Hope in the cities

Hope in the cities

In a `borderless world of interconnected, competing cities’, local communities have a vital role, maintains Peter Newman, Associate Professor in City Policy at Murdoch University, Perth, Australia. Newman was one of a panel of speakers from 12 cities on six continents who presented their experiences to the Agenda for Reconciliation session.

Today’s city-dwellers were increasingly divided between `those who participate in the global economy where all the new jobs are being created’ and the `new urban underclass who enjoy only the scraps from the global table’, maintained Newman. But cities were also `spiritual entities and have within them the source of much hope’. He quoted an example from his home town, Fremantle, of a former prison inmate who had become an anti-pollution campaigner, responsible for stopping an abattoir polluting a beach.

Carolyn Leonard, Co-ordinator of Multicultural Education in the public schools of Portland, Oregon, `the whitest large city in the United States’, described the work of preparing students `to live, learn and work in a pluralistic society’. `Rules and regulations without a change in heart do not yield the desired results,’ she said. A crucial question was, `How do I become a person in whose presence good things happen to others?’

Walter Kenney, Mayor of Richmond, Virginia, between 1990 and 1994, had been part of the first Richmond City Council to have a majority of African-Americans in 1977. He described `trust and partnership’ as the key to saving cities. `We must insist that those who are different are at the table where decisions are made.’ He spoke of his own `person-to-person, one-on-one trust building’ with a white county councillor, which had resulted in an improvement in public transport.

Speakers from multicultural cities described efforts to build bridges between diverse groups. For Stepan Kerkyasharian, Chair of the Ethnic Affairs Commission of New South Wales, Australia, the issue was not tolerance, but equality. More than a third of the population of his city, Sydney, did not belong to the dominant culture.

At the time of the Gulf War, the city had had to act fast to defuse feelings against people of Arabic backgrounds. A committee had been set up where, for the first time, community leaders met formally and regularly with the top government officials.

Sushobha Barve from Bombay, India, described the citizen-police committees set up after the 1992-3 riots. The aim was to keep the channels of communication open between the different communities, and between local people and the police. The committees had prevented violence three times in the last year, and were also addressing such social issues as vocational training, lack of playground facilities and public health.

Other speakers included Joseph Tshawane of Johannesburg’s King-Luthuli Transformation Centre (see p 17) and George Samsondi-Kiss, Principal of the YMMF Technical College in Budapest. Samsondi-Kiss, who is an architect, called for community forums to assist town planners.

The culture of the cities was becoming the world’s culture, said Rob Corcoran, one of the organizers of the Hope in the Cities network in the United States. `Will it be a culture of inclusion or exclusion, faith or fear, hope or cynicism?’

COPYRIGHT 1996 For A Change

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