Policy and Politics Journal

The challenge of superdiversity for urban planning

by Simon Pemberton

In our recent Policy & Politics article published as part of a special issue on superdiversity we reflect on the increasing importance of the implications of superdiversity for urban planning, as well as the equality of outcomes of planning practices. We highlight a number of points for consideration.

First, relatively little work has been done on the role of urban planning in responding to migration-related superdiversity. Whilst previous research has been done on urban planning and the multicultural city, as well as planning and diversity in the city, there has been little attention to date on the challenges of increasing superdiversity for urban planning.

Second, in relation to superdiversity, urban planners need to think more about how to balance competing interests, how to recognise and address specific needs, and how to respond to people in increasingly diversified (or diversifying) settings (for example, see Fincher and Iveson, 2008). However, activities that have traditionally addressed the needs of a dominant ethnic or national identity within particular neighbourhoods in a city may no longer be applicable.

In our case study on Liverpool, two particular issues stood out. First, the recency and dynamic nature of superdiversity in the city. It was clear that the population of the city was becoming increasingly differentiated, with some individuals being ‘hyper-mobile’, whilst others were relatively fixed. In turn, this meant that different types of ‘activity spaces’ were important for some – such as the neighbourhood – but not for others.What came out strongly from Liverpool was the importance of class-based differences in informing socio-economic diversity and how such issues may be of particular relevance in cities and neighbourhoods of emerging superdiversity. Thus attempts by urban planners to redistribute resources therefore need to be more heavily focused around recognition of the differences and interconnections between different aspects of superdiversity on which inequalities are based (for example, ethnicity, culture, nationality and gender). As such, there is a need to move beyond acting in the ‘public good’ for a single dominant ethnic group in the city.

A second issue that also stood out in Liverpool related to legal status and access to services and facilities in super-diverse neighbourhoods. It was apparent that urban planners were not always entirely clear as to how their efforts to respond to increasing superdiversity should be targeted. Moreover, for those more ‘visible’, urban planners need to recognize the importance of super-diverse neighbourhoods in providing an environment where those who are visibly different can avoid discrimination that may be more evident elsewhere in the city. But at the same time, such environments need to facilitate integration for all and not selectively focus on particular groups or individuals. For those less visible, urban planners need to consider alternative ways of engaging and identifying such groups.

Hence context – as ever – continues to be all-important in shaping the nature of urban planning responses to superdiversity, and attempts to secure fair and equitable outcomes.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you may be interested in reading Superdiversity and sub-national autonomous regions: perspectives from the South Tyrolean case by Roberta Medda-Windischer