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

HT Estates - - HTESTATES - Aye­sha Ban­er­jee

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.

THINKSTOCK

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