Cities as places of peace

Cities as places of peace

On the occasion of World Cities Day, 31 October, United Cities and Local Governments are calling on cities around the world to commit to solidarity policies and peace actions, a cornerstone for sustainability and international resilience.

By Emilia Saiz, Secretary General of UCLG

There are times in History when we achieve milestones that too often go unrecognized. In this sense, perhaps the celebration of World Cities’ Day driven by the United Nations comes as one of these milestones, that often comes under the radar except for those who are a part of the global urban family, who are closest to the day-to-day lives of citizens, and who are aware of the relevance of taking into account people's daily needs.

World Cities’ Day came to be as the result of a resolution of the United Nations’ General Assembly, promoted by an exceptional ally, the Chinese central government who, under the motto “Better Cities, Better Life” accurately and succinctly describes the impact that both cities and local action have in our societies at a global scale.

Coincidentally, we will celebrate World Cities Day after the first Urban 20 Summit, which is an initiative developed by cities to make their voices heard before the national governments gathered in G20 in Buenos Aires, and just before the Second World Forum on Urban Violence, which takes place in Madrid, and coincides with the World Council of the World Organization of United Cities and Local Governments.

Hundreds of municipalist representatives from the whole world will gather from 5 to 8 November to talk about the causes of conflicts and the escalation of violence before insecurity, the transformation of our neighbourhoods, political tension and even the rapid irruption of diversity and the rise of urbanization. These dialogues will serve as levers for leaders of cities and regions from all continents to renew strategies and drive a culture of peace at all levels and with different stakeholders.

All of these meetings, that take place at both sides of the Atlantic Oceans, are means to unite cities with the same, and with different aspirations, which helps to raise awareness about the different types of challenges that the various regions face, and allows for a permanent dialogue between all actors to promote cities of peace and cities in peace.

Thanks to the proximity of local government to local realities, cities are aware that peace is not just the absence of conflict, but the capacity to bring positions together and to find solutions without violence. After all, conflicts are natural within our societies and allow us to progress and to transform our systems of coexistence, but this will only occur through respect, empathy and solidarity. It is in these aspects in which mayors from all over the world have a vital role to promote a culture of peace and to place every means that they have at their disposal to ensure that tension, and hate speeches, which originate in discrimination and in phobias, have no place in our neighbourhoods and in our streets.

With our service provision, the organization of our public administrations, our collective actions, the planning of urban spaces and participatory policies, among other instruments, local governments have the capacity to directly influence and establish societies of peace.

We are aware, however, that without the structural development of systems of peace, it will be impossible to ensure the necessary citizen involvement to develop sustainable and resilient cities, which is always the most important part, and it is citizens the reason why we work tirelessly. Part of the growing polarization of our cities is the sensation of a lack of belonging or even helplessness, which are immense challenges that the global municipalist movement is willing to face, but that can only happen if cities from the whole world are awarded the instruments and the collective strength to face them.

Without this day-to-day work fostering dialogue that cultivates coexistence, it will be impossible to develop a type of governance which works as a basis to reach the sustainable development that we committed to, and we will also be unable to renew the democratic values that are a cornerstone to the defence of human rights: the tolerance, the diversity, and the creativity that we need.

From United Cities and Local Governments, we see no better way to celebrate our day, the day of all municipalists, that calling on our member cities from all the world to commit to policies and actions of peace within and outside their territories, and promoting solidarity.

At the same time, we issue a call to the international community to listen to our voices and to consider the full participation of cities, who clearly need a more central role in the definition of global policies and strategies. Only by thinking and acting at the level closest to our citizens, will we be able to enact global changes.

Happy World Cities Day!

Article published in El Pais in the original Spanish version