The Social Sustainability of Multicultural Cities : a neighbourhood affair?

Texte traduit par Mary Sweeney.

by Annick Germain

The concept of sustainable development has no longer been defined from a strictly environmental perspective for quite a few years now. The scope of the problem has been enlarged to include its social dimensions, leading notably to a renewed focus on urban development, and more particularly, on the topic of cities' social and cultural diversity. Building inclusive cities means that sustainable development programs have repercussions on aspects of contemporary city life that are quite sensitive. In the words of the World Commission on Environment and Development (1987:43), "Meet[ing] the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs", assumes in fact that the social body remains whole. Social cohesion is another expression that is in style right now, although it is a rather unconvincing one nonetheless, for most definitions stress what social cohesion is not, rather than what it is. The notion of social exclusion is then evoked in order to deal with the sizeable rifts that threaten social cohesion. But here again we are left with a catch-all term that does not help advance our thinking at all . To have a clearer idea of how the land lies, we must then scope out the terrain of real-life cases.

In a collected edition entitled The Social Sustainability of Cities. Diversity and the Management of Change, we showed that this social question can no longer be reduced to issues of distributive justice, as was the case in the 1960's (Polèse and Stren, 2000). Rather, it is inextricably linked to how well economic and socio-cultural differences can coexist (Séguin and Germain, 2000). This is why managing diversity has become one of the main challenges facing many metropolitan centres world-wide.

Montreal makes an interesting laboratory in this respect, for although its cosmopolitanism is not new, the socio-demographic evolution that has taken place over the past thirty years has drastically changed the metropolitan landscape. Migratory flows have intensified and diversified greatly, and this change is all the more formidable given that the metropolitan area receives the bulk of all immigrants admitted to Quebec.

In the pages that follow we intend to hark back to several research projects carried out over the past few years on Montreal's ethnocultural diversity from an urban standpoint. To begin with, we will show how immigration is a particularly sensitive question in Montreal (indeed even explosive on occasion), then we will present a brief geographical survey of immigration in Montreal. In the second part, we will spotlight the results of a study carried out during the first half of the 1990's on interethnic coexistence at the neighbourhood level. And in the last part, we will explore conceptual elements that have been highlighted by more recent studies on the challenge that managing ethnocultural and religious diversity at the neighbourhood level poses for municipalities. For in the end, everything, or almost everything, seems to play out at this level, at least at a first glance.

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