Immigrants Helping Revitalize Philadelphia

banh mi in Philadelphia

Good story from the Cleveland Plain Dealer about how immigrants are helping to revitalize Philadelphia and how some Cleveland leaders are hoping the same can happen to them.

In national policy circles, immigration is often discussed as a “problem” wherein we need to deal with the terrifying phenomenon of people coming to the United States in order to do work in exchange for money. In urban policy, however, the reverse is more often the case. A city wants to be a place where immigrants want to come. It’s a sign of some of the relative failings of policy in Washington, DC—especially of crime control and education policy—that such a huge proportion of the metro area’s Asian immigrant population prefers to live in the suburbs.

When thinking about the immigrant role in the urban retail ecology, you also see the positive-sum aspects of immigration. When Vietnamese immigrants come to an area and open a banh mi shop, for example, that is competition with existing sandwich outlets. But banh mi is an imperfect substitute for other culinary options and vice versa. The immigrants haven’t just added such-and-such number of new labor inputs, they’ve put genuinely new capital into play (in terms of recipes, skills, and at times kinds of equipment) and expanded the choice set. And you see this sort of thing to an extent up and down the ladder of “cultural products”—not just food, but music, movies, television, advertising, video games, architecture * design, etc.—which are enormously important to the American economy.