The Center for Resilient Cities believes diversity – defined as a variability of biology, landscape, economy and social organization – is fundamental to resilience. Looking at the social side of diversity, we went into the community to find out how they interpret diversity and what value they believe it has.
We talked with community residents who will have a stake in the Resilience Research Center on Madison’s southwest side. They talked about diversity as it applies to housing, employment, natural resources, ethnicity, age, race, socio-economic status, sexual preference, local business and educational opportunity.
One resident connected diversity to community growth: “It brings more options, more light, more possibilities. … It affirms the things I know and tells me what I don’t know. It’s life-affirming.”
But, one resident made this comment: “Diversity is not a strength in itself. You need to make use of it. Now, it is something we have on the shelf; we don’t use it.” When I mentioned this comment in conversation with other residents, many agreed. “My children mix easily with children of different backgrounds, but there is much less mixing among adults.”
Residents also talked about challenges diversity brings. They described the community as “socially splintered” and “spatially fractured,” because the community is divided spatially and socially by income, age and ethnicity. They talked about the lack of interaction between people living in the rental properties and homeowners, between seniors living in senior housing and youth, between low- and middle-income residents, between African-American and Hispanic residents.
Community residents saw this as a problem. They want to know other people and what they value, their interests and whether they plan to stay in the community. They want to know about commonalities – not just differences. Then they would feel more connected rather than divided.
So how do we bridge these divisions and make connections? Many agreed with one resident’s suggestion: “We need to know other people’s histories, experiences and aspirations.”
As a practitioner, how is diversity expressed in your work? Which type of diversity is of most concern? Do you have other suggestions for bridging the divisions and building connections?
Next week, we get down on the ground. Instead of talking about resilience, we see it in action. I’ll be looking at community gardens where much more than growing food is taking place.