Transition tales #5: Migrating cultures

A closer look at the influx of new cultures and identities in Europe

This week’s story is about migration, culture and identity, three key words which describe one of the current struggles faced by Europe.

Between 2015 – 2016 over one million people sought asylum in Europe. Most of them were migrants escaping the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. This made the immigrant share of the population rise in some countries by at least one percent. It might not seem as a lot, but it is a substantial increase for Western countries, considering that a rise of one percent usually happens in the light of a decade. This rapid increase has Europe still debating on the best way to deal with the incoming wave of refugees and struggling with finding best-practices for social inclusion.

How to include people properly? and more important Who are you including?

The ‘how to” has always been the starting point in tackling social inclusion. Trying to find the ‘go-to recipe’, establishing best-practice cases, coming up with innovative solutions, all these strategies have to be met in order to come to terms successfully with the influx of new residents. Here is where the issue of ‘inclusive design’ comes in.

©Davey Meelker and Sanne van Oosten

Architects, urban planners and city makers have argued for the importance of an inclusive design in order to understand the needs of people seeking to feel ‘at home’ again. Inclusive design offers people the possibility to remove barriers set by having the social status of a ‘migrant’. It creates new opportunities to experiment with creative and problem-solving skills. Nevertheless, it also points to the whole picture, which is not just about how to include the new population, but also to be aware of who we are including. The influx of migrants does not solely confine to an increase of population numbers. It also refers to an influx of new cultures and identities which hold great potential. This points to the complexity of the issue, for which a top-down approach does not suffice. Social inclusion and an inclusive design attests to the need for participatory planning.

‘People with capital had no imagination, people with imagination had no capital’– Marcus Westbury (Founder, Creative Director, Renew Newcastle, Melbourne)

Allowing people, communities, migrants, refugees and residents the possibility to build together their concept of urban development, housing and public space is key in solving this very current issue.

These are some of the points discussed at the reSITE 2016: Cities in Migration conference. Mayors of major cities, experts and representatives of civic initiatives presented innovative solutions and strategies for European cities to come to terms successfully with the influx of new residents.

‘Democratic interventions to provide much more openness, diversity and inviting spaces’– Lenka Burgerova (Architect, Councillor, Prague)

The professional conference discussed examples from Lebanon, Amsterdam, Berlin and Newcastle as a way of highlighting the various realities encompassed in refugee spaces. It also made clear the fact that there is not one clear solution for the ‘how to’ question, each city having to adapt to its own contextual situation.

For more information, watch the panel discussion below.

Transition tales

The stories we present reside at the intersection of planning, culture, politics and economics. We introduce a series of weekly uploads from a number of sources (conferences, interviews, summits), that offer a better image on the way cities are changing and what are the ideas behind this transitioning.


Involved city makers
Martin Barry
Martin Barry
Charlot Schans
Project leader New Europe at Pakhuis de Zwijger
Egbert Fransen
Director Pakhuis de Zwijger
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