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Urban Forum 2012: cities crucial to future of our planet

On Thursday 16 February 2012 the first Urban Forum event took place at the European Commission in Brussels. This unique event focused on the urban dimension of cohesion policy. The event consisted of a lot of speeches from 2 European Commissioners, Mayors of many capital cities and top officials from the EC´s Directorate-General on Regional Policy (DG Regio) and the Committee of the Regions. This article gives a summary of the points discussed at the Urban Forum.

European Commissioner Hahn (DG Regio) started the event with noting that cities were the ones that profiled Europe in history. Also nowadays, cities are very important in delivering the Europe2020 strategy.

Urban Forum: presentation specific plans to stimulate cohesion policy in 2014-2020:

  • allocation of at least 5 % of resources under the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to sustainable urban development through integrated territorial investments (ITI)
  • allocation of 400 million euros (0,2% budget) to innovative urban actions
  • creation of an urban development platform of 300 cities to strengthen the dialogue between cities and the European Commission on the urban dimension of cohesion policy

Urban Forum stressed importance of Mayors

While the emphasis on urban areas was hailed by the Mayors that were present at the forum, there was also a specific call from the Mayors to DG Regio for more flexibility and simplicity in the proposals. Mayor Eberhard van der Laan (Amsterdam) stated that European rules made it sometimes difficult to partner up with private partners while this is very much needed to stimulate a sustainable urban future.  The Mayors of Lodz and Warsaw pointed to the unambitious allocation of only 5% of ERDF resources to sustainable urban development. The EU officials reacted that this is only a minimum. The Mayor of Napels indicated that Mayors have a special democratic quality which could help Europe as they are very close to their citizens. A plea for greater delegation of responsibilities to the local level was therefore reiterated by some Mayors.

Urban planners, knowledge and research help cities

Furthermore, European Commissioner Hedegaard (Directorat-General Climate Action) indicated that climate change and urban development go hand in hand. The Commissioner specifically pointed to the urban planners as they have an important role in letting cities develop in a more sustainable way. Hedegaard also pointed to the specific role of research and knowledge that could help cities. This call was echoed by other actors. Ms. Bresso (Committee of the Regions) hoped the urban development platform could function to increase capacity-building and exchange of knowledge. Mr. Niessler (DG Regio) called the possibility of having a ‘University of urban development’.