Urban Planning in a Multicultural Society

By Michael A. Burayidi | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Demographic Shifts and the Challenge for Planners: Insights from a Practitioner

Alvin James

As the United States positions itself to embark upon a new century and a new millennium, it finds itself in a place that is at once both familiar and new. What remains conventional is the role that it has played for more than 200 years as a destination for new immigrants, many of whom were and are still seeking a different, and perhaps economically enhanced, way of life. For much of the country's early history, its immigration pattern was largely Eurocentric in composition and origin. While cultural diversity certainly existed, the relatively narrow range of countries from which individuals emigrated ensured that nearly as many common characteristics existed as differences. Today, however, the neoteric dimension confronting the nation is the fact that the breadth of immigration has expanded dramatically. As a result, its demographic composition is reflective of virtually every part of the globe.

Notwithstanding its Eurocentric orientation, the United States has always considered itself to be a pluralistic society. The country has historically struggled, however, often unsuccessfully, with the question of how to balance its stated ideals for an assimilated society (i.e., of becoming a "melting pot" in which the cultural attributes of many nationalities and ethnic minorities might fuse together into a distinctly American culture) with the reality of its experience in perpetuating segregated subcultures. John Hope Franklin, a noted African-American historian, observed that during the brief span of three and one-half centuries of colonial and national history, Americans developed traditions and prejudices that have created two worlds of race in modern America ( Franklin 1989). The "two worlds of race," together with society's often expressed bias against national origin, have combined to pose a formidable challenge to the nation's capacity to successfully accommodate its newest inhabitants.

Historically, planning practitioners and policy-makers have concerned themselves with a variety of issues that affect the nation's communities. In so doing, they have developed principles and policies to guide decision making in such areas as land

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