Plan

Anchorage, Alaska

Arctic Welcome for the Multicultural City

Welcoming Anchorage

January 31, 2018

A remote, northern city builds on its diverse traditions and values of collaboration, kindness and kinship to embrace its future as a welcoming, inclusive community

When the city of Anchorage, Alaska, comes to mind, urban diversity might not be the first thing you think of. It turns out, Anchorage is one of the most diverse cities in America. While the number of foreign born residents increases steadily across the United States (13.4% overall in 2017), in Anchorage the numbers jumped from 8.4% in 2008 to 11.13% in 2015.

According to Anchorage sociology professor Chad Farrell, the city’s diversity is unique because its neighbourhoods “include members of all seven demographic categories recognized by the government — white, black, Hispanic/Latino, Alaska Native/American Indian, mixed race, Asian and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander — in large numbers.”

Emphasizing Anchorage’s exceptionalism,  Farrell says “there are few areas in the United States that have the mix of groups and the presence of groups in significant sizes like we do.”

With a growing immigrant population, increasing diversity and open, inclusive city leadership, responding to the ‘welcoming cities and communities‘ call to action at Welcoming America was a natural step forward. In 2014 the city of Anchorage joined other American municipalities in a growing national movement to recognize the economic, cultural and social contributions that immigrants and refugees make in their communities. This broad coalition of city actors is working with business, community, academic and other stakeholders on a more inclusive, ‘Welcoming’ urban agenda to build prosperous futures and stronger communities.

A vision of a community ‘without prejudice’ 

The story behind the creation of Welcoming Anchorage begins with a 1996 meeting in the home of  former mayor Rick Mystrom where representatives from several of the local African American and Caucasian churches came together to open a dialogue on how to improve racial harmony and communication in their community. A discussion on black and white race relations soon expanded to a conversation about the diverse cultures and ethnic backgrounds  more broadly represented in Anchorage’s population. That night, the Bridge Builders of Anchorage was born  with the ambitious vision of making Anchorage the first city in the United States ‘without prejudice’.

The seeds sown with Bridge Builders laid the foundation for the formal strategy and Welcoming Anchorage campaign that was launched by the city in 2014. In the words of First Lady Mara Kimmel: “Being ‘welcoming’ is a character and value that defines our city and all who call Anchorage home.  We are welcoming because we understand that being far away, tucked up here in the northern corner of the U.S., we need each other.  Especially when times are tough and we face an uncertain future.  As Alaskans, what matters is our willingness to extend a hand, not what color or political persuasion or sexual orientation may be on the other end of that hand.  What counts is our promise to our state and to each other.”

Putting it into practice

The Welcoming Anchorage Roadmap (PDF) outlines how the stakeholders will work to achieve an equitable, diverse and inclusive city. It is a living document, encouraging all Alaskans to participate and contribute to building a welcoming city. The Roadmap process began in Fall 2016, culminating in a commitment to specific solutions and projects. Each solution finds a home in the five welcoming pillars:

  • Employment and entrepreneurship
  • Civic Engagement
  • Connected, safe and healthy communities
  • Equitable access
  • Education

In Spring 2017, community members came together to vote on the solutions, creating a set of city priorities for the coming years.

The Roadmap was officially adopted by the Anchorage Assembly and presented to the community in September 2017, when the city kicked off their 3rd annual Welcome Week. Themed as “Collaboration, Kindness and Kinship”, the week raised awareness about the economic, cultural, and social benefits of the diverse community. A series of events brought immigrants, refugees, and native-born residents together to celebrate and learn.

When she presented the Roadmap to the Anchorage Assembly, First Lady Mara Kimmel said: “The roadmap identified the core values of our community – inclusivity, equity, and justice – and offers a variety of actions our city’s residents and government can take as we seek to become a globally competitive and culturally vibrant city.”

A roadmap built on good practices – for future prosperity

While a new initiative, Anchorage’s Roadmap comes rooted in historical efforts to create an inclusive and welcoming city for all. Like other cities, Anchorage sees its economic prosperity increasingly connected to a growing diverse migrant population (PDF): “foreign-born Anchorage residents contributed $1.9 billion to Anchorage’s GDP in 2014, and represented $573 million in spending power. Foreign-born residents also bring education and experience to our economy, representing 10.3 percent of the labor force in our city – and 9.6 percent of STEM jobs. We also know that diversity is one of the most important ways we can attract and retain young talent to our city, a vital piece of building a bright economic future.”

Anchorage understands that economic inclusion alone won’t build the city they want. It is both a social and economic prerogative. As a result, economics make up only one of the Welcoming Anchorage initiative’s five pillars:

  • Employment and entrepreneurship
  • Civic Engagement
  • Connected, safe and healthy communities
  • Equitable access
  • Education

Like Mechelen Mayor Bart Somers Anchorage’s leaders understand that building equity, inclusivity and justice into the core of the city, its services, and its people is vital. Whether it is through the living Roadmap, ongoing efforts of the Bridge Builders of Anchorage, the annual Walk Together: Anchorage initiative, or providing bridging services for refugees, the city is working with and for all residents to create a safer, stronger, more resilient and welcoming city for a shared future.

Making it Work for You:

  • Build on the goodwill and historical initiatives you already have. This wealth of experience and knowledge offers an important starting point to learn about what is working.
  • Identify champions! Who are the long-term integration actors and agents of inclusion in your city? who have you over-looked?
  • Provide different pathways for people to get involved and to help them understand why inclusion is a priority.
  • Economic arguments and data are important, but they will not persuade everyone. Diversify your case for inclusion by including community priorities and opportunities for civic engagement.
  • Build on your strengths and confront your weaknesses. Every city's roadmap to inclusion will be different.

Maytree