September 21, 2010
For the first time in history, there are now more people living in cities than in rural areas. The world is currently gaining five million new city-dwellers each month, expanding its urban population by 3.1 billion in the next four decades. More than ever before, people in villages and rural areas are packing up and moving to the metropolis; there they create “arrival cities,” clusters of villagers in marginal districts, where residents struggle to establish a new life and integrate themselves socially and economically. Their goal is to build communities, start to save and invest, and often to move out, creating new room for the next wave of migrants.
In Arrival City, Doug Saunders argues that this migration is one of the most important trends of the twenty-first century. It’s a story unfolding before our eyes in cities around the world, from Istanbul to Toronto, from Warsaw to Mumbai, from Nairobi to Shenzhen, and it has profound implications for the success of local, national and international economies. Many of these arrival cities and their denizens are overlooked, willfully ignored or even bulldozed. This is a profound mistake. Successful arrival cities create prosperous middle classes; failed arrival cities create poverty and social problems. Saunders shows how so many social problems have grown directly out of unsuccessful arrival cities, from Paris in 1789 when rural migrants rose up against food shortages and poverty; to Tehran in 1978, when the revolution began with non-Islamist migrants; to the suburbs of Paris and Berlin, were some disaffected migrants have led uprisings or embraced Islamic fundamentalism.
The key, Saunders argues is to see the opportunity these arrival cities present. By providing citizenship, a chance to own property, education, transportation links, and good security, cities like São Paulo in Brazil or Parla in Spaain, as well as local and national governments, have succeeded in successfully integrating their migrants. As he explores these fascinating macro trends, Saunders employs his terrific journalist’s eye for the human details. We meet families and individuals from Dhaka to Rio to suburban Maryland, whose stories give us a vivid portrait of the world. What he sees when he looks at these arrival cities isn’t a static condition that we could ignore even if we wanted to, but rather a point of interchange, an in-between place where some of the most significant and surprising changes of the twenty-first century are taking place.
Doug Saunders is the European Bureau Chief of the Globe and Mail and the author of a popular award-winning column devoted to intellectual ideas and social developments behind the news. He has won four National Newspaper Awards. He is based in London, England.