The paper under consideration is the article “Writing Multiculturalism? Planning for Culturally Different Identities in the City of Birmingham” by Dr.Wun Fung Chan, a lecturer in Geography, who works at the Department of Geography and Sociology at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow UK.
The article consists of the following sections: Introduction, Returning to the Highbury Initiative, The Presence of Chinatown, Chinatown as a Planning Text, Building on the Planning Text, Conclusions.
In the Introduction the author resorts to the work “Cosmopolis II” by Leonie Sandercock, because in this work the City of Birmingham is described as “typical industrial … twentieth-century city” (Chan 69). The author chooses Sandercock’s work among other histories of Birmingham, because its merit and zest is that she supplements the story “by sympathetically flagging the emergence of ethnic differences” (Chan 69). Besides, Sandercock elaborated on the Highbury 3 conference, which was held in 2001, and its significance was in the fact that it was the starting point of considering Birmingham a multicultural city. Wun Fung Chan analyses some important events of the 1980s and 1990s, which took place before that conference, but were of great value, as they reveal the planners thoughts about ethnicity. The introduction presents the tasks the author plans to fulfill in the article: “the article endeavours to demonstrate how a ‘planning text’ informs and mediates cultural identity formation in an urban context” (Chan 71).
The section “Returning to the Highbury Initiative” Chan draws our attention to the fact that at all Highbury conferences the question of the multiculturalism of Birmingham was discussed, despite the fact that the objectives of the conferences were different. The first conference asserted that the city was not appealing for tourists and investors, and it had to be improved. He studies Birmingham’s planning archive. Chan mentions “growing commercial presence of ethnic minority businesses in the city center” in the 1980s (73).
The section “The Presence of Chinatown” tells us about the metaphysics of presence. The central idea of the section is that the term “multiculturalism” means not only the right to speak that is granted to different cultural identities. It also means “how they are listened to” (Chan 74).
In the section “Chinatown as a Planning Text”, the author writes about the “Chinese theme” of Birmingham, which did not always represent local Chinese identity, but was a mere reflection or imitation of various China Towns, which could be found in other cities (76). Thus, the Chinese Quarter simply borrowed and repeated certain signifiers “to outline the aesthetic character of Chinese culture” in Birmingham (Chan 76).
“Building on the Planning Text ” informs us about China Court, the Arcadian Center, and shutters on Wrottesley Street. The author analyses the written plans for the Chinese Quarter and states that the planners sought to delimit and disseminate multicultural across the landscape (Chan 76).
In the conclusion, the author writes about the attitude of the inhabitants of the city towards China town, which was often negative. The building of China town was not a sign of the desire of a Chinese presence, but a way to attract tourists and additional investments to Birmingham. The author asks politicians to pay more attention to people’s needs and their opinion in this matter. If planners listen to the voice of minorities, that will be the same as to give them the opportunity to speak.
On the whole, the article suggests interesting and non-trivial ideas about planning structured as text. The author sounds convincing as he refers to and cites authoritative sources and presents visual proofs of his ideas. The article suggests reasonable ideas about possible changes in the multicultural future of the city of Birmingham. “The ‘policy makers’ need to ask and listen, not tell, communities… Most of all people need to have their own voice” (Chan 82). We totally agree with this idea and support it.
Chang, Wun Fung. “Writing Multiculturalism? Planning for Culturally Different Identities in the City of Birmingham”. Planning Theory & Practice. 8.1. (2007).