Cities today face new economic, political, and social challenges spurred, in part, by the growth of immigrant and newcomer populations and increasing competitive pressure in the context of contemporary globalization. In the face of these challenges, some U.S. city and county governments have adopted the “welcoming city initiative,” which promotes both immigrant integration and economic growth. To date, little research has explored why different U.S. cities decide to pursue the welcoming city initiatives, what cities really hope to achieve through them, or what governing arrangements emerge to develop and implement these initiatives. In addition to illuminating the emerging discursive, political, and organizational dynamics of welcoming, this dissertation contributes to the literatures in urban asset development, urban regime theory, and political and bureaucratic incorporation.
Drawing on 30 interviews with key actors and document analysis, this dissertation employs a multiple case study design to conduct an interpretive policy analysis of the initiatives of four U.S. welcoming cities: Austin, Texas; Boise, Idaho; Chicago, Illinois; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The analysis explores three independent but interconnected themes. The first theme concerns multiple, context-specific framings of “welcoming” and the types of assets cities seek to leverage and develop through the welcoming city initiatives. This investigation finds that while each city puts a priority on developing a certain set of assets based on its unique political, economic, and demographic contexts, welcoming efforts tend to encourage immigrant entrepreneurialism, the leveraging newcomers’ human capital and financial assets, and the development place-based assets to attract and retain newcomers. The efforts to strengthen community capacity seek to institutionalize a new norm of welcoming, structure immigrant-friendly governance practices, and engage newcomers and longer-term residents in their community affairs. The second theme probes the ways in which these four cities create and maintain governing regimes for the initiative. The analysis finds that, while the four cities develop different governing structures, all pursue the creation of mixed types of governing coalitions that combine pro-growth and opportunity expansion regimes by incorporating the goals of economic growth and immigrant integration. The third theme investigates different modes of immigrant incorporation and their contribution to immigrant integration, the final stage in immigrant settlement. The analysis suggests that political leaders and bureaucratic agencies of the welcoming cities tend to build reciprocal relationships, rather than principal-agent relationships, in which political leaders rely on the positional, professional, and technical expertise of bureaucrats. In these early stages on the initiative, political and bureaucratic incorporation aim to create institutional changes that help immigrants and newcomers to be viewed as political constituents and clients of bureaucratic agencies.
This dissertation broadly concludes that the welcoming city initiative is a promising new urban economic development framework that could reshape urban space by integrating pro-growth demands with social integration and inclusion. Going forward, however, deeper consideration of the perspectives and rights of immigrants and newcomers themselves is needed in these initiatives.