Cities are often the main hubs or portals for migration. They are the places where people leave from, and where they first arrive at, after their migration journey, either to settle or to move on. They are also the places where diversities and mobilities become the most manifest. Built into the cross-roads of ancient trade routes, cities have been the centres for encounters between many cultures since ancient times. In the past, cities attracted internal migrants from rural areas, while nowadays, many cities have been shaped by a long history of international migration. For instance, the development of cities such as New York or London cannot be understood without taking into account their long migration histories. Indeed, in developing countries like Russia, China, South Africa, and Nigeria, urbanisation is still ongoing; both internal rural-urban or periphery-centre migrants, together with international migrants, are attracted to capital city urban centres, and this magnetism in turn shapes diversity landscapes.

It is important to consider that migration is not only pertinent to our understanding of ‘global cities’ such as New York and London, but that all cities have been shaped by migration in one way or another. However, as we will discuss in this chapter, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to understanding cities of migration. Cities of migration vary both on a time dimension as well as on a geographical dimension; cities in different geographical regions, but also in different periods, may be involved in very different migration pathways and display very different kinds of migration-related diversities. For example, some cities that were once important points of departure, such as the European port cities of Hamburg and Rotterdam, later became some of Europe’s most important points of arrival. Another example, the city of Davao in the south of the Philippines, used to attract a lot of Japanese migrants at the beginning of the twentieth century. However, in the 1970s, it turned into an emigration hub for Filipino labour migrants as the government initiated labour export policies. Moreover, the large urban centres of China—Beijing and Shanghai—have evolved over recent decades from being destinations of internal migration to being international centres of business, attracting expats and migrants from all over the world.

Some cities have now developed into truly super-diverse urban settings, such as New York City, where one can come across people from almost any country across the globe. Others have developed into cities with one or several large and distinct migrant communities, with Berlin, for instance, being home to very significant Turkish, Russian, Former-Yugoslav, and Syrian communities.

This chapter takes stock of the literature on cities of migration. With its pluralist approach to the topic, we aim to help the reader appreciate the diversity of perspectives offered in the literature. We hope to show that it is precisely because there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ when it comes to understanding cities of migration, that such a pluralist perspective is required to fully grasp the diversity of cities of migration.

1 The ‘Local Turn’ in Migration Studies

The development of migration studies was originally characterised by a strong focus on countries rather than cities. Various scholars have argued that a ‘national container view’ has obstructed a good understanding of the ‘diversity of diversities’ to be found within and beyond nation-states. For instance, Bertossi (2011) argues that the focus on nation-states has led to a reification of so-called “national models of integration”. Similarly, Favell (2003) speaks of “integrationism” as connected to nation-state views, and Wimmer and Glick-Schiller (2003) even refer to “methodological nationalism” by scholars who inadvertently reproduce the idea of national models of integration.

The preceding chapter by Pries shows how this national container view fails to capture social dynamics beyond the nation-state, such as transnationalism. In this chapter, we will argue that this has also failed to capture the more local dynamics of mobilities and diversities. In this context, Zapata-Barrero et al. (2017) call for a ‘local turn’ in migration studies, so as to come to a more systematic understanding of the diversity of mobilities and diversities in a variety of urban settings. This involves, for instance, more systematic comparative research to show how mobilities and diversities take shape in different urban settings, and to explore the relation between local and national (and transnational) approaches to migration and diversities. Indeed, the literature of migration studies shows a remarkable increase in attention to the local level. Between 1975 and 2018, the global Migration Research Hub shows that the annual number of publications on urban level has grown by 28 times, while the field of migration studies as a whole has grown by 8 times (Fig. 16.1).

Fig. 16.1
A line graph for the total number of items in M R H focusing on urban areas. The line peaks in 2018 at around 800.

Total number of items in the Migration Research Hub focusing on urban areas or ‘cities’, 1970–2020

Source: Own calculations based on Taxonomy > Geographies > Scope > Urban collected on 15/01/21, incl. Journal articles, books, book chapters and PhD dissertations

The growing number of studies examining migration and diversity on the urban level has been characterised by a clear geographical bias. Over 80% of the studies concern North American and European cities. Especially well-studied cities are those of New York, London, Los Angeles, Toronto, Chicago, Amsterdam, Sydney, Antwerp, Berlin, and Vancouver. In addition, the focus of studies on North America and Europe has primarily been on global cities and much less attention has been devoted to other types of cities, such as smaller and medium-sized cities (Table 16.1).

