Innovation in governance arrangements: network-building, conflict and cooperation
The first three contributions to the collection particularly explore different governance arrangements emerging at local level (question 2). Scholten and Penninx (2016) identified several different types of migration governance arrangement between national and local levels, including (1) top-down, or ‘centralist’, (2) bottom-up, or ‘localist’, (3) de-hierarchised or ‘multi-level’ and (4) decoupled. These case studies point to an increasing development of bottom-up and decoupled governance in this field. This is especially through alliances developed within and between cities.
The first two articles explore multi-level governance from the perspective of city authorities in Spain (Barcelona) and Italy (multiple cities). Both countries are the first points of entry for asylum seekers in Europe, and responses have developed rapidly. Until the current decade they have perceived themselves mainly to be countries of transit rather than reception, given that until then, numbers of asylum seekers officially recorded were few, and arrangements little developed. The contribution by Garcés-Mascareñas and Gebhardt (2020) focuses on how, during recent years, Barcelona has modelled itself however as ‘a city of refuge’. They show how policy entrepreneurs are developing bottom up governance and ‘municipalist’ philosophy in the face of a heavily centralized, but increasingly dysfunctional national approach to asylum seeker reception. Key to this has been heavy investment of the city’s own resources into reception policies, as well as political arguments for change, drawing strength from coalitions made with other cities of refuge nationally, and with ‘Solidarity Cities’ across Europe. These alliances have translated into attempts to influence cities’ rights to secure future funding, including European funds managed at the national level (Asylum and Migration Funds) and those related to the European Urban Agenda. Arguably this has led to a ‘wider shift in favour of cities’ in the next generation of integration funding (Garcés-Mascareñas and Gebhardt 2020).
Francesca Campomori’s and Maurizio Ambrosini’s contribution (2020) explores dynamics across regions and cities in Italy, showing how mobilizing for alternative approaches are occurring in the face of ‘a renewed national turn’ in Italy. The contribution shows the growing significance of horizontal multi-sector alliances in this policy field, whereby asylum seeking is a process managed not solely by national and local political authorities and NGOs. Instead it now involves a much wider group of actors, including migrants themselves, pro-immigrant actors and social movements, and including xenophobic movements too. They argue that most studies of MLG in relation to migration pay lesser attention to this horizontal dimension, favouring attention on the multi-level or vertical aspects of MLG. In addressing this deficit, they describe local policies of reception as ‘a playing field’ where a much broader range of actors, both state and non-state come together. This is confirmed within other accounts later in the collection (e.g. Oliver et al. 2020), where innovation comes from multi-sector networks including public-private partnerships, involving actors from local businesses and social enterprises. These networks can also include educational institutions, both as providers of services and involved in research, evaluation and knowledge exchange (see also Broadhead 2020).
Both contributions also expose the dynamics and understandings between different actors at both different levels of governance and within multi-sector alliances. As Campomori and Ambrosini (2020) assert, crucial here is a recognition of MLG less as a ‘negotiated order’, but a process marked by conflict. Campomori and Ambrosini favour the concept of ‘battleground’ as a more appropriate metaphor to characterise the (often neglected) interplay between vertical and horizontal spaces. Friction and tension is also present in the palpable and growing anger which fuels confidence among local coalitions to resist implementation or remedy the effects of national systems, as well as increasing demand at local level for funds to support those actions (see also Garcés-Mascareñas and Gebhardt 2020). Campomori and Ambrosini helpfully analyse how a range of dynamics can characterize the interplay between public powers and civil society organizations. These stances include: closure to civil society activism; tolerance; immigrant activism vs anti-immigrant mobilization; and cooperation. Nevertheless, within multi-sector alliances, while conflict may be a defining characteristic, we see that other forms of cooperation emerge where a shared perspective on this topic transcend other important differences. Thus in Spain, Garcés-Mascareñas and Gebhardt show how cities from different political colours were able to unite under the same cause.
City to city cooperation is particularly prominent with the third case study in the collection: Jacqueline Broadhead’s (2020) analysis of an emerging UK city network. This provides an example of how under even constrained conditions of highly centralised national policy on asylum and resettlement and privatised asylum seeker accommodation, city governments have collaborated in order to develop more assertive leadership. Broadhead examines a newly emerging city network informed by knowledge exchange from the University of Oxford and a transnational learning exchange. This fledgling network helped to bring cities together, inspiring and informing local practice. Broadhead’s analysis identifies some of the key strategies for inclusion identified at city level. These include first, the reframing of the migration issue towards a ‘newcomer’ frame. Here, asylum seekers are responded to less as a category requiring treatment, and as part of a broader group of people arriving in a city. Second, is the development of city-branding, whereby the cities develop place-based narratives of inclusion. Key to embedding a broader notion of reception is strategic leadership, exemplifying the importance of key local political representatives as influencers to champion alternatives and resist the national model. In Broadhead’s case-study, we see the recent introduction of a new Deputy Mayor responsible for social integration in London. In Barcelona, it is the mayor Ada Colau who called for a network of welcoming cities to avoid the ‘war on life’ that was playing out in asylum seeker reception.
