During much of this time, many city officials appear not to have understood what was happening, Mr. Sandoval-Strausz argues. They were focused on constructing highways, parking garages, new housing developments and indoor malls — suburban-style amenities to lure back white families who had moved away.
“Cities spent decades trying to figure out, ‘How do we get those people back,’” he said, “as opposed to asking, ‘Who are these new people?’”
And yet, this process is an old one. Urban neighborhoods and jobs have repeatedly been restocked as one group — the Irish, Italians, Chinese, Mexicans — moves in, prospers and moves away, to be replaced by newer arrivals.
Democratic candidates for president have nodded to this rationale for immigration, but it’s likely to become more prominent as the general election approaches.
“The only reason that South Bend is growing right now, after years of shrinking, is immigration,” Pete Buttigieg, mayor of the Indiana city, said in the third presidential debate. He has proposed “community renewal visas” to steer immigrants to places that need them most.
This cycle of renewal works, Mr. Vigdor suggested, not only because immigrants are willing to do jobs Americans may not want, but also because they’re willing to accept living standards Americans won’t, in a tenement apartment or a run-down neighborhood, or in a city that has been emptying out.
If the recent immigrants Mr. Sandoval-Strausz describes move up and out, too, and there isn’t a next wave to replace them, cities much larger and more prosperous than South Bend would have reason to worry.