Global migration and the right to the cities of the future

How will people live together in the cities of the future? Emergent patterns of settlement will be structured by the movement of people through labour markets that are global in their reach and regimes of governance and citizenship that are continental, national and local in their territorialisation. Unprecedented levels of global mobility will require unprecedented forms of flexible governance and citizenship. This research project develops models of theorizing and resolving the challenges of integration and cohesion in the cities of the 21st century.

Research questions

  • How does the age of migration reconfigure the relation between the global, the national and the urban?
  • What are the ethical and practical challenges emerging from this, especially for the competition for and allocation of resources in the city?
  • How can the cities of the future respond to these challenges? What new and innovative forms of urban governance are required?

Project details

The research operates at three geographical scales, exploring the relationships between them, including how changes at one scale impact on the others. At all of these scales, demographic change is reconfiguring the relationship between universal rights, on the one hand, and the political affects of belonging and identity, on the other.

The three scales that we are tackling are as follows:

  1. The global. By the end of the 20th century more people were on the move through processes of migration than at any previous time.  In the 21st century the facility for people to move will not diminish; the incentives to do so are likely to increase exponentially.   Climate change already drives the engines of movement in sub-Saharan Africa but will also threaten the continent of Australia, the coasts of China, major metropolises in Europe, and the consumption economy of the US.  The urbanising of India and China constitute the greatest movements of humanity ever recorded. Both labour and education markets have become globalised, and the traumas of conflict (from resource wars to the war on terror) create desires for security that now register transnationally.
  2. The European. The space of Europe exemplifies these dilemmas, with massive flows of labour (mainly East to West) internally, as well as migration from the global South caused by conflict and environmental crises. While the national state legislates the entitlements different categories of migrants have (who may not have access to social housing, healthcare etc), this can conflict with the priorities of local service providers and the pressures they are under to meet needs (e.g. when failed asylum seekers ask to be housed or to receive healthcare). As the emerging settlement patterns reveal the intensifying concentration of demographic diversity in urban regions in Europe, it is urban municipal authorities which have to create solutions to these problems, raising the ancient question of the right to the city in new, urgent ways. The municipal state has a key role in tackling misunderstanding and myth about immigration, as well as addressing conflicts of interest, alongside initiatives for intercultural dialogue. 
  3. The National, Welfare States. The third scale applies this learning to the complex, concrete question of the allocation of social goods. Across the democracies of the global North, the welfare state has been the arena where the practical and ethical challenges described above have impacted most intensely. Migrants are achieving uneven access to universal rights of social citizenship: rights allocated on the basis of national citizenship in a 20th century model, but delivered and managed at a local or regional level. The universal entitlements (e.g. to health, to housing) imagined by the social democratic tradition come into conflict with sentiments of place, identity and belonging: settled citizens stake prior claims to allocations on the basis of national or local belonging, while welfare providers are tasked with allocating services to transnational migrants on a culturally relative basis. How much autonomy should the local state have to meet the very specific needs of their diverse populations? Could too much autonomy foster defensive localist affects that exclude migrants, or can autonomy generate cosmopolitan citizenship at a local level?

Methods and outputs

  • literature and policy review, building on our existing network of contacts in European cities to create a dialogue between academics and municipal governments to share understanding of the threats and opportunities for urban governance created by migration.
  • site visits to a sample of European partner cities (Istanbul, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Athens, Budapest – all cities experiencing major demographic change and significant tension around cohesion and integration), and developing intensive collaborations with key urbanists in the partner cities, both academics and practitioners who are developing innovative research and practice in this area.
  • two short-term case studies in the UK, to understand how social welfare rights need to be recalibrated in the age of migration. The first, led by Jayaweera, focuses on the health service, exemplifying the tension between the allocation of welfare rights on the basis of need and allocation on the basis of belonging (often understood through who has contributed to the public purse). The second, led by Gidley, focuses on social housing, through a pilot ethnographic study in three sites in one global city, London, where migrant demand for housing, and settled residents’ perceptions of ‘unfair’ allocation, have fuelled right-wing extremist activity, to understand how political sentiments of identity, belonging and place reshape access to social goods in the space of the local.
  • local roundtable workshops and high-level European seminars at analysis stage – sharing the findings with practitioners and researchers in the field sites, at a national level, and in other European cities, ensuring analysis and policy recommendations are locally and nationally relevant and informed by wider contexts, and ensuring different scales of the research are well-integrated. A  European seminar will conclude the project, consisting of sessions on health, housing and urbanism in general.
  • Publications
    • A theoretical position paper and an article on the conceptual issues raised at the three geographical scales described above.
    • An article presenting data on the barriers to and opportunities for meeting health needs of diverse categories of migrants in urban areas within a framework of tensions in allocation of welfare rights.
    • An article on the place, identity and belonging issues as exemplified in social housing estates, making a significant intervention across the disciplines of urban studies, social policy and social science. 
    • 3 research proposals

Areas of work

The Future of Cities team at COMPAS has so far worked in two main areas: building up partnerships and conducting primary research in the UK's two largest metropolitan areas, the West Midlands and especially London; and building partnerships with researchers and urbanists in other European cities, as part of a commitment to comparative research on global migration and the future of cities.

In London, the Future of Cities researchers won a contract to develop an evidence base for the Mayor's migrant integration strategy – see our report and the mayor's action plan which partly drew on our evidence base. We have also summarised our findings in the Spring 2011 edition of New Londoners magazine, and our response to the action plan at the Migration Pulse website. We have also produced a policy primer on the issues around migration in London.

Funding applications and academic dissemination

We have used the pilot funding from the Future of Cities programme to prepare a number of funding applications. These include two successful European Integration Fund projects. AMICALL looks at how city governments can develop good practice on communicating with their citizens on migrant integration; the project is led by COMPAS working in partnership with Central European University in Budapest, Computense University in Madrid, Erasmus University in Rotterdam, EFMS in Bamberg, FIERI in Turin and the Council of Europe. Concordia Discors looks at interaction between migrants and other residents in urban neighbourhoods, with COMPAS working on case studies in the London Borough of Southwark; the project is led by FIERI and other partners are TARKI in Budapest, the Autonomous University in Barcelona, and EFMS in Bamberg. We have also worked with the Autonomous University on two bids to the European Framework 7 research programme and are planning a joint seminar series with them in 2011-12.

The Future of Cities work has also been central to the development of a new programme of work at COMPAS, one of five set out in our research plan for the next five years, on Urbanism, settlement and diversity. As part of this, we have held a workshop in December 2010 and are holding another event in September 2011, looking at the methodological challenges of researching new forms of urban demographic diversity.

Finally, the research we have done for the project has already been presented to a number of scholarly fora across Europe.

 Research team

  • Professor Michael Keith, COMPAS Director
  • Dr Ben Gidley (Principal Investigator) Senior Researcher, responsible for developing a workstream around the challenges of integration.
  • Dr Hiranthi Jayaweera, Senior Researcher, focusing on how health provision can respond to the evolving diversity of local service users

This project is funded by the Oxford Programme for the Future of Cities