Thursday, 20 February 2014

The power of cities with short history

This January I was spending a few weeks in Las Palmas in the Canaries, where I started getting to know a culture I was not familiar with but that is turning out to be very welcoming. I was in the northern port area far away from the mass tourism in the south, and after having experienced all those foreign complex of soulless “plastics”, this was super interesting to me.

While looking around, reading and listening to stories about Las Palmas a few thoughts have crossed my mind. One thought especially encircles my mind this evening while I’m doing the dishes. Just before leaving Sweden I had a meeting with my editor concerning an informative I am planning about myths in Sweden related to the “million program”. The concept refers to what in Sweden is known as the living areas where all the immigrants have been accommodated since the sixties-seventies. For those of us who grew up there, these areas represent something completely different than the medial image of them that is manifested to the world.  I’m going to tell you more in general about that shortly. Returning to my meeting, one of the things that struck me during our conversation was a comment made about the myth concerning the people who want to integrate. Just to point out, in the world of myths nothing is crystal clear seeing as amongst the myths we discussed, some are pure myths and some are reality as well. Nonetheless, the comment my editor made was that in modern “nature-made” cities, there are living areas dominated by one ethnical or cultural group (whichever you want to call it) which emerge and survive incessantly.  Chinatown, Little Italy etc etc in the States are a few examples of this my editor brought up, who also happens to be an architect that works for a foundation that researches architectural issues and the physical planning of our global world.

Las Palmas, where I find myself for the time being, is a city founded relatively not long ago as well, although older than the States. There I witness the same kind of phenomenon reappearing, principally in the Korean and Indian areas. I find that interesting because in Sweden, I have always felt that I partly miss the people who claim that segregation is not dangerous to them in that sense. The many investigations that have been performed in Sweden and other countries furthermore demonstrate precisely this; that there are areas dominated by an ethnical group, where that group progresses better on their own. As such, this kind of demography is by itself not a problem. An interesting investigation from last year in Sweden also addressing the issue, coincidentally demonstrated that a group of immigrants by themselves do not generate/perform better/more positive results, but a group of immigrants from the same background do. We have a few examples of this in Sweden with the Kurds in Dalarna and the Syrians in the south of Stockholm, but not too many of them. The Swedish mentality has always taking it for granted that integration and happiness are obtained by placing everyone in the same IKEA-box and letting them put the pieces together.

My opinion on this has always been very clear: it doesn’t matter where people live. Although the media easily fabricates powerful images of segregated living areas, it doesn’t necessarily imply that their impact is real. It’s not just a question of dividing areas in two parts  where on one side a majority of immigrants live, “and on the other side of the highway/river etc” a complete opposite relation presides.
What matters are two things: For one thing that people, wherever they may live, have equal access to information about their rights and the services that belong to them as citizens. For instance, a good public service should be equal everywhere. Also, the possibilities of getting an employment should not be dependent on whether you have the right zip code or not; a crucial factor in the quest for the infamous integration. I find it self-evident that one’s connection to the world is established at work through the relationships one might find there. It is therefore at work where it becomes so important that people blend and mix with each other, and not solely in the backyard of one’s home. Wherever you as a citizen then may be forced or choose to live is an entirely different matter to me, one of much less importance.

Despite what seems only logical to me, the issues I have brought do exist: living in an area with a mixed demography or a high percentage of immigrants might imply that your public service is of less quality. It might additionally imply that a lot of the residents are uninformed about the most basic things. But what is worse of all: your zip code might deprive you of many jobs and opportunities. This is a disaster and something we must work on solving as soon as possible. Forget the baby steps and go for the giant ones instead. We are after all in the 21st century already, vamos!