Intercultural Cities: Laboratories for Intercultural Integration

6/8th February 2013,
Dublin, Ireland
- conference

Organiser: Council of Europe, European Commission

Intercultural Cities logoInsights from the Intercultural Cities “Milestone Event”

Elected and unelected city officials gathered in Dublin to take stock of the Intercultural Cities programme in its 5th year. They were joined by representatives from civil society, business, academia, and other government levels. Over 250 participants spent three days deliberating on how ‘intercultural integration’ is practiced and how the ‘diversity advantage’ is reaped through cities’ policies. The event was hosted by the Dublin Office of Integration under the Irish EU Presidency.

Besides protocol speeches to profile the institutions, which support the Intercultural Cities network, the programme featured speeches of mayors and deputy-mayors, analytical panel presentations, as well as three sets of four workshops, which required creative, playful engagements. The content programme concluded with three field visits.

Platform for Intercultural Europe was one of three respondents to the event.

The final statement called for “a strong coalition of leaders from elected institutions, civil society, businesses, media, academia and the arts, to help consolidate and propagate the Intercultural City vision.”


Coffe break  Work sessions 1  Work sessions 2
Photo credit: Fennel Photography

What ‘milestone’ has Intercultural Cities passed?

Intercultural Cities is a programme set up in 2008 by the Council of Europe with financial support from the European Commission. It is run by a 3-person secretariat in Strasbourg and supported by a group of independent researchers – key amongst them ‘urban therapist’ Phil Wood, who was the manager of the UK-based Intercultural City project in the early 2000s.

The Dublin event was the first time that cities from the entire network gathered to reflect on the programme as a whole. Previously, study visits to participating cities have taken place as well as policy-specific seminars such as on partnership for enterprise in San Sebastian, on urban space in Venice, or on public safety in Lisbon.


Network growth and evidence of the “diversity advantage”

In its 5th year, the Intercultural Cities network celebrates in particular its growth as an indicator of its success: It started with 12 participating cities and now counts 40. Participation extends beyond the membership of the Council of Europe to Canada, Mexico and Japan.

The Intercultural Cities programme is based on the hypothesis that cities can reap overall advantages from the diversity of their populations. The Dublin event was also an invitation to public scrutiny of this hypothesis based on the testimony of participating cities and on academic analysis.

Dino Pinelli presented a review of academic literature from the past decade which examined whether diversity presents an advantage for teams and organisation or for cities and countries. The literature is still limited; overall it indicates the existence of a “diversity advantage”. Crucial in any case, however, are the conditions (e.g. ‘socio-spatial organisation’) under which it emerges – conditions, which have to be ensured by public policy measures. Each diversity scenario has “faultlines” (e.g. effective segregation), which need to be addressed.

Andrea Wagner, one of the economist involved in designing the Intercultural Cities Index, explained that the latter measures chiefly the efforts of Intercultural Cities in designing integration policies, but not the outcomes of these efforts. Nevertheless the index was useful to illustrate the achievements of cities, to compare cities and to track their progress over time. It was also possible to correlate the findings (which is not to assume causality between them) of the index to other statistics (e.g. European Social survey): The higher a city figures on the Intercultural Cities Index in total, the greater the percentage of inhabitants who feel safe to walk the streets after dark. The higher a city score on the index regarding relations with media, the lower the percentage of those who feel discriminated against.


Communicating the ‘diversity advantage’ or diversity problems?

The real or at least potential existence of a ‘diversity advantage’ appeared not so much a bone of contention at the conference as the question how central it should be to a city’s public communications. Differences over this question were most clearly illustrated by Neukölln (a district of Berlin) and Botyrka (a district of Stockholm):

In one of the conference workshops, where several cities presented their intercultural strategies to an audience which was invited to pretend to be from a hypothetical city considering to join the Intercultural Cities network, Berlin Neukölln councillor for education, schools, culture and sports, Franziska Giffey, presented the 10 principles which guide her district municipality’s intercultural strategy. Certain amongst them raised the hackles of some of the listeners: (1) “All people in Neukölln live according to the values and rules of the liberal and democratic basic order.” (4) “A tolerant Neukölln accept everybody and has clear rules. Who offends against these rules, must reckon with intervention by the community.” (5) “Ambition to succeed and competences are the engine for social ascent.“ Ms Giffey’s presentation led to the criticism that Neukölln had a “problem-solving approach to integration”, rather than one that framed problems as opportunities.

