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Identity and Difference
Authentic multicultural neighbourhoods thrive because they are diverse and vibrant places with a self supporting network, they comprise small communities that support from within (xxxx). They have grown over time in an organic fashion creating distinctive typologies, profusions of smell, diverse aesthetics of colour, signs and scripts that reflect the culture of the residents. Such societies with their distinct difference create new community brands; brands of realness (Nasser, 2003). These brands are reinforced by the robust nature of the ever evolving urban fabric within which they are established, which over time is adapted to enhance the richness, authenticity and vibrancy of the distinct identities, whilst retaining the historic context.
Ladypool Road has recycled and adapted older historic buildings and introduced new uses which have infused new meaning and significance into the community whilst retaining the original historic significance of the structure. The Local Planning Authority has branded Ladypool Road as part of the Balti Triangle and have utilised this image as part of a powerful and effective tool in the pursuit of funding, investment or regeneration, but is it right for the LPA to manipulate the complex nature of such communities?
Multicultural communities are complex by nature, in order for them to work such communities need to gel into an integrated whole. These divided communities need to develop a common goal (Amin, 2002). By creating a Balti Triangle the LPA have established a shared vision for all micro communities to work towards. Gow (200x) believed that micro-communities thrived because they were brought together through their differences, an idea supported by Sandercock (xxxx) who believes that multicultural cities are where there is a genuine connection with and respect of space for cultural ‘others'; the members of the different groups within a community encompass their own cultures and have the ability to turn a location into the day-to-day interactions from a physical space into an idiosyncratic place Alcoff (200x).
Ladypool Road benefited from regeneration funding, this improved street paving, street furniture, signs and shop facades, which were all designed to reinforce the communities ethnic identity, and which in turn reinforced the sense of belonging and security to its residents. However, it is not only the residents who benefit from this sense of belonging and security but also immigrants. When Jacobs examined Spitalfields she found that the Bengali community transformed a ‘foreign' group into the natural inhabitants of Spitalfields and thus this ‘other' became a receptor for immigrants (Jacobs), a place where immigrants easily understood the urban fabric and communications of a place and felt most welcome.
Critics often argue that the socio-economics of these places trap the inhabitants within them but as Kundnani (2001:107) points out:
“The fear of racial harassment meant that most Asians sought the safety of their own areas, in spite of the over crowding, damp and dingy houses and claustrophobia of community penned in”.
Kundnani contends that people return to what they understand and the environment in which they feel most comfortable, the place where they have family and understand the urban morphology and not the socio-economics.
It could be argued that places promoted as multicultural may not truly be multicultural, Talin (2006) states that for a place to be truly multicultural there should be no more than 75% of one particular group otherwise it becomes an enclave for ethnic groups and segregates itself from its surroundings.
It could be conceived that creating the Balti Triangle brand the LPA have inadvertently created an enclave that excludes some ethnic groups. Amin (2002) argues that in order to create a ‘brand' communities are forced to bid against each other in order to become that brand and thus creates social tensions that may not have existed before. There is also a greater control on that area to remain as this promoted image, consequently there is no room for ad-hoc growth or natural evolution,. In creating the Balti Triangle the LPA have unconsciously chosen one culture from a mixture to dominate. In turn ‘others' may feel prevented from being assimilated into this brand unless they adjust their own ethnic identities in order to be accepted. The Balti Triangle enclave raises issues of safety for the ‘outsiders' coming in to experience the space. Although the Balti Triangle is a commercial product where ‘others' come and experience the authenticity of the place, to enjoy the vibrancy and spend money, the invite does not extend past the ‘window shopping ' experience into the realness of the enclave.
Within branded communities any regeneration money is usually spent on promoting the brand which normally results in skin deep preservation. In Ladypool Road the regeneration funding was spent on improving the facade of the main exhibits and not on the real life areas that like the residential elements. In fact the pavement improvements only included the main high street and ended at the intersections which could have resulted in resentment between those who benefited and those who didn't. Also, the investment into the commodities of the product; the shop fronts, pavements and so forth could end up being superficial in appearance and no more authentic than a manufactured simulacrum.
On balance, a city can be described as being multicultral in the wider context with smaller enclaves of diversity within the cities makeup reinforces the image of Birmingham - tourism.
Distinct absense in wider uses - school, college, sport facility - Should be well intograted into surrounding areas
Wise “micro-publics” where culturally diverse people forced to interact.