When discussing about urbanization, an immediate association with industrialization, economic potential and employment opportunities arises. This also brings into discussion a focus on diverse population seeking employment and looking to integrate in the cities’ mechanism. Cities represent places where diverse population coexist, sharing urban transportation, residential properties/rent, or workplaces among many others, and within these places the diversity and difference among people is likely to be tolerated (Pratt-Adams, Maguire & Burn 31). But considering the fact that people with diverse background are activating in the same economy, this implies that they are competing for the same employment opportunities, the same housing services, the same social welfare (which decrease if there are more people that rightfully benefit of such incentives) and in general, for the same benefits specific to the urban life, competitions are likely to generate tensions between the cities’ residents, which may result in separation, marginalization, polarization, contradiction or confrontation. Citing Jacobs and Fincher, Pratt-Adams, Maguire and Burn (32) refer to “specific people in specific settings” to define the way in which cities are shaped. This however, indicates a separation, as it implies that certain people belong to specific settings, hence, they are being polarized, or self-polarized. As such, cities that ideologically are intended to sustain as much as possible the emancipation, are falling into deep polarization. To exemplify this urban reality, a study prepared by UN-Habitat (177) observes how Mumbai, an Indian city, designed as the symbol of the country’s determination to reach progress towards emancipation has become a deeply polarized place, because it faced the obvious separation between rich and poor, and the proliferation of the high rise structures favored a landscape of exclusion and polarization.
One of the causes of polarization is the income level of the cities’ inhabitants, which segregate them spatially into regions designated to low-income residents and to high-income residents. Frug and Barron (160) theorize that a possible strategy for dealing with income polarization would be to condition the access of poor population of the city in the global business, which implies requiring employment favors from the private sectors. The utopia of this approach is obvious, as even the authors admit that it would impose a pressure on the private sector, which holds the financial power in cities, which would not be good for their business and not for the overall financial development of the cities (Frug & Barron 160). Besides this, there must be noted the fact that private institutions, sources of employment are looking for employees who would have the potential of making their business more prosperous, and act not as charity institutions, as they do not select employees based on their social and financial needs or on their social status and the need to integrate, nor are they promoting an emancipated society as their business goal. It is precisely in the structure of the private institutions that the paradox of the city life, with diversity and polarization coexisting, resides. Private companies are looking for best employees for their diverse needs, and while the rich individuals might be more favored to get the jobs because they might have more possibilities or knowledge, based on their completed education, companies nowadays promote an open competition, and a diverse working environment, acting as equal employers. Being an equal employer defines the essence of the capitalism, the coin of the existence in the modern urban areas, because everybody can be considered a candidate for a good employment, as long as s/he meets the requirements of the post. In other words, everybody can be considered a suitable candidate to a good life, as long as s/he has the individual resources to distinguish.
The difference in the city life is marked not only by the income line, but also by the ethnic background, age structure and location of the residents and the public policies are interested in maintaining these differences in order to create a city planning for a diverse population (Fincher 1-2). On the contrary, Frug and Barron (160) indicate that the government should be more involved in making cities more inclusive, by “relieving the spatial segregation along class and income lines”, because structuring city land use by integrating residents regardless of their income level, ethnic or racial lines can be a solution for managing the impacts of polarization.
The polarization in cities is structured on two levels: the mainstream and the marginal, and the cities’ authorities are defining planning for supporting the marginal groups, because they require “particular attention” (Fincher 2). Nevertheless, the planning for the marginal groups has been differently interpreted in various occasions (Leary & McCarthy 264), which indicates social contradictions specifically because of the diversity. As such, while the representatives of various races, ethnicities, or other urban groups request for inclusive policy, they themselves are the opponents of such policies as they invoke ethnic, racial or group specific differences, which allow them to be excluded from a certain public policy, meant for the urban population. For instance, education is a defining chapter for the above-mentioned argument. While schools in major cities are promoting an inclusive education, teaching the official language(s) of the country to all students, regardless of their race, ethnicity or other social groups they are part of, their social groups disregard such policies, requiring for the children to be educated in their native language, as it is the case in Singapore, which although maintains the ethnic heritage alive through promoting the education in the native language of each ethnicity, has no economic or social integration value (Garcia, n.p.). Such social attitudes form the self-isolation, marginalization and often lead to self-victimization and social confrontation with the mainstream groups.
