On September 12, Penn IUR hosted a book talk for the latest release in The City in the 21st Century (C21) book series, Immigration and Metropolitan Revitalization in the United States (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017),edited by Penn IUR Faculty Fellow Domenic Vitiello, Associate Professor of City and Regional Planning, School of Design and Thomas J. Sugrue, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and History at New York University, with contributions by leading urban social historians. This volume documents immigrant-led metropolitan revitalization and explores recent history by looking at the complicated politics of revitalization and immigration in cities and regions around the world.
In his talk, Vitiello outlined the relationships that exist between, and the effects of, immigration and metropolitan revitalization. He explained that this movement, while only recently reinstated, reiterates the influence of immigrants on our social and physical environments and their contribution within communities, through economic labor markets and cultural identification. Open immigration began after the passing of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 and up until recently has contributed to the crises of declining American cities. This narrative has since then been flipped to create what Vitiello captions as a “New Urban Imagery,” where immigrants are now internalized as contributors to the revitalization of our cities.
Throughout the event, Vitiello led conversation around the effect on immigrants as they assimilate to new environments. He argued that entrepreneurship and self-employment come out of necessity and survival. Qualified middle-class, college educated migrants find it difficult to secure work in their initial professions because their credentials do not always transfer, leaving immigrants with limited options, usually for low-paid, degrading and unappealing labor or self-employment. Vitiello emphasized the need for local communities to create more resources and systems to accommodate new immigrants in order to retain upward mobility.
Additionally, there are social pressures on immigrant communities to prove that they are “productive members of society,” says Vitiello, and measuring success through revitalization is tricky. He acknowledges that most cities have adopted the mindset that immigrants act as main boosters for the revitalization of cities. Using this information, cities are now developing strategies in order to attract and sometimes retain immigrants in their communities. This statement led to a discussion about the dangers of “using” immigrants for metropolitan revitalization, and whether or not these working class immigrant communities are reaping the benefits that has prospered from their contributions. Vitiello spoke of the difficulties of documenting the return in immigrant investment. He referred to the non-economic ways immigrants are effecting change and the insignificant amount of current research on the strategies that cities have taken on immigrant communities.