The future is local (and so are global challenges): the example of Rotterdam

Mayors are on the rise globally, but they need to be backed by a wide partnership inside and beyond their city

A recurring theme of this blog is how cities, rather than nations, will be on the front line tackling global challenges in the future.

I was fortunate to attend the European Social Services Conference in The Hague last week. The headline was ‘The future is local!’ and the event explored how public services can collaborate more effectively with local communities and their citizens in combatting poverty and social exclusion.

One of the headline speakers was Ahmed Aboutaleb, Mayor of Rotterdam. Across the world mayors are on the rise, not least in the UK with a recent raft of devolution deals including directly elected mayors for cities and regions, and likely to provide an alternate route to power for ambitious politicians.

Universities and colleges are included as partners for delivery, sources of expertise, and opportunities for sharing knowledge

Mayor Aboutaleb talked of the need to strengthen regional government, and of the opportunities higher education could provide for lifting the next generation out of poverty. I took the opportunity to visit Rotterdam, and it provides a good example of a city on the front line, gearing up to tackle large-scale problems. With 80% of the city below sea level and one of the largest ports in the world, Rotterdam is especially susceptible to climate change and has an ambition to become 100% climate-proof by 2025. The city’s adaptation strategy presents climate change as an opportunity for growth through developing smart solutions and making the city a more attractive place to live and work – and I found Rotterdam to already be an exceptionally well-designed city. Universities and further education colleges are included as partners for delivery, sources of expertise, and opportunities for sharing knowledge to other areas. Unsurprisingly, Rotterdam is also one of the 100 resilient cities (see my earlier post on resilience).

Rotterdam is a good example of a city with an effective mayor, backed by a wide range of partners, tackling international challenges. The self-styled Global Parliament of Mayors will have its inaugural meeting in The Hague (which is clearly the place to be) in September 2016, bringing together 125 cities – ‘large and small, from North and South, developed and emerging’. The group has the explicit purpose of crafting solutions to challenges, although, as a semi-critical Guardian writer notes, ‘what they might really be interested in is a global parliament of cities, rather than mayors, and that idea – a networked, global assembly of citydwellers, sharing hard-won insights into what works and what generally does not – strikes me as a far better plan’. Mayors are on the rise, but an effective mayor will need to be backed by a wide partnership inside and beyond the city.

Photo: Jurriaan Snikkers on Unsplash

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