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The Globe and Mail

Doug Saunders answers questions on global migration

The Jardim Angela shantytown was once the most violent community in the world, but has gone through a transformation.

RICKEY ROGERS/Rickey Rogers/Reuters/Newscom

Arrival City, the new book by award-winning Globe and Mail journalist Doug Saunders, takes an all-encompassing look at how the global movement of populations from rural to urban areas is reshaping our world. It also makes the point that the way governments manage these transitions determines whether these people prosper and become upwardly mobile or remain mired in poverty and social problems. He also wrote an exclusive essay for the Globe and Mail's Focus section on this subject.

Doug Saunders is with The Globe and Mail's European bureau. He also writes regular news reports, columns and features on European issues and international social and political trends. He has won four National Newspaper Awards.

Doug joined us Monday for an online discussion.

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The Globe and Mail Doug Saunders will begin answering questions shortly.

Sandy It's a very interesting article ... but as a new immigrant to Canada and with a Master's degree, I see the biggest challenge for Canada is leveraging the skills of highly educated immigrants ... and I believe this is tied to Canada's slipping rankings on the productivity front ... what's your opinion on this challenge? I see a lot of awareness about this issue but not much concrete action

Doug Saunders Hi everyone. Sandy, I don't think Canada will have problems in the near future attracting highly skilled immigrants, but the fact is that we both are going to have a larger number of low-skilled, low-education immigrants, and our economy is going to need them. We shouldn't pretend that the people coming to Canada are going to be technicians and professionals, or that our economy isn't going to need other people - - so we should be prepared to have these sorts of transitional neighbourhoods througout the future.

By the way, if you'd like to see more resources on ARRIVAL CITY, visit my information site at

Guest It would be nice if the billions of rural poor became prosperous and urban, but realistically, the Earth does not have the natural resources to support this. How do you respond?

Doug Saunders Hello Guest. Actually, the opposite is true: Having a high population in rural areas is devastating, because a) it reduces food production (Canada has 2 per cent of its population in agriculture and produces more food than developing countries with hundreds of millions of people), and b) it's ecologically damaging (because dispersed urban populations use a lot more resources than concentrated urban populations) and c) most importantly, human population growth is a rural problem - - when populations urbanize, famiy sizes everywhere drop below the population-growth level. I'd say that uncontrollable population growth is the biggest resource problem, and urbanization will end that, stabilizing and dropping the world's population during this century.

Paulo With increasing frustration and distrust of immigration to Canada (Europe/ well), what is the future of Canada's extremely high immigration policies? In Europe, there is a rising right-wing political party system forming in countries such as Switzerland, Netherlands, France and Britain. The U.S. and Australia are also beginning the process of shutting their doors to rampant immigration abuses. With the landing of the Tamil boat in B.C. last month and the visceral reaction by the general Canadian public, what is the future of immigration to Canada and how will we deal with the relative social upheaval it may bring?

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a What is your take on why these people are choosing or having to immigrate to other countries? How do you feel about Canada's record on immigrants and refugees?

Doug Saunders Paulo, I think there will be anti-immigration parties and policies from time to time, especially during economically difficult periods. That's perfectly normal and understandable. But they won't do much to stop immigration, or even have much effect on its nature. That's controlled mainly by the economic demands of the host country and the political constituencies of existing migrant descendents (and in Canada, that incorporates most of the population). When there have been radical anti-immigration parties in power in the United States, Germany and France, they have not only failed to limit immigration but have generally seen it increase under their watch. And a - - people come to Canada because they've made a calculated decision and investment based on concrete employment and entrepreneurial opportunities; Canada has so far had quite a good track record, fantastic in fact, in bringing people into the economy and society, but we have to be more careful in the future as it won't be as easy. We have to be careful to distinguish immigrants from refugees, which are a tiny group and are completely removed from the larger immigration picture.

Matthew Doug, How do you see Canada faring amongst other OECD states in a global competition for immigrants? What helps set Canada apart? Is the lack of an open labour zone, akin to the EU, a competitive disadvantage for us?

Doug Saunders Matthew, we do have a problem in that we don't have citizenship bloc like the EU - - where a citizen of any one of the countries has full citizenship, residency and labour rights in the other 26... that allows a movement of labour at the speed of the economy, and quicker responses; NAFTA doesn't allow labour mobility so we have to fulfil labour demands through a very bureaucratic process that doesn't respond fast enough. It may be a good idea to "legalize" human trafficking (ie private-sector migration agents).

