Doug Saunders’ 12 Conditions to Immigrant Success

Where do immigrants live? Does their place of residence change as the city evolves? How have the physical, institutional, economic, and political preconditions affected integration? These questions play a central role in the keynote lecture of Doug Saunders during the Opening Event of the ISHF.

Article by Merel Pit, ISHF team

Neighbourhoods where nobody wants to live

“Immigrants live in the neighbourhoods with the cheapest homes, as nobody else wants to live there,” states Saunders. “The people who are moving to the city for a better future basically don’t have the money to afford a different home.” Because of the concentration of immigrants, cities within cities develop. Saunders calls them Arrival Cities after his acclaimed book ‘Arrival City’.


Within these Arrival Cities, networks evolve and people help each other to integrate and make the most of it. “But whether integration of immigrants is actually successful depends largely on some physical, institutional, economic, and political preconditions, such as the presence and accessibility of public transport systems. But also, whether there are opportunities to start a small business or become a home owner and the presence of a good – preferably excellent – school in the immediate area,” Saunders declares.

Saunders’ conditions to immigrant success

To explain what immigrant success depends on, Saunders presents a matrix with conditions. “It doesn’t matter how shitty a place looks. If one of these conditions is missing, it stands in the way of successful integration.”

Manhattan Lower East Side, a very fortunate Arrival City

Manhattan Lower East Side is an example of a very fortunate Arrival City. Because of its success, however, the district became so popular that the housing prices rose. “Just like other successful Arrival Cities, the district is no longer accessible for immigrants. The result is a global suburbanization of the arrivals,” Saunders explains.

Amsterdam Slotervaart, an unsuccessful Arrival City

But where do the immigrants go if the classic Arrival Cities get too expensive? According to Saunders, they move to the outskirts of the city, to garden cities, for example, like Slotervaart, in the western part of Amsterdam. Garden cities, however, aren’t suited as Arrival Cities. “Because of the segregation of functions, people don’t have the possibility to start their own business. And if they do, the density is too low to attract enough customers. The green spaces between the building blocks become unsafe places for crime, as there is nothing to do and the transportation to the city center takes quite long.”

High density

“One solution to transform garden cities into successful Arrival Cities is to turn them into urban environments with high density,” Saunders explains. To illustrate this, he shows the Jatopa complex in Overtoomse Veld, Amsterdam, by Kother Salman Koedijk Architects. For this complex, the existing building blocks were demolished to make place for semi-high buildings suited for a higher density. A great asset of this project is the residential mix. “After having lived in social housing, people can become a home owner in the same neighbourhood they love so much.”

The power of education

Another solution is to bring good education into the garden city, like the school within the Urban Block at Delflandplein, Amsterdam, designed by Paul de Ruiter Architects. Sauders believes in the power of good education, “Put the best schools in the worst neighbourhoods. White, fortunate children from other neighbourhoods will compete to get in. By doing so, they’ll motivate the other children to be their better selves. They will turn competition for failure into competition for success, so the school will become a place for hope.”

Feature image by © Elodie Burrillon |

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