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The Competitive Advantage of Cultural Diversity

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In my book, ‘Bridging Cultures: the guide to social innovation in cosmopolitan cities’ I make the case why bridging cultures matters. The concept of ‘bridging social capital’ was first introduced by Robert Putnam in his article ‘Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital’. The article highlighted the declining numbers of voters, the emptying out of bowling alleys and other social meeting places for lack of patrons, and the loss of a sense of community ties. Putnam defined this decline of civic engagement in the idea of ‘social capital’. Social capital is the value placed on social networks and ties that affect economic productivity, happiness, health, crime levels, and open democracy. He explained that social capital refers to the connections among individuals based on mutual support, cooperation, and trust.

Putnam also distinguished between two forms of social capital; bonding and bridging. In the case of bonding social capital, people relate to others who reinforce similar cultural identities . They risk becoming inward-looking as a way to build solidarity and self-help. In the case of bridging social capital, however, social networks are outward-facing. They encompass people across diverse social groupings. Although there are pros and cons for both forms of social capital, and many people combine both forms, this book is particularly interested in bridging social capital. Bridging capital are linkages to external networks that broaden social circles and allow for greater innovation and economic success.

The trend that Putnam’s article highlighted was the extent in which people were withdrawing from their communities. One measure of this decline was the loss of trust in strangers. In America in the 1960s, Putnam reported that more than half of all Americans said they trusted others. Today fewer than a third say the same thing. Similarly in the UK in the 1950s, more than two-thirds of British people said that most people could be trusted. In the 1990s that had fallen to 29 per cent of the population. Sociologists blame the decline of what they call ‘traditional trust’ to increased choice, diversity and mobility. Without traditional trust there is an increase in social isolation, and a decline in close friendships.

This lack of trust and social connections has a cost. According to the UK’s independent Social Integration Commission, the drop in social mobility and increased isolation between groups means that problems are emerging in areas from employment to health. This costs the UK the equivalent of 0.5 per cent of GDP or £6bn each year. The impact alone on the long-term jobless, whose lack of contact with those in work means they are likely to remain unemployed for longer, is estimated to be £1.5bn. At a community level, factors such as a lack of friendships across age groups are resulting in loneliness and anxiety. The associated costs are £700m in healthcare and £1.2bn for treating an increased prevalence of cardiovascular disease.

The economic case for greater social capital is not just about prevention and addressing the deficit. In fact there are many economists who consider the benefits of social capital from the perspective of co-operation, trust and coordinated action between trading individuals and companies. Increased social capital maximizes economic interests whilst at the same time maximizing social welfare.

Several commentators have also drawn on the economic growth resulting from bridging social capital. One commentator, Richard Florida, with his creative capital theory, states that those cities most open to diversity of all sorts and with high densities of culturally diverse populations are what promote innovation and economic growth. Diversity gives them their competitive edge. Phil Wood and Charles Landry, call intercultural innovation, the ‘diversity advantage’ in which bridging social capital supports:

  • Business start-ups and competitiveness
  • Workforce diversity and competitiveness
  • Linguistic diversity and competitiveness
  • Cultural diversity, creativity and competitiveness
  • Supplier diversity and competitiveness
  • Diaspora and international networks and competitiveness

In fact, The London Development Agency promotes diversity as one of London’s greatest strengths. £90 billion sales were recorded for Black Asian Minority ethnic owned businesses in 2004. Wood and Landry argue that cross-cultural interactions have been a major source of new ideas and innovations. In their interviews of leading migrant entrepreneurs in London they conclude: ‘each of these entrepreneurs borrows some aspects from their original culture and applies it to the identification of new niches where they can innovate and leave their mark. Each builds on the social, economic and cultural strengths of their original community, but then departs from it and creates something that at times is alien, or in conflict with their community. However, it is precisely this tension and this need to break with tradition that gives them strength and the impetus to expand into new ventures. It is usually at this stage that they seek like-minded people to work with. And this is also why they prefer to employ people from diverse backgrounds, rather than from their own. It is the talent, the flexibility and the capacity to adapt that they seek in colleagues and employees from other backgrounds and not the security of family ties, or the cultural understanding of the ethnic group.’