Finally, several of the cases underline how city to city networks are proving an important force in mobilization (Caponio 2019, see also Oomen 2019b). Often they developed with a function to exchange ideas and learn from each others’ experiences of local integration policies (e.g. in the ‘Cities for Local Integration Policies’ (CLIP) which began in 2006 as an initiative of policy makers to network 25 European cities). Yet these alliances have increasingly developed into numerous and sometimes large regional and transnational cooperative networks, such as Eurocities, Intercultural Cities networks, the Global Parliament of Mayors and the recently founded Mayors Migration Council (Oomen 2019b). The alliances draw benefits from exchanging information, sharing experiences and developing strategies collaboratively (Barber 2013; Oomen 2019b; Garcés-Mascareñas and Gebhardt 2020). As Oomen (2019b) shows however, there is often great power in ‘teaming up’, not only to share experiences, but develop alternative narratives. Collective mobilisation is more powerful in contesting nationally restrictive arguments and can also help influence the global legal framework, as 150 mayors of cities were able to do in contributing a city perspective to the 2018 Global Compact on Refugees and Migrants (ibid.)
Innovations in practices: a turn to the local for social inclusion
Moving now to the second master-theme of the collection, we reflect on practical experiments undertaken at city-level. All provided architectures, mechanisms and activities to generate social connections and provide a more inclusive form of reception for asylum seekers and refugees. We begin with Mahieu and Van Caudenberg (2020) analysis of an urban programme that involved young unaccompanied refugees cohabitation with young local citizens in small-scale collective housing units in Antwerp. Their article considers the opportunities this provided for social support and mutual learning, reflecting on the wider role that intercultural living can bring for newcomer integration. This is followed by Oliver, Geuijen and Dekker's et al.'s (2020) account of the Utrecht Refugee Launchpad (URLP), a co-housing project that attempted to facilitate social contact between a group of young, local tenants and asylum seekers housed in the same complex. We end the collection with Zill Spierings & Van Liempt's (2020) Lefebvrian exploration of an alternative space of asylum seeker reception emerging from civil society organizations and third sector activism, the Grandhotel Cosmopolis in Augsburg, Germany. Part-hotel, part- asylum seeker centre, its café, restaurant and artistic space provided sites of encounter between local residents, tourists and asylum seekers, while its playful imaginaries of the space of asylum reception as a ‘grandhotel’, evokes images of encounter and intercultural exchange.
All three examples show how local consensus is an important aspect of innovative projects. While existing scholarship has identified policy making as taking a ‘local turn’, these case studies demonstrate a ‘turn to the local’. By this we mean that the innovations were founded on a pragmatic recognition that reception occurs in real neighbourhoods with real people. Not only is power located downwards but so too is responsibility for newcomers’ experiences within the city as part of their urban citizenry. For example in Utrecht, the local government officials responsible for URLP, or ‘Plan Einstein’ as the initiative was colloquially known, referred to asylum seekers living in the city as ‘ours’ (fieldnotes from study by Oliver, Dekker and Geuijen 2019). By ‘turning to the local’, innovations strategically used pre-existing and newly emerging local horizontal networks, especially between local government and civil society. However, equally, two of the initiatives were also able to seek support vertically, by exploiting a rare opportunity of European funding being directly channelled to cities through the Urban Innovative Actions scheme (https://www.uia-initiative.eu/en). Such funding allows cities to bypass the national governments and pursue their own agendas (see also Garcés-Mascareñas and Gebhardt 2020). These finances were invaluable not only for allowing adequate resources to fully support the investment, but they also lent legitimacy locally and nationally to the experiments. Ironically, such funding may even provide a politically acceptable means for national governments to permit cities like Utrecht to experiment locally in ways that would be more difficult on a national scale (Geuijen, Oliver and Dekker 2020).
However, as some of the examples show, there can be implications of projects being framed as ‘experimental’, and ‘new’. Innovation, by its very nature is unlikely to get everything right at first and rather implies learning through experimentation. This sits somewhat at odds with the high-risk and public nature of the ventures examined in this collection, whereby the innovations attracted high public interest. Yet as Zill et al. (2020) show, a positive media spin on these ‘model projects’ can take a life of its own. Despite local media reporting presenting the Grandhotel Cosmopolis as experimental, the media construction at the national level was framed in ‘utopian’ terms. Their analysis shows that this reduced the innovation to a unique and ‘modern fairytale’ rather than any real, plausible alternative, or site of potential critique to the status quo nationally. The media depictions were also far removed from the reality of those living nearby, where reactions were informed by direct experience.
