The World Urban Forum (WUF) is a high-level platform convened by UN-Habitat, established in 2001 to address the challenges of sustainable urbanisation. The theme of the eleventh session is Transforming our Cities for a Better Urban Future. WUF11 seeks to frame and discuss "existing trends, challenges, and opportunities" to find ways to prepare better cities to address future global emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the WUF11, the Emergency Governance Initiative by the LSE Cities at London School of Economics and Political Science, United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) and the World Association of the Major Metropolises (Metropolis), convened a Voices from Cities event called "Governing Complex Emergencies: the urban and regional response to COVID-19, the climate emergency and social justice crisis".
Philipp Rode presenting at the World Urban Forum
The event brought together the experiences of three cities/regions – Bogota, Gauteng and Vienna – about how they are governing different complex emergencies. Alongside, critical insights, related frameworks, principles and guidelines from the Emergency Governance Initiative (EGI) were shared and discussed with the audience. The event drew on crucial learnings from cities and regions that have actively engaged in responses to COVID-19, the climate emergency and the social justice crisis. These learnings cut across multilevel emergency governance, new communication strategies, innovative democratic engagement, and territorial approaches. The event also recognised the direct connection between emergency governance and broader questions about democracy in times of emergencies.
Emilia Saiz, Secretary-General of UCLG, opened and moderated the event reflecting on the challenges faced by local and regional governments when governing complex emergencies. Balancing the need for more urgent and radical action whilst advancing the commitments of the global agendas, embracing care perspectives and building new leaderships are some cross-cutting challenges that local and regional governments face.
Philipp Rode, Executive Director of LSE Cities, and co-lead of the EGI presented the key framework behind the Emergency Governance Initiative and provided an overview of unpublished insights from the upcoming Policy Brief 06. They show that the local level – local and regional governments – could make the strongest contribution to bringing democratic principles together. Democratic pillars around rights, representation, and the challenges of the digital era governance, as well as feminist and care practices and a renewed leadership that foster inclusiveness and empathy have created a new governance culture.
Michaela Kauer, Head of the City of Vienna’s Brussels Office, highlighted Austrian capital’s successful and robust commitment to sustain and develop the public services across the city's "constant crisis mode" by continually investing in public social service in a counter-cyclical way. With the energy crisis, for instance, the city's government has responded by implementing an energy cost allowance, setting up a fairness commission for people to raise concerns, and stopping energy suspensions until 2023. She also mentioned how an energy crisis might affect some more than others saying "an energy crisis is also a women crisis".
When speaking about Bogota's experience of COVID-19, Claudia Lopez, Mayor of the City of Bogotá, said: "the easiest part of governing emergencies was the COVID-19 pandemic, the fact that municipalities in Colombia, especially Bogotá, had a lot of autonomy during the health crisis helped us deal with the pandemic". The mayor described how the city had faced several crises in the last two and a half years – political turmoil, social unrest, migration, education, COVID-19, among others. She highlighted how focusing on women, and young people is the fundamental change. Also, how new challenges imply a shift in leadership. "We need to be prepared and think about new governance, one that includes citizenship governance; managing emotions is something we need to be trained and aware of".
Lastly, Khululekile Mase, Deputy Director-General of Urban Planning in Gauteng, presented the challenges and solutions to address COVID-19 from the institutional point of view for which a structural arrangement was put in place. The province of Gauteng focussed both on society – exploring alternatives for communicating with people – and also, on innovation and adaptive governance through horizontal collaboration: “meeting with other city leaders five to seven times a week and working with evidence-based decision making”.