By Dr Noha Nasser

Bridging Cultures: The guide to social innovation in cosmopolitan cities can be purchased from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bridging-Cultures-Social-Innovation-Cosmopolitan/dp/1517157188

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Bridging Cultures: The Guide to Social Innovation by Noha Nasser

My new book, Bridging Cultures, showcases people’s creative innovations in cosmopolitan cities. At the heart of this book is the message that public space provides a critical setting for intercultural encounters. Streets, squares, parks and markets provide the right social conditions to tackle prejudices and build tolerance. With the aid of light-touch choreography public spaces become arenas of intercultural mixing.

Bridging Cultures isn’t just a nice idea. Social cohesion and diversity are the cornerstones of competitive, creative, healthy, and happy cities. The case studies in this book show that social innovation is at the heart of social cohesion. All across the world the power of civic action is generating inspiringly bright ideas to reactivate public spaces. Trust, co-creation, and intercultural exchanges result.

Bridging Cultures is the ideal guide for mayors, public authorities, housing providers and citizens passionate about re-activating public spaces with the creative pulse of interculturalism.

Why Bridging Cultures Matters?

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” Jane Jacobs

Visiting a city like London, Paris, Amsterdam, New York or Sydney, it’s not long before you get a sense of the impact of the movement of people from one part of the world to the other. Often people are seeking better jobs, quality of life, business opportunities, and personal safety. For me, a second generation female migrant from Egypt who has grown up in London and lived in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Japan, and now lives back in London, I have always been fascinated by how it has been possible to adapt to these different cultural contexts and make new friends.

I consider myself a true cosmopolitan; a citizen of the world. I have always wondered whether my ability to ‘mingle’ and ‘get along with the locals’ had something to do with my attitude towards others. Was it my willingness to reach out and bridge the cultural divide? When I look back at how those interactions with people occurred, I realise there were ‘circumstances’; points of contact with people who later became my friends.

In London, as I grew up in the 1970s, it was the classroom and the playground where new relationships were forged. Joint school projects, after school clubs and playing group games were opportunities. In my teenage years growing up in Egypt, new relationships were made in the Sporting Club and the University. One person would introduce me to another, followed by an invitation to join a group. Even within the potentially challenging social context of Saudi Arabia, my friendship network was created in the workplace. The local girls school where I taught English is where I met other teachers. My access to friends in Japan was again through teaching English in several schools. My husband’s social networks at his workplace, and organised events by the YWCA helped foster cross-cultural understanding.

In conclusion, two fundamental ingredients are required for new friendships and social interactions to happen between cultures. The first ingredient is down to the individual and their mindset. They have to be willing to engage with people from different cultural backgrounds. This mindset is what I call the ‘myths and stories’ we learn about other people – our prejudices – our own cultural stories about others that are picked up from our parents, society and through film, news or social media. Ideas shape our opinions. The important point, is that prejudice is learned. We can unlearn prejudice when we connect on a much deeper level; when the focus is on what we have in common. The second ingredient is the ‘circumstances’ in which meaningful social interactions occur. These lead to lasting relationships. As in my personal story, there were particular spaces and social networks that ‘enabled’ a meaningful encounter. They were characterised by a shared interest or a common friend.

It is these two ingredients of dispelling ‘myths and stories’ and creating ‘circumstance’ in public spaces that I believe are the basis of social innovations for bridging cultures. Playgrounds, schools, and public events are meeting places. What this book explores are different scenarios where these two ingredients are present. Real case studies show that public spaces have these ingredients. This book is also interested in measurable improvement in the level of cross-cultural understanding, and opportunities for new relationships. As an urban designer and social entrepreneur, I am passionate about people having a strong shared sense of belonging to their local area. Places that have respect and peace between people of different cultures. The aim of this book is to inspire you in finding new and creative ways to bridge cultures in your cosmopolitan cities. I have taken the ideas in this book as the foundation of my social enterprise, MELA. MELA aims to transform people’s ‘myths and stories’. We aim to create social encounters that build a sense of community. We are passionate about generating new and creative ideas about public spaces with local people. This book is at the source of MELA’s commitment for peaceful and convivial neighbourhoods.