The strongest contribution of these three articles is however to the final question of our special issue (3). Through detailed empirical study, they shed light on cities’ attempts to forge greater intercultural understanding between asylum seekers and locals, based on an assumption that proximate living would create meaningful encounters. This was developed in different way across the innovations. In Antwerp, the concept of ‘organized befriending’ was embedded into communal living, where refugees were matched with young buddies through a carefully considered process by professionals. In Utrecht, co-housing and shared space for joint use by asylum seekers and tenants, alongside a wider co-learning educational programme open to both asylum seekers and locals was adopted. In Augsburg, the Grandhotel Cosmopolis project’s ambition for more open asylum reception stretched out to the wider community, as the reception space was designed as an open space for spontaneous encounter. It sought too to engage with both the imagined geographies of asylum and lived experiences, recognising that asylum seekers understood in mental images and ‘representational space’, as well as through physical engagement in ‘lived spaces’. In the final part of this editorial introduction, we consider then to what extent did the noble ideas behind these practical experiments live up to their transformative potential in dismantling categories of ‘us’ and ‘them’?
All three contributions offer some evidence that intervening in this type of local connection can provoke some kind of meaningful encounter. They confirm academic research which shows the positive benefits of social contact and encounter for enhancing intercultural understanding (e.g. in Allport’s (1954) contact hypothesis). Mahieu and Van Caudenberg (2020) show that befriending enabled instrumental social support, crucially by lowering the threshold for refugees asking for help and providing opportunity for informal learning in situations of daily living. The simple notion of just ‘having someone around’ offered them a welcome distraction from their past and present challenges. In Utrecht, asylum seekers similarly valued the opportunity to just be around other Dutch people, with tenants offering a glimpse into the realities of a regular life in Utrecht. Zill et al. (2020) show that the space of asylum accommodation is physically and socially produced, created not only through media representations, but also through direct experience of asylum seeker spaces.
Nevertheless, all the contributions show that developing intercultural encounters and shifting imagined representations of this group is not easy and the assumptions and expectations embedded within such innovations should be carefully considered. In Antwerp, contact was developed in a top-down manner, through the professionals selecting and matching buddies to work on a one-to-one basis with refugees in gender-mixed pairs. Mahieu and Van Caudenberg (2020) show that expectations of asylum seekers and buddies sometimes differed and that intimate co-housing arrangements sometimes created misunderstandings along cultural and gendered dividing lines. In Utrecht, social contact fluctuated over the course of the project and encounters varied in ease and intensity, and at times, became awkward and difficult. Oliver et al. (2020) show that it was influenced heavily by conditions and contexts outside the project. Contact worked best when numbers were fewer, ratios equal (around 40:40), people shared similar characteristics (of age and education) and there was enough time for relationships to develop. However, these conditions were not easily met within the constraints of national asylum management where people were moved regularly, often far from the city, directly contravening local policy. Similarly, in Augsburg, we see that despite being able to ‘walk in’, local people’s reactions were still heavily influenced by external, mediatized constructions of asylum seekers as either criminals or victims. Being close had only a limited effect on attitudes (Zill et al. 2020).
Developing intercultural encounters and shifting imagined representations were also affected by spatial arrangements. In all three cities, new reception facilities were quickly adapted to meet housing needs: In Antwerp, the collective housing was provided in a range of apartments, housing and a site built for the project including 16 two-bedroom modular units. In Utrecht, the site was a refurbished office building. In Augsburg the Grandhotel was a renovated former home for the elderly. All accounts demonstrated that physical locations and material conditions of asylum reception matter. In Antwerp, the opportunity to live together provided opportunities for pairs to exchange small gestures of help and share household items or lend furniture. However, these could be loaded exchanges, due to material inequalities between the groups. In Utrecht, tenants and asylum seekers lived close, but separately, yet notions of co-housing disguised the multiple inequalities within. Environmental factors, from large scale delays to the asylum seeker centre being ready for habitation to very small physical changes, like locking a shared entrance, had major repercussions on contact and atmosphere. In Augsburg, the Grandhotel was developed particularly with an eye to the affectual element of familiarization, where passers-by were encouraged to just walk into a physically open semi-public space. Nevertheless, the contribution shows that entering an asylum centre was still a difficult threshold for some nearby residents to overcome (see also Oliver et al. 2019 on neighbourhood reactions to the new centre).