Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Urban Life's Rich Pageant

Hello Everyone:

The rain has stopped and the sun is out. Mr. Donald Trump is planning a televised address this evening to outline his case for a border wall. He recently floated the idea of declaring a national emergency in order to circumvent Congress and appropriate the $5.7 billion he is demanding for the wall.  He president collapsed several "immigration crisis" into one national security threatening big crisis.  The chatter online leans toward boycott. We will talk about it tomorrow.  Shall we move onto today's subject?

Being woman in the post-#MeToo era is fraught. It seems that everyone has an opinion about how a woman should go about her daily business, interact with men, her appearance, and what views she should have. It is enough to make a woman crazy. Now layer on to that subtle and not-so religious rdiscrimination and you can may be appreciate what it is like to be a Muslim woman. Mehri "Mehrsa" Mohebbi, a senior urban planner at Planning Communities, writes in her CityLab article "The Discrimination Muslim Women Face: Lesson for City Planning Outreach,"(citylab.com; Dec. 5, 2018; date accessed Jan. 8, 2019 that the daily discrimination can be a learning tool for  negotiating city life. 

Ms. Mohebbi is the co-author of a five-year study with Annulla Linders, and Carla Chifors at the University of Cincinnati, Community Immersion Trust-Builiding and Recruitment among Hard to Reach Populations: A Case Study of Muslim Women in Detroit Metro Area, (dx.doi.org; 2018; date accessed Jan. 8, 2019) which documents the daily experiences of young Muslim women in Dearborn, Michigan. The young women told the co-authors that "their decreased sense of safety adversely affected basic daily experienced, including walking in their neighborhoods" (citylab.com; Dec. 5, 2018). Walking is one of the few social rights enjoyed by every member of urban life, "yet these negative perceptions and experiences discouraged the women from walking even in neighborhoods that were defined as walkable areas (based on design criteria, such street connectivity and availability of walking infrastructure)" (Ibid). 

Being shouted at--go back to your own country--or being viewed as a terrorist or oppressed are a representation of the discriminatory behavior that members of minoirity communities encounter in the American urban landscape. Ms. Mohebbi writes, "To counter the negative impact of these experiences, it's imperative that urban planners and city officials develop innovative ways to reach these marginalized groups, even as it may mean readjusting traditional idea about methodology and length of the process" (Ibid).

Throughout American urban history, discrimination against minority group has been part of the story.  Following 9/11 the Muslim community encountered serious difficulties.  Ms. Mohebbi noted the increased levels of prejudice and intolerance, even though history has shown that Islamophobia is not a modern phenomenon of American cities (Ibid). 

During the study period in Dearborn, Muslim women reported assorted types of negative perceptions (a foreigner, illiterate, unprofessional because of the hijab, cultural values, connection to extremists). These experiences so warped their image of society that it resulted in voluntary isolation and decreased level access to opportunities and service.

This form of alienation is a roadblock for a person to express themselves as social beings and participate in urban society.  Over the past two decades, urban planners have dedicated themselves to creating more inclusive community engagement that has "created a foundation of numerous nationwide initiatives and movement to reach alienated groups, but outdated community outreach methods continue to act as barriers" (Ibid). It is crucial, specifically for the public sector and decision makers in government, to closely examine these methods.

Haphazard approaches to increasing stakeholders' say have resulted in an insufficient budget and time to design and put in place a viable community engagement program. Innovative outreach methods to communicate affected areas are the way to increase participation, "especially when working with minority groups, whose cultural values and public image often limit their access to urban amenities and  involvement in public decision-making" (Ibid). 

There have been a number of success stories showcasing positive civic and social engagement of minorities around the United States.  One example, "a local, health initiative in southeast Michigan proved that partnerships between government sectors and grassroots organizations can create a welcoming environment for all stakeholders to partake in policy making related to public health" (Ibid). Healthy Dearborn Initiative (healthydearborn.org; date accessed Jan. 8, 2019) implemented inclusive community engagement methods towards enhancing the resident's health in every aspect of Dearborn urban life. One of the key elements of the initiative was "interacting with people and observing their daily lives in places where they live, work, and play and indentifying trusted gatekeepers to fully communicate with members of minority groups"  (citylab.com; Dec. 5, 2018).

The Dearborn Initiative was a success in motivating diverse underrepresented population, Muslim women in particular, to actively be part of policymaking meetings and workshops. This is a model that can be replicated and adapted to other communities with a high concentration of minorities.

However there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Mehri Mohebbi writes, "In instances like our case study of the Detroit Metro Area, a new approach, community immersion, was initiated, tested, and used.... the evolving strategy was based on using community immersion to accelerate the process of trust-building to secure interview data" (Ibid). Community immersion is not a typical method of interview studies but in this case, it was a useful strategy to identify he gatekeepers and facilitate communications with religious minority groups.

Usually governmental agencies imitate and conduct most of the urban interventions, minority community engagement becomes more essential to democracy. To better grasp an underrepresented population's needs and concerns, Ms. Mohebbi suggests using a variety of methods and techniques such as small in-person meetings to online participation techniques (Ibid).  

Ms. Mohebbi cautions, "Using each technique and local requires a certain level of knowledge about each method,min addition to a deep understanding of each stakeholder group" (Ibid). Thus, untested innovative engagement are both cost and time ineffective but she concedes, "reviewing contemporary success stories provides governmental sectors with insightful perspectives to modify engagement methods to suit different groups of the affected urban population" (Ibid). 

A key to full participation of underrepresented minorities is for urban planners and policymakers to "encourage a robust social infrastructure in American cities and avidly creating built environments where minority groups feel obliged to live an isolated life" (Ibid). Inclusive social media interventions and collaborations with community organizations are very necessary to the cause.  As long as there are individuals that feel like the "other," American--and by extension the global--society remains as this vague mix of contradictory values and dysfunctional interactions.

Human relations and interactions with their social setting; how they are being defined and facilitated, are the basis for the urban future.  The task of including underrepresented communities is vitally important. Cities are the places where diversity should be celebrated and investing in that rich future founded in the perspectives of everyone. 

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