Skills for Managing Spatial Diversity
School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering

Context

The correlation between ethno-religious segregation and social polarisation is especially important in a UK context and underscores the complexity of the competencies required to mange unpredictable places. The Home Office Report (2001) into Community Cohesion, following the riots in Burnley, Bradford and Oldham urged practitioners and policy makers to evaluate practice in Northern Ireland. The Egan Review (2004) has identified generic skills in mediating conflict and the Higher Education Academy Employability Profile for land use planners also highlights the need to understand the values and positions of people from different cultures (HEA, 2004). In its response to the Egan recommendations, ODPM (2004) also undertook to encourage stronger representation from Black Minority Ethnic BME communities within the professions. The Scottish approach set out by the Scottish Centre for Regeneration is, however, more directive. They identified a suite of skills including Process Skills: Enabling Change in which they highlighted the importance of “working in an inclusive and non-discriminatory manner” (SCR, 2004, p.13). This involved recognising and respecting people’s diversity, promoting equality of opportunity and access to services and challenging oppressive and discriminatory practices and attitudes.

It is argued here that Northern Ireland is an important locale to assist professionals in realising these wider aspirations and to define the competency and practice set that might facilitate a wider engagement in planning for spatial diversity (Neill, 2004). The Belfast Peace Agreement and the Northern Ireland Act (1998) refocused mainstream policy attention on reconciliation and community relations. The Act brought in a duty of equality on public bodies and Equality Impact Assessments were introduced to evaluate the effects of policies on people of: different religions; political opinions; ages; genders; sexual orientations; races; disabilities; marital status; and people with dependents and those without (Ellis, 2001). People and Place was published by the Department for Social Development in 2003 and it made the explicit connection between area decline and territoriality and highlighted the way in which segregation reproduces exclusion from labour markets, services and health facilities. One of the four objectives of the strategy underscores the importance of cross-community initiatives to reconnect disadvantaged areas to opportunities in the new spatial economy of the city. The Housing Executive’s Community Cohesion Strategy (NIHE, 2005) aims to tackle the effects of interfaces on local communities and dismantle segregation; develop alternative mixed housing spaces; and remove sectarian graffiti, flags and symbols of ethnic ownership and control. A key issue here is to explore the practices and competencies that are currently applied and which will also need to be acquired or deepened to translate high level policy commitments into deliverable actions.

The policies identified here and the programme investment under the EU PEACE Programme since 1994 has provided a wealth of learning about responding to spatial segregation, territoriality and challenging separate ethnic lives. NICVA is currently engaged in a wide ranging review of the community and voluntary sector, competency gaps and recruitment and retention issues. Similarly, Rural Community Network has responded to this in their current debate on Community Development – the Shape of Things to Come, which explore the skills mix required in community development over the next 10 years. However, this learning is not capitalised in any systematic or accessible way and nor is it fed into a wider national exchange of ideas about managing ethnic change in the UK. BURA has supported Best Practice awards in interface areas in Northern Ireland and the RTPI has a specific Knowledge Builder theme on Planning in a divided society as part of its Continuing Professional Development programme. However, we see this research offering an opportunity to map and evaluate the specific skills and experiences that could contribute to the development of regional services and nationally relevant educational resources usable by a wide range of professional disciplines. Internationally, the research will locate the approach in Northern Ireland in practice in other states and societies struggling to manage or desegregate ethnic and racial territory. In the US, for instance, the Moving To Opportunity initiative places particular demands on urban managers to understand and facilitate the housing aspirations of African-American households migrating from inner-city housing projects to mixed suburban areas. The dismantling of Apartheid in South Africa and in particular, the approach to Integrated Planning Frameworks, again offers learning points about the practice of planning in divided communities. Thus, just as Northern Ireland has much to learn from the Sustainable Communities debate in the UK, the converse is also true. The experience of spatial planning in Northern Ireland, especially in the field of ethno-religious conflict, has much to offer wider national treatment of community cohesion. It is the exchange of ideas and knowledge within and between these areas that is the key goal of this research project.

Egan, J. (2004) Skills for Sustainable Communities, London, ODPM

Ellis, G. (2001) Social Exclusion, Equality and the Good Friday Peace Agreement: The implications for land use Planning, Policy and Politics, Vol. 29, No. 4 pp. 393-411

Higher Education Academy (2004) CEBE Planning: Student Employability Profile, London, HEA

Neill, W. (2004) Urban Policy and Cultural Identity, London, Routledge

NIHE (2005) Building Community Relations: Community Cohesion, Belfast, NIHE

Scottish Centre for Regeneration (2004) Creating a Learning Landscape: A Skills Framework for Community Regeneration, Edinburgh, Scottish Executive