Arrival City sheds light on migration trends

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      When Doug Saunders arrives in a new city, he likes to take a subway or tram to the end of the line or into areas of the urban core generally avoided by upper-middle-class white people. That’s where he sometimes finds chaotic, often multicultural zones filled with immigrants who have moved to the city to escape rural life in their home countries. Hence the title of his recent book, Arrival City: The Final Migration and Our Next World (Knopf Canada), which focuses on one of the world’s least understood major trends: the mass movement of people from rural to lower-income urban areas.

      As the European bureau chief of the Globe and Mail, Saunders sometimes has to venture into these “arrival” cities to report on events. And there has been no shortage of news arising out of these areas. It includes the November 2005 riots on the outskirts of Paris, which Saunders attributed, in part, to poor urban planning.

      In Mumbai, slums filled with newcomers have been demolished to make room for high-rises and shopping malls. In Rio de Janeiro, authorities have ignored favelas for decades, clearing the way for drug dealers to take over.

      Despite these examples, Saunders argues that many ethnic enclaves are marvellously successful in integrating migrants into mainstream society, particularly if their design promotes the formation of small businesses and home ownership. He cites Latin American immigrants’ role in the amazing turnaround of the crime-ridden Los Angeles neighbourhood of South Central as one of many examples.

      “The crucial paradox of the arrival city is that its occupants all want to stop living in an arrival city—either by making money and moving their families and village networks out or by turning the neighbourhood itself into something better,” Saunders writes.

      He also cites sociological research suggesting that segregation within these ethnic areas may actually deter violent extremism, because tightly knit social networks discourage this behaviour. “In fact,” he notes, “it seems to be universally true, in both the Middle East and the West, that rural-arrival enclaves are not the main places where radical Islam arises.”

      Here in the Lower Mainland, it’s not difficult to figure out where arrival cities are located. All you have to do is check out the 2006 census information for each federal riding in the Lower Mainland.

      In Newton–North Delta, for instance, 42 percent of the residents in 2006 were immigrants, and 49 percent were identified as visible minorities. Of those “minorities”, 87 percent were of South Asian descent.

      This makes this area south of the Fraser River an “arrival city” for South Asian immigrants, most of whom trace their roots back to the largely rural Indian state of Punjab.

      Newton–North Delta is enjoying a renewal, thanks to many of these immigrants. Scott Road has come alive in recent years with new, immigrant-owned businesses. According to the 2006 census, there are almost three times as many owned dwellings as rented units in the riding.

      The federal riding of Vancouver Kingsway also has many features of the more well-established arrival cities highlighted in Saunders’s book. It has a higher share of immigrants—54 percent—than Newton–North Delta. There’s a thriving Vietnamese community along Kingsway, many of whose members own shops and restaurants. Filipino businesses abound along Fraser Street. And roughly 40 percent of the residents self-identify as being of Chinese descent, though some undoubtedly moved from Vietnam and others were born in Canada.

      Only 35 percent of Vancouver Kingsway residents spoke English as their mother tongue in 2006, according to the census. Like many successful arrival cities, the riding includes opportunities for businesses to incubate at street level, where entrepreneurs can interact with the community.

      A newer arrival city has developed in South Burnaby, which is home to numerous refugees. Saunders points out that these areas are in constant transition. This dynamic is often misunderstood by government officials, who fail to make proper targeted investments to help these areas succeed in bridging immigrants’ transition from a rural homeland to a western, urbanized environment.

      Saunders has not written a book about real estate, per se. But Arrival City will enlighten anyone interested in learning why property values rise in some immigrant-dominated neighbourhoods.