Curated voices from cities
In my first year as Secretary General at Eurocities, my key priorities were to listen to the needs and expectations of our member cities, to better use the knowledge we share and create, and to make sure that cities can actively contribute to decision making at the European level. One of my first initiatives was to launch the preparation of the Eurocities Pulse and the Eurocities Monitor.
The Pulse invites mayors to share their challenges and priorities as well as their perception of how cities and the European institutions currently work and how they should work in the future. With almost 100 mayors having replied to our questionnaire, I am convinced that the results of our Pulse will give us more strength than ever in our discussions with the European institutions, which is crucial one year ahead of the elections of the next European Parliament and the appointment of the new European Commission.
As for the Eurocities Monitor, it offers an overview of the activities covered by our network. Its structure in 10 sections reflects our new internal working structure around 10 areas of expertise. An additional section is dedicated to our annual focus, which this year is the Russian war in Ukraine and the energy crisis.
Of course, the essays do not cover all of our work in each of these areas. How could they when we work in over 40 working groups, develop around 30 projects and organise 100 events of various kinds each year, ranging from mutual learning to our annual conference. However, prepared by the Eurocities teams in a very short time frame, they do each offer an introduction or oversight of some of the most pertinent trends and challenges currently facing cities. Certain aspects have been highlighted by mayors in their responses to the Eurocities Pulse survey. Others are upcoming challenges that we have started to work on proactively.
In my previous role, as a deputy mayor, I already gained insight into many of the challenges faced by city governments, and the innovative actions taken to work with local people and businesses to create more sustainable and inclusive places for people to live, work and play.
However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t learned a lot this year. And I am sure you will also learn a lot by reading through the Eurocities Monitor. In the essay on food, you will see how cities are taking the lead in an area that many might not consider to be the natural remit of a city administration. Yet, with most people now living in cities and urbanisation a trend that looks set to continue in the coming decades, cities must develop good relationships with their surrounding rural areas and intervene directly in the food chain to ensure the good health and wellbeing of their residents, in particular the most vulnerable ones, our children.
We also focus one essay on governance. Good governance is of course necessary for the efficient delivery of public services and ensuring that city administrations work well with other levels of government to achieve common goals. It is also crucial to ensure that local people’s voices are included in plans that will impact them, and that other local actors such as businesses contribute to, understand, and actively take part in the further development of their city.
This includes the use of digital technologies, which are already transforming cities and having a direct impact on people’s lives. Ensuring safe and secure access to digital services and placing ordinary people at the centre of the process are key to ensuring that the digital transformation leaves no one behind.
For example, in line with Eurocities’ priorities for 2023, many of the essays look at ways that cities are working to become climate neutral. The European Green Deal helps to provide an overriding framework towards this shared goal, and with the conclusion of most of the legislative files of the Fit For 55 packages over the past months, we must now look to implementation. The 100 Climate Neutral and Smart Cities Mission has provided an excellent leg up for many cities and promises to lay the pathway for all cities to follow suit.
As international hubs of culture, Eurocities member cities often host large events that attract people from all over. When an exhibition or performance ends, a lot of material is left over or thrown away simply because of a lack of space. But many cities are now trying to approach such events sustainably. In addition, cities and regions must balance economic, social, cultural, and environmental needs to ensure the sustainability of tourism and cultural heritage.
One core urban competence – listed by mayors in the Eurocities Pulse survey at their second heighest priority for 2023 – is sustainable mobility. Local governments are tapping into the potential of multiple sustainable mobility tools to accelerate their path towards carbon neutrality: from setting low-emission zones to building cycling and pedestrian paths, from fostering electric mobility uptake to boosting public transport services, from encouraging multimodality and sustainable logistics to improving road safety.
We must also think about our buildings, given that buildings account for 40% of final energy consumption in the European Union and 36% of its energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.
And, from biodiversity to water and waste management, to keeping your favourite natural spot peaceful and secluded, cities are safeguarding the wellbeing of local people by protecting and enhancing their natural ecosystems.
In the current context of rising costs of living and high energy prices, energy poverty is an increasing concern. Understanding how this impacts people’s quality of life and what cities are doing about it is explored in more detail in the essay on social inequalities.
Increasingly, it is people already in employment who are struggling with some of these challenges, and cities aim to ensure that all residents feel included in city life by affording access to basic services for the people on the lowest incomes and by offering new services to those aged over 65.
Another aspect, as highlighted in the Eurocities Pulse, is the economic recovery, which remains a top priority for one in five mayors. Long-term investment, skills for the green transition, and innovation are key to ensuring that our cities have the economic and human resources to deliver on ambitious local and European initiatives. As change-makers and hubs of innovation, cities are the places where these developments happen, but more engagement, funding and flexibility from the EU will be vital to boost local initiatives.
This year, Eurocities is committed to continuing its strong solidarity with Ukraine – which is also explored in an additional essay in the final section of the Eurocities Monitor.
One strand of this work, however, is closely linked to Eurocities’ ongoing work around refugees and migration, to ensure that cities are welcoming places where newcomers can be easily integrated in a way that benefits them and their new community. It has primarily been to cities that the more than 7 million Ukrainian refugees have fled since the beginning of the Russian invasion in February 2022.
Dealing with the effects of the Russian war in Ukraine, as well as the ongoing impacts of migration from all parts of the world were among the top five challenges shared by mayors for 2022 in the Eurocities Pulse survey.
Each of the essays, listed below, shares examples from our member cities, and is packed with links to further source material, quotes from our mayors, videos and images to help elaborate and amplify the voice of cities.
And what is evident from these essays is that they answer many of the points raised by mayors in the Eurocities Pulse. They give further background and insight to many of the points that we raise on a regular basis with decision makers here in Brussels. It is clear that cities and the EU share many common goals and values.
I hope you will enjoy this first edition of the Eurocities Monitor. I am convinced that its annual launch during our General Assembly has the potential to become an expected key event for all those who are interested in what is at stake in European cities. Don’t hesitate to share your ideas for improvement for the next editions of this publication, but, for now, I leave you with this collection of essays on voices from cities:
by André Sobczak,
Secretary General, Eurocities