Carlos Rojas from Botkyrka, Sweden, reacted against the background of his own experience. He recalled the shock he suffered when he realised that this district of Stockholm where he grew up, suddenly had a negative press, and being from Botkyrka had become a stigma. He therefore accorded the public communications of the municipality great importance: “a positive message is always best.”

Ms Giffey put up a defence for the problem-solving approach by quoting Neukölln’s mayor Heinz Buschkowsky, who said: ”If I’m worried about traffic safety at a cross roads, I don’t count the number of cars which passed without incident. I count the accidents. Where education is concerned we do have ‘accidents’: 60% of school leavers with a migration background leave without or with the lowest kind of certificate.” Buschowsky, incidentally had caused furore with his book “Neukölln ist überall “ (‘Neukölln is everywhere’, 2012) in which he draws attention to a segregation, which is wanted by significant segments of the population of migrant background in Neukölln (he reaped reactions which ranged from ‘raising legitimate concerns’ to ‘populist’ or even ‘racist’).

Deputy mayor of Botkyrka, Jens Sjöström, demonstrated the approach advocated by Carlos Rojas, later in his plenary presentation of Botkyrka’s Intercultural Strategy in which positive branding plays an important role - “Far from average” being the municipal slogan.

Ms Giffey, said informally later that she missed an open exchange in the Intercultural Cities network about the ways to tackle problems caused by diversity; the network was too much used for showing off initiatives such as festivals.


What does the Intercultural Cities Network mean to participating cities?

With the programme covering the expanse of Europe and beyond, the range of participating cities is great indeed: In some the diversity of people stems from migratory flows of the distant past, others experience significant new arrivals to this present day. Accordingly, some are concerned with ‘ethnic minorities’ and others with ‘(im-)migrants’. Numbers of either and their cultural proximity to the majority, or to the autochthon, also distinguish cities in the challenges they face.

Imagine cities as different as Izhevsk, Dublin, Lisbon and Berlin-Neukölln look for benefits from the same network:

  • In Izhevsk in the Western Urals, where Russians make up the majority of the populations, public authorities face the task of realising the cultural, especially linguistic, rights of the Udmurt people (a shrinking population counting 637,000 in 2002 - incidentally distinguished by a large number of red-haired people just like the Irish) and other (much smaller) ethnic minorities (Tatars, Ukrainians and Mari).
  • In Dublin – capital of a country marked by emigration, - immigration is a phenomenon only experienced since the 1990s. The influx has predominantly been by EU citizens from Eastern Europe, Poland in particular, who tend to be well-qualified and do not stick out as foreign by their physical appearance.
  • Lisbon – a city which has experienced immigration in particular from its former colonies of Brasil, Cape Verde, Mozambique and Angola – faces not so much linguistic, but great visible and socio-economic diversity. Significant numbers of its inhabitants of Brasilian origin are leaving because of better economic prospects in Brasil.
  • Berlin- Neukölln is marked by the consequences of labour migration during Germany’s post-war ‘economic miracle’ until 1973 (Turks in particular), of emigration from political turmoil in the Middle East (Lebanese, Palestinians, Iranians etc), and of poverty migration within the EU (Roma from Romania and Bulgaria).

Despite these differences, cities in the Intercultural Cities programme derive inspiration, courage and justification for their work from the network.

