How Diverse Places Build Trust and Support Democracy

Five Questions with Professor Ryan Muldoon

“Go Mt. Airy Supper Sessions” in Philadelphia’s Mt. Airy neighborhood bring together people over food at communal tables in the center of the commercial district. Image credit: Albert Yee.

Q: Your white paper points out that growing diversity in our population produces more diverse opinions and even disagreements about policy solutions, but that these disagreements can help a liberal democracy. Can you explain?

An engagement session part of On the Table, a week long series of conversations for community input into Lexington’s next Comprehensive Plan. Image courtesy of Civic Lex.
“Culture at the Park” was an event series in Philadelphia’s Bardascino Park celebrating the diversity of cultures in the neighborhood through sharing food and learning traditions. Image credit: Albert Yee.

Q: What is it about communities that are more diverse across race, income and belief that builds social trust?

Downtown Akron Partnership hosts rollerskating at Cascade Plaza in downtown Akron as a way to bring together people from different neighborhoods. Image credit: LSquared Photos.

Q: How is geographic segregation of people harmful to reduced social trust?

Customers from all over the city and region and from every background dine at the WEDI business incubator, West Side Bazaar. People can find tastes from home or to try something new. Due to a fire in 2022, West Side Bazaar is currently pursuing a temporary home and will reopen in a long awaited new building this Fall. Image credit: Brendan Bannon, courtesy of WEDI.

Q: What role might the public realm play in combating the physical segregation of people into like-minded communities?

Zelalem Gemmeda, chef and owner of Abyssinia Ethiopian Cuisine, and daughter Feben at their original West Side Bazaar space. A West Side Bazaar stalwart since 2012, Abyssinia is relocating after the West Side Bazaar fire and will open at Downtown Bazaar this spring. Image credit: Brendan Bannon, courtesy of WEDI.

Q: Parks and public spaces are often the last things funded in local budgets and the first budgets cut in hard times. How can community leaders make a coherent argument about their importance in supporting better problem-solving, more social cohesion and a stronger democracy?

The recently completed Town Branch Commons in Lexington features protected bike lanes and green infrastructure. Image credit; Ty Cole, courtesy of SCAPE.



Transforming public spaces to foster engagement, equity, environmental sustainability and economic development in our cities. A collaboration of The JPB Foundation, Knight Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, William Penn Foundation and local partners.

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