How Civil Society Can Support Social Cohesion in the Urban Transformation

Beyond personal choice, who we socialise with is often conditioned by aspects such as language, culture, income, and structures of our daily life. To avoid fragmentation and support social cohesion it is necessary to build bridges between different groups in society. Our project UrbanUp has explored ways how civil society actors such as neighbourhood initiatives can enhance their role as drivers of social cohesion, especially in the context of urban transformation.

In this transdisciplinary research project, we teamed up with “Aufbruch am Arrenberg e.V.”,  a well-established and renowned civil society association and “Werke”, a young students collective, to co-design and jointly implement a pilot project that fosters social cohesion in the Arrenberg neighbourhood of Wuppertal, Germany.

Together we launched a neighbourhood “do-it-yourself (DIY) workshop series” (Quartierswerkstatt) to reach out to new target groups. Although initially designed for adults, many teenagers and young children joined the pilot. They started interacting with peers outside of their regular peer groups, with time taking their parents on board as well. This led to the neighbourhood workshop becoming a place for interaction between different communities.

The citizens who participated in the workshop series represented different age groups, genders, sexual orientations, income groups, cultural backgrounds, including people with health conditions or impairments. Key success factors for bringing together diverse groups were a wide spread communication campaign with online and outreach activities (including word-of-mouth recommendations); regular reflections and adaptations in the planning team to address success or failure in the progress; reflections upon individual privileges and roles in society; and collaboration with representatives of the target groups already in the planning phase. Other relevant factors included setting up a specific framework for welcoming and engaging new people; enabling a high level of participation and interaction on eye-level; and creating an atmosphere of creativity, engagement, and self-efficacy.

Beyond its focus on local social cohesion in the Arrenberg neighbourhood in Wuppertal, Urban Up analysed environmental impacts of social innovations applied in local civil society initiatives. It further analysed how stakeholders from different sectors of society (city-maker, politicians, companies etc.) can work together and co-create new solutions for a city, and what role stories and narratives as well as learning processes played in these processes of urban transformation. To find out more about the project results, please check out the publication “Impulses for Urban Transformation” (in German).

The Urban Up project was launched in 2017 and wraps up in March 2023. The project was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and implemented by the University of Wuppertal’s Transzent, the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy and the CSCP.

For further questions, please contact Alexandra Kessler.