Innovative and agile cities are better placed to solve major global challenges than national governments – in thrall to the momentum of the last century – but the fight must start now, argues Barcelona’s first female mayor
Thursday 20 October 2016 11.08 BST
All the major global challenges – climate change, the economy, inequality, the very future of democracy – will be solved in cities. If nations want to succeed with their policies, we must be counted as serious actors on the global stage.
I believe national governments are hostages to the momentum of the previous century – but that’s not the real world any more. We live in a world that functions by networking, by faster and more agile contact between cities.
There is always going to be fear of change – but cities are trying to be positive, telling national leaders: “You can count on us to update your policies to succeed. However, if you don’t include us, you will fail.”
The right to the city
I believe you can’t talk about a just, sustainable, equitable or inclusive city if you don’t speak about the right to the city [a model of urban development that includes all citizens].
The reference to it in the UN’s New Urban Agenda document [ratified at Habitat III in Quito this week] could be more ambitious, in my opinion. But we should also recognise the problems we have overcome just to get this far. Global powers such as the United States and China resisted it completely; they didn’t want the right to the city in the declaration at all.
The 21st century is the century of cities – in part because this is a moment of great political uncertainty at many levels. But within that uncertainty, we see empowered citizens asking to be protagonists, and the city is the place to do this.
That’s why I am optimistic: because I see many people who were not bothered about politics now getting really interested. Whereas previous summits used to be more bureaucratic, at Habitat III we have been having much more of a “citizen discussion”.
The most important tests will come after this summit finishes – when we find out whether all these statements can translate into commitments that create positive solutions for our citizens. Certainly, cities must play a leading role if the UN’s New Urban Agenda is to generate concrete policies that improve our urbanising world.
Ada Colau spoke to Mike Herd. Guardian Cities is a member of the Habitat III Journalism Project. Read more about the project here