Why are some cities so much better at integrating immigrants than others?

A protest in New York City. Image: Getty.

As anti-immigrant sentiment erupts in Western democracies from Germany to the United States, some cities are still finding ways to make immigrants feel at home.

I conducted hundreds of interviews with immigrants in New York, Paris and Barcelona intermittently for over a decade to understand how each city integrates – or excludes – its migrants.

My new book, A Place to Call Home explains why some cities and their residents do better at incorporating foreign-born newcomers in the local economy, culture and politics.

A feeling of belonging

On the surface, immigration in these three cities looks quite different.

Over one-third of all New Yorkers were born abroad, the majority of them in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In Paris, where 20 per cent of the population is foreign-born, most immigrants and their children come from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and other former French colonies in North Africa.

Much of Barcelona’s immigrant population, around 17.8 per cent of its total population, is Latin American or Moroccan.

Despite their diverse origins, the immigrants I spoke with consistently cited the same elements as being critical to their sense of urban belonging, helping them to feel “at home” while working, socialising and raising a family in the city.

New York and Barcelona, it turns out, foster this sense of belonging more than Paris does.

Nearly 70 per cent of the first-generation Latino immigrants I interviewed in New York City feel that they are part of the community. Just under half of first-generation Moroccans in Barcelona felt that way. But only 19 per cent of North Africans in Paris feel like part of the community.

Lots of jobs

In part, interviewees told me, that’s because New York and Barcelona both have ample jobs open to immigrants in both the formal and informal sectors.

Immigrants are vital to New York City’s economy. According to the New York state comptroller’s office, immigrants account for 43 per cent of the city’s workforce and nearly one-third of its economic output.

Immigrants have a strong presence in the service sector and construction. Additionally, according to a 2016 comptroller’s report, “Many industries, such as technology, finance and information, draw on a worldwide talent pool of immigrants to maintain their competitiveness.”

Barcelona, too, has depended on immigrant labour to grow its economy. Until Europe’s 2007 economic crisis, when high unemployment slowed immigration and compelled many foreign-born workers to return to their countries of origin, immigrants were an important part of the labour force.

Employers in both cities are also generally accepting of undocumented status. Some 560,000 undocumented people live in New York City, according to a March 2018 report by the city, which is 6.3 per cent of the city’s total population. Undocumented immigrants in New York have a high labor-force participation rate – 77 per cent for people ages 16 and above.


Events and services for immigrants

Both Barcelona and New York also hold regular cultural events celebrating immigrants.

Brooklyn’s West Indian Day Parade, organised by Caribbean immigrant populations and funded partly by corporate donations, draws millions of revelers each year.

In Manhattan, the act of closing down some main avenues to host the Saint Patrick’s, Puerto Rican, Dominican or Mexican Day parades is an important sign of solidarity with foreign-born residents and their descendants.

Many local nonprofit organisations and government agencies in New York and Barcelona exist to serve immigrants’ specific needs.

In Barcelona, the Service Center for Immigrants, Emigrants and Refugees is a government service that provides free resources for immigrants on how to obtain legal status and eventually obtain Spanish nationality. It also provides educational, employment and housing services in seven different languages.

In New York, many different immigration organisations advocate for immigrant rights and provide numerous resources and programs throughout the city. They also aim to elect immigrants into political office and community leadership positions to improve immigrants’ public representation.

Let immigrants be

Immigrants also told me that people in New York and Barcelona just let foreign-born residents be themselves, allowing them to maintain their own identity while creating a new home.

From the point of view of immigrants, then, it’s the ratio between being specifically catered to and treated the same as anyone else that determines how welcome they feel.

The key to inclusion, in other words, seems to be to help immigrant integration without forcing it.

No city is perfect at this. In New York, Barcelona and Paris alike, I found that many immigrants were stuck in low-skilled jobs, working in restaurant kitchens, taxis and construction sites – no matter what they did back home.

All the immigrants I spoke with struggle to find affordable, quality housing in these expensive metropolises. Anti-immigrant politicians publicly decry them as “threats” to the nation.

And immigrants of color in these predominantly white countries reported being racially profiled by both police and residents, though that appears to happen much less often in New York City.

What Paris gets wrong

In my interviews, the first- and second-generation immigrants who most often reported that they struggled to feel at home were the ones who lived in Paris and its metropolitan region.

France has long embraced the idea of itself as a homogeneous secular republic. This notion endured even as the country colonised Muslim North African countries like Algeria and Tunisia in the 19th and early 20th centuries and recruited workers from those countries.

The secular ideal makes it difficult for French society to address the ways that immigrants may in fact be different than the native-born French.

France’s national census cannot ask about racial or ethnic identity, for example. So policies designed to help minorities – such as affirmative action – are not only almost impossible there but also frowned upon as discriminatory.

Racial discrimination and racist comments are not uncommon in Paris. But France’s steadfast belief that it is a “colour-blind” society means there is little interest in talking about racism.

Muslim immigrants living in Paris also told me that they felt Parisians expected them to assimilate – to abandon their home culture and become entirely and immediately “French”.

Support for ethnic and race-based organizations of the sort that proliferate in Barcelona and New York, is also seen as anti-French. As a result, immigrants in Paris typically practice their religion and cultural traditions in private. That isolates them from their neighbours and prevents most native-born French from learning about these newcomers.

