Kerry Jang, Vancouver deputy mayor, receives the Guangzhou Award
By Jeremy Smith
Last Friday (16th November), the City of Guangzhou and its mayor, Mr Chen Jianhua, hosted the first edition of the Guangzhou Award for Urban Innovation to five very different cities around the world, facing very different challenges. The ceremony – which also included a colourful cultural display by leading Chinese dancers, acrobats and singers – took place in the Opera House designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid.
Guangzhou (population 16 million, once known as Canton) is one of China’s top five cities, in the increasingly prosperous southern province of Guangdong. The city’s GDP has increased at a rate of around 13% per year over the last 6 years. Guangzhou is now focusing much more on ‘next generation’ industries, and lays much greater emphasis on environmental sustainability and on green energy use. In short, it wants to be recognized as a leading and progressive world city.
I was delighted to have been invited by Guangzhou to help as a member of the Technical Committee which evaluated some 250 initiatives from 150 cities in 56 countries. We had met in October to winnow the submissions down first to a longlist of 45, then a shortlist of 15 really exciting and stimulating entries. An international jury of five academic experts made the final decisions. On this second visit I was also asked to chair a presentation session by ‘candidate’ cities on urban governance and administration.
At the end of June, I returned to Haiti (see previous post) for a packed 2 week programme of capacity building and advocacy support work, with the two national associations of local authorities, representing the Communes (FENAMH) and Communal Sections (FENACAH) of Haiti. The programme is organised by the local government associations of Canada (FCM,UMQ) and the Netherlands – I was there on behalf of the Dutch association, VNG International.
It was my first time back for a year, and on the ground, nothing much had changed. The tent cities were as prevalent as before, and whilst there was less earthquake rubble in the streets, not much rebuilding had taken place in Port au Prince.
A new President had been elected, after a far-from-smooth process, but his proposed government was voted down by the Parliament. And yet, despite (or because of) all the problems, the 25 mayors and elected representatives we worked with, from all parts of Haiti, were committed to achieve positive change – which in their view can only come through a real process of decentralisation.
Léogane is a medium-sized town in south-west Haiti where Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the first emperor of Haiti (1804-06), is said to have married the future empress Marie-Claire Heureuse, with Toussaint L’Ouverture as best man.
Léogane achieved a far sadder fame on 12th January this year, as the town at the epicentre of the giant earthquake which devastated much of the country. About 80% of the houses and buildings of the town were destroyed or badly damaged, with probably thousands dead.
It was therefore logical that Léogane should be chosen, together with its three neighbouring communes, by Haiti’s Minister of the Interior and Territorial Authorities, Paul Antoine Bien-Aimé (great name for a politician) for a new international local government initiative. I am proud to play a part.
It’s nice when the light of understanding flashes in your brain – and yesterday I had to thank Professor Adam Tooze, an expert on Germany at Yale, for turning on my halogen bulb…
Though fully aware of the (how do I put it?) counter-Keynesianism of the German government and political establishment, I couldn’t help being puzzled by their approach to the Greek crisis, which seemed almost calculated to damage the European Union.
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Last Thursday I was back in Brussels, invited by the European Parliament’s special committee on the financial, economic and social crisis. My mission – to highlight the really serious financial problems now facing Europe’s local and regional governments, just as growing un-(and under) employment make their public services ever more essential.
I gave them the key points of the November 2009 survey of national local government associations which CEMR had conducted. The results were overwhelmingly pessimistic… three quarters said things had got worse for their members (the individual towns etc.) during 2009, and about half thought they would get worse in 2010 – under 10%, mainly in Scandinavia, thought they would improve this year. Over two-thirds thought that councils’ budgets would reduce in real terms in 2010, and a similar proportion said their income had reduced substantially in 2009.