Chicago, City Embassies and Global Cities

November 3rd, 2015

Cities of Migration talks to Juliana Kerr,  Director, Global Cities and Immigration, at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs, about the growing importance of cities on the global stage, migration and the shape of things to come.

Kerr150x150You have proposed a really interesting idea – that cities open embassy-like institutions, emulating how countries have embassies in all corners of the world to help their citizens and promote their interests overseas. Tell us more about your “city embassy” idea?

Juliana Kerr: City “embassies” or city representatives overseas are not an entirely new concept. The City of London, the financial district of London, has had offices in Beijing, Mumbai, and Shanghai over the years and currently has an office in Brussels to advise on EU policy developments. Frankfurt has a representative office in Chicago to promote the city as a destination for investment to businesses. Osaka used to have offices in Paris, Chicago, and Shanghai. Chicago also opened a Chicago economic development office in Shanghai. Yet attempts to have city offices overseas haven’t gained widespread momentum, and in fact, most offices have closed due to funding constraints.

A new model could be a city “embassy” that is more integrated and representative of the multiple channels and needs for engagement that a city has with peer cities and countries around the world. It would still conduct traditional tasks focusing on economic development, attracting foreign direct investment, and promoting the city’s investment opportunities. But these offices could also take on other responsibilities.

They could serve as outposts for attracting tourism. They could house information about various study abroad opportunities and upcoming major cultural festivals or exhibits. They could liaise with the US Department of State and represent the city’s interests in broader national policy discussions.

Ultimately, these offices should be viewed as one-stop resource centers abroad, with deep relationships and expertise of the country and leadership where they are located. They would serve as a gateway for businesses, organizations, and the local government when traveling abroad. They would maintain important contacts and develop new ones, make introductions and identify opportunities for collaborations, host events and receptions for dignitaries from the home city, and be equipped with toolkits, data, and materials to represent the city’s assets to a variety of stakeholders throughout the country.

To be sure, city offices overseas don’t come without criticism and controversy on how taxpayer money is being spent. The trick is getting the structure, responsibilities, funding sources, and partnerships right. If cities can calculate the long-term residual impact and develop a model where the economic benefits outweigh the costs, then there is great potential for these “embassies” to be effective and mainstream as global cities become increasingly influential in shaping global political, social, and economic policies.

Cities have been described as “engines of the national economy” but are often left out of national policy conversations. Why is it important to make room for cities at national policy tables?

Juliana Kerr: Cities are centers of global economic, social and political activity. Corporate headquarters, world class cultural institutions and museums, prestigious universities, international airports, and over fifty percent of the world’s population are in cities. As my colleague and Chicago Council senior fellow Richard Longworth writes in On Global Cities, “… if global cities monopolize global power, they also struggle disproportionately with the pathologies of a new economy. These pathologies—inequality, terrorism, pollution, climate change, traffic in drugs and human beings, the stresses of immigration—are felt first and hardest in global cities.”

Yet it hasn’t been until recent years, most notably under the leadership of former mayor Michael Bloomberg working on cities and immigration or cities and climate change, have cities been recognized for their role in developing solutions to pressing global challenges. Increased attention is being given to cities in the lead-up to the UN Conference on Climate Change taking place in Paris. Since they account for roughly 70% of global greenhouse emissions, they clearly have a stake in the issue. But imagine the possibilities if cities were able to organize as effectively around other issues, like security or immigration.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, with a generous grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, will be studying the power and limitations of cities over the next three years, giving particular attention to the intersection with national governments and the importance of cities in policymaking.

Immigration is a national policy area, yet immigrant inclusion, success and failure are profoundly local issues. What role do immigrants play in global cities? And what do you think global cities can do to address national immigration policies?

Juliana Kerr: Indeed, many definitions of a global city measure diversity and the percentage of the foreign-born population residing in the city. A few economists have tried to calculate the economic value of diversity in cities, but most studies are anecdotal. Many executives who move their headquarters to Chicago, for example, cite the city’s cultural diversity as an important factor influencing their decision.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said many times that he wants Chicago to be the most immigrant-friendly city in the United States. He opened in 2011 the Office for New Americans which helps immigrants access city services and start new businesses, offers internship opportunities to DREAMers, and introduced a Welcoming City Ordinance. Together with the mayors of Los Angeles and New York, he chairs the Cities for Citizenship initiative.

Immigration is a complicated and politicized issue, but cities face the consequences of immigration on a daily basis and need to be responsive. Last year The Chicago Council in partnership with the American Immigration Council published Reimagining the Midwest: Immigration Initiatives and the Capacity of Local Leadership. The report highlighted the unprecedented commitment from local leaders in understanding the importance of immigrant integration in the region and put the range of Midwestern initiatives into context.

What city of migration or inclusion do you admire the most? Why?

Juliana Kerr: Every city’s history, governance structure, geography, and unique experiences affect its ability to enact new policies or advance innovative agendas. For example, Singapore may receive high marks for diversity and integration, but it is a necessary part of the island’s success with workers coming from China, India, Malaysia, Australia, among other countries.

What is important to highlight are the good ideas that might be replicable in other locations. The Mayor of Hamburg, for example, started sending an invitation to become a citizen to immigrants who had satisfied the criteria. I’ve read about a number of interesting models, including Toronto’s mentoring programs and Barcelona’s city policy on interculturalism, in addition to the work in Chicago. The Chicago Council’s work has focused on the new efforts throughout the Midwest region, in places like Dayton, Ohio; St. Louis, Missouri; and Detroit, Michigan.

Was there an ‘aha’ moment for you at the 2015 Chicago Forum on Global Cities? An important lesson you took away with you from this extraordinary gathering of world leaders?

Juliana Kerr: I was impressed with the thirst for broader conversations involving a variety of leaders from different pillars vital to urban life. So many conferences focus on city-city networks, or urban planning and the design of cities. Few have elevated the discussion about urban leadership on issues compared to the national government, and specifically in an international context. We convened business leaders speaking with heads of museums and architects talking to foreign policy scholars. The cross-pillar dialogue is crucial. We are already planning the second annual Chicago Forum on Global Cities for June 1-3, 2016.

What innovation or change would you like to bring to Chicago?

Juliana Kerr: Chicago consistently ranks among the top 10 global cities on a number of indexes, but it can do more. The city needs a well-funded, staffed, and structured global strategy office, for example. Graduates of Chicago’s schools should have deeper studies in global affairs. I’d personally love to see them all experience some time abroad, at no cost to their families, as part of their high school curriculum. The Chicago Council is publishing a task force report in early 2016 on a global strategy for Chicago that includes several recommendations to increase the city’s global stature. We hope other cities worldwide find the report useful to shaping their own agendas.

Juliana Kerr directs the Council’s work on global cities and immigration. She manages the Council’s publications, research and partnerships on issues related to global cities, urbanization, Global Chicago, and migration. She also helped launch the inaugural Chicago Forum on Global Cities. In a recent blog post called How Cities Are Shaping International Relations (May 28, 2015), Kerr calls our attention to the growing importance of cities on the global stage.

Watch videos from the 2015 Chicago Forum on Global Cities featuring thought leaders including Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, City University of New York’s Benjamin Barber and The Hague Mayor Jozias van Aartsen (Closing Panel:  The Foreign Policy of Cities); and Global Diversity Exchange’s Executive Director Ratna Omidvar and others (Inclusive Cities: Poverty, Youth and Immigration).

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