Cities Highlight Good Ideas for Immigrant Integration at International Conference

As more cities around the world implement innovative strategies to welcome immigrants and newcomers, they’re also sharing what they’ve learned with one another and with other cities exploring ways to become places of welcome. As such, the 2014 Cities of Migration Conference, coordinated by Cities of Migration and the Maytree Foundation, was held in June in Berlin, Germany. At the conference, practitioners, policy makers, researchers, and private sector leaders shared lessons-learned around good practices for immigrant integration and inclusion from their own cities. The premise of the conference, and of Cities of Migration, is that “good ideas can travel.” A smart policy working in Halifax can be tweaked to also work in St. Louis. A successful initiative from San Francisco can be replicated in London. As Ratna Omidvar, President of the Maytree Foundation, said, “This is because cities are often better placed to address immediate needs that are local in nature, such as employment, home ownership, success in school, and neighborhood inclusion.”

Cities have not only been the main entry point for immigrants into a country, but people in general overwhelmingly choose to migrate to cities. Why is that the case? “Because that’s where opportunity exists at scale,” Ratna Omidvar and Alan Broadbent, Chairman of the Maytree Foundation, said. “People move for work, school, entertainment, acceptance, security and love. They go where they can settle their families and find a place to call home. They settle where friends are their neighbors and stay where neighbors welcome them as friends.” Through this process, immigrants and newcomers are poised to contribute to the life of local neighborhoods as well as to the broader growth and development or metropolitan regions—the places that drive a country’s economy.

Yet, cities and metropolitan regions experience both urbanization and immigration in profound ways. As Omidvar and Broadbent note, “While urbanization and immigration can be contentious policy issues at the national and sub-national levels, at the city level they are lived realities; realities best-served, as Jane Jacobs wisely observed, by the level of government closest to the people.” The purpose of an organization like Cities of Migration is to share “stories from cities—from old capitals and rustbelt cities to new gateways and emerging urban regions—that are reinventing themselves for the 21st century, animated by the energy and opportunity that immigration provides,” Omidvar and Broadbent said. Describing some of the cities the organization and its conference highlights, they stated, “Some of the featured cities are old hands at integration—such as Toronto, London and Berlin. Many are newer immigrant gateways—such as Helsinki, Ghent and Nashville.” But as they observe, the successes upon which they choose to shine a spotlight “are important for a simple and compelling reason. When integration is done well, it fuels economic growth, spurs innovation and talent renewal, creates new knowledge, and promotes an open, richer and more inclusive social fabric.”

Cities with different contexts and histories of receiving immigrant populations from different parts of the world were present at the conference. Auckland, New Zealand is one example. Heather Shotter, executive director of the Committee for Auckland, shared examples of how migrants to New Zealand’s largest city give the city an edge over others. Shotter notes that “as we become more globally connected, more than half the world lives in cities which are becoming more ethnically diverse. Immigrants overwhelmingly choose to migrate to cities because that’s where opportunities exist on a large scale;” another example of cities experiencing urbanization and immigration profoundly. “As one of the most migrant-rich cities in the world,” Shotter observes, “we must court diversity to build on our strength, vitality and innovation. But the growing negative conversation around migrants in this country is threatening the very positive progress as we grow. The future of Auckland depends on migrants and the skills they bring here.” She notes that migrants bring new energy to a city, new connections with the places from which they came, and even the opportunities for exploiting diasporas by opening up new international markets and relationships.

Many of the cities represented at the Cities of Migration Conference in Berlin, as Omidvar and Broadbent observed, “have an interest in cultivating the political and community voices that embrace immigrants, knowing they bring strength, vitality and innovation. These cities are responding to demographic change and global economic challenges by proactively building inclusion into public policy and by promoting new opportunities for business development and infrastructure design.” They note that local governments can succeed where many national governments are challenged, by organization around success and actions instead of failure, crisis and inaction.

