Living Together: How Can Cities Navigate Inclusion and Resilience in a Globalised World?

Deputy Head of Strong Cities Network, Daniel Hooton (centre), speaking at the second global summit of the International Observatory of Mayors on Living Together. Credit: Landeshauptstadt Düsseldorf/Marc-André Hergenröder 

Author: Daniel Hooton
Deputy Head, Strong Cities Network

‘Inclusion’ and ‘resilience’ occupy an uneasy position in the rhetoric of today’s mayors and city leaders. There is a tacit consensus that both are integral principles for the security and wellness of our communities, but they are often ill-defined and mean different things from one person to the next. Viewing these terms through the lens of a globalised world, and moreover in the context of hate, polarisation and extremism, they can appear under especial threat from migration and security. How we respond to it at national, local and civic levels is a paramount challenge.

But outside of the increasingly stormy and divisive national political narratives of migration and security, how can cities remain open and inclusive without appearing ‘soft’ on the security challenges and resilience?

This was but one focus of the second global summit of our partner, the International Observatory of Mayors on Living Together, which convened last week in Dusseldorf with support from the Strong Cities Network (SCN) among other partners.

In a debate which drew in mayors from all corners of the globe, the SCN shone a spotlight on the approaches to two very different cities each tackling this issue: Gatineau, Canada and our SCN member Palermo, Italy. The contributions of Mayor Pedneaud-Jobin and Deputy Mayor Darawsha respectively gave two important lessons on how inclusion and resilience can go beyond abstract principles and take practical shape in our cities.

Trying to define and address inclusion and resilience in the aftermath of a hate crime, a terror attack or a riot puts you on the back foot from the outset.

1. Seize the initiative

Today’s city mayors are constantly balancing several urgent and competing priorities. No matter how critical to the social and civic tissue of our communities, terms such as ‘resilience’ and ‘inclusion’ risk becoming contentious, being ill-defined and difficult to tackle compared with the perennial urgency of issues such as housing, economic investment and physical security.

But trying to define and address these issues in the aftermath of a hate crime, a terror attack or a riot puts you on the back foot from the outset. At no other time will these issues appear more divisive, emotional and contentious at the community level, and at no other time is it harder to shape a strategy that is forward-looking and genuinely aimed to prevent a full spectrum of polarisation, hate and extremism.

Mayor Pedneaud-Jobin of Gatineau, Canada. Credit: Landeshauptstadt Düsseldorf/Marc-André Hergenröder 

Regardless of the strategy’s merits, you will always have to contend with the perception that you are responding to yesterday’s events, forcing polices to be reactive and short-term rather than playing the longer more difficult game of prevention.

This is the lesson of Gatineau, the fourth-largest city in Quebec, Canada. With a large and diverse immigrant population, the January 2017 mosque shooting in neighbouring Quebec City sent shock waves through Gatineau’s community. Fear, Mayor Pedneaud-Jobin explained, became the default feeling across the city.

Seizing the initiative, the city held their own Living Together summit, pulling in communities from across Gatineau. In parallel, the city launched a major effort to reach out across communities and consult different groups on a strategy and action plan to prevent extremism which put resilience and inclusion at the fore. Later this year, it will formally launch the strategy, built through participatory planning processes and providing a rationale for how local government services work alongside civil society to make sure inclusion and cohesion overrides fear and division.

Seizing the initiative like Gatineau doesn’t just mean that cities can institute a genuinely preventive, as opposed to reactive, strategy; it means that the municipality itself is actively driving a vision for the way its diverse communities interact and relate to each other. It follows that divisive and extremist narratives struggle to find social, cultural and economic ‘push factors’ to exploit in their recruitment efforts when faced with a city that has a strong, proactive identity of togetherness.

What democratic mechanisms can we put in place that actively build the civic and political participation of minority and immigrant groups?

2. Represent the diversity of your community

Many of us readily pay lip-service to the inclusion and diversity of our communities, but how many of us feel that our political representation in our city, province or municipality actually reflects this diversity? And what democratic mechanisms can we put in place that actively build the civic and political participation of minority and immigrant groups? These were the questions posed by Adham Darawsha, Deputy Mayor for Cultures (note the plural) in the City of Palermo, Italy, in a personal and instructive contribution about Palermo’s approach to resilience.

Adham Darawsha, Deputy Mayor for Cultures in the City of Palermo, Italy. Credit: Landeshauptstadt Düsseldorf/Marc-André Hergenröder 

Originally from Nazareth and an immigrant to Palermo himself, Darawsha underlines the longstanding cultural and ethnic diversity of Sicily. For millennia, Dawasha points out, Palermo has seen empires and nations come and go, each time welcoming new waves of migration and effecting new social and cultural identities.

Wanting to shape local governance structures with this fact at its heart, the city opened the new portfolio of ‘cultures’ at the deputy mayor level, and with it a host of mechanisms that give more than a nod to inclusion and resilience.

First, the city took an active role in making the Mediterranean, in Darawsha’s words, “a place to challenge the complexity of our age”.

This was underlined by the 2015 launch of the Charter of Palermo, which promotes the universal right of ‘human mobility’, defining the city’s response to the migrant crisis and conflict in the Middle East and North Africa in the face of polarised and populist national narratives.

Cities are uniquely placed to make them meaningful to communities, to put them at the heart of the prevention of hate, polarisation and extremism

Second, and similar to Gatineau’s participatory approach to strategic planning, Palermo formed a new Council of Cultures, active since 2013 under the leadership of Mayor Leoluca Orlando and comprising 21 councillors to represent the cultural diversity across the city. The council offers opportunities to develop new intercultural policy on cohesion and togetherness, tied to concrete activities at the neighbourhood level, while assessing how new policies might affect marginalised communities.

These are just two of the ways in which these cities are trying to make real the often abstract concepts of resilience and inclusion and build them into the everyday work of municipalities and local governments. However, in an increasingly globalised world these concepts will need ever-greater efforts to engender practical and understandable policy interventions that speak to the concerns of our communities.

Cities are uniquely placed to make them meaningful to communities, to put them at the heart of the prevention of hate, polarisation and extremism, and move the conversation on migration and security forward.

The second global summit of the International Observatory of Mayors on Living Together was held in Dusseldorf, Germany. Credit: Landeshauptstadt Düsseldorf/Marc-André Hergenröder 

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