I am pleased to see efforts at linking cultural diversity, social inclusion and public space. Today’s cities are magnifying a challenge that has long been facing the modern urban condition: increased social diversity and inequality. These challenges are not new, and can be found to have characterized cities throughout history, as cities have always been places of diversity and inequality; but they were intensified after the industrial revolution, and they are now being highly amplified through globalization. The response has often included, in various degrees, the creation of an infrastructure that would bind people together: through myths and communal narratives, shared experiences and practices, and collective institutions and spaces. While some of these integrative frameworks have been manipulative and exclusive, others have been generous and inclusive. One of the most powerful responses in recent history has been the development of a welfare system that could address these two challenges through an inclusive infrastructure of support. The collective provision of common goods provides a backbone around which social inclusion can be developed and strengthened. Public spaces are one of these common goods, as well as an important ingredient of the common infrastructure that makes urban life possible. Inclusive public services and institutions, which include the urban public spaces, however, need strong and persistent work to survive and thrive. As private gains are given priority over public value, as individuals use private cars to pass through the city, communicate with others through the medium of abstract bureaucratized institutions and libertarian technologies, segregate themselves from others into exclusive areas and neighbourhoods, withdraw from the public sphere for the fear of crime or the mistrust of public institutions, or improve the public spaces only as a catalyst for gentrification and real estate gains, the need to pay attention to an inclusive public sphere is more evident than ever before. This is why I am pleased to see efforts like MELA, which are essential in keeping this drive for inclusion alive.
Ali Madanipour is Professor of Urban Design and Director of Global Urban Research at Newcastle University and author of his most recent book ‘Urban Design, Space and Society’ Palgrave Macmillan (2014)