Valuing our communities and cities – an international perspective

From tackling inequality, the climate emergency and urban security, to access to health, education and employment, cities are at the forefront of the most urgent global challenges.  

Now cities, and the communities within them, are on the frontline of managing the spread of, and recovery from, the Covid-19 pandemic. In the UK, we are also faced with Brexit and the challenge of ensuring we continue to have a strong inclusive economy.

Today is the United Nations’ World Cities Day: ‘Valuing Our Communities and Cities’. Never has this been more important.

In the context of Brexit and Covid-19, the relationships Bristol has with other cities internationally are vital. At the very start of Covid-19 in the UK we reached out to  cities around the world – we shared ideas on communications campaigns, shared insights into education changes as schools shut, shared information on supporting local businesses as they were required to close. Now, we continue to speak to other cities about how to strategically plan for recovery and the longer-term support our communities and city need to flourish.

We are also a champion of ‘city diplomacy’. Issues like migration and the climate emergency are debated and agreed at the United Nations, where cities are represented by their national governments. But it is in the cities that these challenges are most acutely played out. So we are part of a global cities movement calling for the voice of cities to be heard nationally and internationally to be better represented in the global decisions that impact our future.

We are doing this through collaborative relationships with global city networks such as EUROCITIES, the OECD Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, the Global Parliament of Mayors and the Mayors Migration Council to deliver for Bristol and globally.  

Because of our history as a trading port, we have always had economic relationships with other cities, and these will continue to be key as we look to an uncertain future outside of the European Union. By using these existing networks and strengthening new connections, we can share best practice on these challenges, but also share the practical resources, the technology and access to direct investment[SM1]  which will help us deliver on them.

Recently, as Mayor of Bristol, I have been selected to represent local authorities across the country on the Commonwealth Local Government Forum’s (CLGF) Executive Committee, joining representatives from countries across the Commonwealth.

As a child of the Commonwealth, I know that as well as its colonial history, this existing network of countries across Asia, Africa, the Americas, Europe and the Pacific provides an opportunity to promote Bristol’s cultural, educational and business links. This is an opportunity to focus on:  

  • Local delivery of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), that underpin our One City Plan and Economic Recovery and Renewal Strategy, including influencing innovative financing mechanisms that help finance our city needs in the long-term.
  • Promoting trade links between our Commonwealth cities and regions; with a focus on sectors that support low carbon sustainable urbanisation, already a growth area in Bristol, such as green technology.
  • Supporting increased engagement from young people in the Commonwealth partnerships and institutions.

I am delighted that Bristol’s Youth Mayors, Alice Towle and John Wayman, have already taken steps to establish an International Youth Mayors Association to help build these international links. They will focus on the challenges and solutions that are felt by young people in cities across the world and help ensure all young people are heard in decision-making.

Today, as ever, it is also important to value the international links of Bristol’s communities who contribute to our vibrant, outward looking and welcoming city. Together we represent over 187 countries of birth, with 91 languages spoken and 45 religions.  

Our citizens of international heritage, as well as our international citizens who have chosen to work or study here, link Bristol to the world and help us to strengthen cultural, educational and business opportunities. From our twinning associations and community groups, such as the Bristol Hannover Council and Africa Voices Forum, through to international students and staff at our universities and in countless organisations across the city.

Over 36,000 of our citizens have applied for the EU Settlement Scheme. Everyone who chooses Bristol as a place to live, work or study is welcome, valued and respected. I hope that regardless of the UK’s future arrangements with the EU, everyone still feels at home here. I would remind our EU citizens to apply as soon as possible given the possibility of delays due to Covid 19. All those wishing to apply need to be resident in the UK by 31 December and the final deadline to apply for the scheme is 30 June 2021.

On World Cities Day, and as we look to build back better, post-Brexit and post-Covid-19, I welcome us all working together to support and strengthen these local and international links; to value and respect one another, bring prosperity to the city and ensure everyone is part of the story and sharing in its success.

You can find out more about our international strategy and engagement here.

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