Planning, pluralism and religious diversity: the spatial regulation of mosques in Italy

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In recent times, regulations governing religious practices in European cities have generated widespread debate in many countries. In fact, the growing religious diversity in many cities has significant consequences on the urban environment, and primarily the new spaces that it entails (e.g. places of worship and burial grounds) and new forms of expression in public (e.g. types of dress connoting a particular religious conviction, such as the Islamic veil or the Sikh turban). These spaces and forms of public expression engender complex problems of regulation, including specific questions related to urban planning. In these circumstances, the otherwise abstract issues of cultural pluralism and religious freedoms suddenly become concrete and urgent within specific urban contexts (Moroni and Weberman, 2016). Consider, for instance, when a religious minority applies to the local council for planning permission to build a place of worship: in many cases, in several European countries, such applications run the risk of encountering forms of resistance – for instance, by local authorities, politicians or grassroots movements – in which the objection to the proposed scheme is framed in terms of planning issues (for some examples in different countries, see for instance: Dunn, 2001; Gale, 2005; Gale & Naylor, 2002; Germain & Gagnon, 2003; Isin & Siemiatycki, 2002; Jonker, 2005; Kuppinger 2011, 2014a, 2014b; Landman & Wessels, 2005; Qadeer and Chaudhry, 2000; Saint-Blancat & Schmidt di Friedberg, 2005; Torrekens, 2013; Vahed and Vahed, 2014; Villaroman, 2012). Many planning theorists have attempted to untangle the complex web of issues surrounding urban pluralism and diversity in Western cities, sometimes doing so with specific reference to religious diversity (Burayidi, 2000a and 2015; Binnie et al., 2006; Dwyer, 2015; Dwyer et al., 2016; Eade, 2011; McClymont, 2015; Murtagh and Ellis, 2010; Qadeer, 1997 and 2016). The main aim of this paper is to contribute to this debate on planning and (religious) diversity in the field of planning theory. In particular, it stresses the importance of focusing theoretically not only on positive action, but also on the role of planning and building rules, which is sometimes neglected in the discussion of many planning theorists on questions of pluralism. The starting point of our discussion is the case of a new planning law governing the construction and location of places of worship in the Lombardy region, Italy1. Although the issue concerns various religious minorities, this article will focus on Islam and hence on the construction of mosques, which in Italy (as elsewhere) is a frequent target of local government opposition. What concerns us here is not so much the current legislation of the Lombard authorities per se as the example that these regional regulations furnish for a critical rethinking of some fundamental issues currently affecting several Western countries and cities. In fact, the planning restrictions introduced by the Lombardy region are similar to restrictions in force in other Western countries (see for instance Gale, 2005, on the UK, Kuppinger, 2014, on Germany, Torrekens, 2013, on Belgium, and Villaroman, 2012, on Australia). This article is divided into four sections. The first briefly describes the characteristics of religious diversity in Italy and its spatial repercussions. The second focuses on the case of the regulations governing the construction of places of worship in Lombardy, Italy. The third section contributes to the field of planning theory, with reference to ways and means of guaranteeing pluralism in cities through the tool of planning rules, suggesting some theoretical guidelines for reforming the planning system in order to promote and protect (religious) diversity. The last section draws conclusions.
Book of proceedings: Annual AESOP Congress, Spaces of Dialog for Places of Dignity, Lisbon, 11-14th July, 2017
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