tirsdag den 2. december 2008

Eurocities Annual General Meeting - Den Hague

Last week I had the pleasure to participate in Eurocities annual general meeting, this year in den Hague. Eurocities is an EU-partnership between 130+ major cities in Europe, and I have for some years had the honour to represent IBM as a coordinator, as IBM is one of 6 sponsors for a sub-orgasation, formerly Telecities now Knowledge Society Forum. Eurocities as an organization has the objective to support cities’ role in EU as one of the most important focus areas for developing high standards of living, dwelling, working.

To this end the Eurocities a year ago adopted the ‘Leipzig Charter’. This charter states that cities should be seen as cornerstones for development of well-being and a sustainable Europe. It calls for integrated approaches to development (breaking down silos between different parts of the public sector and between the public and private organizations and enterprises). It also calls for new governance principles, democratic participation in policy making and supporting citizen entrepreneurship.

To support these objectives the Eurocities conference started by an award ceremony where 3 cities where awarded for their innovative ways to solve some of these challenges:

The Finnish city Espoo won the award for their practice to bring senior citizens in contact with the cities many cultural organizations: music schools performing for elderly, sports facilities with instructors for elderly etc. a very inclusive and heart warming initiative.

The Belgian city of Gent was awarded for a very comprehensive and all-inclusive solution called ‘Gentinfo’ covering all aspects of services and information for citizens from booking books in the library, reserving day care for children, parking spaces, handling complaints and proposals etc.

Newcastle, UK won the third award for a project called ‘Udecide’ – an interesting project to involve citizens in prioritizing the budget and selecting, actually voting, between alternative ways to spend the cities money. There is a detailed study of this project available her: (Case study Udecide)

The ceremony took place in the Haag City Hall, a completely white and beautiful building created in 1995 by the US architect Richard Meier.

The official opening of the AGM took place on Thursday in the old and beautiful Steigenberger Kurhaus in Scheveningen. Mr. Jozias van Aartsen, the mayor of Hague and the next president for Eurocities welcomed the several hundred delegates, followed by Mr. Gerard Collomb, mayor of Lyon, current president and a person that has succeeded in placing the Eurocities agenda very high on the priority list in the EU Parliament and Commission. Also the Dutch Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, addressed the audience and surprised by describing his first political experiences from a small town close to Amsterdam. Finally, the newly appointed Secretary General, Paul Bevan introduced himself to the audience. He has an exciting career both in EU organizations and in setting up a successful planning cooperation organization in South East England, which he ran for 8 years.

Among other interesting speakers, The EU Commissioner for Competition, Ms. Neelie Kroes, made an interesting speech in the midst of the Financial Crisis, which of course has put a lot of pressure on her and her staff. She stressed that the wise fathers of EU and Jean Monnet in particular already from the outset put into the declaration that State Aid of private companies were forbidden, and could only be tolerated temporarily in case of an identified fault in the market. This has also been a guiding principle in the current support for the European Banks, and it is mandatory, that the EU aid and support MUST be followed by a restructuring. At the end of her speech, the representative from Newcastle rose and praised her flexibility and personal assistance to save the Northern Rock Bank, which would otherwise have put thousand of citizens in Newcastle on the street.

As the conference unfold, the 4 key areas were handled separately in a very intelligent way, as each of the working areas: Living in cities, Well-being, Environment and Health, and Working in cities were treated in break-out sessions, where each group was taken to a part of Den Hague that illustrated the problems in question, showed how this was being addressed by Den Hague, and then finishing off in meeting halls around the city.

The ‘Living’ working group was sent on a sightseeing to see the program ‘New Approach to priority Neighborhood the Hague Zuidwest’, and together with the speakers from Belfast and Rotterdam they discussed the problems of creating balanced residential areas.

The workshop on ‘Well Being’ discussed how diverse ethnical and cultural background could be seen as cohesive rather than a diverting factor in creating global cities with multi ethnical inhabitants. Den Hague has a large number of immigrants representing more than 52 countries, and together with Bristol UK and Barcelona Spain, this topic was discussed intensely.

The ‘Environment and Health’ workgroup, where I participated, drove through an area that was at a point becoming a ghetto – the Transvaal district – but where a lot of initiatives to tear down debris and build new sustainable houses with far less heat consumption and with a nice and attractive design had helped to bring up the standard. The meeting ended in a former church founded by the late queen Juliane. As the inhabitants were now mostly muslims or hindus, this was now a city service center, and the chapels have been transformed into special offices and information desks for citizens. Also the president for Knowledge Society Forum, Dr. Giuseppe Paolo presented – a case of how to avoid problems when allocation mobile sending stations, and the city of Sheffield’s representative presented a very interesting case showing the key influential factors in people’s health, unemployment being one of the major sources of diseases and health care related costs.

The strategic plan for Sheffield seems interesting for many other cities.

The working group on ‘Work’ also passed Transvaal, and the topics of the discussion were how to leverage public-private partnership to create enough jobs also for the unskilled workers and immigrants. This also included having a number of jobs to secure clean and nice local and dwelling areas, even if the jobs were subsidized, this could be shown to pay off in less crime, better quality of living. From Budapest a description on how an Office for Equal Opportunities were created , and how the cooperation between local officials, high quality social services, NGO’s and private participant could help the underprivileged to get jobs, education and housing.

From Poznan a presentation of the Barka-Kofoed Social Integration Centre (Based partly on funding from the Danish Velux Foundation) showed how this benefited unemployed and socially excluded people in the city.

Finally a Working Group on Innovations in Local Government stayed at the centre and discussed the 3 key topics of developing local community participation, how to develop integrated approaches (breaking down silos between departments and institutions) and how to develop multilevel governance. Among the speakers was the representative from Berlin that described the Quartiersmanagement project. Also Istanbul presented My Project Istanbul, a runner-up for the award on cooperation initiatives.

The last day of the conference was among topics devoted to work on an updated version of the Leipzig Declaration, and the next – Den Hague Declaration – will be published shortly, so I will come back to this in a later blog.

The Conference finished by the mayor of Den Hague, now the President of Eurocities, who thanked the participants and the chairs for the various committees/For a that had developed a status of the results from the last year.

I will look forward to the next meetings in Telecities/Knowledge Society Forum, where the more politically oriented topics will be left out and the focus will be on the practical adaptation of IT technology in the key areas of urban life. This is very much in line with IBM’s initiative called ‘A Smarter Planet’, where cities are in focus for a lot of the development during the next decade.

This is a practical way of transforming the IBM vision from ‘Government 2020’.

1 kommentar:

Maurice sagde ...

Hello Soren,

Thanks for this very extensive report on the EUROCITIES AGM in The Hague. I am very happy to read the conference and topics presented and discussed were of interest, innovating and inspiring, also in relation to IBM's initiatives in relation to improving the quality of live in urban environments. Hope you will enjoy working on these and many other topics within the context of EUROCITIES Knowledge Society Forum (formerly known as TeleCities).