In his keynote speech at the conference, Khalid Koser, Deputy Director and Academic Dean at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, observed that the Cities of Migration Conference stands out for at least three reasons: it provides focus on cities and actual actions places are pursuing; it provides a sense of purpose with solutions-oriented goals; and it provides inclusion by bringing together an array of stakeholders from civil society, government, business and other sectors to generate new ideas. With the ongoing polarization and gridlock of policy and legislative discussions at state, national, and international levels, Koser said that “cities have the potential to make a difference—to the discourse on migration, to migration policy, and to the lives of migrants themselves—and not just in cities, but globally.” Faced with extremes and polarities of the migrant experience, “cities again and again have been able to move the needle from negative to positive, from challenge to opportunity. If cities in all their complexity can realize the potential of migration, then states, and the international community don’t have far to look for the success stories and best practices that can help generate a new approach.”

Also in his keynote speech, Koser outlined three policy areas for cities to pursue, focusing on migration governance, engaging the business sector, and promoting an objective debate on migration. Regarding the last point, Koser suggests that cities are in a position to be the conveners of conversations about migration: “You can find the entire spectrum of views within a few blocks in most cities. Cities have the venues and the community organizers. And whatever their perspective on migration and migrants, city dwellers tend to be open to debate and exchange. While states are building walls, cities are building bridges. While states are launching patrol boats; cities are launching ideas. While states are unilateral; cities are transnational. Cities have the responsibility to promote good governance; engage the right stakeholders; and preserve the space for an objective debate.”

As I mentioned in a recent post for the Migrationist, what cities and metro areas are doing for immigrant integration, not only in the U.S. but in other countries as well—as evidenced by the wide range of innovative examples highlighted by Cities of Migration and its conference this year in Berlin—is likely one aspect of what Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley of the Brookings Institution term the “metropolitan revolution.” As Katz notes, the metropolitan revolution, “is cities and metropolitan areas, and the networks of leaders who co-govern them,…stepping up and doing the hard work to grow jobs and make their economies more prosperous…Cities and metropolitan areas are really networks of leaders and institutions. They’re very powerful on their own, but when they come together and they collaborate to compete, they can do grand things together.”

Indeed, cities are uniquely positioned with the challenge and the opportunity to learn from one another, and then to borrow, transform, and replicate good ideas in their own communities. The 2014 Cities of Migration Conference in Berlin facilitated the opportunity for cities to start new conversations with one another, expand existing relationships and forge new collaboration, and to bring home new ideas and approaches. One of the recurring themes at the conference in Berlin was that local leaders, such as mayors and city councilmembers, are able to use their positions of leadership to set the tone for an inclusive and welcoming city by the “messages and signals they give” as well as through the practical steps they outline. This creates safe spaces for conversations, collaborations, and steps toward practical actions by a broad cross-section of the community: city government offices, non-profit organizations, private business entities, individual community members, and others. As the 2014 Cities of Migration Conference exemplifies, cities large and small, new and old, can learn from one another as they proactively chart their future of welcome and inclusion.


Cities of Migration. 2014. 2014 Cities of Migration Berlin, June 4-6: An Agenda for Shared Prosperity: Conference Program. Toronto: The Maytree Foundation.

Cities of Migration. 2012. Good Ideas from Successful Cities: Municipal Leadership on Immigrant Integration. Edited by Kim Turner. Toronto: The Maytree Foundation.

Cities of Migration. 2012. Practice to Policy: Lessons from Local Leadership on Immigrant Integration. Edited by Kim Turner. Toronto: The Maytree Foundation.

Katz, Bruce and Jennifer Bradley. 2013. The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros are Fixing our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution.

Koser, Khalid. 2014. Cities and the Case for Migration. Toronto: Cities of Migration, the Maytree Foundation.

Shotter, Heather. 2014. “Migrants help give Auckland an edge over other cities.” The New Zealand Herald, July 24, 2014.

Singer, Audrey and Jill H. Wilson. 2013. “The 10 Traits of Globally Fluent Metropolitan Areas: Immigration, Opportunity, and Appeal.” In The Avenue: Rethinking Metropolitan America. Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution.


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  3. […] a broad cross-sector of community leaders and organizations to work together to plan and implement integration strategies, benefitting their local communities. So too does the President’s acknowledgement that immigrant […]


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  5. […] and of the national economy and society. Therefore, state and federal support of good ideas from cities is important. States in which their largest cities are pursuing immigrant-friendly and welcoming […]


  6. […] at Ryerson University in Toronto, maintains a list of good ideas from successful cities regarding municipal leadership on immigrant integration. And Decatur, Georgia-based Welcoming America, which leads the aforementioned welcoming cities […]


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