The Ambivalence of Diversity and The Politics of Urban Renaissance
By Loretta Lees
Confronting Strategies in Urban Reinvention - The Urban Reinventors, Issue Nr. 1, June 2007
Over the last three decades schemes to attract the wealthy middle classes back to the inner city have become central to urban redevelopment strategies. Such redevelopment programmes depend on a form of liberal romanticism and associated beliefs about the connections between diversity, vitality and urban space, which, according to Berman (1983), are persistent themes in modern culture. They are driven by the belief that the decline of once vibrant inner cities was precipitated by the post-war flight of the middle classes to secluded suburban enclaves and that to reverse urban decline it is necessary to entice the middle classes back to city centers so as to make them more diverse, interesting and economically vibrant places (Beauregard, 1993; Zukin, 1998).
Accordingly urban planners, architects, and property developers have become increasingly concerned with improving the quality of urban life and the public spaces on which it depends (see Ellin, 1996). In their `construction' of the postmodern city they argue that urban revitalization initiatives must embrace diversity, both cultural and economic, as well as functional and spatial. This diversity of different `diversities' is often under-theorized as are the benefits of, and relationships among, social and cultural
diversity, economic diversification, mixed-use and multi-purpose zoning, political pluralism and democratic public space. Urban scholars are now beginning to explore the conflicts that arise over different constructions of diversity in (and of) public space (Mitchell, 1995; Ruddick, 1996a; Lees 1998a). More typically, however, the value of `diversity' is simply taken for granted in work ranging from Jane Jacobs' (1961) classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities to planning documents (Lees, 2003), and more academic discussions of the sensual stimulation of the heterogeneous cityscape and the democratic potential of encountering difference on the street (e.g. Sennett, 1990; Sandercock, 1998). What these different theorizations share in common is a tendency to associate diversity with the urban and to celebrate it as the necessary antidote to both the centripetal forces of commercialized homogeneity and the centrifugal forces of anonymous suburban sprawl, malling and alienation (…).
First published on International Journal of Urban and Regional Research - Volume 27.3 Septemeber 2003, 613-34. (c) Joint Editors and Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2003. Published by Blackwell Publishing.
Loretta Lees is currently a Reader in Geography at King’s College London. Her previous posts have been Senior Lecturer in Geography, King’s College London (2004-2005), Lecturer in Geography, King’s College London (1997-2004), Post-doctoral Fellow, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Canada (1995-1997) and Visiting Lecturer, Department of Geography, University of Waikato, New Zealand (1994). She has served/is serving on the following editorial boards - Environment and Planning A (2002-present), ACME: an international e-journal for critical geographies (2003-present), The Canadian Geographer (2004-2006), Geography Compass – an online journal from Blackwell (2006-present). She is currently the urban geography section editor for the International Encylopedia of Human Geography.
Loretta Lees was Chair of the Royal Geographical Society/Institute of British Geographers Urban Geography Research Group (2000-2003) and committee member of the Royal Geographical Society/Institute of British Geographers Urban Geography Research Group (1998-2000). She also served on the Research Committee of the Royal Geographical Society (2004-07).