In 2015, the UN counted 244 million people living outside of their country of origin. That is 3 percent of the world’s population on the move; seeking respite from war and oppression, economic opportunity or ground that is resilient to the threats of climate change. Whether originally from a flooded village or a war-torn city, most of these migrants will eventually find themselves part of an urban community. Next week, thousands of architects, urban planners, advocates and developers will convene in Prague for reSITE 2016: Cities in Migration to learn what that means for cities. In an interview, Martin Barry, a landscape architect and the founder of reSITE, the Prague-based NGO that runs the annual, five-year-old conference on more livable cities, shares some of the ideas at the core of this year’s gathering.
Cities in migration is the main theme of this year’s conference. How can migration shape cities?
All of us have migrated in some way. My family is from Ireland, moved to NYC, and now I’ve come to Prague. More critically, all cities experience migration. Period. Whether it is intercultural, transnational, intergenerational or interurban, the impact is ultimately spatial. As we put together the program, we focused on the current immigration crisis in Europe and the West that has revealed an unexpected experiential gulf between Western countries in Europe and new EU member states. I really do believe that this is one of the major challenges of our generation. And, we have to find design solutions to meet it. Design for good. Social innovation, whatever you want to call it.
Everyone is talking about migration at the borders. Virtually no one talks about the challenges cities face, and by the way – the opportunities cities have by accepting new residents. We firmly believe that migration is a natural human condition. In that context, we need to focus on how to capitalize on opportunities presented by migration and design to meet the needs of diverse citizens in a dynamic city.
What are the opportunities that come with urban migration?
Cities are growing at the rate of at least 1 million per week; by the year 2050, more than 70 percent of the global population will be urban dwellers. All cities are experiencing migration in many forms: intercultural, transnational, intergenerational and interurban. Ultimately, the impact is spatial. With the topic of migration at the top of the national and urban agendas of governments around the world, there is no better time to address the spatial impacts of migration.
Most are moving to cities to improve the quality of our lives and to become part of the global economy. Housing will increasingly become a major challenge to meet. In the global economy of cities in the developed world, we have seen a drastic escalation of the separation between rich and poor. As argued by economists like Paul Krugman and Thomas Piketty, the so-called 1 percent has accumulated the vast majority of economic gains over the last 10 years. This has contributed to an affordability crisis in some major cities like New York, London, Paris, or Tokyo. After nearly 40 years of an urban resurgence and 12 years of rapid urban development, New York is finally taking steps to make the city more affordable again. The current mayor, Bill DeBlasio has tasked the Planning Commissioner, Carl Weisbrod, to plan and build 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade. This is an unprecedented and unbelievable number. However, there are clever solutions. Mimi Hoang, the architect leading nArchitects, will present her micro-unit housing schemes that have recently been built in NYC.
How can design, architecture and of course the government adapt to meet the challenges?
Innovative design thinking like this can help alleviate the major issues we will face. Governments need to be nimble and adaptable in the face a fast-changing economy. They need to find new, alternative methods to finance projects and they need to ensure that they are consulting with the public prior to approval and building.
How do we avoid isolating newcomers in segregating neighborhoods?
Transit oriented development (TOD) and inclusionary housing is the best way to do this. What I mean by TOD is we should be finding and developing plots that are close to public transit, ideally near the city center and building dense mixed-use communities around the transit hubs. Inclusionary housing refers to a policy to build affordable and social housing alongside market rate housing. In cities like NYC, which are driven by the market, 30 to 35 percent of all new buildings need to include so-called “affordable housing” so that residents in lower income brackets share the city with those in higher income brackets. Vienna, where nearly 75 percent of the flats are publicly owned, has a very progressive and successful policy for affordable inclusionary housing, which could be studied as well. This is truly the only way to integrate those with different incomes or nationalities.
The current immigration crisis in Europe has revealed an edge between the Western and Eastern countries. What solutions can help us solve this problem?
It has become incredibly easy for those with means to move between cities, and to do it often. Everyone calls it a “crisis” but we refer to it as a challenge and an opportunity. Let’s face it, without immigrants and new residents, European cities will fail.
A version of this interview originally appeared on Epiteszforum.
Tom was president, CEO and publisher of Next City from May 2015 until April 2018. Before joining Next City, he directed the Center for Resilient Design at the College of Architecture and Design at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Prior to that, he ran the Regional Plan Association’s New Jersey office, and served as a senior adviser on land use for two New Jersey governors. Tom is a licensed professional planner, and a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, as well as an adjunct professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, where he teaches land use planning and infrastructure planning.