Refugee resettlement, integration, and narratives of urban revitalization in the Rust Belt

Authors: Chris Strunk*, Augustana College
Topics: Urban Geography, Immigration/Transnationalism, Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: refugee settlement, integration, urban revitalization, austerity urbanism, Rust Belt
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Virginia A, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Following decades of sustained population and economic decline, cities across the Rust Belt have developed initiatives to attract and retain recent immigrants and refugees. Coalitions of elected officials, migrant civil society organizations, and business leaders in both large and mid-sized cities have represented migration as a way of restoring previous connections to the global economy and competitiveness more generally. But despite this inclusive vision of the Rust Belt, refugees still encounter significant barriers to participation in local civic and economic institutions. In this paper, I examine geographies of refugee settlement and incorporation in a small Midwestern metropolitan area. Drawing on participant observation and interviews with refugee gardeners from sub-Saharan Africa, I analyze how austerity urbanism and increasingly restrictive refugee resettlement policies at the federal level have exacerbated the challenges that refugees face in navigating local institutions in small cities. I argue that while community gardens and other placemaking efforts have transformed the physical and cultural landscape of small cities, this broader context can cause refugees to be represented as permanent outsiders and individually responsible for assimilating to local cultural norms. The paper also assesses the challenges and potential of a proposed welcoming initiative that connects immigrant and refugee settlement to urban revitalization plans at the regional level.

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