On 13 October, as part of the the 14th edition of the European Week of Regions and Cities (EWRC) in Brussels, the workshop, “Migration and Cities: Territorial Aspects of Migration” was held. It fell under the Inclusive economic growth theme of EWRC.
The workshop focused on the intersection of urban policies and the issues of migration, which tend to be discussed separately although migration is primarily concentrated in urban areas. The speakers – Ms. Aspa Gospodini, Mr. William Le Goff, and Ms. Yvonne Franz – presented three different cases of the interdependencies between migrants and urban areas, using data from Greek cities, Paris, and Vienna, respectively.
The first speaker, Ms. Yvonne Franz – a researcher with Institut für Stadt – und Regionalforschung (ISR), presented us with the case study of Vienna. She underlined the importance of and the increasing need for a co-creation of Niche Public Services (NPS). With migrants becoming a big part of the housing market and local communities, she claimed that NPS are more effective than the Fordist Public Service provisions currently in place in Vienna.
When asked how refugees and asylum seekers can be integrated into Viennese society, Ms. Yvonne Franz stated that while there is currently enormous civic engagement and support on a regular basis along with federal and city policies, there aren’t any permeable systems in place for housing. However, concerning urban policies on housing in Vienna, there has been a shift in housing laws, which has made housing more accessible, as the city grasped the need to build housing quickly and cheaply.
The second speaker, Ms. Aspa Gospodini – an Urban planning & design professor at the University of Thessaly, presented us with the case study of Greek cities. She highlighted that as of the last five years, the main land-use change for Greek cities is the transformation of the economic character of the city centre. Vacant spaces, which formerly belonged to the commercial and service-entrepreneurial sector, have recently gone to the cultural-entertainment sector and are fostering economic growth in Greek cities.
When questioned about the degree of integration of migrants in Greek cities, especially in Athens, Ms. Aspa Gospodini commented that while the first wave of immigrants (in the period after WWII) did not have any trouble integrating into society, this recent wave of refugees and migrants from Syria and Afghanistan, did indeed have difficulties integrating. She also opined that the best solution for integration in terms of space may be the renewal and restoration of small factory plants and wholesale housing units, which could then be sporadically and evenly distributed to serve as cheap housing options for migrants.
The third speaker, Mr. William Le Goff – researcher with the Ile-de-France region, presented us with the case study of the self-managed migrant hostel (Le Centenaire) in Montreuil, Paris. He considers Le Centenaire to be a successful example of integrating migrants socially and economically into their environment, as they are not segregated from the politics in Montreuil. However, he also explained that if other migrants do have trouble integrating, a main part of that comes from the irrelevance of current urban policies in place that respond to the needs of the past, as they were inherited from the 1960s. There has, seemingly, not been any change in urban policy in Paris in response to the current migrant crisis.
These three cases have demonstrated that urban policies need to adapt with the times, to the migrant crisis challenges that is being thrown their way, with the ever-increasing number of migrants in urban areas. It is increasingly clear that accommodating migrants will be one of the main responsibilities of cities in the future. The speakers are optimistic that if cities are willing to adjust their policies to fit the needs of the migrants that have recently arrived and those that will arrive in the future, these migrants can be a driving factor of economic growth in European cities.
Migration is an issue of great importance to AER, which falls under our Revitalising Democracy theme; and AER has worked on it in a variety of ways. Firstly, AER has called for action in the field of Migration & culture, and proposals in Migration and integration, and Migration and social inclusion. Secondly, AER held talks on the refugee crisis on the occasion of last year’s Bureau. Lastly, it has also been a priority in the Committees’ spring plenary meetings, which bore concrete exchanges on good practices. AER has worked on the issue of migration at different levels: the project-based level, the political level and the good practices level.