Migration and the resultant diversity are some of the most contested forces in the world. Both shape our national and global policies in different ways, bear the brunt of populism and have given rise to a particularly noxious kind of xenophobia. Yet, they are also the source of needed talent and workers; the only way to prop up aging populations in many parts of the western world. And whilst these discussions take place at global and national levels, their lived and most visceral expression is found in cities.
Since this lived expression is perhaps more useful than abstract debates, we should focus more on the capacity of cities to lead the charge in finding, testing and amplifying solutions to inclusion. I know these solutions exist in your parks, your schools and your public spaces. But I am not naïve. I also know that cities bear the brunt, on the front lines, when exclusion prevails.
So let me make a few central observations about migration and diversity.
The first is that whilst migration is a uniquely national and regional experience — people migrating from China to the USA or from India to Australia — their experience of inclusion or exclusion will be a uniquely local one. They will move in reality from Beijing to Chicago or from Bangalore to Adelaide. Their first and sometimes lasting experience of inclusion will be in your city schools, city buses and city libraries.
My second observation is that diversity and inclusion are not the same. One is a demographic reality; the other is a process that leads to equity and equality of opportunity, regardless of when and where you came from. Diversity is a demographic accident. Inclusion is what you do with it.
My third observation is that inclusion does not happen accidentally — it takes intention, it takes resolution, and it takes leadership. Your leadership. Leadership to realize the latent economic benefits in trade, commerce and innovation. Leadership that enables new thinking, even disruptive thinking, to help solve old and wicked problems. As Einstein has famously said, when everyone thinks alike, no one is likely thinking very much.
But I believe an inclusive city is much more than a prosperous city, because prosperity is not necessarily inclusive. An inclusive city is a peaceful city, a city of law and order. An inclusive city is a place where people feel safe, feel included and know that their voice is heard, that their needs are reflected back to them in the shape of city policies and practices. So whilst I know that these benefits may be more intangible to express, I argue that these are the most important reasons for city mayors to pay attention to deliberate targeted and preventative strategies and approaches to inclusion.
Ratna Omidvar is a senator representing Ontario. She is a member of the Senate Committee on Human Rights and the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.
This piece is based on a speech delivered by Senator Ratna Omidvar on June 21 2017 to the 12th Metropolis World Congress in Montreal in which she shared her perspectives on migration, inclusion and cities. The event was attended by a number of renowned mayors from cities around the world, along with stakeholders and experts in urban politics and policy.