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Resilient communities, resilient cities? Digital makings of the city of refuge

Project funded by the Institute of Global Affairs (IGA), LSE as part of the Rockefeller Resilience Programme

Introduction

This project examines the role of digital communication in the making of cities of refuge. More particularly, it focusses on urban communities’ digital responses to sudden, unplanned and/or unwelcome change resulting from irregular migration into the city. The project zooms into urban neighbourhoods that receive large number of refugees and migrants. It examines how urban communities mobilise digital communication to respond to disruption and develop capacities to manage change. From the development of local networks in support of refugees, to local training into digital skills, cities’ resilience is tested in the capacity to sustain inclusive, integrated and prospering communities.

The project offers a comparative, multimethod approach to the city of refuge by researching urban communities that share experiences of population transformation. The primary empirical focus is on three cities that currently experience the shocks of the “refugee crisis” and the arrival of approx. 1 million people in Europe within a year (Frontex 2016): Athens, Berlin and London. The primary empirical focus is complemented with research across different regions of the world; this global outlook offers a temporal and spatial comparison to the current moment of crisis. By conducting research in Hong Kong and Los Angeles, the project investigates good digital practices and digital failures to build resilience immediately after refugee arrivals but also after their long-term settlement. The 18-month study examines specific neighbourhoods of each city, which have directly, even if differently, experienced stresses or shocks through new arrivals: Victoria, Athens; Neukölln, Berlin; Harringay, London and Yen Long, Hong Kong and Little Somalia, Los Angeles. (More on the areas in Section 3).

Research focus

Five cities of refuge are selected for the comparative framework, with European cities being the primary empirical domains. Athens, Berlin, London are currently experiencing the shocks of the “refugee crisis”, even if differentially; Los Angeles and Hong Kong have long experiences as cities of refuge and thus provide a spatial and temporal comparative dimension to the analysis. All cities share three common characteristics: they are all digital cities with rich digital infrastructures, networks and cultures; they constitute important case studies within the history of sudden and/or unwelcome population change as a result of forced migration; and their current position as cities of refuge is shaped in the midst of heated local and global debates on the “refugee crisis” and migration control.

The main Research Question that drives the project is: 

  • In what ways does digital communication enhance or hinder urban communities’ resilience in the aftermath of refugee arrivals to the city?

Resilience will be examined through the experience of the different constituents of urban communities: settled residents and new arrivals. Such a holistic approach highlights the importance of studying urban diversity and the need to examine how a wide range of urban dwellers use digital communications to develop capabilities for the growth and revitalization of their community. This holistic perspective also underscores the great potential of migration to enhance social, cultural and economic benefits after the initial shock of change.

Outcomes

The empirical study is conducted through three stages, each of which will deliver different outcomes.

First, and in order to understand the infrastructural environment and the conditions within which urban communities build – or fail to build – resilience, the project reviews the policy context (document analysis) and the digital tools available to urban communities (mapping of digital infrastructure).

Second, the study engages with a range of urban communities’ members (focus groups across all locations; additional survey in Athens, Berlin, London) to record networking practices of digital resilience.

Third, in the European cities, research on digital culture unfolds through three Knowledge Exchange & Impact community engagement activities: (i.) Creation of a local and digitally available record of local digital capacities through an asset-mapping exercise in each location currently experiencing the “refugee crisis”; (ii.) Digital storytelling: The Humans of the City of Refuge: a digital record of resilience through urban dwellers’ stories on living in the city, communicating with others and working together to enhance its environment and opportunities; (iii.) Public exhibition sharing digital stories of resilience, aiming to advance public understanding of the city of refuge

Team

Dr Myria Georgiou, Department of Media and Communications, LSE (Principal Investigator)

Dr Suzanne Hall, Department of Sociology and LSE Cities, LSE (Co-Investigator)

Contact: m.a.georgiou@lse.ac.uk

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