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Living together in diversity: the power of public space - Platform 31

Living together in diversity: the power of public space – Platform 31

Light contact

Social cohesion in a neighborhood depends on the different connections that people enter into with each other. Define sociologist Putnam Interconnectedness (close connections between people with the same beliefs and backgrounds) and Bridging (weaker ties that often bring you into contact with new social capital) as characteristics of informal networks. In a changing world of ever-increasing diversity, traditional, intuitive forms of communication in the neighborhood are diminishing, and light, frequent contacts are becoming more important.

Sociological research shows that light, fleeting contact is important for feeling at home in a neighborhood. This communication occurs between passersby on the street, or at the bus stop, or sitting on a bench in the stadium, or waiting in line at the butcher, or from the corner of an eye on the coffee table in the library. We're talking about general familiarity: you don't know each other, but there is recognition. By building rapport with the other person, understanding of that other person can grow. Therefore, light contact with each other can contribute positively to improving the quality of life and safety, and to combating alienation and polarization. Light encounters and familiarity with the unknown help prevent turtle behavior: people's reaction to withdrawing into their own bubble.

Public space as key

Public space is the space that shapes a neighborhood like the glue of individual households. It creates conditions for both general familiarity and intense communication. There are opportunities here to invest in social structures, quality of life and safety, but at the same time there is a risk of losing control of good coexistence.

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There is a lot of knowledge available from the social field about diversity and coexistence. Ultimately, this must be reflected in the (redesign) of the living environment: the professional in the physical field must deal with it.

Experience the living environment

Anyone working to improve the quality of life in a neighborhood cannot ignore the experiences of residents. The current interest in participation in media and politics reflects this. It is important to understand the experiences, habits, and needs of residents to communicate “what works” in the neighborhood. Collaboration with social professionals is an important success factor in physical redevelopment in various neighborhoods. The challenge is to gather this knowledge and integrate it into physical planning.

Residents can participate in developments in their neighborhood in different ways, from organized and active participation to invisible in the background. However, in discussions of resident engagement, we often hear how people think “for residents” rather than “with residents.”

Active participation is more a process of connecting with local knowledge and structures than allowing the resident to enter the professional world. The physical sphere can rely on professionals from the social sphere and use already existing local knowledge. In this way, the experiences, customs and needs of less visible and vocal populations can also be more fully visualized.

Residents themselves can make an important contribution to this. Especially in neighborhoods with a high proportion of residents far from formal structures, key people and other stakeholders who have a relationship of trust with residents are of great importance. In addition, collecting stories from the neighborhood can help. The knowledge of a resident, health care professional, or anthropologist can easily be supplemented by the neighborhood knowledge of a hairdresser, physical therapist, snack bar staff, and elementary school teachers.

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