Wrap Up: Arrival City edition of the City Builder Book Club

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Arrival City, by the numbers

400+ readers from 100+ cities across the globe

12 contributor commentaries from 10 cities

2 webinars, 2 reader-submitted interactive activities, 1 live event

A Guided Reading

For the Arrival City edition of the City Builder Book Club, we used the book as a starting point for how to plan and program the online reading. Arrival City illuminates the global phenomenon of rural-to-urban migration by focusing on deeply personal, place-based narratives of arrival. Each of these narratives illustrate the local particularities of this phenomenon, and together, they contribute to an understanding of the greater global process of urbanization.

For the Book Club, we wanted to create a program that paralleled the narrative structure of Saunders’ book. We invited contributors from across the globe to post weekly commentaries that shared insight into the global process of urban migration, from a personal and geographically specific point of view that spoke to their work and experience and ideas.

We had 12 contributors from 10 cities around the globe, each commenting on one of Arrival City‘s 10 chapters and shedding new light on the arrival city as it appears in locales across the world.

Introduction to the City Builder Book Club
Mary Rowe, New York City, USA

Arrival City speaks so eloquently to the resilience of the human race, not only as individuals, but as a collective, and to the resilience of what is arguable our greatest achievement: cities.”

Chapter 1: On the Edge of the City
Liza Fior, London, UK
“As a child I was outraged by inconsistencies between illustrations and text and so inevitably I approached the second example of Tower Hamlets looking for the pleasures that come in the recognition of detail. The danger of an overview is that it can so easily be just that.”

Chapter 2: Outside In: The Lives of the New City
Nithya V. Raman, Chennai, India
“Perhaps, then, an “arrival city” is not so much a description, but rather what such places should be aspiring towards…If these are truly to become arrival cities, then government policies need to better support their residents’ efforts to move from rural poverty into the urban middle-class.”

Chapter 3: Arriving at the Top of the Pyramid
James Rojas, Los Angeles, USA
“Latino vernacular synthesizes cultural styles that are neither “Spanish” (as the general public views it) nor Anglo American. The beauty of the vernacular cannot be measured by any architectural standard but rather by life’s experiences, expressions, and adaptations. The vernacular represents Latinos’ adaptation to their environment.”

Chapter 4: The Urbanization of the Village
Tanzeel Merchant, Toronto, Canada

“Cities build illusory, romantic associations with rural life…Saunder’s real-life stories, including the one from Dorli in India, paint a tragic picture of abject poverty, indebtedness and suicide – far removed from the romantic imagery of the countryside that many of us in cities harbour.”

Chapter 5: The First Great Migration: How the West Arrived
Ken Stewart, Chicago, USA

“One could say that our long-term goal is to restore the Black Belt’s momentum as an arrival city, using art as our primary means not only to rebuild a cultural infrastructure that residents choose to stay close to and participate in, but also to attract and intelligently manage the kinds of investment necessary to stabilize a set of communities that deserve it.”

Chapter 6: The Death and Life of a Great Arrival City
Claire Nelischer, Toronto, Canada

“In all arrival cities, new immigrants strive to secure a lasting physical, social, and economic presence for themselves in their new urban home. But the ways in which this struggle unfolded (and continues to unfold) in Istanbul is a striking example of the power of physical presence and place in fostering immigrant integration, success, and belonging.”

Chapter 7: When the Margins Explode
Paramita Nath, Toronto, Canada
What I find striking in this seventh chapter of Arrival City is the way in which Saunders reframes three major political upheavals as “revolution[s] of the arrival city.” He does so by challenging the conventional accounts of the religious and ideological origins of these explosions—tracing their roots instead to poor land reforms, mass rural-urban migration, inadequate infrastructure, corruption, misplaced subsidies, and overall failure in municipal governance and urban planning.

Chapter 8: The New City Confronts the Old World
Esra Kücük & Robin Laumann, Berlin, Germany
“While Germany made progress in the field of legal citizenship, it still lags behind when it comes to ideas of cultural citizenship. The willingness of the mainstream society to embrace diversity and inclusion with respect to issues of narratives, belonging and privileges is particularly limited. While the concept of diversity is widely appreciated in society, vocal opposition against the practical ramifications of said diversity stirs against the surface.”

