| Workshop

Migration into Cities: Patterns, Processes and Regulation

Workshop organized by the Irmgard Coninx Foundation and the Institute for Migration Research and Intercultural Studies (OsnabrĂĽck University) held at the Social Science Research Center Berlin on 25-27 October 2007.

The workshop intended to explore pertinent migratory patterns and processes into urban agglomerations and examined ways how the responsible administrations attempt to cope with migration-related social consequences and problems. The focus was placed less on the reasons of migration, the motives of migrants and on the concrete living conditions upon arrival, but more on the dynamics and characteristics of migration processes themselves and the options and means to regulate or govern these processes.

As the workshop’s interest primarily laid on internal rural-urban migration and regional systems of governance, issues concerning external border and immigration control as well as refugee and asylum policy did not stand at the centre of the papers of the participants. Instead, internal means of regulation such as registration systems, spatial planning and land use upon arrival, and the distribution and/or sanctioning of public resources and benefits were the themes considered at the workshop. Of interest were also the ways how individual migrants, families or clans cope with the migratory condition and how families and clans are restructured as an effect of migration. Do individuals/ families comply or circumvent relevant provisions and/or administrative regimes? How are formal and informal social processes related and what kind of social structures do emerge as intended or unintended effects from the interplay between regulatory interventions and the migration related socio-economic dynamics?

The subject of the workshop was topical given that rapid urbanization processes all over the world belong to the big challenges for humanity in the 21rst Century. While only a century ago 90 % of all human beings lived in villages and fields, at present about half of the world population lives in urban regions. According to some estimates, this number will rise up to more than 60 % by 2030. This process is among others the outcome of massive migration flows from rural areas into cities and urban agglomerations. These population movements entail both: potentials and serious risks for the societies and individuals involved.

On the one hand, the constant influx of a “cheap” workforce into the skilled and developed urban labour market may create high economic dynamics and growth, in particular if fostered by international capital flows. The accumulation of national potentials and their articulation with the global economy allow for investments in the urban and national infrastructure as public goods. Rural urban migration may also be rather beneficial for individual migrants and their families in economic and/or social terms.

On the other hand, the intensive movement of large populations into cities causes serious strains on these cities and the surrounding areas. High population density and expanding urban sprawls often cause an excessive over-consumption of natural resources, serious environmental pollution and an alarming use of land. All of these factors reduce significantly the quality of urban life and increase the susceptibility to environmental disasters. Extreme population densities on limited territories and a lack of space may also provide the ground for increasing social tensions and violence.

The United Nations estimate that up to a third of all urban households live below the poverty line. Moreover, it is estimated that more than half of the population of the so-called mega-cities live in slums lacking adequate housing, clean water and basic sanitary facilities. The spread of slums is often a consequence of the marginalization of migrant workers who cannot afford a humane and dignified life in the harsh economic realities of the urban environment.

The responsible local and regional authorities often prove to be incapable and/ or incompetent to manage and regularise the migration and agglomeration processes accompanying the growth of urban regions. Spatial planning, the regulation of land usage and the provision of basic services without discrimination frequently amount to un-accomplishable challenges for local administrations. In many cases the rapid spread of illegal housing, untenable living conditions and corruption are tolerated and/or a blind eye is turned towards the bypassing of applicable regulations. 

The workshop comprised 15 participants who present a paper addressing one or more aspects of the above-mentioned issues. A lecture given by Peter Taylor (Professor of Geography, Loughborough University) on "World City Network: Access or Exclusion?" and corresponding statements by Michael Bommes (Professor of Sociology, OsnabrĂĽck University) and Bettina Gransow (Professor of Anthropology, Free University Berlin) accompanied the workshop.