Table 16.1 Distribution of geographical focus of research on cities of migration

2 The Diversity of Cities of Migration

The local turn in migration studies has contributed to a wider appreciation of the diversity of cities of migration. It has acknowledged that the dynamics of cities of migration cannot simply be understood with reference to the broader so-called national models of integration in which a city is situated. At first, this became manifest in particular for so-called “global cities” (Sassen, 2001) such as New York and London. For these cities, migration was inherently connected to their prominent position in global economic and political interactions.

In his influential book Arrival City, Doug Saunders (2011) shows that in the context of globalisation, more and more cities have become cities of migration of global importance. This also includes cities like Warsaw, Istanbul, Toronto, Nairobi, or Shenzhen. He describes them as “arrival cities” because these cities have been shaped by the arrival of large numbers of migrants drawn to the economic opportunities offered by these cities, but also facing challenges of inequality, informal economies, and discrimination.

Moreover, in the context of the local turn in migration studies, there has been a burgeoning of studies since the 2000s that surfaced a wide variety in cities of migration. This has turned attention to cities of different sizes and also to cities with different diversity configurations (Flamant et al., 2020; Lacroix & Desille, 2019; Pisarevskaya et al., 2021). This has revealed a diversity of cities of migration beyond what can be captured by a concept like ‘global cities’ or ‘arrival cities.’ In this context, we will discuss two efforts to come to a more systematic comparison of different types of cities of migration.

2.1 Comparative Theory of Locality

One of the most influential attempts to conceptualise the diversity of urban settings and their entanglements in migratory processes is the “comparative theory of locality” proposed by Glick-Schiller and Çağlar (2009). They propose that all cities internationally could be compared by the scale of their prominence in the global post-industrial economic, political, and cultural structures, and their position determines the integration pathways available for migrants in those cities. They developed a four-scale hierarchy of the cities: Top-scale, Up-scale, Low-scale, and Down-scale cities.Top-scale cities hold a powerful stance in global economic, political, and cultural exchanges. These cities share many characteristics with the so-called “global cities” (Sassen, 2001) as they are also characterised by highly diverse populations that are both attracted to and shape social, economic, and cultural landscapes of those global centres. At the opposing end of the scale, the down-scale cities are supposed to exhibit a lack of economic, political, and cultural significance in a globalised world. The authors refer to them as often old industrial cities at the ‘losing’ end of globalisation. The other two scales have a more ambiguous profile, with the low-scale cities relying on a “single type of industry” and thus contributing to the global economy in a very a narrow sense of the term. In up-scale cities the process of neo-liberal restructuring has taken on a rapid pace, mainly due to new-economy industries and services. Nevertheless, their prominence has not (yet) achieved that of the top-scale cities.

In terms of integration pathways, top-scale cities offer a wide range of opportunities for migrant incorporation due to the prominence of both ethnic/diasporic institutions, tourist-oriented economies, and cosmopolitan global talent attraction. Up-scale cities offer multiple pathways for migrant incorporation, and these ethnic-based organisations (ethnic pathways) contribute to making these cities economically powerful and globally embedded. Low-scale cities do not have the capacity to invest in migrant transnational organisations like an up-scale city, and hence offer weak and selective opportunities for migrant incorporation. Down-scale cities are only able to offer weak opportunity structures for newcomers, such as ethnic small business niches (Glick-Schiller & Çağlar, 2009).

A city’s positioning or ‘scale’ is not set once and for all. With time and under the influence of political and economic transformations in the world, cities could rise and fall along this continuum of positions, and consequently integration opportunities for migrants can change with time. This is the case for instance with various post-industrial cities all over the world that are going through rapid social and economic transitions, such as Hamburg and Rotterdam (Fig. 16.2).

Fig. 16.2
A graphic illustration of integration pathways versus post-industrial global positioning. Diagonally mentioned are down-scale, low-scale, up-scale, and top-scale cities.

“Comparative theory of locality”—visual representation

2.2 A Differentiated Understanding of Urban Diversities

Besides looking at the macro-structures in which cities are embedded, it is also important to distinguish cities by their varieties of migration-related diversity configurations. Whereas the comparative theory of locality looks primarily at socio-economic structures, a broader view on the diversity of urban diversities also means looking at the demographic and social characteristics of their residents, as well as their spatial distribution and interaction in the city. Diversity of origins, religions, cultures, residential and social segregation, inequalities, and mobility of population are intertwined to form unique social landscapes in cities. Based on a broader review of the literature on urban diversities, we suggest a more differentiated approach to urban diversities based on two dimensions: the level of diversity and the level of segregation.

