Mayors on What Makes Cities More Inclusive

June 26th, 2014


One mayor wrote letters to immigrants urging them to become naturalized citizens. Another saw newcomers as harbingers of fun in his very functional city. The 2014 Cities of Migration Conference heard them both and wants others to know how leadership matters to cities.

As the level of government closest to the people, city administrations can directly and immediately impact the lives of immigrants. The panelists on the discussion about Re-imagining the City, convinced the Berlin audience that mayoral voices can be a particularly powerful tool to ease the path to inclusion for newcomers.

A good case study is the personal interest shown by Olaf Scholz, Hamburg’s First Mayor, to help the German city make a success of its “Ich bin Hamburger” naturalization campaign.

“Seven thousand immigrants became citizens last year, double the figure of 2009,” said Scholz who believes citizenship is the key to inclusion for long-time residents. “Naturalization is much more than an administrative act. It is the declared belief in our state and our society.”

Human touch

Jussi Pajunen, the mayor of Helsinki, is proud of the personalized integration plan his city offers immigrants. “Every person is treated as an individual by the one-stop-shop service that offers mentoring and guidance with regular follow-ups,” said Pajunen. “The information centre for immigrants is kept open seven days a week at the city hall. It also sends a message to others that immigrants are a positive force in Finnish society.”

As equality is a cherished Nordic value, it is easier for his city to push the idea of shared prosperity by helping immigrants integrate. As the largest employer in Finland with more than 40,000 employees, the city can also be a role model for other employers in newcomer recruitment and development.

Both Scholz and Pajunen were happy with the attention they received from immigrants. “They greet me on the street to ask how I got their names and addresses to write them letters,” said Scholz. To which Pajumen added: “While locals ignore their mayors, immigrants love and respect them.”

The Helsinki mayor said that while information and communication technology made it easy to identify people, the human touch as espoused by his Hamburg counterpart was essential to address immigrant issues. “We need a person to talk to another person.”

‘Immigrants = more jobs’

Also contributing to the discussion was fellow panelist Raquel Castañeda-López, Council member from Detroit. Representing a U.S. city which has seen better times, she outlined the steps taken to revive it, the most important being ways to attract immigrants to come and invest. “Immigrants tend to open more small businesses, which leads to more jobs,” she said.

Detroit is on a steep learning curve as specialized services for immigrants are non-existent at present. While her city is not able to offer personalized services like its European peers due to budget constraints, it is setting up a virtual office, said Castañeda-López.

“We are keen on starting a new conversation and are learning from New York, which has done a good job in helping immigrants, and are joining the Welcoming America initiative,” said the councilor who represents a district that houses the majority of her city’s immigrant communities.

Watch the full panel to get more insights from the discussion moderated by Melinda Crane, Chief Political Correspondent, Deutsche Welle, Berlin. The panelists were also asked questions via video by Naheed Nenshi, mayor of Calgary, Canada, and Lianne Dalziel, mayor of Christchurch, New Zealand.

This article was first published as a Maytree Conversations blog post.

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