Despite attempts to control the inflow of migrants, millions of people make their way to cities every year. Historically, immigrants have settled in urban areas, seeking to capitalize on the economic opportunities cities offer. On January 28th, the Comparative Urban Studies Project sponsored a seminar, Concepts of Immigration and Integration in Urban Areas. Panelists David Ley of the University of British Columbia, and Richard Wright of Dartmouth College, examined the urban policies, spatial patterns, and attitudes that influence and shape the role migrants play in urban areas.
Dr. David Ley began the session with a presentation titled Post-Multiculturalism, where he examined the need for multicultural governance in a world where growing diversity within nation states is an unavoidable condition. Dr. Ley began by discussing the larger issue of multicultural governance and then narrowing down to a specific case study in Vancouver, Canada. Dr. Ley noted that the concept of multiculturalism is problematic, both in theory and practice and is frequently disregarded as an ideological veil that conceals real challenges such as economic and political inequality. However, Ley claims that such criticisms do not exhaust the full potential of multiculturalism and instead finds a forum for multiculturalism in individual and group rights-based claims. Ley continued to explain an example of multicultural problem solving in Vancouver, known as the "monster house conflict." In summary, this conflict was born in the old elite neighborhoods of Vancouver, with regard to the old landscape of European style houses with carefully manicured lawns and hypermodern larger structures preferred by the new elite immigrant residents on minimally landscaped lots. Dr. Ley described an ensuing conflict, which emerged from the unsuccessful attempts of the old elite to alter the building codes in order to preserve the established landscape of the community. As a result, a public hearing was called. The new immigrant elite were a well organized group who challenged the old established elite using a rights-based approach. The interventions adopted by the new immigrants were a discourse of citizen rights, the rights of all Canadians regardless of longevity. After negotiations, a compromise was reached which resulted in a modest reduction of house size, but a space bonus could be granted if the house design resembled the traditional European style of the neighborhood. In this scenario, new residents could construct houses, which suited their needs, and long-time residents would benefit from landscape continuity. The solution is what really matters here, as it shows the potential for multicultural diversity management. The integration of homes implies a mutual adjustment of values in a multicultural society. The sense of identity loss felt by the long-term residents did not give them monopoly rights over the use of space, while new Canadians were able to express their definition of identity and space precisely because they articulated and implemented the same citizen rights as the old elite.
Richard Wright, of Dartmouth College, gave a presentation titled Strange Bedfellows, discussing immigrant geographies, in particular the mixed household. Dr. Wright built a case for conceptualizing and analyzing the mixing of people in immigrant cities, and challenged the presumed narratives of immigration and settlement patterns. He examined the micro-geographies of people by looking at the day to day analysis and explored questions such as Where do mixed race couples settle and What is the new re-imagination of racialized lives in the United States today? Dr. Wright presented information regarding mixed race households, mixed generation households and mixed nativity households. Through this lens he portrays the relationship between the individual, household, and society. Wright concludes that although the United States remains segregated, the barriers are slowly eroding. Mixing is occurring in cities, workplaces, cyberspace, schools, and other places visible in the negotiations of mixed racial, ethnic, and nativity households. Wright notes that he hopes to use this data to better understand how mixed households are embedded and contested within contexts of urban space.
Participants inquired about the impact of class and poverty with regard to the cases presented. The panelists responded noting the importance in understanding both poverty and wealth in moving toward ethnic and cultural equity.