“Three million people move to cities every week”: so how can cities plan for migrants?

Rio's Rocinha shantytown: informal settlements like this are booming as developing countries urbanise. Image: Getty.

The world’s population is becoming increasingly urban. Sometime in 2007 is usually reckoned to be the turning point when city dwellers formed the majority of the global population for the first time in history.

Today, the trend toward urbanisation continues: as of 2014, it’s thought that 54 per cent of the world’s population lives in cities – and it’s expected to reach 66 per cent by 2050. Migration forms a significant, and often controversial, part of this urban population growth.

In fact, cities grow in three ways, which can be difficult to distinguish: through migration (whether it’s internal migration from rural to urban areas, or international migration between countries); the natural growth of the city’s population; and the reclassification of nearby non-urban districts. Although migration is only responsible for one share of this growth, it varies widely from country to country.


In some places, particularly in poorer countries, migration is the main driver of urbanisation. In 2009, UN Habitat estimated that 3m people were moving to cities every week.

In global gateway cities such as Sydney, London and New York, migrants make up over a third of the population. The proportion in Brussels and Dubai is even greater, with migrants accounting for more than half of the population.

The 2015 World Migration Report (WMR) by the International Organisation for Migration argued that this mass movement of people is widely overlooked amid the global concern about urbanisation. And the report considers the widespread challenges, in terms of service provision, for the growing numbers of people moving into cities around the world.

Boon or burden?

Where the significance of migration to cities is recognised, it is widely seen as a problem. In 2013, a UN study of all 193 UN member states found that 80 per cent had policies to reduce rural to urban migration. This figure has risen substantially in recent decades, up from only 38 per cent in 1996. It is also more pronounced in poorer countries: 88 per cent of the least developed countries reported policies to reduce migration to urban areas.

But this negative attitude towards migration to cities may well be mistaken. The WMR argues that problems of access to services – such as housing, sanitation, education or employment – that result from rural to urban migration, are not inevitable. Rather, they are caused by poor planning. Although all socio-economic classes are reflected in migration to cities, migrants from rural areas are disproportionately poor, and inadequate planning is often a result of a weak political will to support them.

Yet, as the report pointed out, migrants are especially motivated individuals. It is not only the sheer numbers of people involved that makes migration worthy of attention. All around the world, populations of cities are now more diverse than surrounding rural areas.

In this way, migrants who come to cities can help diversify the networks that the city can draw upon – for instance, by linking cities to broader global networks. Perhaps the most famous example of this is Eastleigh in Nairobi. Known as “Little Mogadishu”, this neighbourhood has become a vibrant, global commercial hub, powered by enterprising members of the Somali, Ethiopian and Kenyan diasporas.

Changing with the times

So how are cities coping and changing with this influx of both internal and external migrants? While the vast majority of migration policies are set on a national basis, it is increasingly common for cities to develop their own approach to integrating people who come to settle.

For example, in the US, many cities support legislation calling for city police forces not to cooperate with certain forms of federal immigration control, which are deemed to be prejudiced against migrant groups. In 2012, the cities of Los Angeles and Chicago passed non-cooperation measures, and in 2014, New York City became the largest city to do so.

Yet much of the research into the impact of migrants on cities concerns international migrants in wealthier countries. A key contribution of the 2015 WMR has been to turn the focus of migration to cities in poorer countries. This migration is often shorter distance, from rural areas that are relatively close.

Slums spread close to the city of Mumbai. Image: liquidcrash/Flickr, CC BY-SA.

Rural to city migration is a much larger movement of people, at a global scale, and is accompanied by a very different set of issues. Adequate housing is probably the most significant of these. Although informal settlements exist all around the world, 97 per cent of slum dwellers live in poor countries.

My own research in Sri Lanka has shown that poor households in urban areas are more likely to be headed by women, and household members are more likely to be employed than the city’s average – this indicates that unemployment is not a key issue. Rather, problems tend to arise as a result of poor planning and forced behaviour change – particularly forced relocation.