Rubens da Silva I´m Canadian citizen born in Brazil and by coincidence Jucileide Mauger, the principal of the Oliveira Viana school at Jardim Angela, is my sister and she´s been doing a excelent work with the local community with Father Jaime for almost 30 years. I´m so happy with her international recognition.

(Here's a link to the chapter of Doug's book where Jucileide Mauger is mentioned.)

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Doug Saunders Rubens, that's amazing! Jucileide appears in the chapter excerpted (see link above); she is the principal of the high school in Jardim Angela, which was the most violent community on Earth in 1996 and has been turned around, because of activism by people like her and also a very committed Sao Paulo government, into a place with a thriving middle class and a very stable and poor but optimistic population. It's one of the great models of how to turn failed arrival cities into successes. It was a great pleasure to meet her in Sao Paulo and she was very generous with her time. Contratulations to her!

Here's a photo of Pedro and Denise Magalhaes and their two children, who are also mentioned in the excerpt.

Guest Hi Doug, I'm pursuing a master's degree in architecture, my field of interest lies in the transitional neighbourhoods, in particular a "slum" in central Buenos Aires. What is your opinion on "social infrastructure", how important do you think it is in achieving a connection to the formal city? I'm thinking of the personal relationships that are formed as a result of programs such as football clubs, dance schools, etc. And how have you seen these kind of programs at work abroad and how do you think they can work here at home?

Doug Saunders These things are quite important in making neighbourhoods succeed. But I suspect that they are more of a symptom than a cause of success. The networks of human connection already exist in arrival-city neighbourhoods; what makes them fail to turn into thriving and integrated communities is usually a lack of physical and economic infrastructure -- that is, connections to the larger economy and to the physical city. I think public investments in space etc are valuable -- the Brazilians have had good success building soccer pitches in the favelas -- but also flexibility in zoning etc, so that buildings can have mixed uses, a private hosue can become a social club, a factory, a theare and a shop at the same time. People want to form such networks and social groups; it's more important to remove any barriers taht provent thm.

@darnoc Hi. Doug, what's your view of how urbanization in the developing world is impacting the global food-energy nexus?

Doug Saunders darnoc, I think there is a bottleneck right now caused by underinvestment in agriculture (and various barriers to investment in agriculture) and a simulteneous demand on agricuture by energy uses (ie biofuel). A more rapid (but managed) urbanization process is going to be needed to convert large and fertile areas of subsistence-level agriculture in to commercial agriculture so a greater volume of caloric energy - - whether for food or fuel -- can come out of the developing world's agricultural areas.

Jay Firstly, great article Doug. Unfortunately, I have yet to read your book and I apologize if my question is answered there. My is question is regarding the ties between originating villages and arrival cities. How do originating villages learn about and connect with arrival cities before immigrants land?

Doug Saunders Jay, this is a key question. These information links have always been at the centre of the arrival-city migration process: People do not simply move from villages to the city; they go after very specific and concrete labour or business opportunities (that's why, when the economy declines as it has now, immigration virtually stops - - there haven't been Latin Americans coming to the USA or north Africans coming to Europe this year, because there are not jobs). Traditionally, what's happened is that circular, seasonal migration to the city has brought members of the village into the city temporarily, and they've brought information back, including decisions as to whether to bring additional family members with them. This is still at the core of this process, but it's aided by mobile-phone penetration, which is near universal in even the poorest countries now.

Susana Immigration may bring economic opportunities for a host country, but what about social cohesion, cultural integration and the ability of the host country to absorb populations with vastly differing backgrounds and large populations? Take Vancouver, for instance, there have been many issues arising lately as to the size of the Chinese community there and how it is isolating itself and reinforcing cultural and racial differences. Most Canadians are generally open to immigration as long as those arriving show respect for the host country's values, customs and language. What is your opinion on these kinds of social-cultural issues?

Doug Saunders Susana, the core subject of ARRIVAL CITY is how to make economic and cultural integration work, and I look at the factors that can make it succeed or fail. A culture is a fluid and flexible thing, so what happens is that the "host" community and the "arrival" community tend to integrate into each other. Canadians know this -- our culture has shifted over the years to incorporate elements of the various arrival communities that make up our population. We all drink espresso now as a result of the Italian wave of the 1950s; conversely, the children of that wave all speak English and go to hockey games. Culture is a product of this economic inclusion, not a starting point.

