Mayors: Everyone's involvement needed to improve cities
How to be a solution not a problem.
Political decisions on the environment matter only in as much they echo in people's lives and change is only possible through cooperation and by getting everyone to contribute their bit, a panel featuring mayors of several European cities heard in Ljubljana on Thursday. The debate showed that cities face similar problems, a major one being transport and the challenge of creating sustainable mobility. Good solutions may be found by sharing positive experience, avoiding mistakes others have made and applying solutions that have proved successful elsewhere, the mayors of Belgrade, Budapest, Istanbul, Sofia, Tirana and Ljubljana agreed.
We need to move away form politics and get closer to people."
The debate, which also heard officials from Bristol, Paris, Stockholm and Tallinn, was also told that the cities and mayors had a major role to play in raising awareness and promoting change at the national and international levels and that they needed to act like leaders, managers and to look ahead.
"Regardless of their size the problems of cities are usually the same," Mayor of Istanbul Kadir Topbas said. This is why he believes the mayors must share experience and expertise. "We need to move away form politics and get closer to people." "The mayors must act like chief executives, businessmen," Topbas, an architect by profession, said. "People have their needs, expectations... They will sometimes protest". But mayors need to see further ahead and anticipate future needs and create urban awareness in cities. Topbas linked the issue of sustainability to the current migration crisis. He called for efforts to create equality and to find a solution to the migration flow and new social demographics, where he believes mayors can offer solutions because they know problems first-hand. He argued that people will keep migrating despite obstacles and urged keeping the doors open to immigrants, "otherwise they will grow angry".
Budapest Mayor Istvan Tarlos disagreed, saying he could not accept the logic that people can just come to Europe to find a better life. "We need to find a new balance in Africa, Asia...otherwise no one will want to live there and Europe's population will triple." But Tarlos agreed with his Istanbul counterpart in that "mayors must act like businessmen" by listening to the people, looking ahead to what future needs will be. "We need to speak and act for the people, not as politicians." Noting that the mayors gathered represented cities on the migration route, Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Janković called for solidarity, which he said was essential, also with a view to the environment, which must be preserved for the future generations.
Belgrade Mayor Siniša Mali admitted that his city faced different problems because it was lagging behind in terms of infrastructure. This is why it was currently implementing 60 projects worth EUR 10bn. He believes mayors have a major responsibility to people not only in their cities but the whole country. "We serve as an example for other municipalities," he said and called for humane and balanced decisions. "The question is whether our kids will live in a better environment." The city is upgrading its water supply and sewage system, waste management, building new bus stations and underground car parks to move traffic away from the city centre, introducing pedestrian zones. Mali also mentioned a Belgrade waterfront project, which is to change the city's perspective.
Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandakova also listed several projects her administration implemented to fight pollution, including with hard particles. The city has built more than 22 kilometres of underground railway, pedestrianised 22% of the city centre and was introducing a city bike plans.
Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj presented an app called My Tirana, which the locals can use to report problems in the city such as potholes or broken city furniture, and then vote on which of the problems will be fixed first. He believes it is important to keep people involved, give them a sense of responsibility and show them that their contribution matters. He also highlighted the importance of educating children to communicate change, because he believes children are the best advocates of change.
Janković said that Ljubljana had considered the idea based on the example of London and Stockholm, but found it was not suitable for Ljubljana. Instead, the city centre was closed to traffic, and the parking regime was changed so as to dissuade daily migrants from driving into the centre.
The opening address at the debate was delivered by European Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc, who said that the awards such as the Green Capital mattered as a recognition of the achievements made and as encouragement for the future.
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