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Why spatial inclusion matters

By Bruno Lanvin, Founder and CEO, D&L Partners


This month, after a media outcry, social housing tenants including former Grenfell residents and disabled children who for two years had been denied access to communal gardens on the Westbourne Place development in Maida Vale in west London were finally granted permission to use its green space.

The government announced last summer that it intended to prohibit segregated play spaces in all new housing developments across England.  Such a ban can’t come soon enough, as cases of extreme inequality like that of Westbourne Place still exist in many mixed tenure developments – where private owners in the most expensive properties have access to play and leisure areas and those in affordable housing are excluded.

This matters because ‘spatial inclusion’ is a vital component to creating inclusive cities.  

Most city rankings simply measure the factors that make a city livable for its wealthier residents, but leave the experiences of most citizens out of the equation. 

It’s why we decided, for the first time, to create the Prosperity & Inclusion City Seal and Award (PICSA) Index, measuring criteria – like equality of access to green spaces and leisure areas – that impact all of a city’s occupants. 

Failures in spatial inclusion can mean increasingly segregated neighborhoods, adverse health effects for those living in poverty and a lack of access to crucial institutions and services. In places with low levels of spatial inclusion, social stratification increases, sowing division among residents. 

One of the greatest risk factors is a lack of public space—green gathering spaces like parks, as well as markets and “identity spaces” such as churches, mosques, libraries, and affinity groups. According to the United Nations, the average share of the population within 400 metres walking distance of an available public space is around 31 percent, though that number ranges from as low as 5 percent to as high as 90. This lack of resources stand in the way of integration when newcomers, including immigrants and refugees, come to start the next chapter of their lives in a new city.

Fortunately, positive examples of spatial inclusion also exist, and the understanding of spatial inclusion is developing quickly worldwide. Many local governments are already implementing spatial inclusion strategies. In Barcelona, Spain, the site of a former hospital in the diverse neighborhood of Nou Barris was converted into an award-winning park. In Athens, Greece, an empty hotel became 400 co-operative housing units. In Berlin, Germany, a project called Refugees Welcome allows the city’s residents to offer space in their homes to refugees looking to settle in. New York, U.S. trains diverse teams to manage and care for the city’s parks and other public spaces. In Marxloh, Germany, the public enthusiastically supported the construction of Germany’s largest mosque, which included spaces specifically designed for interfaith dialogue. Transportation improvements will also fill a key role in creating inclusive spaces, simply by making access quick and affordable for everyone.

When a city’s spaces are truly inclusive and accessible to all, everyone benefits—not just the wealthiest few. That’s why we knew the PICSA Index had to be the first to place spatial inclusion at the forefront. The PICSA Index shows us all what those in its top cities already know: when all of a city’s residents have access to its resources and public spaces, infinite new connections are possible.