The tools offered by the Intercultural Cities programme catalyse the network benefits: “The Intercultural lens” – an exercise to assess city functions, study visits for peer review, and the Intercultural Cities index. Participating cities identify where they are at. They discover reasons for pride and gaps to be filled. They get ideas for the development of their practice by looking over the shoulders of their colleagues in other cities. They are encouraged to devise holistic intercultural strategies. They gain self-confidence in negotiating in political arenas further up – at the metropolitan, regional or national level. (Intercultural Cities is striking in that in some cases it is not entire cities, but individual districts that are members of the network, e.g. not Berlin but its district Neukölln, not London but its borough Lewisham, not Stockholm but Botkyrka).


Skin-deep or deep at heart? What depth of intercultural conviction?

The thinkers behind the Intercultural Cities programme assume a paradigm shift from ‘multiculturalism’ (coexistence of cultures within one society) to ‘interculturalism’ (engagement between different culture and development of hybrid societies) and from ‘assimilationist integration’ to ‘intercultural integration’. Underlying such a shift is the notion that people should not  be categorised by their roots, i.e. their place of origin and belonging to an ethnic group, and that policy measure should build on identities which unite across culture such as ‘mothers of large families’ or ‘poorly educated women’ … and to assume ‘light communities’ (temporary, purpose bound) rather than traditional communities.

There were, however, hints at the conference that thinking in ethnic categories prevails:

  • The Irish hosts of the conference proudly advertised The Gathering being organised in Ireland this year. Given an estimated 70 million people in the world claiming Irish ancestry, Ireland is organising a mega-event of ‘reunions’ by family name, by clan, by hobby and past time. A welcome boost to the Irish tourism industry it will be, but what will it do for those in Ireland who don’t share an Irish heritage?
  • Ethnic targeting for the purposes of boosting international trade was in evidence at the Irish-Chinese celebration of the Chinese New Year, in which the conference ended. People of Chinese origins in Ireland were rewarded for their instrumental role in facilitating relations with China. (To add curiosity, the party was sponsored by Etihad Airlines from the United Arab Emirates.) Representative culture (e.g. Riverdance) was seen oiling the wheels of international relations. ‘Why not?’ will those with an eye on the economy say, but do such policies do those migrants justice who don’t want to be seen as bridge-makers to their countries of origin?
  • MEP Emer Costello (Lord Mayor of Dublin, 2009-2010) spoke out in favour of an EU “diasporas policy”, which would engage people in the EU of foreign origins to support the economic and social development of their countries of origin or ancestry, i.e. people would be targeted specifically in their ethnicity. This would incidentally be inscribed in the Global Diaspora Initiative first taken in 2011 by the US State department under Hilary Clinton.

Platform for Intercultural Europe invited to respond

Three voices from outside the Intercultural Cities community reacted to the conference in a final panel: a representative from the multinational company in the catering and hospitality business, Sodexho, another from the French public broadcasters’ group France Télévisions, and Sabine Frank for the Platform for Intercultural Europe.

Sabine used her opening statement to observe that Intercultural Cities invest in the arts and culture as means to enliven public spaces, enable conviviality and facilitate the solution to social problems, and that festivals and projects are foremost tools in their cultural integration policies. However, few cities corralled the full spectrum of cultural institutions into intercultural integration policy implementation, few adopted a systemic approach to transforming the cultural sector into a hotbed for creating the intercultural society - Lyon, as presented during the conference, was a laudable example with its Charte de Coopération Culturelle. Sabine appealed to Intercultural Cities to call more on those in cultural institutions who share the intercultural vision, and to push those in cultural institutions who resist it. Public cultural institutions she said, have been pillars of the nation-states of Europe; they need to become the pillars of intercultural societies in Europe. Especially at a time of severe funding cuts, the little money that goes to the arts must have intercultural impacts and serve the diverse spectrum of society rather than an indigenous white middle class minority.

City officials therefore also needed to influence cultural policy making at higher levels – both national and European - as it affects the cultural institutions on their territories. She pointed to the work on cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue currently being undertaken at EU Council level under the Open Method of Coordination.

