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Global Migration And Arrival Cities

The new global migration to cities. We examine the barrios, slums, Chinatowns, and Little Indias where immigrants land.

The entrance to Chinatown in Philadelphia (nixter/Flickr)

The entrance to Chinatown in Philadelphia (nixter/Flickr)

The great hallmark cities of the 21st century may be names you barely know. Not Paris, Beijing, London or New York, but Kibera, Kreuzberg, Liu Gong Li, and a lot of others you may never have heard of.

Tough, scruffy, scrappy cities on the edge. Cities where migrants come and get started, try to find their foothold in the global economy. “Arrival cities,” my guest today calls them.

From big tracts of LA to the tough edge of Amsterdam. Slum Dog Millionaire cities.

This hour On Point: “Arrival cities,” and the battle for a new wave of migrants to find their way.

- Tom Ashbrook

Guests:

Doug Saunders, author of Arrival City:  How the Largest Migration in History is Reshaping our World .  He is the European Bureau Chief and a columnist for the Globe and Mail.

Damian Platt, author of Culture Is Our Weapon: Making Music and Changing Lives in Rio de Janeiro.

Angelica Salas, Executive Director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.

Excerpt-
Arrival City: How the Largest Migration in History is Reshaping Our World
by Doug Saunders

Preface: The Place Where Everything Changes

What will be remembered about the twenty-first century, more than anything else except perhaps the effects of a changing climate, is the great, and final, shift of human populations out of rural, agricultural life and into cities. We will end this century as a wholly urban species. This movement engages an unprecedented number of people—two or three billion humans, perhaps a third of the world’s population—and will affect almost everyone in tangible ways. It will be the last human movement of this size and scope; in fact, the changes it makes to family life, from large agrarian families to small urban ones, will put an end to the major theme of human history, continuous population growth.

The last time humans made such a dramatic migration, in Europe and the New World between the late eighteenth and the early twentieth centuries, the direct effect was a complete reinvention of human thought, governance, technology, and welfare. Mass urbanization produced the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution and, with them, the enormous social and political changes of the previous two centuries. Yet this narrative of human change was not to be found in the newspapers of the 1840s or the parliamentary debates of the early twentieth century; the city-bound migration and the rise of new, transitional urban enclaves was a story largely unknown to the people directly affected by it. And the catastrophes of mismanaged urbanization—the human miseries and revolutionary uprisings and wars—were often a direct result of this blindness: We failed to account for this influx of people, and in the process created urban communities of recent arrivals who became trapped, excluded, resentful. Much of the history of this age was the history of deracinated people, deprived of franchise, making urgent and sometimes violent attempts to gain a standing in the urban order.

If we make a similar mistake today and dismiss the great migration as a negligible effect, as a background noise or a fate of others that we can avoid in our own countries, we are in danger of suffering far larger explosions and ruptures. Some aspects of this great migration are already unfolding in front of us: the tensions over immigration in the United States, Europe and Australia; the political explosions in Iran, Venezuela, Mumbai, Amsterdam, the outskirts of Paris. But many of the changes and discontinuities are not being noticed at all. We do not understand this migration because we do not know how to look at it. We do not know where to look. We have no place, no name, for the locus of our new world.

In my journalistic travels, I developed the habit of introducing myself to new cities by riding subway and tram routes to the end of the line, or into the hidden interstices and inaccessible corners of the urban core, and examining the places that extended before me. These are always fascinating, bustling, unattractive, improvised, difficult places, full of new people and big plans. My trip to the edge was not always by choice: I have found myself drawn by news events to the northern reaches of Mumbai, the dusty edges of Tehran, the hillside folds of São Paulo and Mexico City, the smouldering apartment block fringes of Paris and Amsterdam and Los Angeles. What I found in these places were people who had been born in villages, who had their minds and ambitions fixed on the symbolic center of the city, and who were engaged in a struggle of monumental scope to find a basic and lasting berth in the city for their children.

This ex-rural population, I found, was creating strikingly similar urban spaces all over the world: spaces whose physical appearance varied but whose basic set of functions, whose network of human relationships, was distinct and identifiable. And there was a contiguous, standardized pattern of institutions, customs, conflicts and frustrations being built and felt in these places across the poor expanses of the “developing” world and in the large, wealthy cities of the West. We need to devote far more attention to these places, for they are not just the sites of potential conflict and violence but also the neighborhoods where the transition from poverty occurs, where the next middle class is forged, where the next generation’s dreams, movements, and governments are created. At a time when the effectiveness and basic purpose of foreign aid have become matters of deep and well-deserved skepticism, I believe that these transitional urban spaces offer a solution. It is here, rather than at the “macro” state or “micro” household level, that serious and sustained investments from governments and agencies are most likely to create lasting and incorruptible benefit.

