Findings in a nutshell

This projected resulted in a draft Charter for Spaces of Positive Encounters which is currently under discussion with various academics, practitioners, policy makers and the general public. We would thus be grateful for your feedback and input. For this purpose please use the pens and paper provided or log on to <www.urbanpolarisation.org>. The full version of this draft charter is available in the exhibition catalogue and website. Its essential points are presented below:

THE URBAN ENVIRONMENT AS MIRROR ...

1 The interpretation of artefacts requires detailed knowledge of local context. Those who possess it are unlikely to gain new information from the investigation of material features about the degree of polarisation / radicalisation beyond what they already know.

2 The study of urban artefacts as indicators of radicalisation / polarisation bears the danger of severe misinterpretation because material conditions can have multiple causes. In other words: the urban environment alone is not suitable as seismograph of polarisation / radicalisation.

3 Usually, polarising trends are attributed to non-mainstream groups. However, polarisation is relational, i.e. the dominant pole can move as well – with corresponding material consequences. Examples are fortress-style developments that are exclusive, gated, segregated and could even reinforce grievances and feelings of  inequality among certain groups.

4 At certain stages radicalising groups seem to prefer different degrees of visibility for different audiences; e.g. rallying support within one’s own community versus deceiving opponents and the state.

5 Symbols are of particular importance in polarising situations. While it is important to suppress outright inflammatory symbols, attention must be paid to the fact that a tough approach on symbols can increase the attractiveness of being an “insider”.
THE URBAN ENVIRONMENT AS MEDIATOR ...

THE URBAN ENVIRONMENT AS MEDIATOR ...

6 Previous research shows that segregation, grievances,  ideological inflammation and recruitment conditions are not sufficient conditions of radicalisation. ISuch factors, can, however, contribute to the radicalisation process. The built environment can alleviate / accentuate these conditions. In other words, material interventions cannot stop radicalisation but neither are they irrelevant.   

7 It is very difficult to predict the effects of certain built environment interventions. Their appropriation depends on local practices, the definition power of leaders, the representation in the media, socio-economic contexts, etc. This implies a call for the devolution of responsibility for built environment related interventions. This does not mean that all possible interventions are exclusively at the grassroots level. But knowledge generated at the micro-level must find ways to move upstream to inform some interventions at higher  levels.

8 Seemingly unrelated built environment interventions (e.g. road construction, urban renewal, etc.) can have unintended knock-on effects for polarisation / radicalisation trends. Anti-polarisation organisations should be consulted during seemingly ordinary planning processes – and they should proactively seek engagement in such processes.

9 Where restless young males are the cause of grievances it is important to understand the underlying reasons. In numerous cases it seems worthwhile to provide facilities for harmless distraction and productive occupation.

10 Urban renewal can trigger social dynamics like envy, and a sense of encroachment that comes with the new contacts and new visibility of different communities. The externally imposed juxtaposition of different communities can potentially cause new grievances.

11 Radical groups require certain infrastructural settings. A clamp down on them can be part of an effective strategy to undermine the growth of extremist groups. However, such interventions might drive them to higher levels of professionalism.

12 There seems to be much evidence for the hypothesis that segregation causes polarisation. What might matter even more is the segregation level (macro, meso, micro) and its concrete practice in people’s everyday life.

13 Attempts to ‘physically protect or harden potential targets can sometimes be required to save life. However, they  can also signal distrust, attract trouble, work as self-fulfilling prophecies, stimulate stigmatisation and defeatism. Their obduracy must not be underestimated because they can ‘lag’ behind an improvement of socio-political conditions and thus contribute to the perpetuation of hostilities.

14 Drugs, esp. alcohol and a lack of leadership can both increase the likeliness of spontaneous, opportunistic offences. This class of offences is easier to quell through material interventions (CPTED1) than premeditated acts of aggression.

15 Deeply ingrained habits of avoiding contact with ‘others’ are often perpetuated through material conditions (walls, retail locations, etc.). This effect is particularly pronounced in post-war cities where the existing urban environment is the result of previous atrocities.

FACILITATING FRIENDLY ENCOUNTERS:

16 We have not come across evidence to suggest negative effects of attempts to create neutral or shared spaces. While clandestine attempts to “lure” people to top-down created shared spaces seems ethically problematic it does not mean that they will necessarily fail.

17 The idea of sharing neutral spaces is not necessarily accepted by everyone. This can impede support for the creation and appropriation of such spaces. The push towards shared spaces has the potential to alienate certain sections of the population. Normative arguments carry little weight in this context. Strong pragmatic, economic, safety and convenience arguments are required.

18 Successful neutral or shared spaces are characterized by some necessary conditions, most importantly perceived safety, equal treatment and the absence of potentially offending symbols. Beyond such minimal design requirements, the appropriation of neutral or shared spaces seems to depend more on the design process than on the design content.

19 Although participation of future users might slow down the process of creating neutral or shared spaces it appears highly recommendable as a means to acquire knowledge about people’s existential fears, concerns etc. and to ensure everyone’s buy-in.  Participation seems not substitutable with strong leadership.

20 The long-term effect of successfully shared spaces is difficult to predict. They might foster the seeds of mutual understanding, confirm the already converted or make no difference at all. Shared spaces do not generate automatic benefit but they generate new chances which are best harnessed through professional social work. This includes events, initiatives, festivals etc.

21 The provider of neutral / shared spaces is likely to influence what is going on in them:

State                  Depends on the acceptance, strength and neutrality of the state

Private sector      Might only attract the better off

Grassroots           Best potential for sustainable change but often protracted processes

1 Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design