Practice to Policy Report: Introduction

January 9th, 2013

In Practice to Policy: Lessons from Local Leadership on Immigrant Integration (full report, PDF), we look at what good practices can tell us about the role of local governments in immigrant integration. Four international experts contribute analysis and policy insights on the range of municipal levers available to promote both immigrants and city success.

Introduction
Ratna Omidvar
Maytree

Immigrants overwhelmingly choose to migrate to cities and their suburbs. Consequently, the local experience plays a defining role in their settlement. Yet, too often, the immigration discourse focuses solely on the levers of national policy as key instruments in selection and integration. Certainly, national governments have a big role to play, in setting the terms of immigration and citizenship, selecting potential immigrants and developing strategies about how immigration will build the nation, both socially and economically. But too often, national policy informs an abstract public discourse that fails to account for the realities of lived experience.

Local policy-makers have a critical role to play. As Jane Jacobs wisely observed, the level of government closest to the people is best positioned to serve the people. Indeed, around the world, cities are on the front lines of immigrant integration. These municipal governments are leading the way with innovative policies and programs that ensure that immigrants are welcomed and integrated into their new hometowns,where they can contribute to the local economy and culture.

This volume is the last in our series, Good Ideas from Successful Cities: Municipal Leadership in Immigrant Integration. The series highlights more than 70 promising practices from cities in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. Some of the featured cities are old hands at integration – such as Toronto, London, and New York. Many are newer immigrant gateways – such as Helsinki, Bremen, and Barcelona. These emerging leaders are leap-frogging over traditional steps in integration policy and making immigrant inclusion a top priority. They are welcoming their newest residents and facilitating their social, economic and political participation.

In this collection of essays, international experts examine what these practices tell us about municipal integration policy and discuss the roles that local governments can, and should, play. Audrey Singer (Washington) paints a picture of shifting metropolitan immigration patterns in North America and internationally. Roland Roth (Magdeburg and Stendal) discusses the slow but steady shift in the way that cities think about immigrants – one that recognizes that immigrants bring significant economic benefit and opportunity, and are key to urban prosperity.

Myer Siemiatycki (Toronto) explores the ways that integration influences and is influenced by our public spaces. His essay illustrates how integration expresses itself across multiple policy areas. Jan Niessen (Brussels) looks at the ways that national policy interacts with local policy by examining global policy trends and commenting on gaps and convergences.

Finally, we conclude with some lessons and recommendations that we’ve gathered from our work on this series. While cities are powerful agents of change at the local level, they must also engage with policy makers at the sub-national, national, and international levels. They must tell their stories so that effective policies and successful practices can be adapted and replicated by others. From these local practices, we can move to policy solutions that make sense in both local contexts and within the frameworks of national immigration strategies.

Ratna Omidvar is President of Maytree, a private foundation in Toronto. She is the chair of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) and the co-chair of DiverseCity: The Greater Toronto Leadership Project. In 2011, she was made a Member of the Order of Canada for her advocacy on behalf of immigrants and for her devotion to reducing inequality.

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