The primary mission of our project, in a nutshell, was to provide evidence of the positive outcomes on social cohesion, social mobility and economic performance that may emerge from greater urban diversity and to document and highlight the significant role that local urban policy initiatives can play in developing and stimulating those positive outcomes. We believe that we achieved this target by introducing a new policy approach, hyper-diversity, which suggests a shift away from policies that target standard social categories. Hyper-diversity as an approach suggests that we look at diversity in cities beyond the needs of standardized categories of residents, or beyond standardized neo-assimilationist integration efforts, by focusing on the activities, actions and dynamics of diverse groups of people, which define the actual needs that exist in the city.
Our research shows that diversity is often appreciated by residents and does not stand in the way of social cohesion. In many cases the residents of diverse areas take diversity more or less for granted. This is apparent in places with a longer history of diversity. Young people spend much more time than adults in public spaces such as streets and plazas. There they meet and make friends with other neighbourhood children from diverse social backgrounds. More often than adults, young people develop friendships across differences, and they are less likely than adults to perceive ethnicity as the main social divider in the area. Instead, young people distinguish groups based on their school, sub-neighbourhood, or subculture. Even more than adults, they tend to see diversity as an ordinary part of their everyday lived experience. If this reflects a generational effect (and not just an age effect), their general acceptance of diversity is a hopeful sign. If a new generation is more at ease with diversity and has more open and dynamic networks, social divisions may be broken down. Political discourses should adapt to this trend by reconsidering the use of old terms such as multiculturalism and assimilation and portray diversity as the ‘new normal’.
Our research did not demonstrate a strong link between diversity and social mobility in general. Nonetheless, our in-depth case study analysis did show that policy initiatives can support diverse groups and individuals in the neighbourhood. They do so by offering space and organizing activities to gain access to employment opportunities. These are aimed mainly at underprivileged residents such as youths, immigrants, the homeless, and women.
With respect to economic performance we found that an increasing diversity of enterprises tends to attract different types of customers, inhabitants, and new types of services to these areas, which may in turn alter the social and economic conditions of the neighbourhood. In order to create the conditions that would increase the competitive advantage of local entrepreneurs, it is not enough to support small and disadvantaged enterprises. It is also necessary to provide social facilities and an appropriate built environment for different types of entrepreneurship by means of tailor-made policies.
Promoting societal diversity as an asset to be leveraged for social cohesion, social mobility, and economic performance largely depends upon actions at the city level. In our research, we see a clear shift towards assimilation policies at the national level. However, city authorities have been shown to adopt more inclusive forms of integration policies, and to employ a more positive discourse towards diversity. There is a clear trend towards a more pragmatic approach to diversity in which positive aspects of difference for competitiveness and social cohesion is stressed. The local pragmatism can be related to the fact that it is the cities where the consequences of immigration are most visible. For city authorities, diversity is much more of a given than for their local counterparts, so it is something that has to be accommodated. Rather than focus on ideological debates, city authorities are far more likely to focus on coping with more concrete issues.
In this respect, we believe that cities can learn from the 140+ local grassroots initiatives we have examined. Many local initiatives deliberately build on diversity to achieve their goals, and attempt to foster social cohesion and social mobility by enabling positive exchanges between diverse people. To effectively support and sustain these small-scale arrangements in the long run, city administrations would need to take an active stance on diversity. Concretely, that means providing platforms for mutual exchange, giving bottom-up initiatives enough room to manoeuvre, and developing cross-departmental coordination of the diversity agenda.