By Noha Nasser

Dr Noha Nasser is an urban designer, consultant and social entrepreneur. She has over 20 years experience delivering community-led projects, teaching and writing about cultural diversity and the city. Noha is Director of MELA Social Enterprise, a collective of Associates from the arts, urban design, and social sciences, finding socially innovative solutions to bringing people together from different cultures in the public spaces of cities.

Bridging Cultures is available on Amazon at: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bridging-Cultures-Social-Innovation-Cosmopolitan/dp/1517157188

 

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New film out: MELA in Conversation

A couple of MELA Associates decided it would be a good idea to sit around a table and have a conversation about what we collectively and individually think about social cohesion, cultural diversity, and public spaces in cities. We called this film MELA in Conversation, and is the first of a series of forthcoming conversations where MELA Associates exchange and share knowledge and experiences of their own work and the direction MELA should be taking.

You can view the film here:

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Noha receives award for her book ‘Bridging Cultures’

On Friday 25th September 2015, Noha, Founder and Director of MELA Social Enterprise received an award for her book ‘Bridging Cultures: a guide to cosmopolitan cities’ to an audience of 200 people at the Create Your Own Economy Conference. She spoke of the challenges she faced in finally getting down to believing in herself enough to write the book. The book is a life’s passion about how public spaces can be the heart and soul of bringing a community together. Holding on to democratic ideals of public space, traditional and more contemporary, Noha explores the citizen-led innovations that transformed relationships between between different cultures and re-activated city spaces.

You can buy the book from Amazon and from the website www.BridgingCulturesBook.com

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Conflict resolution and the sense of community by Antonia Jenkins

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How can we have homogenous, happy flourishing communities?

I live in a populated area of North London. After five years, and until a little over a year ago, I didn’t know any of my neighbours. Then in the autumn of 2014, some local organisation put together a month long festival of activities in my area, there were lectures, presentations, fun evening social activities. It became ALIVE! And I met some people, who introduced me to others…. and now I feel a part of the community.

One of the keys to our area reviving was having places to do things in. At the time, a new temporary “community centre” had been set up. It was a space for the residents to use to have meetings, educational events, whatever we wanted… I realized how much I had missed being able to stay around where I live, get to know the people around me, and it gave me the inspiration to help set up community events in MY area.

You have to be the change that you want to see in the world. Gandhi

I took Ghandhi’s words to heart and launched some community events, advertising in a social media in my local area. The people who came were from around here and through our meetings and common interests, they began to know each other and create friendships, even intergenerational friendships.

It doesn’t come easily. In the “days of old” people knew each other from birth, from being in the same village or small area of town, but in London, people are coming and going all the time and it is difficult. So it takes effort and it requires space, or a space to have activities in. It can be a garden where people join together in “guerrilla gardening”, it can be a small local gym that will keep the youth happy, it can be a place to show documentaries, to have parents meetings, painting classes, community spaces are needed. Then the communities themselves can organise events according to their needs and their interests. It does take someone, or a few “someones” taking the lead in different areas, but isn’t contribution one of the keys to fulfilment?

While greater community interaction will help community adhesion, conflict is often rampant in London communities. Poor sound insulation seems to be a number one cause of conflict especially in the council estates, but there are also disputes over parking, over common spaces, as well as gatherings of youths. The problems are multiple and the councils are often unable to tackle the issues being themselves insufficiently trained in handling conflict.

Ideally, all councils and areas should have conflict resolution consultants. Some boroughs do, they train and employ local volunteers for community mediation. It seems to me that it is an excellent solution in these days of cuts and emphasis on community relations, to train the community members themselves in listening skills. The earlier the conflict is addressed, the less escalation there is.

Different people react differently to aggravation, perceived unfairness or provocation. When someone is upset, they need to talk and feel heard and they need to know that someone is REALLY listening and that person has empathy towards them.

