Voxeurop community 8th European Conference on Sustainable Cities & Towns

Wolfgang Teubner: Let’s ‘re-build a sustainable and inclusive Europe’

Ahead of the 8th European Conference on Sustainable Cities & Towns (Bilbao, 27-29 April), the ICLEI Regional Director for Europe, reflects on the insights of an event that will bring together local and regional governments representatives, European and international institutions and civil society to discuss the future of local sustainable development in Europe.

Published on 12 April 2016 at 13:15

Why is the 8th European Conference on Sustainable Cities & Towns so relevant in the current European and worldwide scenario?

In an urbanising world, cities are key actors for the implementation of the key global frameworks for sustainable development, namely the UN 2030 agenda as defined in the universally applying Sustainable Development Goals, and the Paris Climate Agreement. Both these frameworks implicitly address the limits of global resources and ask for a massive societal transformation. At the same time cities feel the impact of the economic and financial crisis in Europe, and the pressure from the refugee crisis that reveals a wider crisis of the European Union. Therefore we have to discuss how the necessary transformations and the European crisis can be jointly addressed on the local level based on a strongly engaged civil society, in order to re-build a sustainable and inclusive Europe.

How will the event help to shape the future of urban sustainable development in Europe?

The event will discuss the potential of new and innovative ways to address these issues from a city perspective and how this can be supported by international and European frameworks. It will bring forward new ideas, showcase good examples from cities and provide live experiences in the Basque country that is a lighthouse of transformation.

What are the expected outcomes of the Conference?

We expect a strong declaration that is outlining new pathways towards an urban and societal transformation. It will also provide new impulses for joint and shared activities of cities in Europe, and is asking for a more supportive policy framework from upper levels of government. Maybe even more importantly we expect a lot of new and practical ideas that provide inspiration and guidance for local politicians and practitioners that want to become active in their cities.

Why do local governments need to have a voice on sustainable development?

In Europe almost 75% of the population is living in cities and the urbanisation trend is not yet over. Cities plan and develop infrastructure and services for the majority of the people and therefore have a big impact of lifestyle choices and sustainable opportunities of their inhabitants. However, cities cannot do it on their own, and need the support from national and international levels that should support them in their efforts. Therefore they need to have a strong voice in national, European and international processes that define the frameworks for local action.

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Is there a European model of urban sustainability?

Based on the long history of urbanisation in Europe dating from the Middle-Age, we can say that there is a European model of cities that is usually compact, based on walkable neighbourhoods with mixed use, with a clearly defined centre. There are also some shared ideas and principles based on common frameworks like the Aalborg Charter, the Aalborg Commitments, the Leipzig Charter, the Reference Framework for sustainable cities or even the Covenant of Mayors. But whether this leads to a European model per se might be questioned. We also see considerable cultural and economic differences between North Western Europe and South Eastern Europe. We believe that based on common principles and shared goals the models and ways can and maybe even should differ.

What has been done so far on the field in Europe and what needs to be done?

First, I can again refer to the frameworks mentioned above. We should also not forget to mention the European Green Capital Award that also refers to some sort of model, as well as the smart cities EIP and several other initiatives. In the past, most schemes had a planning approach with a focus on participatory approaches, as most successfully shown in thousands of Local Agenda 21 processes. Now the time for transformative action has come, and for this we need a different quality in the involvement of the civil society, which can be best described as co-design and co-creation. We will also have to consider a new type of financial and economic engagement particularly of the urban middle class, as, for example successfully demonstrated in the energy transition and the urban food agenda. This will also contribute to bridge the emerging gap between citizens and the political actors in many countries.

Image:Max Thabiso Edkins/ICLEI

For more information: www.basquecountry2016.eu


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