Conference Café: Mayoral Voices in the Immigration Debate

April 23rd, 2014

ConversationCafe_MuseumIsland“Cities attract people and talents from all different places. It is the spirited process of immigration and integration that makes great cities thrive.”
– Mayor Olaf Scholz, Hamburg, Germany  

Cities know and feel the twin forces of urbanization and immigration profoundly.  In the cool, thin air of the national legislature, these may be tense (or neglected) areas of public policy, but at the municipal level, these global forces are primary lived experience.

City leadership matters. As the level of government closest to the people, local governments are most directly and immediately impacted by the lives, successes and challenges of newcomers.

The good news is that cities have a range of levers to ensure the future prosperity of all residents. Progressive leaders understand this and respond by proactively building inclusion into public policy and putting policy to work -from responsive service delivery to business development and infrastructure design. By organizing around success and action instead of failure, crisis and inaction, local governments often succeed where many national governments are challenged.

Mayoral voice

Mayoral voice can be a particularly powerful tool or the opposite in advancing an inclusive city agenda and accelerating the path to shared prosperity. So, what are progressive city leaders doing? And what are they learning from each other?
Hamburg, the Germany port city, is using the naturalization campaign, “Ich bin Hamburger,” to make German citizenship the key to inclusion for long-time city residents. “Naturalization is much more than an administrative act. It is the declared belief in our state and our society,” says Olaf Scholz, the First Mayor of Hamburg.  “Those who have lived here for a while and have met the requirement should also become German citizens. Because only then do all the possibilities of participation exist.”

The Hamburg initiative includes an innovative marketing campaign to recruit diverse staff into local government while promoting inclusion across the city.

Hamburg also hosts a unique education network that supports teachers with a migrant background and promotes intercultural education in German schools. The idea being that the multicultural and multilingual heritages of these teachers are a great asset against stereotyping. These teachers are also exemplary models of immigrant integration and essential role models for the children they teach.

Diversity dividends

Reforms undertaken by the City of Auckland in New Zealand are another good example of changes that are grounded in a mayor’s vision for his city. “Auckland will be an inclusive place of opportunity for all,” says Mayor Len Brown while initiating the Auckland Regional Settlement Strategy that plays an important role in supporting his plan to make it one of the most livable cities in the world. A large part of the city’s livability stems from its diversity: 37% of Aucklanders and 46% of its working age population were born overseas.

Early on, in 1998, Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston in the United States opened the Mayor’s Office of New Bostonians, the first of its kind in the country.  It was founded on the premise that a growing number of residents were immigrants, and that more coordination of city services was necessary to ensure that they felt at home and had the chance to be fully integrated into all areas of civic life.

“I created the Office… because I recognized how important diversity is to our city,” Mayor Menino was quoted as saying. The Boston initiative became a national model for other great US cities, including New York and Chicago, with many regional and state capitals and new gateway cities soon following suit.

In New York City, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs has rolled up a legacy of success in its “Blueprints for Immigrant Integration” project. “Immigrants are an economic engine – starting companies that are the cornerstones of our economy, and the corner stores of our neighbourhoods,” says then-mayor Michael Bloomberg. In 2011, Chicago opened the Office of New Americans, and within the year Mayor Rahm Emmanual had tabled an ambitious plan, with measurable targets, to make it the “most welcoming city” in America.

From Hamburg’s naturalization campaign and multicultural classrooms to Chicago’s inclusive vision of the New American city, city leaders are going all out to re-imagine their cities and immigrant integration as a process that makes us all better citizens, more welcoming, open and prosperous. Some of these leaders will be panelists at the 2014 International Cities of Migration Conference on the topic of Re-Imagining the City: Setting an Agenda for Shared Prosperity.

This article was originally published by the Migrants’ Rights Network on their Migration Pulse web space and is part of a series in the build-up to our 2014 Cities of Migration conference in June. It brings together people and Good Ideas around various conference topics and programs for a more informed conversation.

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