How cities can cope with migration

“We need to rethink our cities, so they can better cope with migration. It’s not a temporally situation but a permanent one,” states Michelle Provoost of Crimson Architectural Historians. She is one of the organisers of the ISHF event ‘Migration and Mobility in cities in the West’, on emerging migration and mobility to and in cities. “Migration is structural as our cities are increasingly defined by the dynamic of temporary inhabitants.” Provoost explains that these aren’t just refugees and economic immigrants, but also expats and international students.

Article by Merel Pit, ISHF team

Provoost’s statement is being strengthened by the presentations on four different cities: Prato, Londen, Vienna and Arhus. The current challenges they discuss are urgent. At the same time they show some great the spatial solutions. It inspired me to came up with four important recommendations/assignments on how cities can cope with migration.

  1. Ensure good housing

    Usually, immigrants in Europe live in the cheapest private sector housing offering (very) poor living conditions. Massimo Bressan shows one of the saddest examples: “In Prato immigrants slept above the factory where they worked 15 hours a day. Seven of the residents died in their sleep during a fire.” One would think that social housing is the solution, however, the situation isn’t much better in Vienna that grows in social housing (50% of all homes). Annually 1.5 migrants moving in and out the city. “The system is great for those who already live in Vienna, but has little to offer to newcomers”, Christof Reinpecht explains. “You must be in possession of a permit and live in the city for at least two years to claim social housing.”

  2. Create places to start small business

    Immigrants bring entrepreneurship. When they have the possibility to express it, everyone benefits. Peckham High Street, for example, works very well as an immigrant street. While other high streets in London are dying because of internet shopping and the fact that the same shops pop-up everywhere. Justinien Tribillon: “First of all, immigrants want to serve their own communities. They like do their daily groceries at shops their familiar with. Secondly, the shops give the immigrants space to express themselves. Most shop owners mix their own identity with the English one by offering products from both worlds.” The shops are such a success that the street is becoming thé place to be in London. Hopefully, the rental prices stay low enough for the immigrants. Gentrification is just around the corner.

  3. Shape public space

    People need space to express themselves, so they can identify with their place of residence. Bressan: “If you give them space, they will use it.” However, most immigrant neighbourhoods have poor public space. For example, in Londen, most public space is privately owned. “Nobody truly cares about it. It’s not in the Brittish culture to invest in. Right now the city of Londen tries to activate the citizens to get involved, but these people don’t have founds to really do something”, Tribillon says. In Prato the situation isn’t much different, however, some artist initiated some great projects. By doing so, they genuinely contributed to the feeling of safety and belonging in the city.

  4. Turn libraries into integration machines

    Libraries aren’t just about books anymore. “They have the potential to function as a democratic place that appeals to everyone”, Signe Sophie Bøggild states. She shows us Dokk1 in Aarhus, Denmark. The library is combined with a cultural centre, situated on one of Aarhus’ most prominent sites at the mouth of the Aarhus River. “The users come from all over Aarhus, in all colours or sizes and with all kind of social backgrounds. One of the main reasons is that Dokk1 has partnership with 130 clubs and organisations. They use the building as meeting place. The library’s role is to provide space for activities and be a catalyst for programs. Dokk1 gives professional feedback and promote enlightening, education and cultural activities. By doing so the whole of Aarhus benefits.”


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