Can Open City truly exist? New research will focus on urban life in London

LondonA new project will look at the social and political life of London to test whether the utopian ideal of the Open City exists in real life, and explore issues of race, migration, mobility and living with diversity.

The three-year Open City project, funded by the ESRC, will be led by Professor John Solomos of Warwick Sociology. Using London as its case study, it will explore how the city accommodates new forms of urban life, through the social reconfiguration of its spaces and places, and look at the ways urban government at the city-wide and borough scales reflect, promote or limit the idea of the open city.

The concept of the Open City has been developed by architects, planners and theorists to describe a place of social integration, cultural diversity and collective identity, where different cultures and lifestyles co-exist and interaction leads to enrichment. It contrasts with urban spaces where commercial malls, gated communities and poor transport networks drive increased fragmentationand new diversities are characterised by dynamics of intolerance and antagonism.

Professor Solomos said: “Until now there has not been any sustained empirical examination of the idea of the open city. Our research will focus on London, a city that is constantly being remade by its inhabitants, as well as experiencing considerable and on-going development.

“The city has become a place where change affords people the opportunity to make different temporal and spatial claims over belonging to the city while also providing many everyday and structural sites of friction.

“We will also investigate the assumption that the open city is the good city by examining thereal lived experience of the open and closed dimensions of city life.

The project will work with key stakeholders in London and elsewhere to ensure that the main findings of the research feed into policy and political debates about cities and urban life. It will engage with the Migration Museum and Tate Exchange/Counterpoint Arts to develop accessible and stimulating new cartographies of the city.

The project is a collaborative one, involving Professor Michael Keith (University of Oxford), Professor Karim Murji (University of West London) and Professor Steve Pile (Open University). Greater London Authority, Camden Council, and social movements such as City of Sanctuary have also contributed to the research plans.

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