Cities are doing it for themselves. Stepping out of federal frameworks, working past gridlock, and under the radar of states — cities are running toward the burning issues. And facing disruptions. Tackling infrastructure, immigration, transportation, jobs and training, supply chains and trade.
We sort and ship and rail and fly and skip goods across the globe. As if national boundaries didn’t exist. And we need to do the same for people.
We live in a time of mass migration. Mass disruption. Whether war, weather, or wealth displacement, drive us out of our homes, millions of us will face the challenge of rebuilding our lives out of our own imaginations. Landing in a new city, with little of our previous lives, holding a t-shirt and a photograph, owning no more than what is in our heads and hearts, we will need a place to begin.
Best cities of the future will be those that can turn desperation into aspiration and aspiration into participation.
We need to maintain welcome centers the same way we maintain fire stations. We don’t know when or where the next fire will be. We know there will be one. If we can put a barrel in a container and send it halfway around the world, sort it out and put it on a truck or a train, deliver it to warehouse, distribute what’s inside to multiple locations and do it on time… we should be able to do a much better job with people.
We still issue national cards and passports. We still deny entry on the basis of countries. We hold up people in boats, lock them in detention centers, strand them on islands and create pockets of misery and desperation. Identity cards for the stateless — cards for global citizens, papers for the dispossessed — this must be part of our plan for the future.
Imagine an inter-modal facility for people — a place to land and be welcomed. To answer the all important questions: Where do you want to belong?
At the turn of the century, they were called settlement houses and they were landing places for the newly arrived. Your new journey begins here. Though this door. Introduction to our political system. Here’s a guide to our economic system. Learn the language. Meet your neighbors.
Every city needs a welcome station, not for the tourist, but for the person beginning life again. Starting all over in a new world. And in that welcome center we need guides, not to the most interesting sites, but to the opportunity on-ramp. Find the path to earn, learn, and belong — in a new world.
Must we build new welcome stations? More buildings to house these guides and navigators? No — I think we need to use existing community assets. Schools, libraries and community centers. We don’t need more buildings — we need more ‘welcoming places’ and more guides. It begins by accepting that flows of people, tides of humanity will continue to wash up on our urban shores and if we help them flourish, our cities will remain strong. Our cities cannot afford walls and borders. We need landing places and on-ramps.