Cohesion and Belonging: Review of the Evidence

Published 6 December 2016 / By Ben Gidley

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The last two decades have seen the demographic transformation of Europe, driven primarily by international migration. The current historical moment is defined by economic crisis, a changing relationship between Europe and its neighbours, and the unprecedented scale of mobility within, into and now once again out of the continent. This transformation has manifested primarily in Europe’s cities. As the world becomes more connected and concentrated in the cities of the 21st century, populations, cultures, economies and values in any one metropolis become more diverse.

The European city is marked by the “metropolitan paradox”: the most brutal forms of exclusion and conflict alongside the most profound forms of conviviality and co-existence. It is in cities where diversity is experienced most intensely, to which the majority of migrants move, and where mobilisations against diversity are symbolically rooted. And it is also at the local level where the possibility for new forms of identification and belonging emerge. A challenge for the European future is consequently not only the classical moral imperative to generate the good city but also to generate a sense of metropolitan cohesion and to govern diversity justly.

The challenge we are taking up here is this: How can Europe’s cities manage diversity dynamics for urban liveability and urban sustainability under the force of massive economic, social, cultural and political change? How can we learn to build inclusive cities and inclusive urban citizenship?

More specifically, as cities become more diverse and more unequal, municipalities face the challenge of how to ensure that all citizens feel they have a stake in a common civic culture. Local authorities increasingly recognise their “place-making” role alongside their statutory service delivery functions. A city in which all residents feel they are valued increases residents’ well-being and satisfaction and creates a climate in which municipal measures are more effective. This background paper sets out some of the key issues around building a common civic culture in Europe’s cities. The first section sets out the field which the paper addresses and discusses some of the key terms and concepts. The second section explores some of the evidence around the issues. The third section introduces the areas of intervention where cities can make a difference, illustrated by examples of promising or functioning practices.


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