A.C. Hepburn of the University of Sunderland, U.K. began the conference with an overview of "Contested Cities in the Modern West." He argued that it is important to differentiate between "divided cities" and "contested cities." When a city is divided between two or more ethnic or religious groups, there may be competition over resources or even open hostility between the groups. If the disagreement between the groups encompasses the question of which group should have ownership and political control of the city, the city can be considered contested. Hepburn argued that while many U.S. cities are divided, none are truly contested. His research examines six contested cities: Gdansk and Trieste, where contests have been resolved with one group as the clear winner; Brussels and Montreal, where contests have not been resolved, but have not led to violence; and Belfast and Jerusalem, where unresolved contests have resulted in ongoing violent conflict.
Contested cities play a major role in nationalist movements, Hepburn said, because every national group wants to have "its own" city. But nationalist movements do not arise in all divided cities. Hepburn explained that Flemish citizens lived fairly peacefully in French-dominated Brussels until large number of rural Flemish migrants arrived and began demanding linguistic and cultural rights. Once ethnic contests arise, the atmosphere in cities can become emotionally charged. For example, Hepburn noted that ethnic neighborhoods acquire strong symbolic significance. In divided cities in the US, members of one group may leave a neighborhood, which will then be populated by another group. In Belfast, by contrast, Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods remain clearly defined, even as demographic patterns change and government officials try to encourage movement from overcrowded Catholic neighborhoods into empty buildings in Protestant areas. Hepburn added that education policy can play an important role in divided cities. In Montreal and Belfast, a history of separate Protestant and Catholic education systems helped to harden group boundaries. Today, state education policy plays a decisive role in maintaining Montreal as a French-speaking city.
In the second session of the conference, Hank V. Savitch of the University of Louisville, discussed "Terror, Barriers, and the Changing Topography of Jerusalem," emphasizing the harmful effects that terror has on cities. Savitch explained that those who utilize the methods of terrorism do so not just for the immediate physical destruction, but also with the goal of instilling fear in their opponents and thereby affecting their behavior. In Jerusalem, terrorists predominately attack highly populated neighborhoods to incur the most damage possible. Consequently, we are witnessing a "peripheralization" of the urban core as Israelis move westward to avoid the worst of the attacks. Fewer people are willing to frequent downtown Jerusalem and consequently the city has experienced a demonstrable decline in commerce. Savitch stated that the impact on the Israeli economy was one of several impetuses for the security barrier that is currently being constructed. The barrier's construction is highly contested by Arabs in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, who hope someday to see the city as the capital of a Palestinian nation.
Savitch stated that every major population needs a central metropolis. However, due to the intermingling of Arab and Israeli populations throughout Jerusalem, it is not at all feasible to split the city in half. Since Israel is the only established national government that can effectively manage and control a city like Jerusalem, Savitch discussed the possibility of a city like Ramallah, Bethlehem, or Jenin serving as the capital of a Palestinian nation, concluding that none of those municipalities would suffice. Savitch's ultimate suggestion for a compromise was a system of borough governance in Jerusalem. Under this system, a council chosen by the local population would govern each individual neighborhood. The local councils would handle issues of land use, planning, and building, as well matters like police, education, and housing. Under this system, less formal political, cultural and economic ties could be established with a Palestinian state. However, ultimate sovereignty of Jerusalem would lie with Israel and a senior council of both Israelis and Arabs would establish a universal set of laws and provide oversight to the local councils. Savitch concluded that the only way to reach a feasible compromise is if all parties involved set aside historical border disputes and deal with the situation as it exists on the ground today.
In the second case study of the session, "Split, Croatia, as a Contested City: Four Cycles of Dispute," Vjekoslav Perica of the Wilson Center and the University of Utah, provided a descriptive analysis of the historical transformation of the regionalist movements in Split. Situated on the dividing line between the Eastern and Western Roman Empire and later between Eastern and Western Christendom, Split has long been a city of changing populations and contested governance. From the second half of the 19th century through World War II, the Italian elite and the Slavic majority in Split clashed on numerous occasions, the last of which resulted from the Italian annexation of Split during the war. However, the Slavic resistance prevailed and the last of the local Italians fled the city.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Split underwent a rapid process of homogenization, producing a population almost entirely Croat and Catholic. According to Perica, the newly-elected President Tudjman created a strongly centrist state and fostered Croatian nationalism. Nevertheless, a movement for city autonomy persisted in Split. Although the movement was promptly quashed by the Tudjman regime, the people of Split maintained a sort of cultural independence from the rest of the country. In the last decade the city has witnessed a revival of the local dialect in journalism and literature and has developed a world famous school of sport, sending five Split natives to America's professional basketball league. By promoting its cultural uniqueness, Split's modern day autonomy movement has less to do with becoming a sovereign state and more to do with combating the centralization of Croatia and its policies of cultural standardization.
Turning to the prospect of designing urban solutions aimed at ameliorating ethnic tensions in divided societies, Scott Bollens, of the University of California at Irvine, discussed insights gleaned from his research in eight "divided cities" around the world. In the third session of the conference, Bollens began by noting that cities often play a significant role in societies experiencing nationalist/ethnic conflict or massive political transitions. The symbolic and practical significance of cities means that they are targeted in efforts to destroy an entire society (as in Sarajevo) as well as in attempts to foster peaceful coexistence. Urban policy is significant to nationalist conflicts because it affects ethnic and group relations in four major areas: control over land and territory; distribution of economic benefits and costs; access to the policymaking apparatus; and maintenance of group identity and viability. In attempting to identify the potential role that can be played by urbanists seeking to help facilitate more stable coexistence among disagreeing groups, Bollens stressed that such options will depend on the level of conflict present in society. In societies experiencing "active conflict," urbanists' options will be limited to suggesting different models and prototypes for how the city might function in a more peaceful future. At the opposite end of the spectrum, cities that are operating in a state of ‘urban stability' offer urban planners the chance to develop public spaces that facilitate inter-group coexistence. In cities experiencing a ‘fragile peace' somewhere between these two extremes, planners can play a positive role in easing tensions by utilizing daily urban problems to diminish the root causes of ethnic tensions and grievance.
In the second panel of the session, Jeffrey W. Helsing of the United States Institute of Peace began by noting an example of how important urban policies can be in relation to ethnic tensions. He related how USAID sent teams into Mosul and Kirkuk to adjudicate housing disputes and diffuse potential ethnic flare-ups between the Kurdish and Sunni residents early on in the Iraq operation. Helsing suggested that urban planners have the opportunity to help rebuild community relations and trust in the aftermath of conflicts and gave an example of a town in Bosnia where the construction of a community center served as a catalyst for local reconciliation between Croat and Muslim neighbors. Turning to Jerusalem, Helsing suggested that efforts to build the security barrier threaten to make personal interaction between Israelis and Palestinians extremely difficult and characterized the current division as a "divorce" in which Israelis are attempting to determine the terms. While empathizing with the Israeli attempt to establish security through the creation of a physical barrier, Helsing expressed doubt as to whether such security could be gained without increased interaction and understanding between the two communities.
Jill Simone Gross, from Hunter College at the City University of New York, provided some concluding remarks and moderated a discussion among attendees. She noted that many of the issues that emerge in discussions of international cities are also evident in many U.S. cities as well. She highlighted the importance of personal relationships in fostering community cohesion and stressed that urban planning extends far beyond "bricks and mortar" to include conflict resolution, social coexistence and the fostering of a tolerant and inclusive urban culture.