The biggest problem with communication is that we do not listen to understand, we listen to reply– Marshall Rosenberg, creator of Non Violent Communication.

It seems then that our communities could greatly benefit from a community conflict resolution centre, staffed with trained volunteers. Perhaps this could be under the roof of the great community centre every community should have. Not only the communities would benefit overall but the families whose members were trained in conflict resolution, the youth could partake of the training and help make their community a safe and happy place.

Our survival as a species depends on our ability to recognise that our well being and the well being of others are in fact one and the same. M. Rosenberg

Antonia is a Conflict Coach

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Digital Factories and Productive Public Spaces by Juliet Bidgood

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Fellow MELA associates have highlighted how public space is an important arena for defining or even challenging our assumed roles as citizens. Realizing this potential can be a challenge when the idea of public space that we hold in common seems always under threat of being made more and more anodyne or being abandoned altogether.

Yet while it is increasingly easy for an individual to go about their lives without public encounters, in digital environments people are constantly meeting, converging, collaborating and influencing. To the extent that as Paul Mason says; “today the whole of society is a factory.” Where, “we all participate in the creation and recreation of the brands, norms and institutions around us”. How I wonder can public space, which is in effect a collectively owned ‘norm’ or ‘institution’ be constantly reinvented and reinvigorated?

In my own work as a designer I have been interested in how public spaces can be shaped by people’s diverse and active demands upon them and my understanding of this dynamic has evolved over time. When I started to practice my evaluation of public space was initially informed by my own experience, for example by a perception of a lack of safety or pleasure for women in urban environments. Later my critique was informed by my experience as a mother accompanied by children of different ages.

Over time the notion of my own experience as an ‘expertise’ was extended to the re-evaluation of the experience of other public actors: for example young men – one project was led by a young father who was concerned about keeping his younger brother out of trouble. As a starting point for a project he helped map a suburban area of Birmingham and make an inventory of the places that should have been accessible to young people but weren’t because they were being excluded in case they misbehaved.

How can public space be the foundation for people to play a proactive and meaning full part in civic life, like the young father in Birmingham was willing to do? What are the new kinds of participation and ownership that will enable public spaces and assets to be sustainably developed managed and governed?

As our conversations evolve I’d like to argue for an extended definition of public space, one that is large and small scale, urban and rural and that can engage with a wide range of public resources, including; food, water and energy. Perhaps Mela could bring together some of the inspiring stories about how people are co-creating public space to make more sociable and sustainable communities?
Here are some initial examples:

• In South Bristol in 2009 two friends and neighbours had the idea to close their street to traffic to create a temporary free play space. They have since persuaded the City Council that streets can be closed for two hours a week just by applying once a year. Their initiative called Playing Out brings communities together around the space of the streets they live in. Playing Out has gone on to form a Community Interest Company to support residents across the UK.

• In the small town of Wadebridge in Cornwall a not for profit company aims to enable the town to be supplied by 100% renewable energy by 2020 and by doing so reduce fuel poverty and develop new shared assets for the town. Currently run by volunteers with a membership comprising 20% of the population it plans to extend its energy initiatives through a Community Energy Company enabling it to raise and reinvest its own funds.

• CycleScape is an example of how users of public spaces are using digital sites to creatively impact on how urban spaces and transport infrastructure are designed and managed. A mapping tool for cycle campaign groups it enables cyclists nationally to generate ‘Crowd Sourced Cycling Solutions’ by posting their views about cycle routes and road junctions to shared maps. The tool shows how digital media can gather individual views and gain collective momentum.

In each of these projects the ability of people to network using social media has helped to grow or critique projects. In Paul Mason’s ‘factory’ (that spans cities, countries and communities) what is being produced is ‘shared knowledge and discontent’. I chose the examples of public space generation here because they show how people have realized productive conduits for discontent and are each collaborative, adaptive and empowering.

