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The pandemic shows need for resilient and sustainable cities, say local authorities as UNECE Forum of Mayors paves way for more inclusive multilateralism

The current health crisis made the need for more robust cities more evident than ever before. The pandemic amplified and exposed the vulnerabilities of current urban realities, including overcrowded public transport, inadequate and unsanitary settlements, high levels of air pollution, and the lack of open green spaces to allow for social distancing. In a world where urban policymaking remains decentralized and where insufficient exchange between the national and local level takes place, it becomes all the more difficult for mayors and urban authorities to address such cross-cutting challenges

Ushering a new era for the cooperation between national and local governments, for the first time in its history, this year’s Session of the Committee on Urban Development, Housing and Land Management opened with a Forum of Mayors, a novel platform where mayors presented their experience dealing with the COVID-19 health emergency and other challenges their cities are facing. From introducing temporary public spaces where people can walk or cycle while practicing social distancing, experimenting with new means of public transport, to decarbonizing heating systems, mayors from 41 cities as diverse as Glasgow, Milan, Kazan, Reykjavík, and Belgrade, sent a clear message that healthy populations require more resilient and sustainable cities.

In the context of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova stressed: “It is crucial to show that we are working towards a more effective multilateralism – and including local actors is a must. While COVID-19 continues to be catastrophic, it also offers a chance to transform our cities and create a new normal: a normal that benefits all people and our planet. Through the Forum of Mayors, we are learning from the experiences of cities just as they are in the process of re-inventing themselves.” She further stressed UNECE’s support for cities’ concrete efforts to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, leveraging its policy instruments, tools, norms and standards.

The renowned architect Lord Foster noted in his special address to mayors that “many have questioned the impact that the pandemic will have on cities. Significant issues have been raised about their future and as an architect and urbanist I am honoured to have this opportunity to address Mayors and civic leaders from around the world as part of this important initiative by the United Nations.”

In a symbolic act marking the beginning of a closer cooperation between national and the local levels, Mayors and Ambassadors participated in the afternoon in a soccer game, under the theme “United for Our Goals”. The two teams, headed by Mr Kanaan and EU Ambassador Stevens, scored the 17 SDGs as penalty kicks. Team captains remarked: “We are delighted to be able to play this match today, and to send a message about the importance of being united for our goals. We cannot hope to properly address the current health crisis, or achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, unless we work together as one. Together, united we win!”

This commitment to work together to make cities more sustainable, resilient and inclusive was enshrined in the Geneva Declaration of Mayors, endorsed by the mayors. This ambitious document provides a blueprint for concrete steps local authorities will take in the coming months and years to realize their cities’ potential for greater sustainability, including on topics such as climate action, urban trees and forests, sustainable energy and transport, and affordable and adequate housing. The declaration in full is available here

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The interventions made by mayors are available here.

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