Where national governments fail, cities come forward for democracy – EURACTIV.de

Democracy was born in cities and local actors are closer to people than national governments, Bratislava Mayor Matúš Vallo told EURACTIV Slovakia.

Liberal democracy is going through a difficult time. Populism, the decline of media freedom, discrimination against minorities and other threats to democracy are on the rise in many places. Cities play a crucial role in upholding democratic values, Vallo explained.

“For democracy to work, it is very important that people trust their local representatives. They should find reliable policies and transparent institutions where they live. Where national governments fail, it is cities and regions that support the people and democracy, “she said.

The defense of democratic principles and liberal values ​​is one of the main objectives of the Pact of Free Cities, a platform founded by Vallo in 2019 together with the mayors of Prague, Budapest and Warsaw.

“The Pact of Free Cities was established at an extraordinary moment, when four mayors from four Central and Eastern European capitals were elected in a short time, as a clear signal from the electorate for change and an alternative to their governments. nationals, “said Vallo.

The pact of free cities has proven to be a resilient platform, the mayor added. This was underlined by an expansion last year when 20 more cities around the world joined the pact.

In January, the enlargement will continue with Brussels, Milan and Rome. In the second half of the year, a Summit of the Pact is planned in Prague under the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU.

Cooperation between cities is not just declarative, said the mayor of Bratislava. They will work together to coordinate the various issues on a daily basis, even in the lower levels of the municipalities.

Liberal island in the illiberal ocean

In addition to liberal values, climate change is another important issue on the pact’s agenda. Under Vallo’s leadership, Bratislava has emerged as a strong supporter of the commitments of the European Green Deal.

Currently, the fight against climate change is a cross-cutting issue, felt in all other areas of urban development, such as transport or urban planning, and is an integral part of many strategic documents.

According to the mayor, cities are once again the protagonists of the fight against climate change, simply as homes for the majority of the population.

“The pandemic has shown us that cities can offer pilot projects and innovative solutions to problems very effectively and quickly. They also inspire responsibility and the necessary change among the population, ”Vallo said.

Vallo believes that climate change requires radical changes in people’s lives. More importantly, a change in corporate behavior should be further encouraged through a framework established by national governments.

Traffic systems need to change

In 2018, Matúš Vallo won the mayor with a complete “Bratislava Plan”. This document will also serve as the basis for Bratislava 2030, the city’s vision for the next ten years, which is currently in the works. In 2030 Vallo wants to transform Bratislava into a “green and supportive city”.

Both documents address a wide range of issues, the ultimate goal of which is to provide quality public spaces, sustainable modes of transport with a focus on public transport and bicycles, and affordable housing.

Regarding public spaces and large-scale projects, Vallo founded the Metropolitan Institute of Bratislava, which deals with the planning and implementation of various projects.

Traffic has long been a problem in the city: traffic jams, unpopular public transport and a lack of cycling infrastructure. Before the pandemic, about 40% of the population used individual transport on a daily basis, while 60% used environmentally friendly modes of transport.

“Bratislava is preparing various measures to promote environmentally friendly transport, including a new parking policy and an expansion of the cycle lane network,” said Vallo.

A growing number of European cities have recently opted for a full or partial banning of cars in city centers.

Bratislava’s goal is also to limit car traffic in the center, according to Vallo. However, this must be achieved by other means, such as an adequate parking policy, the expansion of cycle paths, bus lanes and tramways to be less dependent on cars.

Digital platforms are not a problem

Social housing is another big problem that Bratislava faces. “Bratislava lags behind the Visegrád capitals and the European average in terms of affordable housing. I would like to see Bratislava gradually approach the European average in terms of the number of social housing, ”said Vallo.

The goal is to provide affordable housing for young families, the elderly and the poor, as well as for key workers such as teachers or medical staff. To this end, the city is preparing municipal housing construction projects and rehabilitating old city-owned apartment buildings.

Vallo also wants to work with private investors.

Asked how digital platforms offering short-term rentals are affecting the real estate market, Vallo said the situation in Bratislava is not the same as in Prague, Lisbon or other major European cities.

“We have no data to confirm the link between short-term rental platforms and housing accessibility. As far as we can see, Bratislava does not have the same problem, although we have felt the decline in tourism over the past two years, ”concluded Vallo.

[Bearbeitet von Alice Taylor]

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