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PhD Final Seminar: 19th of April 2013


Segregation in a city may be manifested and expressed in many different ways. Districts and neighbourhoods within cities often distinguish considerable in terms of economic, social, or cultural aspects if one analyse the characteristics of the residential population and how it is distributed across the city.

To study residential segregation is one way of studying, and even defining, urban segregation. However, in order to relate the segregation issue to urban design and architecture, it is here argued that segregation needs to be acknowledged as a spatial problem beside the fact that it is a social problem. If one ignores the spatial dimension of segregation and does not take it into consideration, many questions that are relevant from an urban design perspective will be left unanswered. 

One thing is whether or not we live segregated in the city, another important question is if this also is true for how public space is used in our everyday practices. To what extent may we share space with our neighbours? To what extent may we share space with people from other parts of the city?

In the residentially segregated city urban public space stands out to be a most important site where people can participate in various social processes as everyday activities are practised. For many people, to be co-present in public space means to ‘be in the city’ and to be able to observe various kinds of activities that take place in a city. Public space is a site, or an arena, where one may see and encounter other people, be seen by others, and become aware of similarities and differences according to for example demographic, socioeconomic, or ethnic aspects. By being co-present in public streets, squares, and parks, or in public institutions such as libraries or schools, we are given possibilities to get insights in other people’s life conditions. Public space becomes a place for a constantly on-going process of creating different group identities and solidarities among those who share space and such identities may be further integrated in society at large, in a urban public culture as Sharon Zukin describes it (1995, 11, 253). Zukin argues that public culture is socially constructed on the micro-level. This means that to be co-present in public space is more than just ‘being in the city’; to actively or passively participate in social processes with other people and with different groups in society, means that sharing public space with others becomes central even for ‘being in society’.

According to Bill Hillier cities may be described as mechanisms generating contact (Hillier 1996, 174) and in situations with a persistent urban segregation it is relevant to question to what extent the city provides spaces that have the ability to counteract the negative consequences of segregation. It has been argued that the public realm has great importance for the segregation matter and that urban form plays an important role in this context. For example, according to Vaughan and Arabaci an increased understanding of how the public realm, shaped by urban form, can create the potential for encounters and co-presence between different types of social groups is essential in order to achieve a more nuanced understanding of urban segregation that reach beyond residential segregation (Vaughan & Arabaci 2011).