An historical perspective on the viability of urban diversity: lessons from socio-spatial identity construction in nineteenth-century Algiers and Cape Town


Social heterogeneity is fundamental to many conceptions of urbanism. Social contact in diverse cities is valorized by theorists linking pluralism with social justice, democratic functioning and the psychological development of tolerance. Others express caution, noting that conflict and instability are equally possible outcomes of intergroup contact. This paper argues that these ongoing debates can be informed by longer-term, cross-cultural perspectives on urbanism. The nineteenth-century histories of Algiers and Cape Town, cities characterized by extreme diversity, are reviewed to show the nature of diverse social contact in open spaces. The intertwined construction of group and neighborhood identities in each indicate that the very definitions of ethnic and class diversity are contextual and evolving, contingent on both neighborhood interactions and structural socio-economic forces. Thus modern efforts to plan for place diversity must grapple with a moving target and may be most realistic when confined to a focus on the built environment.

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Publication Type Journal Article
Publisher Journal of Urbanism: International Research on Placemaking and Urban Sustainability
Year 2012
Author(s) BW Stanley
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