It takes a neighbourhood to build a city
The ICEC project, funded by the JPI Urban Europe, helped urban policy-makers tackle the challenge of integration by focusing on what works - and what doesn't - within a city's super diverse neighbourhoods.
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European cities and urban areas are diverse, vibrant places to live kaleidoscopes of cultures and ethnicities and reflective of a new kind of super diversity. Yet, despite the progress that has been made towards integrating Europes capitals, the modern city is far from perfect.
To better understand what works and what doesnt in terms of successful integration, cities are turning towards their super diverse neighbourhoods for insights. After all, cities are really a collection of individual neighbourhoods spatially close to each other but offering very different levels of quality of life. If a policy is going to benefit a city, it has to start by benefiting a neighbourhood.
This neighbourhood-centric approach to urban integration is being led by the EU-funded Interethnic Coexistence in European Cities (ICEC) project, part of the JPI Urban Europe initiative. In search of successful neighbourhood integration policies, the project sent researchers into neighbourhoods of Amsterdam, Vienna and Stockholm to compare the aims, structural features and outcomes of each citys neighbourhood development programmes.
We want to understand how living together works out and how active participation in local initiatives affects (or doesnt affect) an individuals sense of belonging and the quality of the inter-ethnic coexistence within their neighbourhood, says project coordinator Yvonne Franz.
Urban living labs
The project provided policy recommendations related to the political measures that work best for strengthening the integrative power of an urban neighbourhood, and the ways cities can promote inter-ethnic coexistence in the local context.
It is worth noting that ICEC project used urban living labs, which allow researchers to immerse themselves in the communities being studied and directly engage with residents, public actors and private stakeholders.
ICEC highlighted that the effort to approach local stakeholders. In fact " it takes a lot of time to get access to local residents and gain their trust before theyll answer questions about their living conditions, explains Franz. But these living labs helped us gain in-depth insights as, instead of testing products with end users, we unravelled the daily lives of our local experts the residents in real time.
The importance of belonging
After a lengthy assessment of local initiatives and an assessment of residents who participated in selected initiatives, the project reached some valuable conclusions for policy-makers. For example, researchers learned that fleeting contacts, such as simple greetings and chit-chat, are significant in creating a sense of belonging to a neighbourhood.
People feel at home when they recognise someone on the street, know their neighbours and the local vendor at, for example, the grocery store, says Franz. As these fleeting contacts lay the foundation for a higher degree of neighbourhood attachment, policies could help people living in the same neighbourhood get to know each other by organising such initiatives as courses at a neighbourhood centre, community gardening programmes or cooperative childcare services.
This desire to recognise and be recognised tends to disregard ethnicity, meaning policy measures should focus more on creating casual opportunities for residents to interact than on forcing integration, adds Franz. Most people appreciate coexisting next to each other without intensive interaction on a regular basis, which is why peaceful interethnic coexistence in super diverse neighbourhoods is best achieved via a lot of joint, local efforts by both public and private actors.
The project translated observations, conversations and evaluations into cross-city comparative findings for future learning and implementation practices. In addition to the development and distribution of these best practices via journals, articles, conferences and the projects website, ICEC will publish a multi-lingual policy book as a handbook for policy-makers and local stakeholders.