Local power and the wellbeing of citizens

Pedro Strukelj

Ilustration: Pedro Strukelj

By Emilia Saiz, Secretary General of UCLG.

It is important for the local administration to set itself up as a bastion of the aspirations of the communities, and for it to be the sentinel of the citizens' dreams.

The future well-being of citizens depends on the development that is implemented in cities, to make cities more inclusive, resilient and sustainable. Local governments are responsible, through their commitment to public services, to work for the welfare of citizens. The links between the well-being of communities and global challenges are indisputable. 

At this point in the 21st century, it is widely assumed that we cannot talk about a single development model. However, we are probably closer to a single model of happiness, because, as Tolstoy said, "all happy families look alike, but unhappy families are unhappy in their own way".

Happiness can be found in getting along with neighbours, by having peaceful streets in which our children arrive safe and sound to schools, in schools where they are educated with equal opportunities. It is also found in decent homes and jobs for all, and to whom we can reach with effective, fast and inclusive mobility. Happiness has to do with being able to enjoy leisure spaces and the ability to be creative through our communities of neighbours, theatres, forums.

If we look at happiness guidelines, one by one, we show that many depend on basic services provided by local governments. It is also these services that define the scope of the major agendas such as Commitment 2030 and its sustainable development objectives, thus linking the local with the global and vice versa.

But beyond services it is important that local governments, the sphere of local government that is closest to our communities, become the bastions of their aspirations and the guardians of citizens' dreams. Even with reduced powers and beyond, local governments need to put themselves on the front line in emergency situations and sound the alarm when trends can lead to far-reaching situations for city neighbours.

Thus, we have seen how they try to lead the ecological transition and play their part to change mobility habits that endanger our collective health. We have seen how the cities of the world have agreed to alert the international community to the crisis of decent housing. We have also seen how they have appealed for solidarity when caravans of migrants cross continents or arrive at our ports.

It is the space of the local, and it is the cities that set themselves up as the spaces that defend the rights and freedoms of their citizens, who seek to connect them with the institutions and place them at the centre of political action so that there are more sustainable territories according to the reality of each place.

Only if we are able to fully develop local democracy, solidarity and the creativity of our communities will we be able to build societies capable of facing the challenges of the future. If we are unable to regain the local dimension, and put citizens at the centre of agendas, it will be impossible to develop a common future that is sustainable and at peace.

Global governance

For this reason, one of our challenges is to transform the spaces of global governance. Beyond being represented in them, we must also work together to develop policies that consider all actors, that acknowledge the local sphere as key actors for development and transformation, and that speaks to us as more than just implementers of agendas.

For a long time, the phrase "think globally, act locally" has been repeated, but time is proving that, in reality, only by thinking locally will we be able to influence global issues. The development agendas adopted in recent years (The 2030 Agenda and the New Urban Agenda, but also the Paris Commitment for Climate) are beginning to rectify the shortcomings of previous agendas adopted by States, but we must go further.

We must work for a fairer and more inclusive system of governance, we must work so that local governments are rewarded for their commitment to global agendas with the competencies and funding necessary to carry out these policies. Only with adequate access to finance will we see local and regional governments achieve greater welfare for citizens by improving the provision of public services, such as access to sanitation, public transport, local economic development, access to housing and culture.

For all these reasons it is surprising how little is said about actual local agendas for municipal and national election periods throughout the world. It is also surprising that local leaders with a strong international agenda are criticised.

It is impossible today to defend local interests without a good understanding of the international agenda and without strategizing with other cities and local governments to stimulate change.

A world in which local and regional governments are far from global decision making will be a world in which the dreams and longings of our neighbours are relegated to the category of mere anecdotes.

Therefore, from the networks of United Cities and Local Governments we will continue to work to promote a global system of cities in which a joint strategy is carried out, in which the great agendas that affect our daily lives are learned and influenced.

SOURCE: Alternativas Económicas.

PUBLISHED in Eldiario.es