Cooperation is key for the future of cities


In the dynamic world of governance, the role of mayors and local governments has never been more pivotal. As the closest level of government to the people, they are uniquely positioned to understand and address the specific needs of their communities. However, the challenges they face are complex and multifaceted, often extending beyond the boundaries of their jurisdictions. In this context, cooperation emerges as a key strategy to enhance the effectiveness of local governance and drive sustainable development.

Cities are not isolated entities. They exist within a network of other cities, each with its unique strengths and challenges. By fostering cooperation with other cities, local governments can share best practices, pool resources, and coordinate efforts to tackle common issues. This inter-city cooperation can lead to innovative solutions that would be difficult to achieve in isolation. For instance, cities can collaborate on regional transportation planning, environmental conservation, and economic development initiatives, creating synergies that benefit all involved.

An excellent example of the power of cooperation between cities can be seen in the recent partnership between the Mayors’ Club Ukraine and the Alliance of European Mayors. This collaboration, formalized through a Memorandum of Partnership, aims to enhance urban development and restoration in Ukraine. The partnership serves as a bridge between city leaders and communities, facilitating the exchange of experiences and fostering mutually beneficial relationships. The primary objectives of this partnership include cooperation with domestic and international financial partners, increasing transparency, combating corruption, and attracting strategic expert industry partners for urban development projects. This collaboration symbolizes a crucial step in enhancing cooperation between Ukrainian and European mayors. By working together, both organizations are better positioned to create a lasting impact on urban development in Ukraine, ultimately benefiting the residents of the cities and communities they serve.

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) play a crucial role in addressing social, environmental, and economic issues at the grassroots level. By partnering with NGOs, local governments can tap into their expertise, local knowledge, and networks to implement effective and inclusive policies. This cooperation can also enhance transparency and accountability, as NGOs often act as watchdogs, ensuring that government actions align with the public interest.

While local governments have a deep understanding of their communities, national governments have the resources and policy-making power to effect large-scale change. By cooperating with the national government, local governments can secure funding, influence national policies, and ensure that local needs are considered in national decision-making processes. This cooperation can also facilitate the implementation of national policies at the local level, ensuring that they are adapted to local contexts and effectively meet the needs of the community.

Private businesses are a driving force of economic growth and innovation. By cooperating with businesses, local governments can stimulate local economies, create jobs, and foster innovation. This cooperation can take various forms, from public-private partnerships for infrastructure development to collaborations for technological innovation. Moreover, businesses can contribute to local governance by providing expertise, resources, and innovative solutions to local challenges.

Academia is a rich source of knowledge and research. By cooperating with academic institutions, local governments can access cutting-edge research, evidence-based policy recommendations, and expert advice. This cooperation can also foster innovation, as academic institutions often pioneer new technologies and methodologies. Furthermore, academia can play a crucial role in capacity building, providing training and education for local government officials and staff.

In our recent interview with Steven Bosacker, director of the GMF Cities program, he underscored the importance of cooperation in addressing today’s global challenges. Bosacker emphasized that municipal involvement and cross-sector collective action are vital in navigating the complexities of the 21st century. He highlighted the need for public sector involvement to achieve scale and systems change, and the necessity of private sector investment towards social good. He also stressed the value of sharing innovative practices among cities, including the sharing of real-time mistakes and successes. Bosacker is particularly proud of the transatlantic coalitions and partnerships fostered by GMF Cities, including a network of City Directors of International Affairs from nearly 75 cities in 26 countries. This network convenes regularly to tackle topics of global importance, demonstrating the power of international cooperation. His message to all mayors across Europe is one of encouragement and challenge. He urges local elected officials to be bold and utilize their full authority to meet the needs of their communities, emphasizing the role of cities as innovators and problem-solvers on issues of global importance.

In our recent talk with smart cities expert Aapo Huovila, a Senior Scientist at the Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd, he emphasized the crucial role of collaborative leadership in the transition towards climate-neutral and smart cities. Huovila highlighted that cities are setting ambitious carbon neutrality targets, but to achieve these, they are dependent on other stakeholders such as companies, citizens, and national decision-makers. He stressed that cities can act as enablers and catalysts of change, but they need expert support from researchers and companies to define, design, and implement the solutions needed to achieve their ambitious carbon neutrality targets on time. Huovila underscored the need for better coordination, collaboration, and commitment within and outside city organizations at different time scales. He also mentioned the need for cities to collaborate even more closely with citizens, companies, and research to make the transition to carbon neutrality possible. He cited his home city, Helsinki, as an innovative example of a city on the path to becoming carbon-neutral, highlighting its climate watch system, open data portal, and collaborative initiatives with the local energy company.

As University College London professor Michael Batty told us in a recent interview, the transformation towards smart cities is not solely about the deployment of new digital technologies, but also about the collaborative efforts involving academia, science, the private sector, and policy decision-makers. He emphasized that while larger cities might have more resources and a greater need for IT, every city, regardless of size, is linked to IT and in this sense, can be considered ‘smart’. Batty also highlighted the importance of learning from each other, stating that it’s impossible to say one city is any smarter than another. Instead, the focus should be on sharing knowledge and resources to foster faster advancement towards carbon-neutral cities. He expressed hope about the move to net zero, stating that collaborative efforts are crucial in fostering this advancement. By working together, these diverse stakeholders can help design and implement sustainable solutions, making our cities more environmentally friendly and resilient for the future.

Cooperation is not just a strategy; it is a necessity for effective local governance in the 21st century. By harnessing the power of cooperation, mayors and local governments can enhance their capacity to serve their communities, drive sustainable development, and navigate the complex challenges of our time. The future of local governance lies in cooperation, and the time to embrace it is now.

The future of our cities lies in our hands, and it is through cooperation that we can shape them into sustainable, resilient, and inclusive spaces. If you are a mayor, a city representative, a member of academia, a private business, or an NGO, and you share our vision of creating better, sustainable cities of the future, we invite you to join us.

Together, we can pool our resources, share our knowledge, and combine our efforts to make a tangible difference. We can learn from each other, innovate together, and drive change that will benefit our communities and our planet. Let’s start a conversation, explore potential collaborations, and work together towards our shared goal. The time for action is now.