Immigration and Public Housing: How the Arrival City is Changing

This is a quick summary of one of the first sessions that took place during the International Social Housing Festival in Amsterdam.

Doug Saunders-British/Canadian Author

The presenter Doug Saunders spoke about the theme of arrival cities. His definition of an arrival city is a place or district where immigrants end up right after immigrating.   He spoke of how they use the infrastructure, people, and resources and the impact all of this makes on the long-term success of a family.

The speaker brought out that when people come to a new city they continue to stay really connected to the place they came from.  They send money back to their home countries and continue to interact with people from their home lands.  In fact, more money is sent back to Bangladesh by immigrants than what is earned in the garment industry within the country.  The speaker brought out this point because we need to understand the changes that have taken place in immigration settlement.  Historically, immigration settlement has always taken place where rents were low and nobody else wanted to live.  The basic rule of the arrival city is that those coming from poorer places cannot afford to live where they are going.  In almost all situations outside of war resettlement, the people who immigrate to cities do so because of increased earning potential.

Arrival Cities as an Urban Space:

Arrival cities or districts have historically always been within an actual city.  They have almost always been urban districts.  Although they were often unattractive, there were some positive points.  Many of these districts were formerly blue collar.  They were usually high density so that people can be close to each other.  They had good transportation connections and are adjoined by middle income neighborhoods.  This allowed for immigrants to start businesses and build the systems that would allow future generations to succeed.

Arrival Cities are Becoming Suburbs:

The speaker brought out that many of the urban neighborhoods are no longer affordable for newcomers.  There is a shift from the central city to the suburbs.  It is basically the suburbanization of the arrival city.  The suburbs have low population density, long winding streets, parks and strict zoning between working, residential and industry.  The speaker argues these are set up to make refugees fail.  They cannot do what other refugees in central cities can do.  They cannot open businesses because of zoning.  The spaces in between buildings become scary.  The spaces themselves to not allow for successful integration and generational wealth/knowledge building.

A Lack of Resources: Barriers

These neighborhoods lack resources and opportunities for the next generation to succeed.  The areas themselves become run-down and create self-organized troubled areas.  There are issues that create these barriers:

  • Physical- Secure housing or a lack of a path to housing and ability to invest in that community.
  • Institutional: A lack of educational inclusion becomes an issue.  Often the schools are also not set up to meet the needs of those living within the cities.
  • Economic: A lack of an ability to open a legal business or get access to funds to start a business. There are also issues with access jobs.
  • Political: No pathway to legal citizenship or official inclusion

Possible Solutions:

  • Transportation: Adding rapid transportation makes it easier for people to get to their jobs and adds a positive connection.
  • Marketing: The areas need to become attractive and interesting places for people to visit.  The city should take care to do some marketing for the area.
  • Entrepreneurship: These districts need opportunities for residents.  In one city in Belgium, a deprived immigrant neighborhood had a training hotel built.  The immigrants within this district trained and learned all levels of hotel work.
  • Migrant Run Institutions: One of the major issues is security.  In Antwerp, there is an immigrant run police department.  The police there made it a priority to take kids to school who were skipping.
  • Urban Design: Empty spaces between buildings means that the area does have enough density to build rapid transit.  The speaker encourages tower renewal that adds low rise buildings, informal markets and other buildings to fill in spaces and improve attractiveness.
  • Schools: Nothing causes inter-generational poverty more than school issues.  Most models in Europe do not have economic mobility in mind.  Students are held back if they do not do well which causes embarrassment and drop out.  The best interventions in the speaker’s mind are when the city understand that these districts need a new school that is much better than the average school within the city.  Middle income white families should want to go to that school.

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