By Anna Joo Kim, Ph.D.
School of City & Regional Planning
Georgia Institute of Technology
Atlanta envisions itself a new Global City (Sassen, 2000), with the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport—the world’s busiest—a hub of economic development, spurred by the addition of about 250,000 new immigrants from India, South Korea, Mexico, Ethiopia, and other countries between 2000 and 2010. Data from the 1990, 2000, and 2010 census surveys indicate that the metropolitan area has become more African American, more Latino/Hispanic, and more Asian each year. Population growth in Georgia over the last 30 years has been largely driven by minority groups settlement patterns; and we saw the addition of Georgia’s first ever “majority-minority” county, with Gwinnett County joining 78 other counties in the United States that reflect a nation-wide “racial shift” – expanding the impact of immigrant residential preferences beyond traditional gateway cities like New York, Boston, Chicago, or Los Angeles.
How do cities that have not been traditional immigrant destinations adjust and adapt to new immigrants, new cultures, and new languages? Welcoming America, a national initiative helping cities develop policies and programs for welcoming new immigrants to their new homes, explains how to “Build a Nation of Neighbors” by incorporating diverse peoples in a variety of ways. Welcoming America helps cities make the most of their diversity and create a sense of belonging.
“It’s about the seed and the soil. If you are a new person coming into a community, a lot of the attention has been paid on the newcomer, watering the seed, helping the newcomer adapt, but we should also pay attention to the soil. Our goal is to create a broader community that is fertile ground for the new person to be successful. So we help communities answer questions about improving the soil, making the community stronger. Fertile soil makes communities more successful for everyone – not just newcomers” –- Rachel Peric, Deputy Director, Welcoming America
Georgia is at a national nexus of new immigration (Hernandez-Leon & Zuniga, 2002), and Atlanta has emerged as one of the few cities in the South seeking to welcome immigrants and embrace this demographic change (Welcoming America Immigrant Integration Initiative, 2013).
“We are trying to build this movement in the South, and lead this movement in the South, and make it natural and “doable.” In 2014 Mayor Reed commissioned a group of stakeholders, a body of people of diverse backgrounds, diverse ethnicities – to answer the question: What would make Atlanta a more welcoming city: what can we do at a policy level, at the community level, on a social level, that would make Atlanta a more welcoming city for immigrants? — Maria Azuri, Director of Programs, Welcoming Atlanta and Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs
But where Georgia has added over 50,000 immigrants in recent years (2010-2014), the foreign-born population of the City of Atlanta itself increased only by about 1000 persons. The vast majority of immigrant groups (across origins: European, Latin American, Asian, and African) are immigrating directly to the suburbs and fringes (older, inner ring suburbs) of the Atlanta MSA, with greatest growth occurring in Gwinnett County, parts of North DeKalb County, and a rapidly growing immigrant concentration to Clayton County (particularly the Forrest Park area).
It is suburban places that experience the most immigrant-driven growth and population change (Brookings, 2014), and reflect the ongoing national preference for suburban areas in general. Singer’s work at the Brookings Institute (2015) has revealed the Atlanta MSA’s national relative classification as a “major-emerging” immigrant gateway. The fastest contemporary growth rates belong to the major-emerging gateways (Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Orlando, and Phoenix); together they comprise 8 percent of the total foreign-born population in 2014. But Atlanta’s immigrant communities are still markedly more oriented to the urban/urbanizing metropolitan statistical area compared to state residents overall; where the Atlanta MSA composes about half of Georgia’s total population, more than 75% of the state’s total foreign born population are drawn to suburbs within the MSA (which housed 689,361 of the 909,002 foreign-born persons within Georgia in 2010).
With the context of recent, rapid, and diverse immigrant population growth in the Atlanta region, a group of researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University, and Kennesaw State University have launched a collaborative research network across the three universities. This group will study this new population and economic growth and the impact of immigration to Georgia and other emergent immigrant destinations. Dr. Cathy Yang Liu (Georgia State University) recently convened the first meeting of the three universities in the public forum “Welcoming Cities – A Dialogue Between Research & Policy” with presentations by partners Welcoming Atlanta (Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs) and Welcoming America. Topics at this event included the City of Norcross, Georgia’s recent efforts at immigrant inclusion, the recently-performedLatino Community Needs Assessment of Georgia, local-government-level initiatives and migration patterns, and the multiple scales encountered in the immigrant experience. For more on the scholarship presented at this event or the Georgia Immigration Research Network (GIRN)’s other recent activities, see http://urbaninnovation.gatech.edu/projects/immigrant-community-studio, or contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.