Growing an Intercultural Neighbourhood

“Growing an intercultural neighbourhood, growing a civil society” was the focus of my exploration as an Alan Thomas Fellow.  Supported by the Carold Institute and the Collingwood Neighbourhood House in Vancouver, I was able to explore and further animate this subject area with practitioners, academics and a diverse community of citizens and service providers.

I am writing this blog because I am interested in hearing people’s thoughts about interculturalism. I have been reflecting on this work throughout my career and more intensely throughout my fellowship with the Carold Institute. The following briefly describes my thoughts as they are evolving and I hope to advance my thinking by hearing from you.

  • How do you describe interculturalism?
  • What successful intercultural approaches have you tried or witnessed?
  • What are its benefits and what gets lost if an intercultural focus is not there?
  • Where are you seeing examples of intercultural work where diversity is connected to get a great whole?

The topic of interculturalism was an area of interest as I witnessed the increasing diversity of our communities during my career in community development and through working in Vancouver, Canada, an urban centre whose policy decisions, along with provincial and federal policies, led to significant population growth over a 25 year period, primarily through immigration.

With this change, I could see that our communities were at greater risk of becoming disconnected. I also saw that there were many advantages when we were able to embrace, utilize, and connect diversity, particularly in place-based arenas like a neighbourhood. Neighbourhoods are a great place to engage people because people share a common space. Consider the number of places where you can meet neighbours – public transit, schools, shopping districts, recreation facilities etc.


How do we describe interculturalism?

Most of the international literature focuses on ethnicity when interculturalism is discussed. However, in the neighbourhood of Renfrew- Collingwood and throughout other parts of Vancouver and Canada, this work has evolved into seeing diversity through a broader lens. Diversity is not limited to ethnicity but to any quality which might otherwise serve as a “divider” — including age, gender, sexual orientation, ability, socio-economic class, appearance, fitness and religion. It also can be used to describe the different cultures of our organizations, sectors, and disciplines.

For the purposes of my exploration, I used the broader definition and described interculturalism as work which focuses on building bridges and exchanges between people, sectors and disciplines that are different, and encourages them to bring their unique gifts and approaches to address common interests. This intercultural work happens when diverse groups are given an opportunity to connect with each other and become greater than the sum of their individual parts.

What is the intercultural approach?

An intercultural approach works with assets and gifts- the positive aspects of diversity. It sees diversity as an advantage rather than just a challenge. It builds on the strides of multiculturalism by going deeper into the connection within and between communities while continuing to highlight unique assets. It focuses on the “in between” space, and actions we can co-create together so we see results and have shared ownership. It allows us to deepen conversations and understanding. It is an always shifting and co-created dynamic space as new people enter.

Benefits of intercultural community

Interculturalism promotes inclusivity, social cohesion, creativity and harmony. Each group, while maintaining its distinct identity, shares with and learns from others, thereby becoming stronger, more dynamic, more aware and more connected even beyond what they already know. People bring value and are valued. We become a more engaged community and create a sense of belonging when we co-create and do things together. Community members are enriched in career and life skills, leading to personal growth, community growth and innovation.

What gets lost when there is not an intercultural focus?

Our approaches in the past have reinforced differences and divisions, which can result in people living in fear and discomfort.  An intercultural focus honours uniqueness and also makes an effort to bring diversity together through common interests. When we do not embrace uniqueness, we lose people’s gifts and contributions, wasting valuable resources. When people are detached, indifferent, and unable to contribute, this can limit how we take on our common community challenges. An increased feeling of isolation can also impacts health and the availability of community support in times of need. This in turn affects our ability to evolve a society that is vibrant, resilient and caring.

Examples of Intercultural Neighbourhood Development

The following links describe some of the experiences in the Renfrew Collingwood Neighbourhood of Vancouver.