Tensions of diversity: living and planning in globalizing urban spaces (completed)

Felicity Hwee-Hwa Chan

Habitual contact with multiple ethnicities and nationalities brings about the opposing effects of hostility and opportunities for intercultural learning. As gateways of global immigration, city neighbourhoods are controversial spaces where fear, friction and indifference are palpably experienced in the expression of habits and cultural values. However, the daily cheek-by-jowl urban living with different ethnicities and immigrants in cities is capable of catalyzing productive tensions between different cultures through moments of unexpected (un)learning. These tensions of diversity destabilize the status quo and challenge individuals to confront their prejudices and fears by stretching their horizons through exchange. Better mutual understanding between individuals with different cultural and ethnic backgrounds can grow out of these urban interactions. The project thus sheds light on how urban policies and planning can strategically remould the tensions of living in culturally complex cities at the crossroads of global immigration through purposeful intervention in urban life.

Through the empirical lens of three culturally diverse and socio-economically different neighbourhood settings in Los Angeles, the project mapped out the contours of tensions in the sharing of urban living space through interviews, cognitive mapping and survey with participants who live, work or regularly visit the neighbourhoods. What different kinds of tensions can emerge from the routine sharing of globalizing urban space, and why do these tensions arise? What is the role of urban space in stoking negative tensions and generating creative ones? How is local belonging created in a diverse globalizing city? The project took these qualitative analyses a step further by synthesizing them with the results of a survey conducted with participants to identify the locations and characteristics of urban spaces that are opportune for intercultural learning and understanding. What are the practical opportunities that existing local public spaces can offer for the creation of intercultural understanding? How can urban spaces become the catalysts of productive tensions? How must the planning and design of settings of human diversity be transformed to mediate these tensions and encourage productive intercultural exchanges?

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