Skip to 0 minutes and 12 secondsStreet squares, parks, and other urban spaces are a fundamental feature of cities, representing, among other things, sites of sociability and face-to-face interaction. Like all people, migrants use public space in a variety of ways, from moving around the city to meeting friends, for leisure and cultural activities, and sometimes, for participating in public protest. Like all people, this use is influenced by different factors, such as gender and age, although legal status can assume added significance. And the lack of documents may deter certain individuals from using public space altogether. However, some migrants use public space more intensely or in a more distinct way.

Skip to 1 minute and 8 secondsThis might be because they live in overcrowded or uncomfortable accommodation and thus spend most time outdoors, or because they are dispersed across the city and so have to devise their own meeting places. Let's look at an example. Every Friday afternoon, Nepalese workers in Doha recreate an informal bazaar in an empty car park. Here, thousands of men congregate to meet with friends and relatives, and to buy and sell Nepalese items. The car park is situated close to the Qatari capital's main bus station, with connections to the various labour camps where the migrants live. The space is also generally underused and out of sight, so authorities tend to turn a blind eye, even if the gathering is formally illegal.

Skip to 2 minutes and 7 secondsThis reuse of urban space is the result of a calculated choice on the part of the migrant workers, and the desire to establish a social place on their own terms. But it also reflects the absence of more appropriate facilities, and the exclusion of these workers from upmarket shopping malls, frequented by Qatari citizens and rich Westerners. By reshaping the urban public realm, migrant groups are able to affirm their place in the city. A park in a south European city may temporarily be transformed into a cricket pitch by South Asian males, or into a gigantic picnic venue for Ecuadorean families.

Skip to 2 minutes and 56 secondsMigrants also leave more permanent physical signs of their presence in the built environment, such as community posters written in languages of origin that are affixed to walls. Over time, the accumulation of such traces may become a source of community pride, or even a tourist attraction. Moreover, local authorities may officially recognise linguistic landscapes and introduce bilingual signage. This has occurred around Brick Lane in the East End of London in the United Kingdom, where street signs are now in English and Bengali. These new senses of place often coexist with other preexisting uses, but they can sometimes be a cause for tension, if previous meanings and forms of access are seen to be curtailed.

Skip to 3 minutes and 56 secondsFinally, urban public space is potentially a setting where migrants and local people come into contact. Of all the spaces in a city, it is the street market that often affords the greatest opportunities for such encounters. Irrespective of their tatty or disorderly appearance, markets, by their very nature, encourage casual, social interactions and basic entrepreneurial activities that are crucial to building community cohesion. Research in the United Kingdom, for example, has called upon city councils to appreciate the non-economic attributes of markets, and has shown that it is often migrant and ethnic minority communities who are at the forefront of campaigns against the demolition of markets or their redevelopment into shopping centres aimed at a different type of city user.

Migrants and urban public space

In his video instructor Nick Dines discusses the relationship between migrants and urban public space

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This video is from the free online course:

Migration and Cities

European University Institute (EUI)