Social Mixing: the solution for Social and Ethnic Segregation?

With the EU2020 Strategy, the European Commission aims for an inclusive economy delivering high levels of employment and social cohesion. About 80 per cent of the European Union’s population lives in urban areas where the effects of many social and economic challenges are most keenly felt. Cities thus need to play an important role in attaining inclusion goals, as segregation is leading to sharp contrasts on the urban level

Three types of mixing to enhance social capital

The contrasts impose significant challenges to the inhabitants of a segregated area, among which limited access to stable, well-paid jobs and a dilapidated urban environment. For this reason, much can be gained from combating segregation, and social missing policies are implemented across Europe to this end. Social mixing is positioned as a measure to stimulate social cohesion, which in its turn should lead to increased social capital: and this increased capital would promote additional opportunities for inhabitants.

Three types of mixing are being pursued: by differentiating the housing stock (in terms of home ownership and rental units), by setting requirements to prospective inhabitants and by creating ‘islands’ of homogeneous blocks in a mixed environment. A general criticism to each of these strategies has been however that goals related to equity, a higher socio-economic status or increased quality of local services cannot be realised by this single measure alone.

Social mixing its opportunities and pitfalls

Currently, social mixing as an effective measure is under severe pressure: realising networking between higher and lower income groups is difficult at best, and it has not been possible to ascertain upward social mobility. Community participation and specific social programming are key to making missing strategies work. Segregation is a multidimensional issue, and needs to be confronted as such.In that light, social mixing as such cannot be a successful measure: depending on the goals of the mixing strategy, targeted additional programming needs to be developed.

Besides positive reflections on mixing strategies, many cynical readings exist just as well. Social mixing is however a measure to show clearly that concentrated pockets of disadvantage and poverty are unacceptable, and that different layers of government work together to prevent people and places from slipping off the map.

The current economic conditions make it more difficult and at the same time more important to retain anti-segregation measures on the political agenda. However, these constrained circumstances could be an incentive to start exploring new pathways for realising inclusion: through innovative partnerships between public and private sector institutions, or through new and more effective and efficient support services.