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In Germany, Urban Leaders Forge Ties

By - Aug 11 2016

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Urbanization has become one of the most pressing challenges of our time. Impacting more than 50% of the global population today, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) in particular stands apart as a region where the consequences of urbanization—positive and negative alike—are most tangibly felt.  Already the second-most urbanized region on the planet, eight out of ten Latin Americans currently live in cities, and the region’s urban centers are expected to house nearly 90% of the population in the next 20 years.

Yet while urban growth is conducive to progress across many development indicators, the rapid and chaotic growth of our cities has created a series of persistent obstacles. Many of our citizens continue to live in poverty, while metropolises tend to lack the ability to raise the revenue needed to tackle social problems. Combined with the anticipated impacts of climate change, a force expected to hit LAC cities—particularly those in the Andes Mountains and coastal regions—particularly hard, these challenges are a reminder that we must address our region’s growing pains now, and not later.

To do so, we must strive to make the urbanization process as sustainable as possible. Many cities in LAC and Germany have already begun this effort, introducing innovative and forward-looking projects that are making a valuable contribution to sustainable urban development.

Given the close ties that already exist between these two regions, Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation (BMZ) and Development and the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) Emerging and Sustainable Cities Program teamed up with Engagement Global’s Service Agency Communities in One World to develop a Forum for German and Latin American Mayors. Held in Hamburg this Spring, cities from German and Latin American metropolises had an opportunity to network and engage in an exchange of  experience and best practices.

During two intensive days, more than 150 people representing LAC and German cities, public institutions, think-tanks, and universities immersed themselves in German solutions to our shared challenges, covering such ground as energy efficiency and renewables, mobility and smart cities, and more. Listening to these exchanges left one thing clear: many solutions to urban challenges are already out there. LAC cities must just learn to repurpose and tailor them to fit their own needs.

Regardless of speaker, there were three underlying themes that brought the whole event together: first and foremost, the citizen should be at the epicenter of every solution, regardless of what that solution may be. Second, the use of applied technology can act as a catalyst, fostering improved service at lower costs. Third, the cost of providing services should be 100% funded by a tariff or an explicit subsidy to avoid excluding population of the most vulnerable population.

In addition, the Forum gave LAC mayors the opportunity to engage with top IDB leadership including Bank President Luis Alberto Moreno, allowing them to discuss the challenges and opportunities present in their respective cities. At the same time, President Moreno had the opportunity to highlight the IDB’s strong commitment to helping cities become sustainable, prosperous, and pleasant places to live.

Given the Forum’s success, it may be appropriate to recall the spirit of the Hanseatic League, a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds whose market towns stretched from the Baltic to the North Sea and inland, including the city of Hamburg.

This League remains a prime example of how cities can support each other to advance the wellbeing of their citizens. This spirit fueled the mayoral discussions that dominated the two-day event, encouraged the exchange of critical urbanization knowledge, and inspired new and fruitful collaborations that will help to ensure a decent and sustainable future for cities across the region.

 

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