Introduction: Urban space and ethnicity
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Urban ethnic encounters: the spatial consequences
If we accept the arbitrary, yet widely accepted, claim that the Chicago School is the progenitor of urban sociology (Hannerz 1980: 20), then ‘ethnic diversity’ can be seen to have been an important component of urban studies since its conception. About eighty years ago, Robert Ezra Park and his colleagues at the University of Chicago published their pioneering studies on the city. In their view, the city was made up of different groups of people, defined in terms of social class and ethnic background, with each group finding a niche in the city in which to work, to live or to spend their leisure time. Ethnic groups tended to live in certain quarters and economic functions were clustered in certain areas. Expanding ethnic groups or booming economic functions invaded the territory of other groups or functions, as well as succeeding each other in one particular spot. Different groups competed for space – for instance, street gangs (mostly originating from specific ethnic groups) were organized territorially – but also established symbiotic relationships to share certain spots in town (Park, Burgess and McKenzie 1967 ; cf. Eriksen 1993: 18-20; Hannerz 1980: 19-58). Louis Wirth, another Chicagoan, asserted that the city has historically been a ‘melting-pot’, which ‘has brought together people from the ends of the earth because they are different and thus useful to one another’ (Wirth 1938: 10). Hence, inter-ethnic relations are more likely to develop in cities than in villages, because the diversity of services and opportunities offered by cities attracts a larger variety of people than a village economy. Moreover, statistics suggest the probability that the bigger the population, the higher the number of different ethnic groups. Wirth was pessimistic about the superficial, anonymous and transitory nature of urban relationships. However, later research – by Herbert Gans (1982 ) on the Italians in Boston’s West End – showed that friendly, closely knit communities developed in immigrant neighbourhoods, partly because communal life mostly took place on the street. These neighbourhoods showed considerable residential stability.