European Cities and the Refugee Situation

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European Cities and the Refugee Situation

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A Laboratory for Affordable Housing and Urban Resilience to Future Crises

Facing slow and long-term mutations, as well  as sudden, brutal shocks, has always been an integral part of reality for cities. Their history is evidence of their formidable ability to resist, adapt, and be reborn. Such is what defines urban resilience.

La Fabrique de la Cité has been exploring the different facets of urban resilience since 2014. Why such an interest? Firstly, because, under the influence of unwavering urbanization, cities now concentrate ever-growing populations, ever-growing economic and political centers, and therefore ever-growing stakes. Add to this globalization, which reinforces the propagation of shock waves by fostering the networking of cities on a global scale, but also their interdependencies. Finally, as a corollary of the previous factors,cities are, now more than ever, major actors in risk management and foresight, offering a relevant and efficient level for action and governance.

The shocks and long-term disturbances that cities must now contend with are varied in nature, duration, and scale. After focusing its work on industrial and commercial shocks in a project led in partnership with the London School of Economics and concluded in 20161, La Fabrique de la Cité has decided to address urban resilience to demographic shocks, by turning to the current experience of many European cities with the arrival of countless asylum-seekers. This choice is not only motivated by the topicality, in 2016, of what is commonly called «the refugee crisis». It is, instead, at the crossroads of situational observation and of the long-term inquiry La Fabrique de la Cité is conducting into the difficulties all growing European cities are experiencing when it comes to building sufficient quantities of affordable housing.

Such is, indeed, the angle we have opted for in this study on the reception of those asylum-seekers who arrived in European cities

beginning in Summer 2015, a significant part of which are now refugees. First of all, because La Fabrique de la Cité is, with the housing question, at the heart of its mission and of the added value it can bring to this complex subject. Secondly, because it is the first question cities ask themselves: how can they provide a roof for the newcomers ?Yet this choice does not mean that we have minimized the other topics connected to asylum-seeker reception – social integration, employment, etc. – or that we have failed to investigate these issues. They are, of course, intricately connected to the housing question, and we touch on them through that lens. That is why, for instance, our study broaches the question of housing and social integration through that of the distribution and location of long-term temporary housing.

This first choice – to focus our study of refugee reception on the subject of housing – entailed a second one: the decision to limit our study to those European cities particularly affected by the refugee crisis. That is why our work has naturally concentrated on Swedish and German cities. With Germany receiving 890,000 asylum-seekers in 2015 and Sweden being the European Union member-state with the highest number of refugees per capita, the cities located in these two countries offer particularly interesting case studies for whomever aspires to investigate the reception of asylum-seekers in the European urban fabric. Consequently, and as tempting as it may be to stigmatize or criticize in times of crisis, our choice was not motivated by the urge to hand out good or bad marks.

Faithful to its DNA, La Fabrique de la Cité offers insight into what cities have done in all their diversity: indeed, just as no  city is identical to the next, each European city seems to have implemented unique responses and initiatives in response to the migratory crisis. Ultimately, this diversity of situations raises a significant challenge when it comes to the replicability of the solutions found. Many cities have thus developed hyperlocal solutions to the challenge of accommodating large numbers of refugees. Various models exist, including the Kiel, Munich, Hanover, and Bremen models, as well as the Leverkusen and Krefeld models, which demonstrate that smaller towns, too, can bring forth innovative solutions for refugee housing and integration into the labor market. A multiplicity of responses and models that further demonstrates the interest of an urban approach to migratory issues.

At the same time, our study also shows that all cities are faced with the same challenges, the same questions: how to distribute the newcomers, how to identify available housing, etc. Thus, by cataloguing the diversity of the responses brought to these challenges, our work can serve as a practical guide for cities  currently faced with the same situation, offering them insight into the different solutions applied from one city to the next.Currently faced with, or soon-to-be…

Let there be no mistake: the odds are high that what is at play today in Germany or Sweden may occur again in the future.

To increase their resilience in both the short and long term, cities have much to gain from safeguarding the teachings and knowledge born of the recent migratory crisis. Many European cities know the latter is in no way an isolated incident, but is instead part of a new paradigm whereby migratory flows will intensify and demographic shocks will increase in frequency, whether they arise out of political unrest or climate change. These migrations are inherently difficult to predict and it is therefore crucial for cities to prepare for them by capitalizing on the solutions they have already developed.

Therein, precisely, lies the interest of a study of European cities’ response to the 2015 refugee crisis, which successively examines these cities’ experience with the provision of emergency shelter and of a longer-term housing offer, and the potential connections they have perceived between these challenges and their preexisting affordable housing shortage. The precious lessons drawn from this episode will allow cities to prepare for future crises, just as it may help them solve broader issues, such as the affordable housing challenge, which could well turn out, in the next decades, to be the most critical threat to urban resilience.




La Fabrique de la Cité

La Fabrique de la Cité is a think tank dedicated to urban foresight, created by the VINCI group, its sponsor, in 2010. La Fabrique de la Cité acts as a forum where urban stakeholders, whether French or international, collaborate to bring forth new ways of building and rebuilding cities.