Main research themes

In this project, we will focus on the processes of neighborhood change and immigrant incorporation and how they lead to different outcomes. Do immigrants get jobs and participate in the political process? Do gentrifying neighborhoods result in the displacement of long-time residents and is economic inequality across neighborhoods widening? Our hypothesis is that institutions and policy processes have a major influence on these outcomes and the U.S.-German comparison will help us tease out these causal links. Processes of immigrant incorporation and neighborhood change can be broken down along two dimensions: 1) broad structural forces that are largely beyond the control of local actors and 2) institutional/policy processes that local agents can potentially influence.

Cross-national urban comparison

Our approach will be the comparative case study method. Case studies are primarily concerned with explanatory questions about social processes or mechanisms. The analysis seeks to determine how the different causal factors fit together. The comparative case study method further allows for an explicit examination of how different conditions combine and what effects they have in one setting (e.g., a neighborhood in a German city compared to a neighborhood in a United States city). The comparative method allows for a close determination of the influences of different combinations of conditions in each setting. Individual neighborhoods or groups of immigrants are the primary observational units used for data collection and analysis, while different dimensions of institutional and policy context serve as explanatory factors to account for differences and similarities.

Older-industrial transforming cities

St. Louis and Dortmund have experienced similar structural challenges stemming from globalization and economic restructuring. Both have gone through roughly similar processes of deindustrialization and population decline. Both are experiencing economic restructuring in the form of rising jobs and investment in white-collar, innovative, creative knowledge economies, such as biotech, computer applications, and finance. Demographic trends in the two cities are roughly similar – with increased immigration, racial/ethnic diversity, high levels of racial/ethnic segregation, socio-economic inequality, and an aging population. We are not arguing that St. Louis and Dortmund have experienced the same structural pressures. Overall, however, structural forces stemming from global population flows and economic restructuring impact the two cities in similar ways.

On the other hand, the institutions and policies that impact immigrants and neighborhoods are very different in Dortmund and St. Louis, sometimes differing not just in quantity but in quality. Welfare state policies that cushion people from the costs of economic restructuring and immigrant incorporation are stronger in Germany than in the U.S. Greater reliance on local funding for schools and municipal services in the U.S. compared to Germany encourages greater economic (and racial) segregation. German public policies are relatively more favorable to rental housing, including a larger share of “non-market” social housing, which may cushion the effect of gentrification on low-income residents. In the U.S. urban regeneration policies are driven by the private sector, community-based nonprofits, and anchor institutions -- with public planners often taking a back seat. By contrast, government plays the leading role in German urban regeneration policies.

We believe collaboration between German and American scholars can help to highlight the role of policies and institutions in coping with the challenges of neighborhood change and immigrant incorporation.