Conference Café: Cities and the Case for Migration

March 18th, 2014

coffee_and_Brandenburg_gateCities have long been the primary entry point for immigrants. That is where opportunities exist at scale. Like others before them, immigrants flock to cities for success – economic and personal. In the process, they contribute to the vitality of local neighbourhoods and the growth and development of urban regions that drive a nation’s prosperity.

It is in the interest of cities to manage this process well and help newcomers settle and integrate. How to shape and influence this process and related topics will be debated at the second International Cities of Migration Conference in Berlin this June.

Khalid Koser, Deputy Director and Academic Dean, Geneva Centre for Security Policy, will launch the conference with a keynote about the case for migration. It will set the tone for the opening plenary which will examine the role of city leadership, the impact of demographic change on cities, and how diversity and inclusion contribute to urban prosperity.

Charters of Belief

Throughout the conference, many speakers and panellists will likely discuss the charters and planning documents adopted by cities that explicitly value the contribution of diverse and immigrant residents. These charters, which view diversity as an asset and not a problem to be solved, demonstrate a commitment to the integration and participation of all residents. They form the basis of action taken by local governments across policies, services and programs.

The Eurocities Charter on Integrating Cities, which Toronto among others is working to adopt, is a good way of pledging commitment to integrate immigrants. “It is in keeping with the Toronto Newcomer Strategy adopted by Toronto City Council earlier this year [2013]…  [It] speaks of the four strategic pillars [of immigrant integration] – labour market participation, health of newcomers, access to services and civic engagement,” says Chris Brillinger, the City of Toronto’s Executive Director of Social Development, Finance and Administration.

Another charter, the 1998 European Charter for the Safeguarding of Human Rights in the City, was specifically created to prevent the violation of the human rights of newcomers and was based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Similarly, the Montreal Charter of Rights and Responsibilities states that the values of human dignity, tolerance, peace, inclusion and equality must be promoted among all citizens.

Copenhagen’s diversity charter asks corporations to promote inclusion at work. The Hume City Social Justice Charter lays aside questions of national, religious or cultural identity to “encourage community participation, strengthen community well-being and reduce the causes of disadvantage.”

Charters can celebrate inclusive values in increasingly diverse communities. In fact, many models exist to assert the democratic values of equality and fair representation, as in Oslo and Barcelona.

A Tale of Two Cities

In Chicago, being a welcoming city is central to its vision of future prosperity – the rewards of inclusion rather than the cost of exclusion. Indeed, cities around the globe are waking up to the challenges of rapid urbanization, an aging population and unparalleled human mobility with practical plans and smart strategies for building cities for the future.

As Jehad Aliweiwi, the recently appointed Executive Director of the Laidlaw Foundation of Toronto, said in an earlier interview, “settlement is a local and mostly urban phenomenon. A document like the proposed charter [for Toronto] will embed immigration and settlement into city planning and building process and more importantly, it will commit the city to specific actions with measurable, realistic and achievable objectives.”

To understand what planning for diversity and inclusion means in real terms, Aliweiwi’s experience visiting Alexandria in Egypt is a telling example of what can go wrong. “[Once] a cosmopolitan and beautiful city by the Mediterranean…, today only [its] monuments and relics [reflect the] glorious and diverse past. Its once celebrated diversity can only be seen in the names of its streets like Lourane, buildings like St. Stefano and neighbourhoods like Stanley. One loves Alexandria for its glorious history but worries about its future. [We need to ensure] that Toronto will never be a new Alexandria.”

This post is part of a series in the build-up to our 2014 Cities of Migration conference in June. The series brings together people and Good Ideas around various conference topics and programs for a more informed conversation.

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