This first dimension covers the very basic question of how diverse a city is. On the one hand, this has to do with the volume of the groups that are considered migrant in a particular urban setting, as well as the variety among them in terms of countries of origin, languages, religions, migration channels and immigration statuses, gender, age, space/place, and transnational practices (per Vertovec, 2007; Meissner & Vertovec, 2015; Grzymala-Kazlowska & Phillimore, 2018). Cities with fewer migrants are referred to as non-diverse, or ethnically homogeneous (Leitner, 2012; Glorius & Domínguez-Mujica, 2017), whilst those localities where the migrant population and the ‘second-generation’ outnumber the non-migrants are conceptualised by Crul (2016) as “majority-minority cities”. On the one hand, it is important to pay attention to both the volume and variety of migration-related diversity because they are linked with the residents’ feeling of belonging (Wise, 2011); can trigger change in attitudes of ‘locals’ towards migrants (Weber, 2015); can influence the dynamics of conviviality in urban settings (Wessendorf, 2016); can lead to more innovativeness and development of creative economic sectors (Hahn, 2010); and result in cultural pluralism (Salzbrunn, 2014). On the other hand, it is also important to focus on “fading majority cultures” (van Oudenhoven & Ward, 2013).

Previous literature studying the volume and variety of migration-related diversity in cities has largely focused on ethnic, racial, and country-of-origin diversity, and to a lesser extent on cultural diversity, diversity of identity and belonging among migrants. Other aspects like diversity of political participation among migrants, diversity of linguistic background, gender differences, intersectionality, religion, legal status, human capital, and diversity of migrant generations are considered in local-level studies less often. Our systematic review of over 500 studies on this topic revealed that most of the literature focuses on only one category of diversity. However, all these aspects are undeniably intertwined, and we need to know more about the overlapping aspects of diversities in modern cities in order to fully grasp their scale and implications for urban life.

The second dimension relates to how divided a city is. This involves a more relational dimension of urban diversities; how migrants and non-migrants relate to each other. This includes, on the one hand, considering various aspects of inequality between migrants and non-migrants, and, on the other, looking at social segregation—the existence or the lack of social relations between migrants and non-migrants in the city. Inequality and social segregation go hand in hand because various disparities lead to a lack of social interaction between groups, and the lack of social links aggravate these disparities by preventing social mobility, thus reinforcing inequality. Inequality is often discussed in terms of structural discrimination against migrants with a focus on their weaker position in housing and labour markets, and access to healthcare and social assistance. Considering inequalities between migrants and locals in terms of income, social class, and human and cultural capital is also widely discussed in urban-level studies. Besides highlighting the social and institutional power of the majority over migrant minorities as a whole, scholars also examine aggravated inequality of specific racial or ethnic groups, i.e. Latino and Asian migrants in Los Angeles (Cort, 2011), or Moroccan, Surinamese, and Turkish versus Dutch in Amsterdam (van der Greft & Droogleever Fortuijn, 2017).

In terms of social segregation, previous literature mainly analyses the extent and the characteristics of interactions in public spaces such as street markets, squares, and shopping streets; intercultural, interethnic friendships and marriages (i.e. Barwick, 2017; Utomo, 2020), as well as conflicts, social distancing of city residents based on religious beliefs and the use of different languages (Vandenbroucke, 2015). The second most-studied aspect of social segregation concerns migrant and non-migrant interaction at workplaces (see Jaskulowski, 2018), as well as on the concentration of migrants and non-migrants in distinct types of occupation. It is known from previous studies on labour market inequality that migrants are overrepresented in “3D-jobs”—jobs that are dirty, demeaning (degrading), and dangerous (Bonatti & Gille, 2019)—while white-collar, qualified positions are usually occupied by non-migrants. This specific example illustrates the link between inequality and social segregation stated earlier. The inequality that is reflected in the lower positioning of migrants in labour market structures and precludes their interaction with non-migrants in the workspaces, thus leading to social segregation.