These issues are exacerbated when informal settlements develop outside the administrative boundary of the city. For instance, in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, as many as 60,000 people are being relocated due to redevelopment of under-served, informal areas of the city.

The project I worked on examined the impact of violence on migrants in the city. Through the surveys conducted with groups of these relocated households, we witnessed the enormous contribution that local community and neighbourhood organisations can make to help those coping with forced relocation and the disintegration of migrant communities.

Migration to cities significantly contributes to urbanisation. And if well planned, migration can enhance the dynamism of cities making them healthier, more profitable and more interesting places to live.

Michael Collyer is a reader in geography at the University of Sussex

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

 
 
 
 

“Without rent control we can’t hope to solve London’s housing crisis”

You BET! Oh GOD. Image: Getty.

Today, the mayor of London called for new powers to introduce rent controls in London. With ever increasing rents swallowing more of people’s income and driving poverty, the free market has clearly failed to provide affordable homes for Londoners. 

Created in 1988, the modern private rented sector was designed primarily to attract investment, with the balance of power weighted almost entirely in landlords’ favour. As social housing stock has been eroded, with more than 1 million fewer social rented homes today compared to 1980, and as the financialisation of homes has driven up house prices, more and more people are getting trapped private renting. In 1990 just 11 per cent of households in London rented privately, but by 2017 this figure had grown to 27 per cent; it is also home to an increasing number of families and older people. 

When I first moved to London, I spent years spending well over 50 per cent of my income on rent. Even without any dependent to support, after essentials my disposable income was vanishingly small. London has the highest rent to income ratio of any region, and the highest proportion of households spending over a third of their income on rent. High rents limit people’s lives, and in London this has become a major driver of poverty and inequality. In the three years leading up to 2015-16, 960,000 private renters were living in poverty, and over half of children growing up in private rented housing are living in poverty.

So carefully designed rent controls therefore have the potential to reduce poverty and may also contribute over time to the reduction of the housing benefit bill (although any housing bill reductions have to come after an expansion of the system, which has been subject to brutal cuts over the last decade). Rent controls may also support London’s employers, two-thirds of whom are struggling to recruit entry-level staff because of the shortage of affordable homes. 

It’s obvious that London rents are far too high, and now an increasing number of voices are calling for rent controls as part of the solution: 68 per cent of Londoners are in favour, and a growing renters’ movement has emerged. Groups like the London Renters Union have already secured a massive victory in the outlawing of section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions. But without rent control, landlords can still unfairly get rid of tenants by jacking up rents.


At the New Economics Foundation we’ve been working with the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority to research what kind of rent control would work in London. Rent controls are often polarising in the UK but are commonplace elsewhere. New York controls rents on many properties, and Berlin has just introduced a five year “rental lid”, with the mayor citing a desire to not become “like London” as a motivation for the policy. 

A rent control that helps to solve London’s housing crisis would need to meet several criteria. Since rents have risen three times faster than average wages since 2010, rent control should initially brings rents down. Our research found that a 1 per cent reduction in rents for four years could lead to 20 per cent cheaper rents compared to where they would be otherwise. London also needs a rent control both within and between tenancies because otherwise landlords can just reset rents when tenancies end.

Without rent control we can’t hope to solve London’s housing crisis – but it’s not without risk. Decreases in landlord profits could encourage current landlords to exit the sector and discourage new ones from entering it. And a sharp reduction in the supply of privately rented homes would severely reduce housing options for Londoners, whilst reducing incentives for landlords to maintain and improve their properties.

Rent controls should be introduced in a stepped way to minimise risks for tenants. And we need more information on landlords, rents, and their business models in order to design a rent control which avoids unintended consequences.

Rent controls are also not a silver bullet. They need to be part of a package of solutions to London’s housing affordability crisis, including a large scale increase in social housebuilding and an improvement in housing benefit. However, private renting will be part of London’s housing system for some time to come, and the scale of the affordability crisis in London means that the question of rent controls is no longer “if”, but increasingly “how”. 

Joe Beswick is head of housing & land at the New Economics Foundation.