Welcoming Refugees and the Cultural Wealth of Cities: Intersections of Urban Development and Refugee Humanitarianism


In a context of rising nativism, cities across liberal democracies are enacting agendas to ‘welcome’ migrants and refugees. Existing scholarship examines this contentious political geography as reflecting either accommodative or restrictive responses to local immigrant populations. Through this lens, pro‐immigrant policies and dynamics are seen to recognize and support a set of pre‐defined immigrant ‘interests’, with the pertinent question being which local actors initiate processes of incorporation and why. Drawing on urban scholarship, this article offers an alternative framework through an analysis of resettled refugees’ experiences within the ‘welcoming agenda’ of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I show that this agenda is tethered to postindustrial ideologies of urban development, which see building and promoting ‘diversity’ as an economic exigency. As such, locally resettled refugees are incentivized to participate in a ‘symbolic economy’ valuing images of diversity, cosmopolitanism and immigrant contribution. Refugees gain access to resources, recognition and decision makers through participation in this symbolic economy, a process constituting a previously unexamined form of incorporation. I advance the concept of the ‘welcomed refugee’ to organize thinking about this process and call for critical attention to the forms of incorporation fostered in pro‐immigrant, cosmopolitan, substate settings.