A new plan to make Pittsburgh more welcoming to immigrants

     Photo courtesy of Welcoming Pittsburgh, from The Welcoming Pittsburgh Plan: A Roadmap for Change.

    Photo courtesy of Welcoming Pittsburgh, from The Welcoming Pittsburgh Plan: A Roadmap for Change.

    A plan to make immigrants feel welcome in Pittsburgh includes initiatives like municipal ID cards and community policing.

    Pittsburgh has been trying to attract immigrants to bolster the city’s population – less than half its peak in the 1950s. On Monday Mayor Bill Peduto released the plan detailing how, exactly, to do that best.

    Aside from growing the city’s population and increasing diversity there’s an economic reason to woo immigrants: they tend to be more entrepreneurial  than native-born Americans. In other words, more immigrants could mean more jobs, a larger tax base, and more growth for the city as a whole.

    As part of the planning process, Pittsburgh conducted surveys to learn about the immigrant experience in the city. Results, outlined in the plan, showed 77 percent of foreign-born respondents “feel generally welcome, accepted, and safe. But less than half felt that Pittsburghers are willing to go out of their way to assist others, and to make connections for immigrants. The largest hurdles encountered by respondents included transportation (41% had difficulty using public transportation), employment, and connecting and making friends.”

    The plan is divided into three parts. Welcome, Neighbor! focuses on civics, education, and community; Bridge to the City addresses government, housing and services; and Prospering Together looks at employment, job creation and empowerment. Each recommendation is further broken down into short term, mid term and long-term goals.

    Overall, the recommendations range from simple things like expanding immigrant youth activities, to more complex ideas like community policing, a municipal ID program, improving refugee services, culturally appropriate public education, better transportation access, and immigration reform at the local and federal level.  

    Cities nationwide, including Philadelphia, have already launched similar initiatives. Larger metropolitan areas tend to have larger foreign-born populations than smaller metros, so they’ve long had to figure out ways to welcome and integrate newcomers. But Pittsburgh and other Midwestern cities with newer welcoming programs have relatively small immigrant populations: Pittsburgh’s foreign-born residents make up 7.4 percent of the city’s population. That’s compared to a national average of 12.9 percent and Philadelphia’s 12.2 percent. (Just for comparison: New York City’s foreign-born population is 37 percent.) The newer programs come from a desire to return vibrancy to cities struggling in the post-industrial economy.    

    In all, Pittsburgh wants to attract 20,000 new residents in the next decade, some of whom it hopes will be immigrants.          

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