A new approach to cultural diversity, in the current debate about 'multiculturalism'.
The authors examine the connections between cultural diversity, innovation and thriving, prosperous urban communities, in relation to the economic, social and cultural mix of Britain’s population. They developed tools to harness the potential of diverse communities and create strategies to aid greater exchange between different cultural groups for use by policymakers, planners and practitioners. The study evaluated six aspects of local activity:
Cultural diversity is not new to Britain, but the 'multicultural' approach through which we have understood diversity and shaped policy for the past four decades is now being called into question. This study, by Phil Wood, Charles Landry and Jude Bloomfield, explores ways of unlocking the potential of cities' cultural diversity. It identifies practical strategies to encourage intercultural exchange between different groups. The research found:
The project set out to explore the connections between cultural diversity, innovation and thriving and prosperous urban communities, in the context of Britain's economic, social and cultural population mix. It developed strategies to use the potential of diverse communities and their innovation and so provide tools for policymakers, planners and practitioners. The research also helped participating cities to develop specific economic, social, cultural and planning policies with the aim of becoming role models for others.
Evidence from the business world suggests that there is a 'diversity advantage' that can provide opportunities. Diversifying a workforce introduces new skills and aptitudes, often leading to innovations, and provides access to new markets and a variety of cheaper goods. There is also evidence that a tolerant and diverse setting can attract wealth creators to an area. In societies where immigration lies at the heart of national identity, such as the United States and Canada, diversity has often been seen as a source of potential opportunity and advantage.
Since the 1950s, Britain has developed substantial 'visible minority' communities and national policies, whether liberal or restrictive, have responded to related housing, employment, educational and cultural needs. For forty years, 'multiculturalism' has been the policy orthodoxy within which legislation and values have been set.
Multiculturalism sought to protect and celebrate diversity, with minority languages, religions and cultural practices encouraged and rights enshrined in legislation. Recently, this approach has been questioned and, particularly at the local level, some argue that it has encouraged culturally and spatially distinct communities, leading 'parallel lives'. It is argued that the maintenance of difference has become the very means by which status and resources are acquired, so that multiculturalism speaks only for minorities and alienates white working-class people, driving them away from tolerance and towards extremism.
Without abandoning multiculturalism altogether, the researchers propose an 'interculturalism', which emphasises interaction and the exchange of ideas between different cultural groups. This goes beyond equal opportunities and respect for cultural differences, to the transformation of public space, institutions and civic culture. It is also distinct from the current arguments made for integration and community cohesion. It argues for a much more proactive engagement between cultures, and sees conflict as an inevitable and creative process. This suggests mutual learning and growth, and gaining skills to allow interaction between different people, regardless of their origins - an intercultural competence.
Cities can become more intercultural by taking a fresh look at what they do. This requires 'cultural literacy' - the capacity to acquire and use knowledge about cultures. Our behaviour is a result of our culture, whether ethnic, organisational or professional. This requires professionals working in communities to question their own assumptions and expectations at all times, as well as those of the community. The process of engagement can cover exploration of a community's history, cultural institutions and values, through art, skills, crafts, media, oral history and memory. The process of engagement can become as much an experience of community bonding as a research tool.
The study re-evaluated six aspects of local activity, through an intercultural lens:
A catalytic individual or group will often be at the heart of an intercultural initiative. 33 such people were interviewed in Bradford, Birmingham, Huddersfield, Leicester, London, Newcastle and Oldham to identify common characteristics. They fell into three broad types: artists, those involved in community development, including local politicians, and entrepreneurs. These people found it easier than most to cross cultural boundaries. They were adept at seeing their own culture as relative or composite and valued the different ways of doing things in other cultures. This openness allowed them to select and absorb elements of other cultures and to produce new ways of thinking and creating.
Many of these intercultural innovators, especially those of mixed race, often reported difficulties with racism or rejection while growing up, but this seemed to have translated into better motivation and resilience. Unorthodox educations were also common as they had often gained their life experience outside formal settings, for example through work rather than at university. They often described themselves as outsiders, mavericks and rebels on the margins of society.
Cities can nurture intercultural innovation by recognising diversity and drawing on its skills. They also need to eliminate racism and institutional lethargy and provide good access to funding and resources.
Currently, available data can describe the ethnic makeup of a community, but not the degree of interaction or co-operation.
The study presents an isolation index of 78 English boroughs, which is a quantitative measure of the likelihood of a person living next door to someone from a different background. However, further indicators are clearly needed to answer questions of how easily and frequently people from different ethnicities mix, how open a city is in terms of the institutional framework, business, civil society and public space, and the extent of intercultural co-operation and collaboration.
These questions can be partially answered by measures of, for example, intermarriage, multilingualism and crossover networks. Documentary indicators, such as the existence of a formal local authority strategy for intercultural diversity, are also telling.
To explore openness and interculturalism at an urban level, and test the assumptions of the indicators they devised, the researchers undertook a case study in Bristol, interviewing active or prominent people from a wide social spectrum. One finding was that among younger people, especially second and third generation immigrants, day-to-day involvements in work and play discourage segregation. Also, the creative industries and arts sectors are significant arenas where mixing occurs. The main conclusion, however, was that even though a city may not outwardly display any signs of ethnic tension or antipathy, a passive state of 'benign indifference' seems to be the UK default position and this is neither sufficient nor desirable if society is to make the most of diversity.
Building on these findings, the researchers draw out the following suggestions for policy action:
The study drew on city-based case studies, thematic studies subjecting aspects of public and urban policy to analysis through an intercultural lens and in-depth interviews with 33 individual intercultural innovators in seven cities. These were Bradford, Birmingham, Huddersfield, Leicester, London, Newcastle and Oldham. Comparative analysis was conducted with researchers in Europe, North America and Australasia. A review of existing literature was also undertaken. The research was carried out over 15 months up to the end of 2005.