al. 2003, Agyeman 2005), is the development of policy and planning themes that:
- Improve people’s quality of life and well-being, both now (intra-generational equity) and into the future (inter-generational equity);