Focus on city partnerships: with Ricardo Gambetta

December 16th, 2009

An interview with Ricardo Gambetta, Manager, Immigrant Integration Programs at the US National League of Cities.

The National League of Cities is the oldest and largest national organisation representing municipal government in the United States. It works in partnership with 49 state municipal leagues, and advocates for more than 19,000 cities and towns than it represents.

Q1. Connecting global cities is one of the key goals of our project, Cities of Migration. What’s one of the most successful examples of cities partnering for change?

While several come to mind, I would really highlight the work that the municipal government in Boston has done. Boston was one of the first cities to effectively use partnerships with the private sector, with faith-based groups, community groups and others to both create and sustain a series of leading municipal programs that have subsequently been replicated in other cities. [Note: for a Cities of Migration profile, see Boston Backstreets Program]

In terms of partnering or working with each other, recent examples are the cities of Fort Wayne, Indianapolis and Littleton, Colorado. In August 2009, we launched pilots in both these cities for our new program, the Municipal Action for Immigrant Integration (MAII) project. As both cities roll out MAII programs, they will be able to share with each other what they learned about what worked and even more importantly, what didn’t.

Q2. America is a nation of immigrants, its in its DNA. So why do we need a program like MAII? and why is is this important to the NLC?

At the National League of Cities (NLC), we are focused on connecting our 19,000 cities so that they can learn from one another. To support this, we provide them with networking opportunities and forums to exchange information as well as tools, sources and training to learn from one another about: what works and what doesn’t.

Really, we need programs and opportunities like this more than ever before. Immigration is no longer just something that happens in the the larger or coastal US cities. Today immigrants are coming to cities and towns of all sizes, many of which don’t have extensive experience in how to best integrate newcomers into the fabric of their community.

Since the national government has yet to provide cities with a national immigration policy, our hope is that by providing the tools as well as practical opportunities for learning and dialogue between cities, we can give Mayors and their offices some of that missing support.

Q3. What is your advice for an organisation or municipal government interested in partnership relationship like this?

To be successful you need to make sure that the Mayor’s office is fully on board and then make sure that you can get representatives from the private sector, from community organisations and any other sector all to the table.

What is essential is to bring them all to the table and to keep the lines of communication open. Which brings me to my next piece of advice: creating an effective partnerships ultimately just takes time and can’t really be rushed.

Q4. Your program, Municipal Action for Immigrant Integration (MAII) has joined efforts with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Can you tell us more about this partnership?

It began informally at the beginning of this year and it progressed from there. We see this partnership as both an indication of how serious this [Obama] administration is on the immigrant integration issue as well an an opportunity to have the federal government begin to work with municipal governments. This is an area that is federal in nature (i.e., the US immigration system) but is really being addressed municipally and locally.

Q5. What are the main issues that you see facing cities?

The main issue now is that although mid-sized and smaller cities all receive immigrants, they often have very few resources with which to create a successful environment for newcomer integration.

Q6. Could city partnerships help with this?

Yes certainly to a degree. Larger cities with longer histories of successfully being able to integrate immigrants can provide some guidance to cities that are just facing these questions today. The caveat is that the history, dynamics and resources of these cities and the new immigrant communities are often quite different.

Q7. What your favorite city – and why?

Well, I’m not going to choose from the cities in our network, so outside of the US…. Well, I’m still not going to choose just one, but I will say that Barcelona, Frankfurt and Copenhagen are all cities that I enjoy culturally. I have been very impressed with many of the programs they have.

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