Cities play an important role in the economy of countries in Europe and Central Asia (ECA). They are at the forefront of addressing systemic risks, like climate, and have been at the forefront of the COVD-19 pandemic, and are at the forefront of addressing issues like climate change, inequality, and taking onboard new technologies.
With this in mind, H.E. Mr. Aureliu Ciocoi, Acting Prime Minister, Republic of Moldova began the leader’s panel in the Urban Shifts – Transformations and Their Narratives session at IID 2021.
He discussed the problems facing his country, some initiatives and plans that are underway to address them, and the importance of rethinking development for a “more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient future.”
“The country is implementing the 2030 agenda…,” Ciocoi said. “To eliminate all forms of poverty, combat inequalities and tackle environmental and climate change ensuring that no-one is left behind.”
Ciocoi explained how rural-to-urban migration is a problem in Moldova and that the capital Chisinau bears the brunt of this population shift. However, he added, that these migration trends are not sustainable and that Moldova needs to focus on other growth poles outside the capital.
He highlighted two recent examples of urban, sustainable development in Moldova. The first is the approval of a national programme—which will run from 2021 to 2027—to develop a network of growth poles in cities around Moldova to attract investment and jobs.
“The government of Moldova with the support of the European Union, and the UNDP… is implementing a flagship programme to support the regions of the countryside of the Republic of Moldova to become positive examples of socio-economic growth and scale up such experience to a national scale.”
Ciocoi further highlighted an example of support for local infrastructure focussed on greener growth. He said this involves support for sixteen districts outside the capital city that have lower levels of industrialization to ensure more uniform regional development.
“Such platforms will support the development of medium and small sized enterprises… testing of new and greener production technologies, decent job creation, and export promotion.”
Ciocoi went on to highlight the opportunities for Moldovans, the importance of innovation, and how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted priorities.
“The crisis clearly suggests that we need to concentrate on transformational change and aspire to finding new, non-linear, solutions… and scale up the successful ones.”
He went on to express a keen interest in Moldova becoming a part of the UN Accelerator Labs to spur innovation.
Following the Acting Prime Minister of Moldova, Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator, discussed the UNDP’s role as a ‘connector’ and a ‘local partner’ in 170 countries, and how experimentation is driving new solutions across the globe.
“This is not about development aid in the traditional sense. We have experimentation happening across the globe today. Innovations, new ideas, new contexts that are driving new solutions, and one of the things I think we could do best is to first of all be a partner in the local context.”
“Urban futures, urban shifts, are so fundamental to what will happen next. Cities have been and will continue to be, in many ways, the lens through which a society looks at the future.”
In the past, Steiner suggests, cities have become centers of entrapment and this needs to change. He agreed with Kirsten Dunlop’s view that we need to take a ‘whole city’ approach to urban development.
“It’s the systemic approach that we need to enable and empower… It is how we address the issues of greening the whole urban economy… it touches on our mobility systems, on our infrastructure development, on the urban economy in general.”
Steiner went on to discuss the issues surrounding digitalization and to ask an important question.
“Is digitalization going to become a driver for greater equity or will it simply reinforce the inequities that urban geographies so often reflect?”
Twenty-first-century cities are, Steiner argued, often “an expression of neglect and great inequality”. He envisages the two major drivers of urban transformation in 2050 will be ‘equity and sustainability. He agreed with the Prime Minister of Moldova that innovation, experimentation, exploration, and solutions mapping will be at the heart of where future ideas will come from.
“The beauty of cities is that… it is there where the connection between citizen’s ideas and government is most immediate and most proximate. That is why we need to look at local governance… as also a center for potential innovation.”
Steiner went on to explain the importance of the UNDP Accelerator Labs across the world to try and uncover where citizens already have solutions in their minds, but the system does not allow them to succeed.
He concluded that he hoped that the UNDP could continue to be a partner. One that is ‘always learning’, ‘connecting’, and ‘helping to be a good catalyst’ alongside initiatives like those mentioned by the Prime Minister of Moldova.
Ms. Fatma Sahin, Mayor of Gaziantep and President of the Union of Municipalities in Turkey, explained that smart digitalization and a focus on renewable energy were essential to achieving a green urban economy.
