How do migrations shape cities?

About 140 Haitian migrants arrive on shore at Summerland Key, Florida, on March 14. Photo: Monroe County Sheriff's Office via The Associated Press

By Barbara Gutierrez

About 140 Haitian migrants arrive on shore at Summerland Key, Florida, on March 14. Photo: Monroe County Sheriff's Office via The Associated Press

How do migrations shape cities?

By Barbara Gutierrez
Papers presented during a three-day conference hosted by the University of Miami Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas will explore how migration influenced nine different cities on three continents.

Every day dozens of people gather at the iconic Domino Park along Miami’s Calle Ocho to play a game that is as beloved to Cubans as baseball.

That gathering place, as well as the hundreds of “ventanitas,” or small windows, selling Cuban coffee that dot Miami’s urban landscape, are some of the ways that the city has been transformed by a Cuban presence.

Carie Penabad, associate professor in the School of Architecture, and her colleague Adib Cure, associate professor in practice, will explore the many ways that Miami has been changed by migration in their paper “Cross Cultural Urbanisms: The Case of Miami.” It will be presented during the “Migration and Urbanization in Three Continents Conference,” hosted virtually by the University of Miami Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas on March 24, 25, and 28.

Penabad and Cure’s paper reads in part: “The mass migration of Cuban exiles to Miami in the years following Castro’s revolution had a profound effect on the political, social, and physical structures of the city.  

“As wave upon wave of Cuban immigrants arrived on the shores of Biscayne Bay, they sought to recapture, recreate, and reinterpret Cuban culture amidst the largely alienating landscape of the American post-war city.” 

Besides Miami, eight other cities on three continents will be similarly analyzed by top academics to determine how different migrations changed the social, economic, and physical landscapes of the metropolis.

Those cities are: Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, and Mexico City in Latin America; New York and Los Angeles in the United States; and Stockholm, London, and Barcelona in western Europe.

“We hope this kind of analysis will be useful to both scholars and city planners and those who work in the development of cities and immigration authorities, nationwide and locally,” said Alejandro Portes, professor of law and Distinguished Scholar of Arts and Sciences. “Our purpose is to bring together literatures on urban and migrations studies to see how successive migration flows have shaped the physical and social structure of the cities that have received them over time.” 

Portes has been working on putting together the conference with his colleague Margarita Rodriguez since the summer. Rodriguez is a lecturer in the Department of Sociology and Criminology and a faculty research fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas. 

Felicia Knaul, director of the institute and a health economist, said that migration is a defining issue in our region.

“The Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas is honored to be working under the leadership of Alejandro Portes, a leading scholar in this field. By examining the linkages between migration and urbanization across some of the world’s greatest cities, including Miami, professor Portes and his colleagues are once again enlightening our understanding of key trends that had been understudied,” she said.

The conference will bring together top academics including Marcelo Cavarozzi, professor of the Universidad Nacional de San Martín, Buenos Aires; Ariel Armony, director of the University Center for International Studies at University of Pittsburgh; and Philip Kasinitz, presidential professor of sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

Discussants will include Rebecca Sharpless, professor at the University of Miami School of Law and director of the Immigration Clinic; Larry Liu, Department of Sociology, Princeton University; and Lorenzo Cachón, professor of sociology of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid.

Portes said that they asked each presenter to provide an essay that would offer an overview of what happened to each city and how it was shaped as each migrant group settled and incorporated within its boundaries.

One interesting overview was about Stockholm, the capital of Sweden.

“This paper tells the tale of a city that until very recently only received a very limited migrant flow, mainly from nearby countries like Finland and Norway,” he said. But after the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in mid ’90s a new flow of refugees arrived from places like Syria and Africa, he noted.

“The new migrations can be seen as making the city more cosmopolitan, but it has also created occasions for conflict and interethnic struggles that were not there before,” he said.

All the essays presented at the conference will be compiled and edited into a special issue for a major journal, said Portes. The three-day meeting is open to the University community and the public.

Register for the conference.