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Exploring current approaches to strengthen social cohesion in neighbourhoods
  • Inclusion Inclusion

In twenty years of integrated social cohesion policies, Europe has seen new forms of governance arise. A number of efforts have been led to reduce poverty and exclusion in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, enabling significant progress to be made, although this progress is not enough. Improving the impact of integrated social cohesion approaches is even more important in the current context of crisis. This is the objective behind the creation of the URBACT CoNet project, in which eleven partner cities worked to improve cooperation among the various players on the social field and at disseminating good practices.

Main Results

What conclusions can be drawn from the numerous initiatives that have seen the day in an attempt to overcome the growing phenomenon of social exclusion? Urban experts and stakeholders in URBACT's CoNet project analysed this question and drew their conclusions, which were organised into seven key areas.

1. Improve inclusion in all important fields of life! Proceed as comprehensively as possible!

Interdependent issues and problems require a comprehensive approach that brings together the actions of all those who are working in the field and taking into account the quality of live of all its components. This is a decisive approach. It is first essential to develop of shared understanding and common interests in the objectives of finding effective strategies. In order for these comprehensive approaches to last and be included in city policy, it is necessary to develop cooperation. This is only possibly by actually implementing new projects that associate numerous partners. The joint development of a common Local Action Plan could be a starting point, a stepping-stone to something else or a regular way of operating. That said, cooperation requires trust and practice, and must be made to happen by providing an added value that corresponds to the time invested. Creating an organisational framework for the shared work and coordinating actions is very important, no matter what form it takes.

2. Include and motivate everybody able to contribute and give citizens an active role, especially young people.

It is important to highlight the benefits of the actions that are undertaken, the time invested and the pleasure of participating in them. The majority of unqualified people of foreign origin can be involved solely through personal contacts, and more generally, the work of personal relations is very important in order to manage to actively involved neighbourhood inhabitants. One should not overestimate the importance and impact of participative decisions that associate local citizens outside the framework of the Municipal Council. Looking for a realistic mode of participation that is effective must be undertaken more to overcome conflicts of interest related to each participants role and attitude of defiance in seeing other people be involved in one’s usual area of intervention. Interaction between public participation, political representation, administration and experts must be taken into consideration.

3. Strengthen inhabitants local networks and their feeling of being at home in the neighbourhood!

Although one should not overestimate having the active support of networks of local inhabitants, the latter has proven to be effective. The development of social capital in disadvantaged neighbourhoods is key, not only for the individuals, but also for the community as a whole.
Numerous activities based on various approaches were developed. However, the necessary and expensive human resources effort should be deployed in a targeted many. The knowledge needed to do so successfully is still insufficient, and specific empirical research is needed on the basis of comparable data in order to identify priority actions and define their benefits.

4. Open up and adapt amenities and services to the inhabitants’ needs, so that disadvantaged peopled also have access to them

The development of integrated approaches has seen the emergence of a new generation of public facilities that attempts to find a compromise between the high demand for public social-cultural areas and the necessity of getting the most from public resources. More and more, services and facilities are multifunctional. The joint production of these spaces that arises through the involvement of users, associations and volunteers can also be a factor contributing to their success. Good practices in this area are described in the Social Cohesion Guide that was prepared by the CoNet project.

To break the vicious circle of unemployment, greater cooperation is needed on a neighbourhood level, along with local job offers. Employment agencies must also accentuate their efforts looking for and developing services and measures to promote employment among long-term unemployed people, including better cooperation on a neighbourhood level. Several cities led ambitious actions in this area (Malmö’s Integration and Employment Centres, Jet Service in Liverpool, and the social cohesion project of the Vaulx-en-Velin Local Mission). 

5. Youth and children first—draw on their potential and strengthen intergenerational understanding!

The quality of life of youth has become a key to social cohesion. Disadvantaged neighbourhoods concentrate large numbers of frustrated young people without work and who have lost hope in the future. As children and even teenagers almost all have their connections in their neighbourhood, it is essential to use them to make the most of integrated approaches. In this way, improving school grades goes hand in hand with a more comprehension approach to learning. Numerous admirable projects what already been implemented, such as that of the Brede Schools in the Netherlands. Success also depends on the quality of schools and preschools, which are entry points for integrated actions. In this framework, it is essential to have a process for developing quality that involves working with teachers, parents and other local partners. In addition, financing is needed. This is rarely the case. Despite some interesting projects, the smooth transition for young people between school, vocational education and employment is rarely satisfactory. The goal should be one of a more compulsory cooperation between school, employment agencies, other dedicated services, and independent projects and businesses.

6. Reduce segregation—develop the inhabitants' quality of life and undertake efforts to overcome prejudices

Lessening the concentration of unemployment and poverty in disadvantaged neighbourhoods and achieving a better social mix are often the priorities of integrated urban renewal projects. Of off the integrated measures found in these projects, the development of housing offers to cover broader segments of the market has a direct impact on the composition of neighbourhoods in terms of residents. As part of this approach, it is necessary to find a balance between reducing segregation and preserving positive living conditions for inhabitants that need affordable housing, either to buy or to lease. Two extremes need to be avoided: unambitious projects with too few visible improvements, and the other extreme of a very large-scale project of radical change that could result in social conflict and uprooting inhabitants.
Prejudices and social exclusion of ethnic and cultural minorities are the driving forces of segregation. As a result, activities that aim at decreasing them should be integrated into projects. Encouraging dialogue and building bridges between people of various social backgrounds are key missions for actions that are led at a local level.

7. Improve the neighbourhood’s connections to the whole city and boost the city’s solidarity with the neighbourhood.

Everything depends on political and social determination, power and action. Social cohesion—or social solidarity—can be measured by how a city as a whole experiences its shared identity. This implies, first of all, the need to strengthen the links and contacts between disadvantaged neighbourhoods and the rest of the city. Then, the responsibility and the management of the city as a whole needs to be involved in planning and assessing integrated approaches. Without the support of the city and without the leadership of the city’s leaders, policies in disadvantages neighbourhoods cannot reach their full potential.

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