Social segregation is obviously also related to residential segregation, that is, the concentration or distribution of migrant groups in the cities when compared to residential patterns of non-migrants. The cities are called segregated when one or several areas are inhabited by a significantly larger share of migrant residents, while other areas are largely populated by non-migrants. Those urban areas where migrants and non-migrants are intermixed across city neighbourhoods and streets are considered to be not segregated. The actual level of segregation can be measured by an index of dissimilarity or another comparable index.

Often ethnically or racially segregated areas are socially deprived and are referred to as ghettoes (Grzegorczyk, 2012), whereas gated communities are the segregated districts of wealthy (migrant) residents (Borsdorf et al., 2016). The pattern of spatial distribution of migrants across the cities could be a result of long-term, structural dynamics of urban settlement (Bolt et al., 2010), such as availability of housing and its cost, and could point at existing class inequalities (Ferreira, 2010; Massey & Denton, 2018). Besides, the municipal regulations related to gentrification and social-mixing, migrant integration policies may also shape the pattern of migrant settlement in cities (van Gent & Musterd, 2016). Residential segregation and economic inequality often go hand in hand. When the migrant population in a city is largely economically disadvantaged and ethnically or racially discriminated, they have limited options of renting accommodation, usually in the less popular neighbourhoods in the lower and more affordable end of the housing market (Table 16.2).

Table 16.2 Types of cities of migration

The combination of the two dimensions leads to a space in which various cities can be positioned. For instance, many of the well-studied global cities such as New York, London, or Hong Kong can obviously be positioned in the category of diverse and mixed cities, or ‘super-diverse cities.’ However, that does not apply to all diverse cities. There are also many very diverse cities with relatively high levels of segregation. For instance, it is well known from studies of post-industrial cities and port cities that the industrial background of these cities often leaves a legacy of a segregated housing market with a clear division between working class and middle-class neighborhoods. Such structural features shape residential patterns as migrants often tend to find more affordable housing in such working-class neighborhoods to begin with.

Cities with low levels of diversity can also be more or less segregated. These are cities where migration is a rather recent phenomenon (for instance, the arrival of refugees) and where there are not many diverse origins or types of migrants; migrants are usually concentrated in one or two neighbourhoods where the housing is cheap, and where their co-ethnics live, or where the reception facilities are placed. For instance, Cosenza in the south of Italy is a transit city, where migrants arrive, stay for a time, and move on to a more economically attractive place in the north of the county or abroad. On the other hand, there are also cities where diversity is low but spread across the city. Those are cities that are also not very economically strong and face an exodus of local young people, although these cities could still be attractive for international students and immigrants working in the service sectors: tourism, domestic care, or catering. Relatively cheap housing available in many parts of these urban centres, and less pronounced inequalities with local population, make such cities less segregated. Dessau-Rosslau and Viareggio could be mentioned here as examples.

Furthermore, it is important to be aware that the positioning of cities in this space is by no means fixed. Cities can travel between these different types. For instance, many post-industrial cities that have been mixed cities with low diversity before industrialisation, have become divided cities with low diversity during industrialisation, and then moved to becoming diverse but divided cities when labour migrants came in, and are now approaching the type of super-diverse cities as segregation fades over time.

3 Urban Governance and Multi-level Governance

In this section we turn more specifically to governance issues in relation to cities of migration. A key question is whether cities have something in common when it comes to the governance of migration-related diversities: is there a local dimension of integration? Another question is in regard to how urban governance relates to and connects with other levels.

3.1 A Local Dimension of Integration?

Especially in the 2000s, there was a surge of studies that focused on “the local dimension” of migrant integration (Caponio & Borkert, 2010). Building on a rapidly increasing number of case studies of cities of migration, this raised the question of to what extent there was a local dimension or even a ‘local model’ of migrant integration.

Several theses have been raised in support of the idea of a local model of integration. Vermeulen & Stotijn (2010) and Schiller (2015) argue that local governments tend to follow a more pragmatic approach to migrant integration. For instance, because of their close proximity to the local situation, cities are more pragmatic in finding tailor-made solutions in collaboration with local groups and communities, and in providing opportunities for inclusion in local politics. Schiller (2015) refers in this regard to “pragmatic accommodationism”. Zapata-Barrero (2015) argues that local governments tend to be more inclined toward interculturalist approaches. Interculturalism focuses on the importance of cross-community interactions and the development of new local identities, which can offer new opportunities beyond those of the often more rigid national conceptions of national identity and citizenship.

