Multiculture and Public Parks: Researching Super-diversity and Attachment in Public Green Space

Sarah Neal, Katy Bennett, Allan Cochrane, Hannah Jones & Giles Mohan

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Neal, S. , Bennett, K. , Cochrane, A. , Jones, H. & Mohan, G. (1). Multiculture and Public Parks: Researching Super-diversity and Attachment in Public Green Space. Population, Space and Place, 21(5), 463–475.

diversity , encounter , materiality , Multiculture , public parks , public space , research practices

Situating itself in encounter and public space debates and borrowing from non‐representational theory approaches, this paper uses data from the authors' 2‐year Economic and Social Research Council research project to consider how local urban parks can work as sites of routine encounter, mixity, and place belonging. The paper explores how parks as green public spaces are important as sites of inclusive openness while the materiality of parks is a key dynamic in affective encounter processes. Parks can work as animators of social interactions, participatory practices, and place affinities across ethnic and cultural difference. The paper concludes that the concept of convivial encounter can be extended to incorporate the concept of elective practices – choosing to be in shared public space can generate connective sensibilities that are not necessarily contingent on exchange. In using parks as a lens to examine localities and diversity, the paper critically reflects on research practices for understanding and describing heterogeneous formations of multiculture and outlines how the project's research design and the fieldwork methods sought to carefully and appropriately undertake research with complexly different places and populations.

Main finding
Green public spaces and urban parks play an essential role in creating co-presence possibilities between multicultural strangers from different cultures and backgrounds. The sharing and repeated use of parks and green spaces by ethnically diverse populations elicit social practices that generate encounters, contact, and proximity. Parks are places of mixing and mingling that are seen as intimate and public spaces where interaction is facilitated amongst strangers because of their leisure-pleasure associations. Still, in very few cases, parks can also be places of insecurity, isolation, and conflicts. Respondents identify organized events and celebratory occasions such as festivals in the parks as moments of diversity and interaction that bring them together. The presence of ethnically diverse populations in parks is becoming ordinary, reflecting the emergence of new migration and multiculturality of the city.

Description of method used in the article
This article employs a mixed-method approach that involves participant observation and semi-structured interviews with ethnically diverse participants in three geographical locations: the London Borough of Hackney, Milton Keynes, and Oadby, a town in Leicestershire. Twenty-nine individual and nine group interviews are conducted with participants with existing relationships with parks. Researchers spent quite a lot of time in parks, attending park events, and conducting individuals’ “walking interviews.” Thus, parks were strongly embedded in the interview and research process. The recruitment process differed slightly in each park. It included the researchers joining an outdoor gym session, having project stalls at park social events, face to face contact and distribution of project flyers and invitations to be part of the research, and online invitations via park user groups and networks. This way of recruiting ensured that participants have pre-existing relationships with the parks.

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