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Diversifying Cities: Migration, Habitation, and Community Development

04/04/2008 3:15 PM Broad Institute
Xavier de Souza Briggs, Associate Professor of Sociology and Urban Planning, MIT ; Jessica Andors, MCP '99, Deputy Director, Lawrence CommunityWorks; Abel Valenzuela, Jr., MCP '88, PhD '95, Professor, Director, Center for the Study of Urban Poverty, University of California, Los Angeles; Anna Hardman, MCP '71, PhD '88, Lecturer, Department of Economics, Tufts University

Description: The largest scale migration in human history, says Xavier de Souza Briggs, is potentially the most transformative as well. It's time to consider new frames for issues, he says -- not rehash "civic life as a competition over power" but perhaps see this as a moment when we can realize, finally, the ancient idea of a citizenship. For planners, this may mean learning "how to create a welcoming place, a sense of what's possible."

At least 3% of the world's population today live in places where they were not born, says Anna Hardman, and this number is rapidly rising. And yet "immigrants are invisible in dramatic and not so dramatic ways." When riots exploded outside Paris two years ago, "policy makers had no tools to grasp what was happening" because they hadn't collected information on immigrants in those neighborhoods. "They thought it would destroy the perception that everyone with a French passport is a Frenchman." But officials and planners must take greater heed of immigrants, given their growing economic impact in both their new homes and their countries of origin.

Focusing just on integration in migrant cities misses two other vital processes, says Abel Valenzuela, Jr. While migrants often lead precarious lives, frequently under the radar of the authorities, they nevertheless are powerfully transforming the neighborhoods into which they move. In South Central LA for example, Latino immigrants have recently surpassed African"Americans, bringing "new cultural mores, economic opportunitiesand lots of great food." Soccer lovers take over parks, and street life feels noticeably different, with vendors, art, employment markets and bazaars. Some communities welcome these changes; others attempt to curtail new activities, frowning on colorful public events and fearing negative impacts on labor markets. Valenzuela sees immigrant flow on the whole as "an economic and cultural stimulus" that may lead to revitalized civic institutions. He promotes policy reform, a path toward normalization for undocumented immigrants and defusing racial tensions that immigrant legislation provokes. He also suggests planners look beyond big gateway cities to rural communities and suburbs, to which immigrants are also bound.

Although Lawrence CommunityWorks has built well"designed housing and launched a slew of ventures in this old Massachusetts mill town, Jessica Andors takes greatest pride in her group's network organizing approach. She notes that many "community development interventions are to a large extent supply side--designing the best housing, offering programs to meet local needs." CommunityWorks instead focuses on investing in "informed, educated demand, with people voicing and acting collectively toward what they want." This ultimately gives them an opportunity to shape the political environment that doles out important resources. CommunityWorks helps families save money, buy homes, invest in higher education; it builds mutual support networks; and engages in collective action to "transform the landscape of the city, whether economic, civic, or physical."

About the Speaker(s): Xavier de Souza Briggs has a national reputation for his work on social capital and the 'geography of opportunity' _ a policy and research field concerned with the consequences of segregation by race and income. He founded and directs the Community Problem"Solving Project @ MIT, a free learning space for people and institutions worldwide where they can access useful tools for problem"solving in the field. He has written The Geography of Opportunity: Race and Housing Choice in Metropolitan America (Brookings Institution Press, 2005).

Prior to MIT, he taught on the public policy faculty at Harvard where he received the Kennedy School's award for excellence in teaching in 2002. A senior policy official in the Clinton Administration from 1998 to 1999, Briggs was Acting Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. He has been an adviser to The World Bank, The Rockefeller Foundation and other groups.

Briggs received a B.S. from Stanford University's School of Engineering, an M.P.A. from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and a Ph.D. in Sociology and Education from Columbia's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Host(s): School of Architecture and Planning, Department of Urban Studies and Planning

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MIT World — special events and lectures

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