Transforming cities through its citizens
Cities around the world have come together to involve their citizens in initiatives which improve their lives and transform their societies
From Murder Capital of the world to the most Innovative City on the planet, the transformation of Medellin in Colombia, South America, has been amazing. Made notorious by its drug cartels and drug lord Pablo Escobar, the city had 6,349 killings in 1991, taking homicide rates to 381 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. Down the years, through interventions to educate its citizenry on creating a better city through schools, libraries and cultural centres, connecting the poorer areas to the rich by improving trasportation through metro rail and cable car systems, and even a giant escalator, Medellin limped to normalcy and then progress. Homicide rates (though fluctuating) came down to 28.8 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2014), and there is work in process to keep reducing it.
The change was driven by a series of interventions aimed at overcoming social inequalities and helping citizens improve their value of life through investments in public space. City authorities made a firm commitment to education (of its citizens as a tool for social transformation).
“Medellin’s municipal government worked and is still working with and for the citizens to make a better city. All these actions have been set up after agreements were drawn up and equal participation of all communities in the city was sought,” says Marina Canals, general secretary of the International Association of Educating Cities ( IAEC), which brings cities around the globe on one platform to look for ways to improve them and to share learning opportunities. Led by Barcelona in Spain, IAEC (www.edcities.org) ) also has Medellin as a member
IAEC was founded in 1994 as a permanent collaborative structure uniting local governments committed to the Charter of Educating Cities, a guide for member cities. They place the citizens’ education as the core of their local policies.
IAEC members are local governments and not countries. At present the association has 470 member cities in 35 countries. And though the political option of placing education at the core of local policies gained support mainly among European and Latin American cities initially, it is now finding takers in the Asia-Pacific region. The city of Changwon (Republic of South Korea) is leading a territorial network formed by 27 cities in six countries.
Association members work for changes in municipal management, such as greater interorganisational collaboration between different areas of government to cope with complex challenges. Channels of communication and dialogue with citizens are opened or strengthened to gather information on their needs, concerns and proposals. Citizen participation is encouraged in the decision- making process and in the monitoring and control of services offered. “Effort is also made to change attitudes and habits of people that allow the har monious coexistence between people of different ages and backgrounds. Citizens are also taught about respecting the environment,” says Canals.
Results are expected in the medium to long term, and many of them cannot be always measured by quantitative indicators, but their impact on the population’s living conditions is unquestionable, she adds.
One of IAEC’s main objectives is to provide spaces and tools for cities to share models of action and good practice and thus learn from each other. It also promotes reflection on the concept ‘educating city’ and offers training for local elected representatives and decision makers on how to implement the principles of the Charter and improving governance in their respective cities.
IAEC also forms part of the governing bodies of United Cities and Local Governments ( UCLG), the world’s largest organisation of local governments. “The unique platform allows us to highlight the key role that education plays in the achievement of the Millennium Goals, in questions such as literacy, sustainability, social justice, and gender equality, etc,” Canals adds.
An International Congress is held by the association every two years around a specific theme. The last Congress was held in Barcelona ( November 2014), where issues of Social Inclusion were discussed. The coming one will be held in Rosario (Argentina) in 2016, on: The territories of coexistence in cities.