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Do the best cities have a lot of immigrants?

I tweeted this out last night while watching old reruns of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown series. This was a great show. If I were to give everything up and become a YouTuber, this is the kind of travel and food channel I would want to make, except that I would naturally have to add in some equal parts around architecture, planning, and real estate.

The responses to my tweet were of course mixed. Some people agreed and some people didn’t. And a few people provided examples of great cities that aren’t particularly known for their openness to new entrants — places like Tokyo. This kind of response is not at all surprising given how divisive this topic has always been throughout history.

But here’s what I was thinking:

1/ There are some obvious current case studies. Consider places like Toronto and Miami, where foreign born residents now make up the majority of the population. These are two fast growing and dynamic cities that wouldn’t be anywhere near as interesting without their immigrant populations. Certainly the food wouldn’t be as good.

2/ Many of the most beautiful cultures in the world are the result of different cultures coming together. Brazil is one example that comes to mind. Throughout history they have been one of the largest recipients of immigrants in the western hemisphere. Sadly, Brazil was also the last country in the western world to abolish slavery.

3/ Rome and Tokyo were cited (in the comments) as two great cities that frankly aren’t all that diverse. According to Wikipedia, less than 10% of Rome’s population is non-Italian. But Rome, while nice, is provincial these days. And Tokyo, while awesome, has a bit of a demographic problem.

4/ Even if you think a place doesn’t have a lot of immigrants and maybe isn’t all that diverse, it is still probably the result of diverse cultures coming together at multiple points throughout history. Maybe because of immigration. Or maybe because of something bad like war. Think of the Moors from northern Africa who crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and conquered the Iberian Peninsula.

5/ An openness to new people could signal and probably does signal an openness to other things. And since we are living in a world that thrives on innovation and new ideas, being open strikes me as being a fairly good and useful characteristic to have.

6/ Lastly, I come from a family of immigrants. I self-identify as being entirely Canadian. But I had to come from somewhere (multiple places, in fact). And so it strikes me as being odd and entirely selfish to want to block the flow of people now that I’m here and established.

What are your thoughts?


  1. AM

    I’m with you, being a 1st-gen immigrant to Canada, married to one, and coming from a family of Italian immigrants to the south of France (though it goes back to the early 20th century).

    I’m not sure about Rome itself, but let’s not forget that Europe has seen a lot of mixing over the millennia with people moving and being displaced through history. So while any locale’s populace may be from “there”, the long history tends to hide outside influences. But these are still there to be felt, maybe the locals consider themselves to belong to the place, but the history, the food, the culture at large still bear the marks of past migrations. My hometown (Grenoble) while not housing many genuine Italians (say 1st or 2nd gen immigrants) still has a strong Italian culture, quarter, and a disproportionate number of pizzerias.

    So one could almost make the argument that many of the world’s most interesting cities have been influenced greatly by outside cultures, even if the original importers of these cultures are long gone. Europe itself is one long battle for dominance in which territories were conquered, lost, and conquered again. The borders we know today are quite recent, most of them dating back only to WWII, so even without mass migration, being under the authority of many states and kingdoms over the centuries also generated mixed influences, kind of like the opposite of migration: people stayed put while states came and went.

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