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Issue No. 1 – June 2013

In this issue


Welcome to the first quarterly newsletter of DIVERCITIES! Launched in March 2013, DIVERCITIES brings together 14 accomplished partners to collaborate on a four-year research project funded by the 7th Framework Programme of the European Commission. The main objective of DIVERCITIES is to examine how diversity can foster social cohesion, social mobility and economic performance in European cities.

Interview with Professor Ronald van Kempen

Principal Investigator, DIVERCITIES

You’ve been researching urban spatial segregation, urban governance and minority ethnic groups for most of your career. How did you first become interested in these themes?
When I was in high school, I thought I should do something to improve the world. I was looking at social studies, sociology, child psychology. I even thought about veterinary science. Initially, I started with development studies specialising in the global south at the University of Amsterdam. But gradually, I became interested in urban geography in Western Europe, and specifically in the Netherlands because there were a lot of questions about big cities at that time; especially in terms of spatial segregation, low income housing, the disadvantaged positions of certain groups – especially migrant and ethnic groups. I did my PhD at Utrecht University where I researched urban spatial segregation and low income housing in the Dutch cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Gradually, my area of interest expanded to include international comparative research, governance, policy and social exclusion.

What is the DIVERCITIES project about?  What do you mean by “urban diversity”?
The principal idea behind the DIVERCITIES project is to acknowledge that cities are very diverse.  We even call cities “hyper-diversified” which is a term we will use quite often in the project. Cities are not only diversified in terms of demographics, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, but within specific groups there is also a lot of diversification. Within one particular ethnic group for example, there is diversity with respect to age, education, income, but also (very importantly) with respect to attitudes, values and activities. You can have two men of Indian background, both 24 years of age, both with the same education and income, but they can lead completely different lives. That’s why we believe that urban society is much more diversified than we might actually acknowledge. And we want to have this as the starting point of our project – what we refer to as “hyper-diversity”. People might appear to be the same, but they have very different ideas, values and norms. Which makes it very challenging for policymakers to target their policies…

Can the effects of diversity be influenced?
In many cities, there are all kinds of policies and activities, or what we call governance arrangements, that try to do something with diversity and see it as an important aspect of a city or neighbourhood. So yes, the effects of diversity can be influenced and we want to find out how. That is one of the principal aims of the project, how to deal with diversity, how we can steer it in a positive direction.

Are there specific areas in terms of policy or governance that DIVERCITIES will focus on?
One of the first things we will examine is the present discourse on diversity in local, national and European policies. How do policymakers view diversity? Is it viewed negatively or feared? If we find that the negative discourse is more prominent than the positive discourse, then we would like to change that. To say to policymakers and all others involved with making a city more liveable – look at diversity from the positive side.  At the end of our project, we will produce a handbook that includes proposals which we think will be helpful for cities in mediating the effects of diversity in a more positive way.

When we look at governance arrangements, I think there is also room for improvement. These are bottom-up initiatives, which we believe are very important in making a city or neighbourhood more liveable. We want to find out why some arrangements work, and others not. And if some arrangements do work, then what the “success factors” are. And even within successful arrangements, there will be some elements that don’t work so well, the “fail factors”. So we want to understand the threats to success, but also how we can improve governance arrangements so they are better than they are now.

Can you give an example of a “successful” governance arrangement that has improved communication between different groups, contributing to a more cohesive society?
In Utrecht, there is a shop in a deprived area called Overvecht. Residents can go to this shop and ask for help with certain things such as fixing their computer, painting the outside of their flat, making a small garden in a public space. The shop then goes to the nearby school and the pupils learn the skills to carry out these tasks.  So for example, a boy of Moroccan descent from the school might fix the computer of an old Dutch lady. It’s something positive for the Moroccan boy because he gets to learn and practice his new skills and may consider working with computers as a potential career. It’s a seed for social mobility. For social cohesion, it might be important because the Moroccan boy and the old Dutch woman have learned to know each other, which may lead to more positive attitudes towards each other’s group. I hope to find many examples like this in Rotterdam and the other cities where we will conduct our research.