Arachnid Globalization will end when peak oil starts (if it hasn't already) how will this effect migration? there will be major food riots overseas when oil goes up in price again, will we see more refugee ships coming here? will we turn them away next time?

Doug Saunders Arachnid, I think resource shortages will pose difficulties, but the solutions will likely involve more elaborate linkages between countries. National isolation was a luxury that was only affordable during a period of seemingly unlimited energy resources; now that we have scarcity and shrinking populations, there will be great pressure for much more liberal and competitive markets in people.

dilip_andrade Hi Doug, You've raised the point that urban planning often looks to the successful "arrival cities". Which cities have failed as arrival cities, and what can we learn from them?

Doug Saunders Hi Dilip -- Writing ARRIVAL CITY turned me into more of an architectural determinist -- that is, I realize that the physical shape of a neighbourhood, its buildings and streets and the space between them and so on, can have a much more profound effect on the human conditions there than I'd imagined. It's not everything, but it matters. We need to look at the failures of places like the highrise banlieue outskirts of French cities, which have forced their populations into marginality and violence, and the outskirts of Amsterdam which have produced alienated and threatening communities (I spend a lot of time in both places in ARRIVAL CITY). I have a number of lessons, but three important ones come to mind: 1) migrant neighbourhoods need to be high density, closely packed and tightly connected to the city -- high population density is a signal of success in urban spaces and should be embraced; 2) Places need to be flexible -- you can't have housing that can't be turned into shops or businesses, or purchased by its residents, because that flexibility is key to integration. Highrise housing needs to have business spaces within it, and needs to be ownable; 3) You need to have very concrete links to the city, both physical and economic, so people aren't isolated. When I see places like Malton, Ontario, a highrise community on the far outskirts of Toronto in a region (Peel) that is North America's largest recipient of new immigrants, I see a place that is failing all those tests.

The Globe and Mail To what degree do you think people from rural villages should assimilate when they arrive in new urban settings -- whether it be in Toronto or Paris or a city in China?

Doug Saunders Assimilation is not a useful concept -- it implies that you become identical to the host population. More useful is integration, which means becoming part of the economy and society without the question of whether you're identical to it. And there's no "should" in that - - everyone who arrives, every single person, is trying to do that; it's a question of how we can remove barriers to it. Once that happens, there is a double assimilation -- we assimilate to them, and they to us; i.e., our culture shifts and changes to incorporate elements from both sides.

Ark Hi Doug, I'm a big proponent of Freedom of Movement as one of the basic human rights. Allowing economic, social and cultural forces to determine the movement of people, and not politics. Do you have a view on this matter?

Doug Saunders I think that human movement is very important -- and economically beneficial - - and governments like China's need to understand this and eliminate barriers to internal movement that are causing great human and economic damage. Internationally, I think that movement should be understood as very important - - the European Union's borderless regime is one of the great successes here, and one of the things in the EU that has unambiguously succeeded - - but I'm not sure if the word "right" applies here. When something's good and desirable, it doesn't quite make it a right, and I'm not sure if that sort of legal approach would improve things.

Guest Doug, what's the most important message for those running for office in Toronto?

Doug Saunders Toronto is probably North America's largest collection of arrival cities - - Los Angeles is the only place that even comes close - - and they are not just on the margins but at the core of the city's economy and structure. That isn't going to stop: More than half of the 250,000 to 300,000 people who come to Canada each year arrive in the Greater Toronto Area, and that will continue to be the reality no matter what politics are in force. We can either ignore that or assume it isn't an issue and that we're going to be as lucky with neighbourhoods as we have been in the past, or face up to the new reality. Your city doesn't have neighbourhoods that are naturally prosperous arrival cities any more - - i.e. places near the core, with underpriced Victorian row housing that can easily be turned into businesses or investment properties and needs no special transportation links. The new arrival cities, higrise enclaves in the north and east of the city and througout Peel, are lacking institutions and connections that are badly needed. If we don't invest in them, they will become far more expensive in alarming ways.

The Globe and Mail That was our final question in today's online discussion. Thanks very much to all the readers who sent in their questions, and to Doug Saunders for joining us.

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