Juliet Bidgood is Architect/Urban Design at NEAT
PostCapitalisim: A Guide to Our Future – Mason, P. Allen Lane, 2015
playingout.net
wren.uk.com
www.cyclescape.org

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The art of positive conversations by Jenny Peevers

My exploration of the world through the arts has led me into different disciplines including urban design, community development and health and wellbeing. Essentially though, the focus is that of people and places. From my experience, it is evident that the arts have a valuable role in rethinking matters related to public space, cultural diversity and social cohesion. Arts projects can bring people together and facilitate a space to think. They can create an opportunity to step out of the confines of expected attitudes and judgments and open up a space to ‘be’, individually and collectively.

An example of such a project is Bostin Chats. The Borough of Sandwell Public Health wanted to find out how to structure their services to best support and improve resident’s wellbeing. They commissioned Creative Health CIC to creatively consult with a number of groups who would be unlikely to complete the more conventional surveys. The groups (with our guidance) selected an artist who engaged with them to explore their personal thoughts and stories about their lives and the assets that they felt contributed positively to their wellbeing. The assets were then visually recorded through the illustration of an Asset Map. The quality and emotional depth of the conversations was remarkable and insightful. One group, who were newcomers, selected sound artist Justin Wiggan, who started the workshop with an immersive listening activity. The group then talked about the sounds they heard, how it made them feel and what it reminded them of. They then explored different aspects of their lives through creative writing followed by spoken word performances using voice-manipulating equipment. It seemed like the sounds created a protected space where participants felt safe, confident and energised. The stories were highly personal and emotional, revealing a rich variety of assets, including high-level professional skills, valuable knowledge and connections. The council could then make informed, strategic decisions about where best to place their limited resources to mobilise those assets. The project is also a great example of a progressive council who recognise the need to have meaningful conversations. With such an approach they can focus their resources on supporting the strengths and potential within a community rather than always focus on the problems.
For more details about the project click here Bostin Chats.

The following quote from Jeanette Winterson beautifully articulates how art projects work so powerfully:

“(Art) can waken us to truths about ourselves and our lives; truths that normally lie suffocated under the pressure of the 24-hour emergency zone called real life. Art can bring us back to consciousness, sometimes quietly, sometimes dramatically, but the responsibility to act on what we find is ours.” (Winterson, 2002)

So, art has something unique to contribute to the considerations of public space, cultural diversity and social cohesion, and to the multi-disciplinary approaches of MELA. I look forward to the rich, meaningful and positive conversations.

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MELAssociates Networking event 7 July 2015

MELAssociates came from near and far to spend a few hours creating the values that underpin MELA on Tuesday 7 July. The focus of the meeting was developing ideas for a film of MELA’s thought leadership on the theme of cultural diversity and space. Three key themes were identified that describe our practice:

Stories: This theme represents MELA’s focus on understanding how people have thoughts about themselves as belonging or not, and thoughts and perceptions about other people as different, friendly, trustworthy etc. By understanding the stories we have about others we can begin to dispel myths, explore new ways of finding common ground, and accept our differences. MELA explores methods used by life coaches, conflict mediators, ethnographers, anthropologists, psycho-geographers, environmental psychologists and artists to support people telling their stories.

Community-building: This theme is at the heart of MELA’s promise to leave a place with new friendships, social encounters and economically-active enterprises based in partnerships and collaborations to create a deep-rooted sense of shared belonging to place. After a process of dispelling myths, community-building is created by social innovations that build on what assets, skills, resources, ideas, practices and processes local people already have and, where needed, people can be empowered to establish in the long term. MELA believes strongly in the creative impulse that cultural diversity can offer in relation to exciting colourful fusions. These fusions are already beginning to emerge in textiles, art, dance, music and food. These fusion can provide a shared sense of identity, pride, creativity, and economic livelihoods.

Co-design of public space: This theme is important in providing the backdrop for strong community relations. Public spaces are those places in the neighbourhood where people encounter each other. They could be outdoor places like parks, playgrounds, housing estates, and car boot sales, or they could be indoor places like cafes, libraries, hobbies, and leisure centres. MELA is committed to designing public spaces that work for every one’s needs, and finding ways for people with competing or conflicting needs to find ways to use public space. To ensure this is achieved, MELA works with people to collectively design the public space starting with developing the design brief, through to designing the space itself.

