Young people in diverse neighbourhoods

Gideon Bolt of Utrecht University discusses diverse neighbourhoods and the impact on young people within society.

One of the outcomes of the DIVERCITIES research project (https://www.urbandivercities.eu/) is that most residents living in very diverse neighbourhoods do not perceive diversity as a problem; they take is more or less for granted. This is even more apparent for young people. Young people spend much more time than adults in public spaces such as streets and plazas. There they meet and make friends with 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 to stress diversity as the ‘new normal’.

One of the reasons why diversity is ‘normal’ for young people is that they grow up in much more diverse environments compared to their adult counterparts of the past. However, segregation forces outside the domain of housing may impede the trend towards bridging across differences. Therefore, policies should be aimed at curtailing segregation tendencies in the fields of education, labour market and leisure.

Moreover, young people expressed a strong sense of belonging to their neighbourhoods, more so than to the city or national contexts. In their neighbourhoods young people had the feeling that they were not judged on the basis of their race or ethnicity, where this was often the case outside their neighbourhood. Moreover, local belonging was influenced by the feeling that they were all ‘in the same boat’ – namely living in one of the most stigmatized neighbourhoods of the city and struggling with the same issues such as poverty and social exclusion. Within the confines of their neighbourhood, and in relation to their peers, diversity seemed to serve the youth quite well. For the youth, their diverse neighbourhood largely provided them with an area in which they could be themselves and where they could claim their multiple identifications with confidence. This seems a positive thing, but we need to be aware that the appreciation of the neighbourhood and its diversity could be a reaction to not being granted belonging in other parts of society. Sharing the fate of living in a stigmatized area may forge a bond, but it also hinders social mobility opportunities.  Therefore, innovative forms of place making should be stimulated to overcome the negative reputation of deprived neighbourhoods.

For certain groups of youth there is an additional problem: lack of trust in the police. There are experiences of ethnic/racial profiling and in some of our research cities (such as London and Paris), there have even been riots. Racism and a one-sided focus on repression stand in the way of a better relationship between the youth and the police. Therefore, efforts should be made to develop community policing with more emphasis on prevention and establishing relationships with the local residents. This would not only be helpful for the local youth, but also for the wider community.

Gideon Bolt, Anouk Tersteeg & Kirsten Visser
Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University.
g.s.bolt@uu.nl
Further reading: https://www.urbandivercities.eu/publications/handbook/

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