In researching this book, I have visited about 20 such places, in an effort to find key examples of the changes that are transforming cities and villages in far more countries. This is not an atlas of arrival or a universal guide to the great migration. Equally fascinating developments are occurring in Lima, Lagos, Cairo, Karachi, Calcutta, Jakarta, Beijing, Marrakesh, Manila. Nor is this book without precedent. Scholars in migration studies, urban studies, sociology, geography, anthropology, and economics have documented the phenomena described here, and many of them have generously assisted me with my work. But the larger message is lost to many citizens and leaders: the great migration of humans is manifesting itself in the creation of a special kind of urban place. These transitional spaces—arrival cities— are the places where the next great economic and cultural boom will be born or where the next great explosion of violence will occur. The difference depends on our ability to notice and our willingness to engage.

(Excerpted from Arrival City by Doug Saunders Copyright © 2011 by Doug Saunders. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.)

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  • Cory

    It is coming sooner than we think. Wait until gas hits $5 a gallon. There will be a great migration of Americans to cities. This future doesn not look bright to me, but I confess to being a pessimist. As with most human endeavors, some will thrive during this transition and most will suffer or stagnate. Sigh.

    • Zing

      So, were we put here to be happy?

      • Cory

        … or were we put here to facilitate the lives of those with greater wealth and status?

  • Allen

    So many of these cities are on coasts. Global warming and the rise of the ocean levels will damage or destroy them.

  • John from Plainville MA

    Migration to cities has the potential for a great greening effect. People living that much closer to where they work and not having to burn as much fuel per capita is a great thing. And if we can get some somewhat meaningful amount of urban agriculture thrown into the mix, it will be even better.

    • ThresherK

      Yep. Now is a good time to re-read “Green Metropolis”.

  • Tina

    A major difference from the distant past which is also a MAJOR OBSTACLE TO INDIVIDUALS AND INDIVIDUAL FAMILIES BUILDING SUCCESS IN THE CITIES they’ve moved to:

    Huge corporations have the selling power. Small shops cannot survive when Walmart looms. Thus, a MAJOR ROUTE OUT OF POVERTY — owning your own small shop — IS BLOCKED by the scale of corporate capitalism!!

    Thanks!

  • Tina

    To see this process earlier in U.S. life, please consider reading Ira Berlin’s The Making of African America.

    It is very good at explaining the pushes and pulls in these migrations, including the false lures.

  • Busara1

    I just fininshed reading Allende’s novel, _Daughter of Fortune_ and wondered if you guest could speak about San Francisco’s early days as an “arrival city.”

  • http://www.cafargo.com Pierre Duranleau

    Increases in mass urbanization in our larger city centers – on a more fantastic level – might lead to a ‘Blade-Runner-like’ futur, as unimaginable amounts of people will struggle to survive in a resource scarce world. It will be a bizarre combination and mix on one part, of a high-end technological society, and on the other, massive enclaves of poverty and chaos.

    • ThresherK

      as unimaginable amounts of people will struggle to survive in a resource scarce world

      Those resources won’t go any farther if they’re spent getting people to the DavidBrooksian wonderworld (i.e. exurban Foreclosurevilles).

  • Anonymous

    Tom.

    If we look at Western countries, I can’t think of one country that isn’t in some form of debt problem. If we look at South America, Brazil has defaulted. China, as I know, has interest rates close to zero and some argue that they are heading for a disastrous mortgage meltdown. These regions, as your guest points out are fully urbanized, or halfway there. At the city-level, the problem also appears.

    So, I’ve always wondered if there was a connection between debt-based societies and urbanization. It seems obvious to me that public transportation makes sense and *seems* financially sustainable in high density areas. So cities have an ‘economy of density’, but I am wondering if it is more than offset by unforeseen expenses that it engenders.

    Can your guest comment on this?

    thanks.