At the end of the event we spent about an hour filming our conversation. Thank you to Ana Godinho de Matas, MELAssociate, for filming us and who aims to have the first edit at our next meeting on 10 September. Watch this space.

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Space; home; community; identity; ownership; belonging

At Urban Vision Enterprise CIC these are all words we aim to achieve or understand and include in our urban space discovery projects, but what does this mean? How do spaces in our community and wider locale contribute to our attachment, identity and sense of belonging?

As we all journey, physically, emotionally and socially through our day ask yourself: “What are our landmarks, what is our scale, what are our relationships with place and how would you illustrate those?”

As a planner and urban designer facilitating discussion and interaction through creative engagement is at the heart of all our work. Memory maps are one such example. Through memory mapping we often ask our students at high school and primary to create a memory map of their journey ‘home to school’ this is a great gage of perception, scale and importance. Yes we supply colourful stickers by the bucket load and funky directional post-it notes but what our students produce is a succinct urban guide to their environment prioritising space, location and landmarks.

This method began with a trial whilst working in Handsworth, Birmingham during my Urban Design studies. I queried a student on why ‘KFC’ was in terms of scale in their memory map about 300% larger than any other landmark shown on their plan, even home. The answer simply “it’s my favourite place to eat and you can meet you friends there”.

One simple strip of A3 paper is our memory canvas, students are encouraged to map their journey. By limiting the size of the paper it forces students to rationalise the information they want to show. Through a process of remembering the journey, we discuss the narrative that accompanies the map. I have found this an interesting method to discover a snapshot of individual understanding of where they are and how they relate to place.

I am now trying to translate this methodology into the preparation of many neighbourhood plans during the consultation phases. This has enabled us to observe and document the importance of space, how we prioritise and identify potential uses. However space is different things to different people. This is a constant challenge as built environment practitioners and this is just one of many methods in a large toolkit.

Below are some examples of the memory maps that have been created through various projects. I wanted to share this idea with you as it was inspired by some fantastic artists who we work with and often challenge to help us enable communities to discover home or a community place.

UVE Image of Student Project Work 2014

By Hannah Barter
Director, Urban Vision CIC

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Making space in the intercultural city by Phil Wood

As another awful, avoidable tragedy unfolds on the seas between North Africa and Fortress Europe and another round of gratuitous political rhetoric captures the headlines, another day goes by when we as a society fail to address the other, longer term question. That question being: given the inevitably of an ever more mobile and diverse world, how can we learn to live together in productive harmony?

Sadly, it seems to me that even outside of the febrile atmosphere of the current refugee crisis we have consistently failed to focus our minds on what it means to make superdiversity work on a practical day-to-day basis. The reasons are not too hard to find. For many, merely having a discussion about how to manage a situation is tantamount to accepting that situation as the new reality – yet large sections of our political class, media and public are still in denial that our society is irrevocably diverse. For them the answers are brutally simple: close the borders to newcomers and oblige existing minorities to assimilate into the ways of the majority. But let’s put that on one side for the moment and address another kind of myopia – that of the liberal who accepts the inevitability of a diverse society yet assumes that if we all simply try to get along, things will somehow turn out fine in the end.

Things may well turn out fine, but I’m a big believer in giving them a helping hand through public policy. In other words, we need to help give people reasons and incentives to prefer cultural encounter to avoidance, and for this we need to create tools, institutions and spaces of interaction. This is much easier said than done, but the rewards make the effort worthwhile. That’s because heterogeneity is superior to homogeneity and throughout history cities and civilisations have thrived on the social, cultural and economic innovations it has thrown up. But, if we want to achieve the diversity advantage, rather than a deficit, for our cities we have to actively work for it.

There are many arenas in which to seek productive encounter and interaction. The most important are in education, the workplace and civil society – but I want to highlight another, public space. As Jane Jacobs said:

“Dull, inert cities, it is true, do contain the seeds of their own destruction and little else. But lively, diverse, intense cities contain the seeds of their own regeneration, with energy enough to carry over for problems and needs outside themselves.”