What makes DIVERCITIES distinctive from other projects about multiculturalism or  interculturalism, etc.?
When you talk about terms like multiculturalism and interculturalism, it indicates a less diversified society than societies actually are. Policies and arrangements might look different in a hyper-diversified society vs. a less diversified society. So we think our project has big implications in terms of policymaking.

Also, we want to end up with concrete ideas. Not every project on multiculturalism etc. is geared towards concrete ideas for policymaking. Sometimes it’s a scientific discourse about the use of multiculturalism, the advantages and disadvantages of the term, etc. We have these discussions too, but our end product will be concrete recommendations backed up by comprehensive research results. Thereby, a strengthening of the link between scientific research and policymakers that I hope will endure beyond the life of this project.

First International Consortium Meeting

5-6 June 2013, University College London


The first international consortium meeting was hosted by the Bartlett School of Planning at University College London. Meeting attendees included the principal researchers of the 14 partners, project staff and the European Commission’s Research Programme Officer.

Professor Ronald van Kempen, Coordinator and Principal Investigator of the DIVERCITIES project welcomed the international consortium members and gave an overview of the project including the partners’ roles, responsibilities and obligations.

There were lively discussions to clarify the definitions of terms, selection of research cities and the specific objectives of the project. Presentations were given by most of the work package leaders; the Project Manager (Marjan Rossen); the Communications Advisor (Melissa Lee); and the EU’s Research Programme Officer (María del Pilar González Pantaleón). The concepts and methodological framework for each of the specific work packages were also reviewed by the consortium.

In-depth talks and decisions were carried out regarding the completion of the Critical Literature Review (Report 1a) and the Detailed Research Guidelines (Report 1b) which will both serve as a guiding framework for the project. (The Critical Literature Review will be downloadable from our website after the summer).

The second international consortium meeting is scheduled for 15-17 December 2013 in Ankara, Turkey and will be hosted by the Middle East Technical University (METU).

A special meeting for the Junior Researchers of the project is scheduled for 25-26 September 2013 in Utrecht, Netherlands.

East End London Field Trip: Brick Lane/Spitalfields

On Friday 7 June 2013, the consortium members visited the Brick Lane (Banglatown) and Spitalfields areas in the borough of Tower Hamlets. Dr. Claire Colomb, Senior Lecturer at the Bartlett School of Planning at the University College London, led the walking tour.

Alongside its curry restaurants, Sunday markets, artists’ studios, café culture and nightlife, the wards of Brick Lane and Spitalfields are renowned for being one of the most diversified areas in London and the UK. Throughout history, it has been the home to a transient community of new immigrants including the Huguenots, Irish, Russian and Polish European Jews, Bangladeshis, Somalis and many others. Gentrification and regeneration projects in recent times have added another dimension to the area’s diversity.

The consortium ended their day with a visit to the Spitalfields Housing Association, the largest Bangladeshi-led housing association in the UK, where Community Development Co-ordinator, Muge Dindjer provided the team with a very informative presentation. The Association provides housing predominantly to the Bangledeshi community who represent 37% of Spitalfields and Banglatown’s population.

DIVERCITIES is online!

Check out our website:


Project Coordinator:
Prof. Ronald van Kempen
Utrecht University
Faculty of Geosciences
P.O. Box 80.115
3508 TC Utrecht
The Netherlands


Consortium Partners & Advisory Board

Consortium Partners:
University of Antwerp, Belgium
Aalborg University, Denmark
University of Tartu, Estonia
University Paris-Est Créteil, France
Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ, Germany
National Centre for Social Research (EKKE), Greece
University of Szeged, Hungary
University of Urbino Carlo Bo, Italy
Delft University of Technology (TUDelft), Netherlands
Polish Academy of Sciences, Poland
synergo Mobility-Politics-Space GmbH, Switzerland
Middle East Technical University (METU), Turkey
University College London, United Kingdom

Advisory Board:
Jan Vranken, University of Antwerp, Belgium
David Hulchanski, University of Toronto, Canada

© DIVERCITIES, Utrecht University, 2013.
LEGAL NOTICE: The views expressed in this newsletter are the sole responsibility
of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Commission.