Since 2014, millions of people have left their homes in the Middle East and North Africa for Europe, movement across the continent of an epic scale not seen since World War II. Whether coming as asylum seekers fleeing war-torn regions or migrants seeking better economic opportunities, newcomers are arriving in European cities by the hundreds of thousands each month. Depending on their location, these cities are considered either a final destination or a way station on the path to somewhere else. In either case, this new population is placing escalating pressure on already-taxed housing markets and municipal services and systems.
In the short term, the migrant crisis is a humanitarian one, and governments and nongovernment organizations are offering a robust response. In the long term, however, the crisis holds serious implications for municipalities as they attempt to meet the migrants’ residential, health, educational, and employment needs and integrate those needs with those of existing populations. In 2015, a pan-European group of ULI members decided that the real estate and land use industry—and ULI in particular—had a role to play in sharing best practices and innovative solutions for decision makers on the front lines of this crisis.
Five national councils—ULI United Kingdom, ULI Germany, ULI Italy, ULI Netherlands, and ULI Sweden—worked closely with ULI Europe staff to put together a research proposal on how migrants can be integrated into cities in a way that is inclusive and benefits everyone. In February 2016, the proposal won funding from the ULI Charitable Trust; discussion of the migration crisis and demographic changes generally will be a highlight a the upcoming ULI Europe Conference in Paris. Register now for the conference.
“It struck me last year at the height of the crisis that this was going to have existential impacts on the real estate industry in Europe,” says Alistair Reason, principal of Birmingham, U.K.–based Reason Consulting, deputy chair of ULI Midlands, and member of a ULI-member steering committee formed to oversee the research. “I was struck by the fact that migrants are a highly fluid population. I asked myself, as a real estate person, what should my responsibility be? I should pursue whatever opportunities I have to better the lots of those who have to move out of their homes and be somewhere else.”
In 2016, ULI members from three additional countries—Turkey, which has absorbed 3 million immigrants since 2014, Austria, and Greece—also got involved to provide their perspective. ULI’s research partner is the Institute for Research on Superdiversity at the University of Birmingham.
“This is not just a ‘Turkey problem,’ but a ‘European problem’; it affects everyone,” says steering committee member Ayşe Hasol Erktin, chair of ULI Turkey and partner at HAS Mirmarlik, an architecture firm in Istanbul. “We need to address this situation that is clearly here to stay and not just temporary.”
One big question the research will examine is the best way migrants should be settled in their new location, says Erktin. Some towns and cities have directed migrants to occupy abandoned structures or places, which activates these spaces but also segregates them from the broader society, presenting a barrier to assimilation. Others have taken a more integrative approach. Still others are using the migrant crisis as an opportunity to address a long-simmering issue—the lack of affordable housing for low-income people.
“We are looking at this question through a long time frame,” Erktin says. “For migrants, home becomes wherever you are and not the home country you have left behind.”
As part of the research, ULI members across Europe are being surveyed—and some are being interviewed—regarding how land use strategies can be leveraged to integrate migrants into existing social fabrics. In terms of real estate and land use, housing is an immediate need, but schools, health care facilities, and longer-term employment opportunities are needed, as well.
Case studies of three cities—Hamburg, Gothenburg, and Istanbul—and their varied responses to the migration crisis will be an element of the research. These cities have responded differently in relation to their unique challenges and circumstances and will contribute lessons learned that will be a core part of the ULI research.
Clearly, no silver bullet exists to solve Europe’s migrant crisis; it will require a multilayered response and a strongly collaborative approach among local governments, the private sector, and nonprofit service providers and agencies. ULI’s role is to be a resource for nonpartisan, objective research on land use for decision makers as they grapple with the mass movement of people into and around Europe.
Mass migration and demographics, and their implications for cities, will be among the many topics discussed at the ULI Europe Conference. To attend and be part of this important conversation, go to europeconference.uli.org.