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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:


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