The hidden city of immigrants in Helsinki's urban leftovers – the homogenization of the city and the lost diversity

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Abstract

Cities acknowledge the diversity of their population and consider the multicultural component a richness of their socio-cultural assets. Immigrants contribute to the reshaping of urban space in many European cities through their amenities. Such amenities, be they secular or spiritual, are a clear spatialization of multiculturalism. Ethnic retail is an emerging phenomenon in Helsinki, and it has increasingly replaced declining independent mainstream retail. Often, clusters of immigrant amenities are formed around Muslim prayer rooms activating a mosque-bazaar alliance that enjoys a dynamic footfall. Such a setting takes place spontaneously and typically at abandoned spaces, called in this dissertation urban leftovers. The leftovers are located in, or nearby, the neighbourhoods with a relative overrepresentation of immigrant population. However, these neighbourhoods are exposed to urban renewal steered by anti-segregation policy, thus facing the threat of erasure.

This dissertation examines the capacity of urban planning to plan for diversity. It further studies the characteristics that ethnic retail requires to survive and emerge. The paradigm of The Right to the City is deployed to interpret the response of urban planning to multiculturalism. The findings are numerous. First, immigrant amenities prove their capability to play a role in place making and act as catalysts for public life recovery. Second, in doing so the created places not only fulfil the socio-cultural needs of immigrants, but they also attract mainstream clientele. Third, spontaneity, improvisation and authenticity are the main characteristics empowering the emergence of ethnic retail. However, the findings also show a failure of urban planning to reflect multiculturalism in the growth of the city. Often, the retail premises used by immigrants are demolished. Furthermore, conventional planning as well as alternative planning methods, such as scenario planning and urban planning competitions, have failed to reflect immigrants in the development.

The main constraint preventing planning from being multicultural is the absence of a political interest and, accordingly, a clear vision to deal with the spatialization of multiculturalism. On the contrary, the clear vision of the city is its anti-segregation policy, which is by nature a homogenizing mechanism. Thus, the dissertation concludes that immigrants' Right to the City has been ignored.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)86-90
Number of pages5
JournalFennia : International Journal of Geography
Volume200
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 23 Dec 2022
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Keywords

  • multiculturalism
  • immigrant amenities
  • ritght to the city
  • urban planning
  • urban renewal

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