Dr Leandro Sepulveda and Professor Stephen Syrett

Re-thinking economic development in an age of diversity

The trend towards cities having increasingly diverse population is now a well-established phenomenon in the global North and South. Within this context, the presence of a culturally and ethnically diverse population is frequently considered as one of the defining features of contemporary world cities like London, New York, Paris and Toronto and an asset that can be economically exploited. Yet what has been significant over the last thirty years has been the growing level of population mobility and this has seen not just an increase in the scale of population flows, but also changes in the origins, destinations, and composition. The result is greater diversity where past populations had been more homogenous.

The presence of increasingly diverse population has a number of impacts upon the processes of economic development. Diverse populations bring with them a range of potential benefits as well as costs. Yet political, and indeed academic, debate often seeks to polarise these, to promote rather simplistic readings of diversity as either inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The reality is more complex and fascinating.

This paper provides a comprehensive treatment of the subject of population diversity and economic development in urban economies. It draws together analysis and debates from across different academic fields such as migration, labour market, small business and enterprise, creativity and innovation, diaspora relations and business networks and diverse built environments, and illustrates these with evidence from London. In particular it reflects upon the experience of ‘old’ and ‘new’ migrant entrepreneurs and assumes that the more ‘cosmopolitan outlook’ acquired by global cities in recent years is reflected not only in an ever-broadening range of ‘exotic’ goods and services available on the high street of global cities but also through migrant entrepreneurs themselves introducing their products, symbols and traditions by establishing business ventures and in so doing transforming the economic geography of cities and the profile of local economies.

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