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

What is it about?

The Egan Review established a particular set of generic and technical competencies linked to Sustainable Communities in England, although the work has wider implications for the delivery of area based policies in the rest of the United Kingdom. The approach fits with the conceptualisation of planners as mediators of spatial relations in which collaborative practices and discursive methodologies hold powerful prescriptive appeal. This research proposal challenges this paradigm for its capacity to understand and respond to the way in which race, religion and poverty interlock to produce ‘wicked’ urban problems. Drawing on experiences in Northern Ireland, the project offers models of practice to: inform the national debate on Community Cohesion; the management of ethnically diverse places; and the skills set that may help professionals and practitioners resist the pulling effects of residential segregation.

We suggest here that Northern Ireland offers a useful research laboratory to understand the connection between planning and ethno-religious segregation and how these lessons connect to the wider national debate on skills, parallel lives and citizenship rights. We are also conscious that Northern Ireland has much to import in understanding the skills needed for sustainable development and the support infrastructure required to supply a more complex set of competencies and knowledge in the spatial planning arena.

Our methodology is based on an interactive approach with the key stakeholders and an emphasis on ensuring that the user community is engaged in the design and delivery of the empirical work. An Initiation Seminar scoped the issues, refined research instruments and assisted with fieldwork implementation. We propose a quantitative e-survey of groups and practitioners involved in the management of segregated places and this will be complemented by a series of case studies drawing on experiences in the public, community and the private sector. A programme of semi-structured interviews within national focal points in England, Wales and Scotland and with regional policy makers will explore the type and mix of competencies required to manage spatial diversity and identify strategic supply gaps in the Northern Ireland system in particular. This, in turn, will relate to an audit of the principal providers of education and training for spatial planning in the region to see how and where supports are offered, in what substantive areas, at what level and whether they emphasise particular skills and practices. The research will also locate the work in Northern Ireland within both national and international reviews of practice in policy areas and places stratified by ethnic segregation.

We will finalise the programme of research with a second structured seminar in Northern Ireland to both disseminate and validate findings. We also propose to hold a seminar, in London, potentially in partnership with the RTPI, in order to highlight the implications of the work for wider national debates on planning for ethno-spatial diversity.