Small towns and cities must be given a greater voice in efforts to increase urban inclusion
This article was written together with Dr Licia Cianetti, professor and researcher at the London University, and Luciano Scagliotti, ENAR co-funder and antiracist activist. It was published on the London School of Economics Blog and is meant as a sparkle for a debate on the role of small and medium-sized towns/cities in shaping inclusive politices.
The growing political, economic, and social distance between metropolitan areas and ‘the rest’ is now a largely established fact in Europe. This urban-rural divide has been frequently invoked when explaining Brexit, the uneven effects of globalisation, and other recent phenomena.
However, between the global city and the rural village there is a continuum of other urban contexts that do not find easy representation in this framework.
In the European Union, more than one in three citizens live in towns and cities of between 5,000 and 100,000 inhabitants, and yet small and medium-sized urban areas are typically ignored in urban-focused academic and policymaking circles.
This is also reflected in transnational city networks, which are highly imbalanced in their participation in favour of larger urban centres. These networks are key spaces for urban politics, but very few towns and cities with fewer than 100,000 inhabitants participate in them. In transnational civil society networks — which connect civil society organisations rather than local governments — this absence is even more acute.
Neglecting the specific needs of those who live and work in smaller urban contexts is particularly problematic in relation to inclusion and anti-racism initiatives.
Although ethno-cultural diversity is increasing in urban areas of all sizes, debates on the local governance of diversity are typically concentrated on larger centres.
The demands advanced by transnational networks on issues of inclusion and anti-racism are mostly based on the experiences of large (and often richer) cities. It is vital that new forms of knowledge exchange can be developed which include the voices of those living in smaller urban spaces.