Home to 442,500 usual residents, Bristol has witnessed a progressive growth in terms of population with nearly 47,000 new citizens since 2004. This 12% acceleration in growth over the last decade is faster than the national average (8%), and, if this trend continues, the city is expected to break the barrier of half a million people by 2029.

One of the factors that has always played an important role in shaping Bristol’s identity over the last decade is the impact of net international migration, which accounts for 41% of all population change in Bristol between 2004 and 2014. With almost a quarter (22%) of Bristol’s residents who are not white-British and 15% of the city’s population who were not born in the UK, Bristol is now a mosaic of culture and ethnic diversity. Today, the city is home to 45 religions, representing almost 190 countries of birth (not far from the number of nation members at the United Nations) and more than 90 different mother tongues.

 

Bristol is, then, a truly multi-cultural place to live. But where in the city are new residents most likely to find themselves?  ? In a recent publication, Centre for Cities explained that migrants are more likely to set up base within cities or in the surrounding area. Indeed, almost eight in ten (77%) newcomers in England and Wales live in cities, compared to 57 per cent of all residents (57%). As the research from Centre for Cities illustrates, the difference is even more significant when we look at city centres, where the percentage of newcomers (4%) living in these areas is higher than the percentage of all residents in England and Wales (1.6%). In this respect, as explained in the Population of Bristol 2015, Bristol is no exception, with the majority of new migrants to Bristol living in inner city areas, with Cabot and Lawrence Hill being particularly popular choices.

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While flows of new people coming from all over the world contribute to the growth of the economy and provide cultural and linguistic diversity, any new wave of migration is an opportunity to explore new methods of integration, communication and inclusion. At a time when European cities are struggling to manage the influx of new people, going digital could represent a way to promote social inclusion. Indeed, according to a paper published by the Migration Policy Institute, the digital age offers local authorities unprecedented opportunities to engage with new residents in innovative ways.

In this respect, smart-city technologies, open-data, web-portals and applications have the potential, on the one hand, to facilitate access to public services and enhance responsiveness, while on the other, could allow local authorities to better understand the needs of new-comers. For example, a recent paper by the Migration Policy Institute explains that disadvantaged groups and migrants are often very frequent users of smartphones, meaning that smart-city technologies could represent an important means with which to connect with those who may find other means of connectivity more difficult to access.

In particular, mobile-apps are becoming a new frontline for city services, opening up the space to a series of benefit such as reducing barriers to accessing services and encouraging civic engagement. As the Migration Policy Institute explains, tailored apps for new arrivals and on-the-go learning tools might represent a starting point for social and civic inclusion. In the U.S. for example, many apps of this kind have been developed to help people volunteer, register to vote, reschedule jury service and participate in online forums or giving feedback on planning process. On a more practical level, the development of forward-thinking tools such as the so called ‘one-stop apps’- aggregating all city services in one virtual portal – or the ‘service information apps’ – allowing citizens, for instance, to see whether parking places are available, can help improving cities’ accessibility.

In this respect, Dubai is an example to look at. By the end of the year, Dubai Smart Government Department will launch Dubai Now, an app that will incorporate access to more than 2,000 services from 19 government entities. The app, an adapted version of Google Now, will act as a personal assistant to Dubai’s residents as it will be able to make recommendations and perform actions by delegating requests to a set of web government’s services.

At a time when cities – Bristol included – are experiencing population growth for several reasons, local authorities must think innovatively and smart-city technologies, in this respect, open up a series of possibilities. Making sense of the way technology is changing how we perceive the place we live in will help us develop more inclusive, smarter and resilient cities.

 

Sources:

Immigrants in the Smart City: The Potential of the City Digital Strategies to Facilitate Immigration, Migration Policy Institute
The Population of Bristol: October 2015
The State of the City: Key Facts 2015
The Urban Face of Immigration, Centre for Cities

 

Simone Grassi, Bristol Is Open