Doug Saunders is Bureau Chief and journalist at The Globe and Mail Europe. Doug Saunders is also the author of the book ‘Arrival City: The Final Migration and Our Next World’ (2010), which has questioned and changed the common views on migration, cities, population growth, foreign aid and politics. He is currently researching the city of Antwerp, with emphasis on the 2060 district, to see how this area functions as an arrival city.




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Photo by Fred Ernst


“Instead of looking at migration as static, statistical points on a plane, it should be viewed as a set of dynamic dotted lines. Cities are not static after all: they consist of people moving in from rural areas, with specific trajectories in mind that take them, or at least their children, into the established urban economy. These patterns are not necessarily straightforward: they are dotted with sets of interruptions that can potentially break these trajectories at any time.”

“With new modernisation techniques in agriculture, food production was intensified, leading to a decreasing demand for big rural families. With more food being produced on less land, people began to leave rural villages for cities, in search for new opportunities. This is a common trend in growing urbanisation: either people are pushed off rural land by agricultural modernisation, or pulled to the city by urban economic growth. In most cases, both occur simultaneously.”

“These movements are mainly economic migrations, as became clear in 2008, when migration slowed down and even reversed in some places due to the economic downturn. This is also a general trend in migration flows: when employment opportunities dry up, people tend to stop coming (with the exception of family reunification, conflict and refugee migration flows). Economic opportunities are therefore big drivers for migration.”

“The phenomenon of migration to West is coming close to reaching the point of ‘peak people’, i.e. the peak point before you reach a downturn of supply and a crisis of demand. In the future, it may thus be the case that there will be policies competing for the remaining supply of immigrants, instead of hindering or eliminating immigration possibilities. For the next few decades, however, European and North American countries will continue facing immigration from rural dominated areas, regardless of what their policies are.”

New groups and neighbourhoods are seen as “impossible to assimilate: they pose a threat to society with their huge families, usually of a different religion, and will take over the city”. This is a continuous trend in history, hence the saying: “every immigrant thinks he’s the last good immigrant”. In Western Europe, it is a different story however. Western Europe has more of an established native population, where the arrival city neighbourhood feels more like an “alien from outside”.

“The arrival city neighbourhoods should not be seen as productions of static people that live in poverty: arrival cities are made up of people moving through the urban neighbourhood in a dotted line formation. Their paths involve blockages and barriers, and with the help of the suggestions and intelligent policy, these can be removed so that these people can continue their trajectory upwards.


The report of the lecture and expert meeting held at the University of Leiden on February 16 and 17, 2012 can be downloaded here.