The ConversationThis external pressure to conform quickly to the national culture makes immigrants feel less at home – and, based on my research, less likely to actually assimilate over time.

Ernesto Castañeda, Assistant Professor of Sociology, American University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

To beat rising temperatures, Vienna launches a network of 'Cool Streets'

A Vienna resident cools off at one of the city's new Cool Streets installations. (Courtesy Christian Fürthner/Mobilitätsagentur Wien)

Over the past several months, Austria has recorded its highest unemployment rate since World War II, thanks to the economic aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. With no job or a suddenly smaller income – not to mention the continued threat of the virus – many Viennese will opt for a staycation this summer.  

At the same time, last year, Austria’s capital experienced 39 days with temperatures of over 30°C (86°F), one of its hottest summers in history according to the Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics.

Climate experts expect a similarly sizzling 2020 season, and city officials are now doubling down on efforts to combat the heat by launching a “Cool Streets” initiative as well as a new, state-of-the-art cooling park.

“As the city councilwoman in charge of climate, it is my job to ensure local cooling,” Vienna’s deputy mayor Birgit Hebein proclaimed at the opening of one of 22 new “Cool Streets” on 22 June.

“In Austria, there are already more heat deaths than traffic fatalities,” she added.

Hebein was referring to the 766 people the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Security included in its 2018 heat-associated mortality statistics. The number was up by 31% compared to 2017, and in contrast to the 409 people who died in traffic collisions the same year.

The project includes 18 temporary Cool Streets located across the city, plus four roads that will be redesigned permanently and designated as “Cool Streets Plus”.

“The Plus version includes the planting of trees. Brighter surfaces, which reflect less heat, replace asphalt in addition to the installation of shadow or water elements,” said Kathrin Ivancsits, spokeswoman for the city-owned bureau Mobilitätsagentur, which is coordinating the project.


Vienna's seasonal Cool Streets provide shady places to rest and are closed to cars. (Petra Loho for CityMetric)

In addition to mobile shade dispensers and seating possibilities amid more greenery provided by potted plants, each street features a steel column offering drinking water and spray cooling. The temporary Cool Streets will also remain car-free until 20 September.

A sensor in the granite base releases drinking water and pushes it through 34 nozzles whenever the outside temperature reaches 25°C (77°F) . As soon as the ambient temperature drops to 23°C (73°F), the sensor, which operates from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., turns off the water supply.

The sensors were included in part to allay concerns about legionella, a pathogenic bacteria that can reproduce in water.  

“When the spray stops, the system drains, and therefore no microbial contamination can develop,” said Dr. Hans-Peter Hutter, deputy head of the Department of Environmental Health at the Center for Public Health at Medical University Vienna, in a televised interview.

Hutter also assured the public that there is no increased risk of a Covid-19 infection from the spray as long as people adhere to the one-meter social distance requirement.


But Samer Bagaeen of the University of Kent's School of Architecture and Planning notes that air cooling systems, like the ones used in Germany at abattoirs, have been found recently to be a risk factor for Covid-19 outbreaks.

“The same could be said for spay devices,” he warned.

Vienna’s district councils selected the 22 Cool Street locations with the help of the city’s Urban Heat Vulnerability Index. The map shows where most people suffer from heat by evaluating temperature data, green and water-related infrastructure, and demographic data.

“Urban heat islands can occur when cities replace the natural land cover with dense concentrations of pavement, buildings, and other surfaces that absorb and retain heat,” as the US Environmental Protection Agency states.


A rendering of Vienna's planned park featuring a Coolspot, which is scheduled to open in August. Click to expand.
(Courtesy Carla Lo Landscape Architecture)

Vienna’s sixth district, Mariahilf, is such an area. The construction of the capital’s first “Cooling Park”, a €1 million project covering the 10,600 square-metre Esterházypark, is designed to provide relief. 

Green4Cities, a centre of excellence for green infrastructure in urban areas, designed the park’s main attraction, the “Coolspot”. The nearly 3.40-metre high steel trellis holds three rings equipped with spray nozzles. Textile shading slats, tensioned with steel cables, cover them.

The effects of evaporation and evapotranspiration create a cooler microclimate around the 30 square-metre seating area, alongside other spray spots selectively scattered across the park.

The high-pressure spray also deposits tiny droplets on plant and tree leaves, which stimulates them to sweat even more. All together, these collective measures help to cool their surroundings by up to six degrees.

The landscape architect Carla Lo and her team planned what she calls the “low-tech” park components. “Plants are an essential design element of the Cooling Park,” Lo says. “By unsealing the [soil], we can add new grass, herbaceous beds, and more climate-resistant trees to the existing cultivation”.

Light-coloured, natural stone punctuated by grass seams replaces the old concrete surfaces, and wooden benches meander throughout the park.

Living near the park and yearning for an urban escape close by, Lo says she’s motivated to ensure the park is completed by mid-August.

“If we don't do anything, Vienna will be another eight degrees Celsius hotter in 2050 than it already is,” Hebein said.

Vienna recently came in first in the World's 10 Greenest Cities Index by the consulting agency Resonance.

“There is no one size fits all on how cities respond to urban heat,” says the University of Kent’s Bagaeen, who points out that Vienna was one of the first European cities to set up an Urban Heat Islands Strategic Plan in 2015.

In the short term, prognoses on the city’s future development may be more difficult: Vienna votes this autumn.

Petra Loho is a journalist and photographer based in Austria.