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What part of the city do immigrants go to?


Individuals and groups interact with each other in a physical environment as a part of everyday life. This certain physical environment involves certain symbols and associativities which affect us and our relations. This will be our reference to understand the concept of “the place” and how it takes on an important task. According to Brandenburg and Carroll, a place includes a physical environment that exists in the concrete world and everything happens in there. A place also includes natural and man-built objects, the organization of them, all the living things, plants, and mankind’s relationship with them. Looking at how important the concept of place is in terms of environmental sociology, Güleç Solak (2017) stated that the relationship of individuals with a place affects their relationship with their emotions, thoughts, attitudes, and social culture. Psychology puts the environment in a dominant position in identity formation. When we think within the framework of psychology which agreed on the impact of the environment on identity, the physical environment that forms the identity of an individual will have a direct impact on the behavior of that individual as well.

Immigrants are those who lost their connection to places where they were born and grew up. The characteristics of the destination place play an important role in the adaptation process. Therefore, it is necessary to pay attention to the city and the area where migrants live when we try to understand these processes. The process of identity creation with the place, which is called “place identity” by Proshansky, indicates an interrupted process for immigrants.  Proshansky defines the concept of place identity as it follows: “those dimensions of self that define the individual’s identity in relation to the physical environment by means of a complex pattern of conscious and unconscious ideas, feelings, values, goals, preferences, skills, and behavioral tendencies relevant to a specific environment”. As one can understand from this definition, the place does not only include spatial characteristics but also includes interpersonal relations which make it an umbrella term.  Everyone considers interpersonal relationships when choosing a place to live, and often prefers to live in similar places. Proshansky emphasized the reason why a place is an important component is connected with human’s need for belonging. According to Maslow, the need for belonging is the most important need coming after physiological and safety needs.  In addition to individual needs, loving a place more than others and preferring to be there more also indicates identity formation.  Every place offers identity and an individual’s preferences are a way to use places as a tool to present their own identity.  In this case, if we want to get more information about someone we just met, we can ask about the place they live and the place they prefer to go.

To set an example for the influence of the place in identity formation, Fried’s research conducted in 1982 can be used.   Fried interviewed a group of forced immigrants in the USA. He found out that forced immigration harms the continuity of life in a place and causes losing the sense of community.  When they were asked about the place they feel belonged, they told him their hometowns. But the second generation of an immigrant family feels more belonging to the city they live in more than their parents.  Therefore, we can say the relationship with a place continues mostly with the individual. An immigrant can connect with a place and feel belonged even though their ancestors did not live there. It can be said that autobiographical memory gets involved here. Humans create their history with their autobiographical memories. Autobiographical memories include experiences, important events, people, and places. Even though transferred situations and people are meaningful, they won’t as effective as personal experiences. 

First of all, the same place lets the locals and migrants have different meanings and behaviors.  Being a migrant alone changes the meaning of a whole place. Because a migrant is a “subsequent outsider” and the place they migrated is the starting point to a new era of their life and their identity.  They need to build new connections and fight potential discrimination.

Let’s get to the point. What part of the city do immigrants go to? We see that they usually go downtown. The common feature of these places is that while the population is small at night, in the daytime it greatly increases. That is, the number of people who stop by downtown is much higher than the number of people who live there. Migrants do not want to be noticed or face a negative reaction as they move on with their life, so they stay downtown. On the other hand, locals live in different areas of the city. Migrants prefer downtowns because they are filled with people. That is why the change in cities starts with downtowns. Outsiders affect the downtowns first. Migrants also tend to choose places other migrants live as a group. This can be considered a pragmatic choice. They want to live in groups so they can support each other and meet their needs. The same phenomenon can be seen in people who migrate from country to town. They usually choose apartments where families live together. It is an obstacle for migrants to learn the language of the country they migrated to. Since they live in a group, they do not feel the need to learn the language and they meet each other’s meets while these preferences affect the acculturation strategies of the migrant. An isolated immigrant tends to use the strategy of separation and marginalization while an immigrant who communicates more with the locals tends to use the integration or assimilation strategies.  The most desired strategy among these is the integration strategy. Integration strategy suggests the migrant cares about meeting and connecting with the society while preserving their own culture as well.  That is why the place and its characteristics are important in the preparation process for their relationships with the locals. Policymakers have the opportunity to speed up the integration process and make it better by arranging settlement strategies that immigrants socialize with locals more.  Even though it will be difficult, many advantages will occur with the healthy communication of two or more cultures. 


Writer: Esra Kamacı

Translator: Merve Kaçmaz  



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