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Mixed Income Communities

Mixed Income Communities

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Published by: Thomas Neumark Jones on Apr 21, 2012
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Do mixed communities improve community cohesion?
Course Code: SA 469 Housing DissertationCandidate Number: 61552Degree/Diploma Programme: MSc in Housing and Regeneration (Social Policy)
 
Introduction
On 3
rd
April 2008, in an address to the Fabian Society, Hazel Blears, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, proclaimed that “no neighbourhood should be dominatedby one group in ways which make members of other groups feel alienated, insecure or unsafe”.In case there was any ambiguity in what she was saying, she made clear that she wasdemanding that “communities must be mixed communities” otherwise there would be a “kind of social apartheid”. It was to “ensure that community cohesion is maintained” that she that arguedthat “no one faith or ethnic group can totally dominate a locality to the exclusion of allothers” (Blears, 2008). The essence of her position was that mixed communities promotecommunity cohesion. This essay will examine whether or not this proposition is true and whatpolicy implications follow from this.I will argue that mixed communities do not, in and of themselves, promote community cohesion.There is too much variation between the types of communities which can be called “mixed” tomaintain this stance. Certain types of mixed communities can form part of efforts to promotecommunity cohesion, just as others can actually create mistrust and division. The mixedcommunities which foster better community cohesion are those which create the conditions inwhich interactions, both formal and informal, between people of different backgrounds canreadily take place in inclusive communal spaces. Those which hinder community cohesioncreate barriers to this type of interaction. Even so, mixed communities and other policies on theneighbourhood scale must be nested within complimentary national policies to promote greater community cohesion. Specifically greater community cohesion can only be achieved withinbroader efforts to create greater equality of outcome and opportunity for all. The limited goal of creating mixed communities which foster community cohesion is one which is in conflict withother interests and goals such as the need of private developers to sell units for maximumreturns and the isolating preferences which many now exhibit.In order to come to these conclusions I undertook a case study of a recently built mixedtenure housing development. The aim of the study was to determine if the experience of living inthis development had created better community cohesion. Initially a questionnaire was sent toall residents asking what effect, if any, living in the new developments had had on a number of indicators related to community cohesion. The second stage was a series of interviews with arepresentative sample of respondents making sure that each tenure type was represented. Inthese interviews I further explored the issues previously raised in the questionnaire and theinterviewees’ views on how the development could have been changed in order to create better community cohesion. This method allowed me to present more than just raw data. It allowed meto create and test causal explanations underpinning the data and to identify barriers tocommunity cohesion and tentative best practice examples.
 
Literature review
Introduction
Whilst there exists a voluminous literature on both mixed communities and community cohesionrespectively, writing on the links between the two is still in its infancy. This is partly a result of therelatively recent emergence of community cohesion as a concept in the lexicon of policymakers. The joint action plan on Community Cohesion between the Office of the Deputy PrimeMinister and Home Office recognised this fact, stating “that community cohesion - andparticularly its relationship to housing- is a developing area” (ODPM, 2005). Since then therehas been some change but, as recently as 2007, the Academy for Sustainable Communitiescould still write that “there is limited practical guidance about the way in which areas can beeffectively planned to be attractive to all communities and to ensure that separation andsegregation along ethnic lines is minimised” (Academy for Sustainable Communities, p.27).Whilst there is little literature on the links between the two concepts there is a striking symmetrybetween the two discourses in their focus on the importance of contact between different typesof people. In both fields there are those who argue that homogenous communities, defined ineither cultural or income terms, have a negative impact on their inhabitants. They go on to arguethat the appropriate response from government should be to create more diverse communities,again either in income or cultural terms. The effect of this diversity, they argue, will reverse thenegative impacts caused by the previously homogenous communities. This reversal will beachieved through the generation of greater social capital, specifically bridging capital.There is not a single one of these assertions which has not gone unchallenged. Academicshave argued that the negative impacts of homogenous communities are unproven or exaggerated. They have also argued that creating more diverse communities will not solve thehighlighted problems as more heterogeneous communities do not create more bridging capital.Finally, they argue that real solutions can only be found in broader societal, rather than local,policies.This literature review will acquaint the reader with these debates. After defining our terms, thefirst section will focus on the supposed negative effects of homogenous communities as well ascriticisms of these positions. Whilst not wanting to argue that neighbourhoods are the major or primary cause of negative life outcomes, such as unemployment or low income, I will concludethat they can have a significant effect, for example through creating stigma. The second sectionwill focus on the appropriate government response to these problems. Again, I will maintain thatthe optimal response to problems such as a lack of a sense of belonging will include societywide reforms such as action to promote equal opportunities. However, there remains a role for more localised action at the neighbourhood level, such as mixed communities initiatives.
 
Finally,a series of specific and, as yet, untested hypothesis around the ability of mixed communities topromote community cohesion, will be elucidated from the literature. These hypotheses will thenbe put to the test in the case study.

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