Urban regeneration through migration: empirical evidence and conceptual outline on the German case

Library Meeting Room
Wednesday 22 July 2015 (13:30-15:00)

Sophie Sinclair (S.C.Sinclair@bham.ac.uk)

Seminar lead

Professor Felicitas Hillmann (IRS/TU Berlin)


All forms of urban development are related to processes of migration – but up until today, the role of migrants within regeneration measures receives little attention in the public and scientific discourse. Most attention goes to the negative impact of migration on cities: on the risks that go along with new immigration, pronouncing the fears of the mainstream society. In Germany this perspective is partly fed by way social sciences has looked at migration over the last century.

The way cities deal with the stranger, within its territory has been analysed by Simmel, then by the Chicago School and then by the configuration school by Scotson and Elias. Germany, a state with in-migration to the labour market since industrial times, developed an anti-migration science early in the 20th century, focusing on colonisation and pushing for an idea of population movements that would express the superiority of the German culture. The racist ideal of a homogenous population, embodying strength as related to the notion of “purity”, continued to prevail in the discourse on migration even after nazi-times until the 1970s. At that time Germany had de facto become an immigration country and hosted millions of so called guest workers. 

The migrants first came to live in run-down areas in the inner cities. Their presence was perceived as at the margins of the city and of the society. The least that can be said about their function within urban development is, that – in a way - they helped to keep up run-down and devastated neighbourhoods. After the structural crisis, in the 1980s, social and spatial polarization in many West-German cities increasingly became visible and resulted in an entanglement of the social and the ethnic question. Scientists labeled the position of the migrants as “urban marginality”. Only in the late 1990s – when the first social policy programs were transferred into area-based policies – the role of migrants became recognised in planning and regeneration schemes. At that time migrant economies had started to pop up – often as a way out of blocked mobility on the labour market.

The international academic debate on whether ethnic entrepreneurship was essential within urban development only arrived fully  in the 2000s  in Germany – much later than in the UK. Today entrepreneurship by migrants is no longer a minority issue, but rather constitutes a majority situation. In the city states of Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen migrant business registrations are outnumbering the business registrations by the native population. In the past couple of years the integration of the migrant population into policies of urban regeneration has been pushed forward actively – leading to place-branding and marketing of migrant neighborhoods in districts such as Neukölln and Kreuzberg. This seminar concentrates on those policies that integrate migration and migrants into regeneration schemes by setting the former marginal into the centre. The regional focus will be on Berlin.

This is a fantastic opportunity to attend Dr Hillmann’s seminar, listen to her findings and discuss them with her and other leading academics.  


Places will be allocated on a first come, first served basis. Do register by sending an email to Sophie Sinclair at S.C.Sinclair@bham.ac.uk