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

Too often though the place-making professions, when asked what they can contribute, have held up their hands and claimed that cultural diversity is outside of their remit. But Leonie Sandercock has thrown down a challenge

“We are seeing the death of the Rational City and its replacement by Cosmopolis – the city of difference. We need an expanded language to express the city of memory, the city of desire and the city of the spirit. We need a new epistemology of planning.”

To be honest, architecture, planning, urban design and public space management are not going to make the decisive difference in determining whether a city is nasty, brutish and segregated or open and intercultural – but this does not let them off the hook. We now have ample evidence to show that good public space enhances the lives of communities and individuals, and that bad or neglected spaces can aggravate underlying socio-economic tensions and injustices.

I tried to arouse a new spirit of intervention in my book The Intercultural City: Planning for Diversity Advantage (2008) and since them, I have been working with the Council of Europe’s Intercultural Cities project to put ideas into action. Within a growing network of over 60 cities, we have engaged with place-making professionals to evolve practical guidelines and tools which can be used in a variety of environments, see http://www.coe.int/interculturalcities.

For example, the Intercultural Plan of the city of Barcelona, using a language and a conceptual grasp rarely seen in such documents, talks of finding “a renewed definition of the public space – spaces for relations – as an integral part of the idea of a city and as a space for meeting and generation of citizenship”. The Plan commits the city to a very purposeful set of actions including “incorporating new indicators into the diagnosis of what is really happening on the ground prior to taking action (such as) an in-depth analysis of the socio-cultural reality and the changes and evolutions that occur (and) integrating the perception and knowledge that the different groups and social agents make of their neighbourhood and city as a whole”. It goes on further to commit to “Incorporate into public spaces elements that contribute to generating spontaneous interaction between users: play areas in children’s’ parks, specific offers for young people, bicycle or walking paths”.

The Plan evolved through a very extensive process of conversations inspired by key questions such as “What do you think are the common elements that should be shared by people of different cultural origins in order to live together peacefully in the neighbourhood and in the city?” and “Can you describe any space of interculturality or intercultural coexistence in Barcelona?”

It is, to my mind, the most sophisticated attempt by a city, thus far, to get to grips with these issues and should be a source of inspiration to others stepping tentatively into the field (see http://www.bcn.cat/novaciutadania/pdf/en/PlaBCNInterculturalitatAng170510_en.pdf)

Britain has been a laggard in facing up to these issues, but there is good practice, for example in the London Borough of Lewisham. Waking up to the danger that it was becoming a dormitory for disengaged and atomised commuters, with an unfriendly and degraded public realm, Lewisham has taken effective action on a range of fronts over the last decade.

Following a widespread listening exercise, a toolkit for intercultural place-making was produced and this informed a new approach to public space in Lewisham. A programme of targeted improvement has transformed numerous locations within the district – and Lewisham’s commitment has aroused widespread recognition and approbation. Four of the Borough’s public spaces have received prizes in the London Planning Awards in the last few years: Ladywell Fields, Deptford Lounge, Cornmill Gardens and Margaret McMillan Park. The Park was also awarded first place in the Urban Green Space Category of the Local Government News 2011 Street Design Awards, and the Civic Trust Award in 2010 for Community Recognition.

The Metropolitan Police crime statistics for Lewisham suggest that the Borough’s approach may be paying dividends and, in a survey conducted by the Council, 78% of local residents said they now use the park more, whilst 93% said they felt safer.

Lewisham has also sought to animate its public spaces, organising ‘Big Lunch’ Street Parties in residential streets as well as several larger ‘Big Conversation’ events in which strangers from across the borough are encouraged to make new contacts over a meal, in association with the philosopher Theodore Zeldin. The Borough’s approach to intercultural place-making is described in a short video at https://youtu.be/NfNXaShIg3Y.

So, to conclude, it now seems to me that the emergence of MELA Social Enterprise is very timely, bringing a much-needed focus upon the oft-overlooked skills and insights of intercultural place-making. There’s much to be done.