Chapter 9: Arrival’s End: Mud Floor to Middle Class
Beatriz Vicino, São Paulo, Brazil
“As a culture that, from the start of colonization, prioritized private over public interests, [Brazil is] now experiencing a reversal in public policies, where the “paulistas” – and not only the grassroots social movements – are beginning to demand quality public spaces and public transportation, and to understand that we can ask for more attention from the municipality, as opposed to the interests of the few that hold the power in the big cities.”

Chapter 10: Arriving in Style
Gerben Helleman, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
“Arrival cities in the Netherlands were planned from above (outside) for far too long. An immigrant neighbourhood that grows organically, evolves over time, deviates from the “average” and benefits from an informal economy goes against the grain for most urban planners.”

A Global Discussion

The goal of the weekly commentaries was to spark debate and discussion amongst our readers. We had many readers submit comments each week, responding to the content of the commentaries or the chapter itself.

In addition to the comments on the blog, we coordinated a number of interactive activities that invited readers to engage more deeply with the content of Arrival City. Recaps of these activities are available on the blog.

LIVE EVENT: Arrival Cities – Global Framework + Local Discourse
December 09, 2015 – with Doug Saunders + Emily Paradis
When an area is described as “blighted” it is crucial to consider whether you are placing your own aesthetic tastes and values above the survival of others. Saunders highlights the fact that, while so-called ‘slums’ should not be imagined as a problem-free proto-capitalist wonderland, they are “not just collections of poor people”— they are the very “real accumulation of social and actual capital.”

WEBINAR: From Parks to Farms: Urban Migration and Community Development in Tower Hamlets and Thorncliffe Park
January 29, 2015 – with Sabina Ali + Mhairi Weir
Neighbourhoods like Tower Hamlets (London) and Thorncliffe Park (Toronto) have become destinations of choice and “arrival cities” for successive waves of urban migrants. Join us online to learn how community-led initiatives organized by local residents are rolling out the welcome mat, reducing barriers to participation, and empowering newcomers to help build a vibrant sense of community.

WEBINAR: Tower Renewal in the Arrival City
March 13, 2015 – with Graeme Stewart + Gerben Helleman
High density, apartment tower neighbourhoods like these are ‘arrival cities’ to millions of urban migrants and home to some of the most vibrant, ambitious and often most vulnerable, low income communities in the city. Newcomer potential can be thwarted without access to the proper amenities – social services, public transit or local commercial and employment opportunities. How do we leverage the potential of these dynamic high-density neighbourhoods that newcomers call home? What are the policy, zoning and social investments needed to transform the urban fringe into an incubator of immigrant and community success?

ACTIVITY: Your City Soundwalks
February 12, 2015
We asked Book Club members to share the sounds of their cities by creating audio recordings of 2 minutes or less that demonstrate the auditory sense of place in their neighbourhood or city. Here’s what we heard.

ACTIVITY: Your City Photowalks
February 26, 2015
We asked Book Club members to share the sights of their cities by creating photowalks that tell a visual stories about their neighbourhood, the people that live there, and the history of arrival and movement in this place. By using StoryMap JS,  Book Club members have given us a peek into their neighbourhood using photos and brief descriptions tied to map locations. Here’s what we have received from readers so far.

Dig Deeper

Each week, two librarians from the Toronto Reference Library, which houses the Urban Affairs Library, created extended reading lists for followers of the City Builder Book Club. Librarians Bessie Nellopoulos + Cynthia Fisher hand-picked titles to accompany each chapter of Arrival City, building on themes and broadening perspectives.

All 10 of the reading lists are available here, and all titles are accessible through the Toronto Public Library.

Thank you + Survey

Many thanks to those who participated in the Arrival City edition of the City Builder Book Club! The staff at the Centre for City Ecology and Cities of Migration who coordinated the program, the contributors who guided our reading, the practitioners who led our webinars and talks, those who participated in our interactive activities, and the readers who followed along!

Please take this short, anonymous survey to provide feedback on your experience with the City Builder Book Club. Your responses will help us to improve the program for the next edition of the City Builder Book Club.