At Metropolis World Congress, a focus on city solutions
MONTREAL, Canada — Mayors and other top officials from 140 world cities used last week’s Metropolis World Congress here to assert cities’ key role in combatting climate change and to advance the New Urban Agenda ratified last October at the U. N.’s Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador.
Montréal Mayor Denis Coderre used the occasion to castigate U. S. President Donald Trump for his decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. “I’d like to thank President Trump because of his nonsense, because in Canada and Québec and Montréal, we believe we should build bridges, not walls …. Trust me, the mayors of the world will take our responsibility and be able to deliver on the accord of Paris.”
In a key three-way dialogue, Coderre, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris and chair of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, noted the escalating role of cities in global affairs, ranging from climate change mitigation to agreeing to provide new homes for thousands of Syrian refugees.
State and national governments need to set priorities, but Trudeau said it’s cities that deliver for citizens — in Canada, for example, they provide 60 percent of direct services for people while collecting just 10 percent of overall taxes.
France, Hidalgo observed, has a more vertical, nation-state focus of authority than the North American model. But she insisted that cities are where the greatest wealth is created, and it’s up to larger cities — on the theory of the late urbanist writer Benjamin Barber — to create solutions that can be taken to a global scale.
“Cities need nation-states but we can also be active on the international level,” she said, adding “cities are on the front line of globalization, where we see all the effects, from refugees to climate change.”
Asked about Paris’ decision to bar private automobiles from 3.3 km of an artery along the Seine, Hidalgo took note of car owners’ protests but insisted the decision was right. “Fewer cars mean less pollution,” she said, and opening up “this beautiful space, a U. N. heritage site” for thousands of people, children included, “also lets us adapt to climate change.”
The mayors at the Montréal meeting adopted a declaration reaffirming their determination to implement the Paris Agreement on climate change, as well as the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Refugee issues were a significant focus of the Montréal sessions — city officials noted steps they are taking such as establishing training programs for refugees, or working with companies that hire refugees to establish mentors for the new employees. Berlin alone reported taking in some 70,000 refugees from North Africa since 2015, providing initial housing, language classes, job counseling and other services.
Berlin Mayor Michael Müller called for openness toward refugees — respecting their cultures so that a new “we” emerges — “a huge obligation of our generation.”
Müller’s Berlin is also a key participant — and official host — for a newly created “Cities Sustainability Collaboratory”, a project of several Metropolis member cities to enable exchanges between local authorities and the academic world on issues of sustainable urban development corresponding to the goals of the New Urban Agenda.
Founding members of the group include Barcelona, Berlin, Dakar, Guangzhou, Johannesburg, Lyon, Mexico City, Montréal and Seoul. It is affiliated with such institutions as the Guangzhou Institute for Urban Innovation, the Humboldt University of Berlin, the Technical University of Berlin, the Autonomous University of Barcelona, and the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University.
Announcing the effort, Paul James, professor of Globalization at the University of Western Sydney, said the intent is to use research to inform city policy making. The Collaboratory “is not intended to be an observatory in the usual sense of gathering data, but rather an interpretive, policy-response collaboration,” James said.
Müller called the Collaboratory a way to encourage city development that conforms to the New Urban Agenda, “providing new energy for the positive development of our cities,” and “a clear timetable for a sustainable form of urban development.”