Asked whether in her experience, it is it difficult to engage minorities in intercultural work, Sabine responded that it isn’t difficult if the outreach to minorities isn’t limited to “sharing popadoms and pancakes” - activities to generate positive social ties must open the possibility for “cross-community engagement around bread and butter issues of equal rights and opportunities.” (Sukhvinder Kaur-Stubbs). Any good-willed interculturalists must recognise that interaction and mixing alone don’t lead to a fairer society. Sabine said, she liked the analogy with the emancipation of women  - it had not been achieved by enhancing the proximity of men and women. Rather, citing Jean-Paul Makengo, deputy mayor of Toulouse, who had spoken during the conference, “Women didn’t obtain their rights because men wanted to give them to them. Likewise, immigrants need to fight for their rights.”

Finally Sabine was asked whether it is more difficult in times of economic crisis to talk about interculturality. She replied that in times of austerity politics it was first of all more difficult to defend the role of government but that in order to “reap the diversity advantage” social engineering was required, which has to be carried out or paid for by public bodies.


A milestone on the journey to where?

“Making intercultural integration mainstream” is one hope expressed in connection with the Intercultural Cities programme. The growth of the network could certainly help with realising that. And the creation of national sub-networks (which are in the offing in Spain, Ukraine, Italy, Portugal, and Norway) can prevent the European network from becoming unwieldy.

The growing network will need to be fertilised by continued search for evidence of the ‘diversity advantage’ at the heart of the programme’s philosophy. The work on new indicators envisaged by the programme’s secretariat goes in this direction.

Yet, another possible challenge for the network to take on is to advocate for solutions at national and European level to problems, which can’t be solved at city level. “Influence national governments“ is another ambition which was aired for the Intercultural Cities programme at the conference. What are the issues at stake?

Representatives from many cities used the conference to call for local voting rights of non-EU national residents. Ludmila Sfirloaga, vice-president of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities (Council of Europe), suggested “grass-roots political participation should be based on residency rather than citizenship.” Anne-Pernelle Richardot, Deputy Mayor of Strasbourg, drew attention to a French network created in 2011, which promotes the right to vote and to compete in local elections of foreign residents (Conseil Français de la Citoyenneté de Résidence). Might the Intercultural Cities Network get to unite behind this agenda?

Cities are also at the forefront of dealing with the problems of undocumented migrants. These were estimated in 2006 at 5 to 8 million for the EU (source: PICUM), and are not just people who come to Europe illegally, but mostly people who become ‘irregular’ after having been ‘regular’ for some time. Cities can work to ensure that the human rights of undocumented migrants are observed, but they can’t move the obstacles for their integration out of the way. Might the Intercultural Cities network make this a common cause?

The conference revealed no strategising about how the Intercultural Cities network might advocate on these issues collectively. A sure obstacle in this regard is the informality of the network. Run as a programme by the Council of Europe, the network has no constitution and no governance system on the basis of which it could take the necessary decisions for political advocacy work. The Council of Europe itself would be a feeble addressee of such political demands. The European Union by contrast would be a better arena to hear any positions of Intercultural Cities. A pity then that the financial support of the programme by the European Commission (Directorate for Education and Culture) is about to cease – it also means that a potential avenue for political work closes.

If not political advocacy, is common publicity work on the horizon of Intercultural Cities? Many at the conference seemed to see the need to contain the forces opposed to interculturalism. Ludmila Sfirloaga pointed to the “negative public discourse on migrants, the scapegoating of migrants and minorities.” She deplored that “interculturalists feel like swimming against the stream.” Jean-Paul Makengo, Deputy Mayor of Toulouse, demanded “We need to train people to counter hate speech.” Franziska Giffey, Councillor in Berlin Neukölln, underlined the urgent need to deal with the question “What do we do with people who don’t want the intercultural city?” Might Intercultural Cities have the potential then to become an alliance against the opponents of interculturalism? Might it be capable of a common campaign? Once more, there were no signs of any such forces rallying at the conference, so may be common conference incantations will remain just that. Yet the network might further strengthen cities individually to act against the active opponents of interculturalism.

Posted 01 March 2013

More about Intercultural Cities.

©2011 Platform for Intercultural Europe. Donate!