Projects talk: Interethnic co-existence in European cities

How can interethnic co-existence work in superdiverse neighbourhoods?
ICEC (Interethnic Co-existence in European Cities), one of the ten projects from the first JPI Urban Europe Call, has come to an end. Project leader dr.Yvonne Franz from the Austrian Academy of Sciences looks back and forward.

What was the main project goal?
“We wanted to initiate an assessment and exchange of good practice in integration policies between three European cities, namely Amsterdam, Vienna and Stockholm. The results are used and implemented in municipal policies and bottom-up initiatives aimed at creating integrative neighbourhoods. ICEC results found entrance in the new Regional Plan for Stockholm (RUFS 2050) and inspired the district mayor in the 6th district of Vienna for a new seed-funding programme for neighbourhood initiatives (”

What is the outcome of the project research?
“Our analysis suggests that in contrast to top-down initiatives, participation in bottom-up or hybrid initiatives generally correlates to neighbourhood belonging. Interethnic co-existence is a long-term process based on the activities of the actors and networks involved. Peaceful co-existence requires local integration initiatives and long-term commitment from policy makers.”

Long term process for actors and networks involved and long-term commitment from policy makers

So the policy makers are the motor for the vehicle towards interethnic co-existence?
“Yes, together with the public stakeholders and the (individual) initiators. Investing in neighbourhood belonging from their side is of crucial importance. Peaceful co-existence is not simply a happy accident that occurs without effort in the form of local integration initiatives. Rather, this stability – and a potential shift to co-responsibility on the ‘right side of the see-saw’ – requires long-term commitment from policymakers.”

What efforts are required from the policymakers?
“There needs to be real commitment for it – we are talking about long-term efforts. This commitment can be fed by acknowledging that neighbourhood belonging is a process that needs time, but can offer opportunities for people to become engaged. […] What is expected from the policymakers is continuous support of local initiatives, provision of neighbourhood spaces and flexible use of existing premises. Further needs are regular monitoring of inclusionary (side-)effects of existing initiatives. Another decisive effort is the outreach to community gate-keepers of hard-to-reach groups.”

You mentioned the shift to the ‘right side of the see-saw’, what is the risk to tip the balance to the wrong side and what are the potential and change to tip it to the right side?
“A risk is that if peaceful co-existence – living side-by-side – is not maintained, it can lead to disconnection from the neighbourhood. On the other side, there is a considerable potential and chance that promoting and strengthening co-existence results in fortified neighbourhood belonging.”

Three European cities were involved in the ICEC project. Did they operate in the same way, or were there specific focusses for improving the circumstances?
“For Amsterdam we found that the main need was to provide reliable financial structures for self-organised activities, in Stockholm the improvement can be achieved by creating a framework for support of local initiatives where citizens themselves decide the content and Vienna may strive for permeable structures that allow self-organised initiatives and prevent inclusionary exclusiveness.”

How did you engage with the stakeholders of the project?
They have been on board from the beginning as project partners. We collaborated with the Stockholm County Council, with the OIS in Amsterdam and the Urban Renewal Offices in Vienna. Throughout the three years of our project, we organised a policy workshop in each city where researchers, stakeholders and policymakers from Sweden, the Netherlands and Vienna participated in thought-provoking one-day events. In Vienna, for instance, participants were invited to get their delicious packed lunch, prepared by an immigrant woman from Libya and organised by a local NGO. We invited them to go out on the streets or the nearby park, and to start discussing what they had learnt. Our attempt was to facilitate mutual learning exchange at different labels. We received very positive feedback from the participants on our choice of location and catering, demonstrating the value of ‘being close to everyday life’, which is the heart of the ICEC project.

Examples of neighbourhood initiatives

Garteln ums Eck (Gardening around the Corner, is an initiative that is organised in multiple neighbourhoods. The project started as a legalised continuation of “guerrilla gardeners” and is now coordinated and also financially supported by the municipality through local urban renewal offices. Participants primarily want to beautify the neighbourhood and like to have their “own” small garden. Because activities take place in public space, conversations with neighbours and passers-by ensue easily, as well as small-scale cooperation around watering and exchanging plants.

Participant: “Since I began taking part, neighbours show me their garden and talk with me. That’s a nice side-effect.”

The Neighbourhood Centre ‘De Handreiking’ by ‘Buurtwerkkamer Coöperatie’ is an initiative by professionals and residents that aims to provide a meeting place for vulnerable residents and contribute to a liveable neighbourhood. Besides organising activities in place, another objective is guiding residents towards paid employment or voluntary work. ‘Samen kappen’ is one of the activities where hairdressing/crafting/sewing activities and socialising take place in the same room.

Participant: “I’ve been unemployed at home for three years now. So I’m pretty happy that I can spend a few hours here.”

Aseffa Hailu who grew up in Skärholmen himself founded the initiative ‘Mitt 127’ (My 127). This is a neighbourhood project that has put Skärholmen on the map as not just a ‘migrant neighbourhood’, but as a place to be. The festival organised by the initiative draws youth from all over Stockholm. Important to its success is the involvement of local youth working at the festival; 90% of whom have a foreign background. The youths decide the content and priorities of the festival. Older youths function as supervisors and role models for the younger staff. The success of the initiative has spread, several diverse areas in Sweden are now arranging the festival in the same way.

Aseffa Hailu: “The people of Mitt127 are people from the neighbourhood that the youth can relate to. The staff can relate to the youth and their experiences and the younger people often trust people from the neighbourhood more than outsiders.”

Further reading

Research Results at a Glance – Download PDF
How can interethnic co-existence work in superdiverse neighbourhoods?

Comparative Cross City Report – Download PDF
Dahlvik, Franz, Hoekstra, Kohlbacher (2017) Neighbourhood Initiatives and Belonging in Super-Diverse Neighbourhods in Amsterdam, Stockholm and Vienna. Comparative Cross City Report.

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