Others have argued that at the local level there is also a wide variety of configurations of diversity that can be found, as well as a broad variety of approaches. For instance, Ambrosini and Boccagni (2015) and Mahnig (2004) show that migrant integration can also be highly contested in the arena of local politics, contributing to variation reflecting different local political preferences.

For some reason, there has been surprisingly little systematic comparative research on urban approaches to migration-related diversities. As the referenced studies above suggest, there has been evidence in favour of convergences as well as divergences between cities from various projects. In our recent study on types of cities of migration (Pisarevskaya et al., 2021), we tried to examine policy variation based on local variation in diversity configurations.

This research shows two important things. First, that indeed there is significant variation in how migration-related diversities manifest themselves across different cities. Some cities will be ‘old’ migration cities with relatively well-settled communities, whereas for others migration may be a more recent phenomenon. Also, some cities have several major minority populations that are very recognisable in urban life, whereas for others there is more of a reality of super-diversity with many groups from many different backgrounds.

However, a second point that our research has shown is that although such objectifiable differences in diversity configurations are important to governance approaches, they nevertheless do not fully account for differences in governance approaches. Urban policies are driven by many more factors than the objective configuration of diversity in the city, such as urban discourses and political views on diversity, local institutional settings etc. For instance, even if a city can be described as ‘super-diverse’, this does not necessarily mean that the city will adopt policies to accommodate super-diversity; in fact, various post-industrial cities in Europe have been revealed as struggling with the reality of super-diversity.

3.2 Multi-level Governance

The question of local variation in the urban governance of migration-related diversity relates to another key question of how cities relate to other levels of governance, such as regional, national, and supranational levels; how cities approach migration-related diversities is situated in broader policy contexts. For instance, cities often do not have much influence on migration policies that are mostly situated at the national level. Also, how cities approach diversity is situated in a broader setting of how, for instance, countries perceive national identity and provide access to citizenship and to social and political rights.

The concept of ‘multi-level governance’ refers to how relations between levels of governance are coordinated. This can come in many different forms. The traditional centralist view on policies assumes a top-down coordination of relations. This is the model that comes with the perspective of national models of integration which require implementation at the city level. It also comes with most immigration policies that tend to be defined at the national level and require local implementation. For instance, although many cities at the US-Mexican border may profit from migration, they are also required to implement national policy decisions such as the building of the wall at the border. Another form of vertical interaction follows a bottom-up logic. This is the form that comes with the view that there is a local model in the governance of migration-related diversity and that this local model should determine national policies rather than the other way around. This is manifested in cases where cities lead the way in national policy developments, such as, for instance, in the Netherlands where the city of Rotterdam was the first to develop a coordinated approach to the integration of migrants at the end of the 1970s, well ahead of national policy developments that built on Rotterdam experiences in the early 1980s.

In its ideal-typical form, multi-level governance requires coordination across various levels without any of these levels being dominant over the others. That can take the form of joint policy formulation involving actors from across different levels. For instance, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel led the development of a joint integration approach in Germany by actively engaging with local administrations and NGOs from across the country. Also, in Europe, various organisations exist to connect cities not only amongst each other but also with the EU. A clear example of that is the EUROCITIES network.

Finally, it is also possible that policies on migration-related diversities are made at various levels but without any form of ‘multi-level governance’. In this case, one could speak of a decoupling of policy levels. Often this leads to a simple discrepancy of policies between various levels, but it can also lead to policy conflict. An example of this is the American network of welcoming cities that choose to actively discard national policies and provide a more open and sheltering approach to refugees. Similarly, in the Netherlands, local governments such as Amsterdam decided not to implement a national burqa ban, and thus defied national policies and chose decoupling instead (Fig. 16.3).

Fig. 16.3
An illustration of a matrix for the divergence and convergence of national-local and local policy frames. The perspectives are centralist type, multi-level governance, decoupling, and localist type.

Theoretical perspectives on multi-level governance relations

4 Conclusions

This chapter offers a differentiated approach to cities of migration. It strives to help understand the diversity of urban diversities. It outlines how the local turn in migration studies has successfully navigated its attention away from the focus on national models and towards a growing focus on local diversities and mobilities. Whereas studies still tend to focus on specific types of cities of migration (global cities) in specific parts of the world, our chapter calls for a broader understanding of how migration-related diversities can take different shapes in different cities. We believe that this broader view will also enrich our understanding of how and why the governance of migration-related diversities take shape differently in different settings, and what implications this has on its relations with and to other levels of governance.