Next up was Mr. Edin Forto, Prime Minister, Canton of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina who discussed some of his hopes for tackling both the socio-economic effects of the pandemic and the greening of urban centers in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Forto began by highlighting the number one reason why citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina are leaving the country, predominantly for Germany.
“It’s not just the young people who are leaving, it’s the middle-aged people who are leaving, whole families are leaving. We used to have a tradition of males… going abroad, going to Germany, earning some money and coming back. But, this is not the case anymore. Now, everyone is leaving. And, the number one reason why they are leaving is… corruption especially (when it comes to) access to jobs.”
Forto explained how the state is the number one employer in the country and how, without connections, it is very difficult to get work.
“We have too many state companies…” he said. “If access to jobs to the number one employer in the country is not fair, and people generally think it’s not—because it’s not—then people don’t think they have a hope of (finding) fair employment… This is the number one reason why people are leaving the country.”
The second reason people are leaving the country is related to the quality of life, Forto said.
“Quality of life is the water supply, it’s the public transport, it’s the air quality—which in Sarajevo is extremely low.”
Forto went on to explain how giving people hope that utilities will improve, institutions will change, and digitalization will improve efficiency and transparency, is, he believes, the way to persuade citizens to stay in the country.
“This all, we believe, will give people hope to think twice before leaving.”
Forto believes the approach of his government to listen to the people is fundamentally different from previous governments and that, in the longer term, this approach will reap benefits and stop the population from leaving.
“We are the first… city administration… that has actually asked the citizens… ‘What is your number one problem’? When they say, ‘it’s public transport’, we put it in the budget… If we can bring back hope… then I think we will stop the worst crisis that we are having… (which is)… people leaving to other countries because they think they don’t have a good life here.”
Next, Dr. Josianne Cutajar, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from Malta discussed the role of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the urban rejuvenation transformation that the previous panelists talked about.
Cutajar began by saying that it is important to remember that we are talking about people, the workforce, and communities. For SMEs to be successful, she said, they have to look at local needs and local demands first.
“Skills,” she said. “Along with addressing the knowledge gap which exists among SMEs and—when we speak of the knowledge gap—that refers to opportunities related to the green transition, to the digital transition, but also for opportunities of collaboration when it comes to partnerships related to research and innovation with regards to the private sector… It is important for there to be mutual exchange between SMEs and the local educational institutions as well as research centers because together they can really transform our communities.”
Cutajar argued that SMEs can help fill the skills demand, while the education and research centers will find the talent and fuel the creativity to help communities develop. She then went on to describe some examples.
“SMEs active in the circular economy value chain—or those operating in the renewable energy field—would have a spillover effect when it comes to the local communities as much as would have a spillover effect (when) a local craftsman would sell traditional products, for example, through an ecommerce platform.”
These examples, together with digitalization, she argued, would have a transformational effect on the local communities.
“Both in terms of local development, but also job creation as well as considering the positive environmental impact on citizen’s quality of life.”
By quality of life, Cutajar stated, she was referring to ‘productive cities’—with a focus on attractiveness, innovation, and competitiveness—and linked to sustainability and digitalization.
“It is important that when we speak of transformation we do keep in mind the importance of green open spaces, green woods, green roofs—even in the most urban of our spaces. These all offer us a lot of importance when it comes to our well-being… This is doable.”
Ms. Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, UNDP Assistant Administrator, Regional Director for Europe and the CIS closed the discussion by highlighting the three most important aspects related to urban transformation: trust in institutions, quality of life, and respect for nature.
“What we also learned today is the necessity to move beyond silos…” she said. “We need jobs, but jobs and SMEs don’t thrive in isolation… Many dots that we have to connect and many partners we have to work with going forward and this is exactly what we are promoting as the UNDP. Promoting us as a connector and an integrator… but also trying to learn from the different sides and bringing them together to develop portfolio approaches… to create an impact for the people on the ground.”
This is the final post of a two part series, summarizing the interventions and presentations of the first session of #IID21 – the Regional Conversation for Europe and Central Asia (RBEC) Session exploring Urban Transformations.
Post one focuses on the Introductory Statements and Kirsten Dunlop’s presentation. In this post, we focus on the contributions The Leaders Dialogue and Closing Statements of the session. A video of the full session is available here: https://www.innovationdays.co/session/rbec-urban-shifts-transformation-and-narratives-that-fuel-it/