Reconciling goals of social and physical sustainability: an examination of spatial dimension of social integration in Trondheim, Norway

Research Projects
Organizational Units
Journal Issue
The paper presents preliminary findings from the first phase of a research project that is aimed at investigating the policy for decentralised local centers (commercial and transport hubs) in the city of Trondheim and an expressed goal of creating inclusive spaces at sub city level, while achieving a reduction in transport related greenhouse gas emissions. We use the case of social integration of refugees in the city of Trondheim to examine the potential of the planned local centers in achieving the expressed goal of creating a sustainable and inclusive city. We situate ourselves in the debate on social integration in the spatial domain viz. social mix versus segregation (Cole and Goodchild, 2001, Fincher et al, 2014 etc.) and the value of creating spaces of encounters (Fincher et al. 2014, Gressgård and Jensen 2015) to study the patterns of interaction among refugee groups in the city and their use of space in the local neighborhoods/ centers for such interactions. We relate these preliminary findings to the plans and policies of the Trondheim Municipality - both spatial and social welfare policies, to contribute to the debates on the role of spatial planning to promote social integration in increasingly diverse medium size cities in Europe. Municipal policy on integration of refugees in Trondheim is limited to the formal and structural aspects of society, while leaving the relational, interactional and cultural aspects to unplanned arenas and selfinitiative by the refugees. There have been some efforts to represent the cultural diversity of the city through food and cultural festivals, with limited outcomes. As is illustrated by our preliminary investigations, most informants experience a sense of alienation and isolation, and interactions are limited to people of similar cultural backgrounds and other refugees, mainly in central locations. One of the main findings discussed in the paper is that refugees experience a sense of isolation in the neighborhoods they are housed in by the Municipality, raising questions to the efficacy of the policies of social mixing followed in Trondheim. We also find that spaces of social encounters in the local area have only limited potential to facilitate long lasting contact between the refugees and the host population, unless more targeted efforts for social network building is undertaken. The window of opportunity of the first five years of the ‘Introduction program’ of the Municipality are critical owing to the close contact refugees have to State authorities. Disregarding the importance of the living environment and social links and bonds in the local community, is a shortcoming in the integration efforts of the Municipality, one which can be easily addressed. In conclusion, the paper raises questions for scholarship on the spatial dimensions of social integration, some of which will be investigated further in the current project.
Book of proceedings: Annual AESOP Congress, Spaces of Dialog for Places of Dignity, Lisbon, 11-14th July, 2017
All rights reserved