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Flourishing cities
embrace immigrants

A report by Cities of Migration*

4 October 2012: Without migration homo sapiens would not dominate today’s world. Had our ancestors stayed in central Africa some 50,000 years ago, the human race would have developed very differently. The drive to spread out geographically, for whatever reason, is part of our make-up and is behind Man’s success story. Many recent scientific and technological advances - e.g. the telephone, the internet, space exploration - are the result of our need to move beyond local boundaries. Migration will remain a dominant feature of further human development, a fact recognised by many progressive city mayors from around the world.

The Cities of Migration, a project set up by the Canadian Maytree Foundation, has recently published a guide to how cities should embrace migrants and integrate them successfully into society.

‘Good ideas from Successful Cities: Municipal leadership in immigrant integration’ draws on work initiated with migrant families in a broad range of urban settlements and delineates these examples of good ideas which have been put into practice into key elements of integration and inclusion.

The 39 ideas are drawn from cities of which 23 are in Europe, 5 in Oceania and 11 in North America. The lead author is Kim Turner. The main weakness in the report is it does not include any examples from the fast growing Asian economies, which currently have the highest levels of inward migration.

In her introduction Maytree President Ratna Omidvar writes: “Cities are lead actors on the stage of global migration. City leadership matters. City mayors and councillors hold the keys to a progressive agenda that has the potential of creating the foundation for future prosperity for all city residents. City mayors have the voice, the authority and power of public office behind them to make those investments that lead to results.”

The form of the report is to provide a full description of each example together with brief advice for other cities as to how to make it work elsewhere. No arena is more within the power of city leaders than that of cities as service providers and no provision of municipal organisations is more significant than education. Two of the examples in this section, both from Europe, highlight the capacity to change the lives and the thoughts of the younger population.

In Valongo in north west Portugal, the city council has established a Value Difference policy in response to the growing diversity of the population.. One of the initiatives is aimed at 14 – 18 year olds and delivered in association with the schools. The Bibliotieca Humana or Living Library is a variation of a traditional mobile library and tours the city schools. It provides a safe and confidence building forum for students to hear and exchange life stories with others in their communities.

Valongo has a population of 100,000 and is fairly recent to significant inward migration so the extent of its policy shifts and activity is impressive. The changes have been strongly directed by the political leadership from the mayor and council members. The report authors say that use of local stories can be more effective in reaching a target audience than a big campaign. 

Nürnberg, in Germany, by contrast, has a majority population of immigrants amongst children who are under six years of age. But the composition of attendees in all the kindergarten and other provision for pre-school age people has not reflected that, especially amongst the under-threes. Addressing this imbalance has become a major priority for the city. The City Council has made education its priority and it has an overarching vision of preparing for the future so maximising the potential of young migrant children is critical. The city monitoring processes are carefully used to ensure interventions are made effectively.

Individual language tuition of German is offered to all under 5s who are living in households where it is not the mother tongue and is also provided as part of the school provision for over 5s. All children from migrant background are tested in their abilities in speaking German 18 months before starting school. About 1800 children currently participate in these courses and are a high proportion of children from non-German mother tongue families.    

Elisabeth Ries from the city council education department says that the Good Ideas report is accurate though it focuses on a small part of their work supporting inclusion. Ms Ries says that by the 2013 date for implementation of new laws requiring local governments to make available provision for children who are over one years old the city council anticipates that the current imbalances in which migrant background children are 60 per cent of the total of children under three but take up only 33 per cent of the places will have been significantly narrowed.

The work of the education dept in recent years has already closed the gap amongst 3- 6 year olds. But Ms Ries emphasises that increasing the proportion of young people from immigrant households who take advantage of the post-school education which is available in the city and elsewhere in the country is also a major goal of the administration.

The report authors say that the Nürnberg example highlights the importance of partnering between politicians, parents and teachers to provide clear guidelines to help parents to navigate the institutional and education spheres and also the benefits which can be secured from sound research.
This report includes a group of examples classified as supporting cities as engines of economic growth. This is a policy area, which has become a top priority for a majority of city mayors in recent decades. It follows that maximising the economic potential of new populations is of rising importance to city leaders.

The good ideas in the report include Vienna’s talking business in mother tongue initiative, which recognised that 30 per cent of the city entrepreneurs had a mother tongue other than German and set out to offer them more support. This includes classes in local business and tax issues. The report authors urge others to recognise that language matters and to act on that basis.

Project Manager Tulay Tuncel says that the Mingo Migrant Enterprises service is in contact with around 300 entrepreneurs each year and that they organise 130 workshops a year. Workshops are provided in six languages using native speaker coaches.

Another good idea included in the engines of economic growth section is the City Mondial scheme run by the tourism department in The Hague, Netherlands, which promotes all the city’s communities to visitors and so boosts businesses and entrepreneurs from the newer communities. The report authors urge all cities to ensure that their tourism promotion embraces all its communities and cultures.

Richmond Hill, in Ontario, Canada doubled in size in a generation and now has close to 50% of its population described as visible minorities. Under Mayor Dave Barrow reaching out to minorities became a top priority. With support from the Maytree Foundation owned Toronto based DiverseCity of Board team, Richmond Hill has used techniques like open houses and forums to attract its newly diverse residents to participate in municipal governance and currently has almost 1 in 4 of the positions on citizen committees filled by migrants.

In Calgary, in western Canada, the City Council has developed a suite of techniques to assist newcomers to better equip themselves for employment with the council and its arms-length agencies. These have included careers fairs and partnership work with local agencies working closely with immigrant populations and bringing human resources professionals face to face with job seekers from the new populations. The report authors say large employers should educate migrant organisations especially employment agencies more clearly about their processes to assist them to put forward better prepared candidates.

This report will stimulate innovation in cities generally and add to the good practice and should be read by officials in every urban local government across the world. It is strong in the critical issue of education and in its contributions to the discussion about how to increase the number of migrants and children of migrants in democratic representation roles. Notably, several examples are from cities where the local government has worked to improve its capacities in languages.

But it should be augmented by more reportage on inclusion measures for new immigrant populations in the rapidly expanding urban areas in Asia and by more examples from the sectors, which are weak in this report. There are not enough examples about healthy living or about sport and leisure or land use planning.

Good Ideas from Successful Cities: Municipal leadership in immigrant integration’ can be downloaded from

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