Pratt-Adams, Maguire and Burn (33) sustain that “understanding the city involves recognizing and respecting many complex and interwoven differences, the hybrid and flexible multiple identities”. But is it really so? No long ago, France issued a law that prohibited Muslim women to wear their traditional burka dresses, their veils or headscarves, which represented the expression of their cultural identity and their adherence to Muslim religion (Langley “France’s Burka Ban”). Rather, such an act is a clear example of social confrontation in the urban environment. In addition, this is an example of disrespecting the cultural diversity, which leads to further and deeper polarization within the city. This is also a good example of contradictions that emerge as a result of the diversity and differences existent in cities. As such, while the purpose of the law issued in France was meant to protect Muslim women against the ethnic, religious, social and gender discriminations (in the context of the 9/11 event that still produces associations between Muslims and terrorism) and to offer them increased opportunities to integrate in society, it nevertheless contradicted the values and principles of Muslim society, wherein Women wear the traditional dress as a sign of respect for Islam and for their traditions, transmitted from generation to generation.
However, the diversity is not always a source of contradictions and confrontations, but also a reason for celebration, because the diverse cultures of various “marginal” groups are promoted, sustained and they represent occasions for intercultural exchange, for better knowing one group’s culture and understanding the behavior, actions, habits and traditions of specific groups. Celebrating diversity implies respecting differences and accepting them as parts of the social living (McGrath 11). In fact, the celebration of the diversity does not solely mean the promotion of certain groups’ differences and specificities through shows, manifestations or other type of events, but it refers to the day-to-day appreciation of others, respecting everybody for what they are, treating everybody with the same respect and consideration (McGrath 11). For sure, a general acknowledgment of the richness of cultural diversity greatly contributes to an increased tolerance in cities towards the marginal groups.
Rather than a place destined to marginalization, isolation, segregation, polarization, cities can benefit of the power of diversity, by optimizing the resources of their diverse population, since diversity is considered a source of progress (UN Habitat 6).
The diversity of the cities is reflected as a negotiation of the living with strangers, which includes a social dialogue, hence a social negotiation, but a more current urban trend for the negotiation of the living in the city is the avoidance of social interaction, which is visible through segregation, distancing practices, as some choose to withdraw from the others, targeting self-isolation (Leary & McCarthy 264).
Nevertheless, cities also represent the space where public negotiation makes way to positive transformation, as the marginal groups can make use of their own resources specific to their own cultural diversity to enrich societies, since diversity is considered “a source of untapped development potential” (UN Habitat 6). The positive effects of the transformational role that cultural diversity had upon urban (but not limited to urban areas) society across time and in fact, the prove that cultural diversity exists and enriches the city life it is available today. As such, sometime ago, marriages between Catholics and Protestants represented sources for familial scandals, but nowadays they are accepted and families have become more tolerant to such situations; employers would specify that no specific group needs to apply to their job opportunities, whereas nowadays there is an emerging employment trend, wherein employers specify that that they are promoters of equal opportunities, encouraging all groups to apply (McGrath 17). Moreover, other examples are available for confirming that cities provide the crucible for the emancipatory possibilities. As such, the same sex marriage, for long time considered blasphemy, against good morals and illegal is approved in certain cities of the world, and the supporters of this group are aiming to determine that the law of the marriage of the homosexual couples to be approved in more cities, throughout the world.
Cities and specifically big cities are associated with the idea of cosmopolite life, where diverse groups coexist, learning from each other’s’ differences but also contradicting and conflicting upon the differences that separate them into segregated, polarized groups. Therefore, the cities represent paradoxical places, wherein diversity is both celebrated and damned, but although there are urban trends ignited by discriminatory believes or self-isolation and distancing practices that impede the social development through diversity, there are also evident signs and practical proves that cities are places that optimize the emancipatory potential of a diverse society.
Fincher, Ruth. Planning for Cities of Diversity, Difference and Encounter. Melbourne, University of Melbourne. N.d. Print.
Frug, Gerald, E. & Barron, David, J. City Bound: How States Stifle Urban Innovation. New York, Cornell University. 2008. Print.
Garcia, Ofelia. Bilingual Education in the 21st Century: A Global Perspective. Oxford, Wiley-Blackwell. 2009. Print.
Langley, William. France’s Burka Ban Is a Victory for Tolerance. Accessed on 10 December 2013, retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/8444177/BurkaFranceNational-FrontMarine-Le-PenMuslimFadela-AmaraAndre-Gerinhijab.html. Telegraph. 2011. Web.
Leary, Michael, E. & McCarthy, John. The Routledge Companion to Urban Regeneration. New York, Routledge. 2013. Print.
McGrath, Carmelita. Celebrating Diversity. Respecting Differences. Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. Women’s Policy Office. 2000. Print.
Pratt-Adams, Simon, Maguire, Meg & Burn, Elizabeth. Changing Urban Education. New York, Continuum International Publishing Group. 2010. Print.
UN-Habitat. Cities 2004/2005. Globalization and Urban Culture. London, Earthscan. 2004.