By Anne B. Shlay
Stefano Moroni and David Weberman (eds.), Space and Pluralism: Can Contemporary Cities be Places of Tolerance? (New York, NY: Central European University Press, 2016).
Spaces and Pluralism is a tough read that speaks to issues that have plagued humanity for centuries but have intensified in recent years. It asks “can contemporary cities be places of tolerance?”
The book is a collection of essays, case studies and research articles from many points of view including philosophy, planning, political science, design, geography, social theory, anthropology, and urban studies. It asks basic and important definitional questions: what is pluralism, what is public and private space, how place is created from space, is tolerance culturally specific, how does private property interfere with tolerance, what can be expected from design and planning, what are human rights for space collectively and individually, and how does space exclude, separate and control particular social groups?
The two major concepts explored are pluralism and tolerance. This idea of the good is central: not that there is right or wrong or winners and losers but that different perceptions are good whether they are good or bad. Tolerance entails “mutual tolerance of the other” (p.8). A pluralist approach to space encompasses the idea that different ideas of what is good exists and that we should accept and tolerate these differences.
Space and Pluralism recognizes that one cannot theorize about tolerance without talking about space. Race, ethnicity, gender, class and more are grounded in space. Tolerance and intolerance are spatial. Human rights are spatial. How can one even begin to understand human conflict without incorporating space as a key dimension? This focus on space may be the best feature of this book.
Spaces and Pluralism would be a useful addition to graduates courses associated with the fields of urban and global studies. It will generate debate, frustration and hope over the possibility of tolerance and the role that designers can play in fostering understanding.
The full book review will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Urban Affairs.
Anne B. Shlay
Georgia State University