  • Joe in Philly

    Agree about the comments re: mass transport. Efficient, affordable mass transit is critical to the survival of the city and the promotion of economic advantage to all. If we believe this, then what can we say about the future of the US, where our mass transit infrastructure is either completely absent or woefully antiquated? Will our reliance on the automobile (and the incredible amount of capital investment made to support the industry and the highway system) be a barrier to future economic growth?

  • Bartcaruso

    Only heard a snippet , but this guy sounds like a “globalist” maybe CFR or some “Think” Tank. He says its a good thing peasants are leaving (I say forced off) their rural Subsistence Farms & being replaced by Huge Agri-Business (w/ GMO crops!) ! This is exactly why the death toll was so high in Haiti, peasants forced into over crowded slums. What we have here is , once again the rich Globalists getting what they want, be it Urban or Suburban living and the poor are left to fill the vaccum.

  • ThresherK

    I’m at a loss here. Can we get a historian on about the caller and the fall of the Roman Empire?

    It was immigrants, especially poor ones? It didn’t have a horse in its senate, militarily overextend itself, and build too many water pipes with lead?

    • John from Plainville MA

      I suppose he was referring to barbarians as immigrants- and I suppose in some ways he was right!

    • Nick Knight

      Just a note, the Roman Empire is thought to fallen by many, due to its loss of population.

  • Anonymous

    There isn’t a labor shortage, there is an unwillingness to pay non slave wages.

  • paolo

    More urbanization ?? I listed to this Doug Saunders, and I was shocked at his perspective. Full of flawed logic. He has a few good points about improving irrigation and infrastructure, but packing people in cities is extremely dangerous and certainly ORWELLIAN. People in cities are more exploitable. Saunders is wrong and his concepts are dangerous. What’s his real purpose?

  • Zing

    No wonder you can’t find a parking space in San Francisco.

  • Zing

    I….I….I..followed by mega predictions but no winning lottery numbers. This writing is tiresome to read. Look for it on the discount table or in the sociology section of the college book store

    • Cory

      Then go elsewhere. Nothing you’ve written today raised the hairs on the nape of my neck. What an arrogant wiener.

  • Ted M

    what is the name of the song used for the music filler/bumper music at 11:30….good stuff.

  • Jjaymiller

    China now has 5 million college graduates per year … and, no surprise, there are not enough jobs for them. All the migration proves is that capitalism does not work. Until we put people before profits and ensure a living wage for all we are doomed. Of course Chinese businesses want cheaper labor – greed rules in capitalism. == Or put another way, how many more people does China really need?

  • Slipstream

    I take issue with Saunders’ perspective, altho it is an interesting one. He seems to say that the large movement of the rural poor from their impoverished farming communities and into urban ghettos is a good thing, a “great and final” shift. I’m not sure I agree. It may be that at this moment their chances of survival are better in urban areas, but there is no reason to think that this could not change. Rising energy and food costs could easily bring hunger and disease into cities, and social unrest and increases in crime would be sure to follow. I have said it before and I’ll say it again – it is imperative that we begin levelling off/reducing human populations. This would be better than celebrating the creation of massive urban ghettos. Maybe things are going all right in South LA, but how are they in Lagos, Mumbai, Mexico City, and the favelas?

  • Slipstream

    I take issue with Saunders’ perspective, altho it is an interesting one. He seems to say that the large movement of the rural poor from their impoverished farming communities and into urban ghettos is a good thing, a “great and final” shift. I’m not sure I agree. It may be that at this moment their chances of survival are better in urban areas, but there is no reason to think that this could not change. Rising energy and food costs could easily bring hunger and disease into cities, and social unrest and increases in crime would be sure to follow. I have said it before and I’ll say it again – it is imperative that we begin levelling off/reducing human populations. This would be better than celebrating the creation of massive urban ghettos. Maybe things are going all right in South LA, but how are they in Lagos, Mumbai, Mexico City, and the favelas?

  • Slipstream

    Woops, maybe I spoke too soon. Saunders made the point that rural to urban migration and the changing of agriculture from subsistence farming to large-scale food production results in population decreases, not increases. Let’s hope that’s right!

  • Slipstream

    But I think he also assumes that every country will be able to follow the same path that the USA has, and I’m not at all sure that will be possible.

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  • Xvesdkeoqlorr

    This means when you’re in action you get warm. So you should dress yourself appropriately in your ‘action suit’. An action suit is usually a thermal baselayer Birthstone Charms, a fleece type midlayer and a shell on top. Thin and not too bulky to climb in, but not all that warm either.

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