Interview: Irene Guidikova at Intercultural Cities

May 27th, 2010

This month we talk to Irena Guidikova, the Head of Cultural Policy, Diversity and Intercultural Dialogue Division, Directorate of Culture and Cultural and Natural Heritage, Council of Europe about intercultural integration and their 11 city pilot project.

1. You use the term “intercultural integration” to describe your project’s goals. What does “intercultural” mean in this context and why is it important?

For several decades, European countries and cities have focused on what we call the “integration hardware” – the provision of basic services for migrants (health, education, housing etc.), and support for migrants to be able to function in their new country such as language and citizenship courses. Read more

The emphasis has been on the changes migrants need to make in order to become a part of the community. Very little attention has been paid to the “software” or the cultural dimension of integration – the perceptions of the other, the readiness to embrace diversity and the capacity of the host community to adapt to the changing cultural profile of the community. I

Intercultural integration stands for a comprehensive approach which takes into account more than just the economic and social aspects of integration. Ultimately, integration policies and services cannot be effective if people are hostile to the other, if the cultural groups are segregated, if cultural conflicts are not managed properly and if different cultural groups in a city do not interact.

2. What is interesting about the 11 cities that you selected as pilot cities is that they are not the “usual cities” instead you have cities such as Lyons (France), Lublin (Poland), Oslo (Norway) Reggio Emilia (Italy) and Tilburg (the Netherlands), can you tell us a bit more about why you selected these cities?

Intercultural cities began as a pilot programme – a laboratory for developing the concept and practice of intercultural integration. We decided to work with medium-size cities where it is easier to mobilize all relevant stakeholders – elected officials, professionals, civil society – around a process of policy change. We also wanted to have a wide geographical spread – the Council of Europe has 47 member states. But the most important factor of choice was the commitment of cities to participate seriously in a complex and demanding process that understands diversity as an advantage and looks for ways of positively taking migration into account – to the benefit of all citizens.

3. The work that Intercultural Cities is doing is based on the growing need for cities to think and act across traditional policy and institutional silos , as well as geography . From the experiences of the pilot cities, what are the greatest challenges in realizing on this approach?

Indeed, one of the main methodological pillars of Intercultural cities is this inclusive approach. We realized that the best way to break across the silos is to begin by constructing a group of intercultural champions or innovators made up of a diverse groups of people and not just elected representatives or people in power.

At the same time, the strong leadership of a deputy Mayor has been essential to keeping the momentum and motivation over time. In all cities the programme has been conceived, steered and run by these informal consortia of politicians, policy officers, professionals and citizens, and through continuous interaction with the departments, institutions and organizations concerned to ensure their support and contribution. Horizontal and vertical interaction is for me the key.

4. Again, based on the pilot cities, what were some of the greatest successes and how were these cities able to learn from each other?

There are many success stories. The first prize of the Intercultural Neukölln float at the Berlin Festival of Cultures . Kids from different backgrounds looked at their district from an intercultural perspective and designed the float together. This was the first time people of Turkish background participated in this massive event. The design of an intercultural park in Melitopol as a focal point and meeting place for the different cultures of the city; the refocusing of cultural work in Izhevsk, Lublin and Patras around intercultural issues are only some examples. But the most important success is represented by the intercultural vision statements and action plans many cities finalised or are currently working on, because they are a guarantee for a lasting policy change.

5. What cities do you think are most effectively leveraging “the diversity advantage” and why?

All are, although in different ways. Reggio Emilia and Neuchâtel are attracting a lot of foreign workers and investments, Lublin is becoming more attractive for foreign students. But most importantly, the cohesion and positive atmosphere in all of the cities help them to look to the future with confidence and reinvent themselves by using the talents of all their citizens.

6. Successful integration is helped by good policy, but in your experience what local practices stand out as touchstones of success?

Among the most important preconditions are the possibility for foreigners to participate in the local political and cultural life. There are many inventive ways of encouraging them to do this – look for instance at the intercultural profiles of Olso and Reggio Emilia and for stories in our newsletter.

7. At Cities of Migration, we like to say we are all integration actors. Tell us about your favourite, or the most surprising “unusual actor” you have met in your travels with Intercultural Cities?

The representatives of the Church of Norway. They had such sophisticated understanding in which public space and neighborhood planning affected relationships between cultural communities.

8. What is your personal favorite city and why?

I have no favourites, all cities are equally important and all have made excellent contribution to our common work. All those cities have different needs and strengths. In the network the cities can learn from each other through experience and knowledge exchange. We established together a very useful tool, the “intercultural city index” that visualizes exactly the specific strengths of each city, and allows to match it with cities with learning needs in that area. You can find it on our web site and cities who are interested in can test their “interculturality” to see in what areas they can improve.

Thank you, Irena!

To learn more about the Intercultural Cities project and its city partners, visit the Council of Europe website.

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