Cities are dynamic spaces for social, cultural and economic transformation and aspiration. Part of the research effort of the United Nations University Institute on Globalization, Culture and Mobility (UNU-GCM) has focused on how migration and mobility are key phenomena that fuel this urban dynamism. The influx of migrants to cities is also a growing phenomenon, bearing in mind that in 2015 it was reported by UN Habitat that over 60% of the world’s refugees and 80% of internally displaced persons now live in urban areas.
UNU-GCM has researched the ways in which increasing urbanization offers both opportunities for innovation to flourish, but also challenges of inclusivity in schools, workplaces and neighbourhoods for example. An area of particular interest to the Institute is the exploration of the media’s role in shaping public perceptions of globalization and its impacts at local and city levels. It has done so, for instance, by investigating the media of photography and film. Indeed, research at UNU-GCM has previously looked specifically at issues of female migration, relocation and homemaking in Barcelona, as part of an ethnographic project entitled ‘Women of the World: Home and Work in Barcelona.’ As well as a policy report, the work used oral and visual documentary to explore the experiences of a variety of women from a range of countries.
In the policy realm, the Institute has approached cities and urbanization through diverse lenses. For example, policy reports produced at UNU-GCM have looked specifically at how cities can play the role of humanitarian actors, as they receive people displaced by crises. In these scenarios, as well as offering space for hope, cities also become places of transition where new arrivals are received and the processes (and politics) of integration are played out. Comparative analysis between cities has generated good practice policy recommendations. UNU-GCM has been able to further share best practice through its policy brief contributions to the annual Mayoral Forum on Mobility, Migration and Development, first held in Barcelona in 2014. Work across the last few years has explored a range of efforts, from the crafting of inclusive city identities (such as through a participatory photography project in Singapore), as well as the investigation of local government measures to protect the vulnerable, which require effective cooperation.