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Cities4Europe - Interview with Mayor of Warsaw and the Mayor of Genoa

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The Mayor of Warsaw Hanna Gronkiewicz-Walz and the Mayor of Genoa Marco Bucci have answered our questions on the 'Cities4Europe - Europe for citizens' campaign.

The Mayor of Warsaw, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Walz answered our questions on the 'Cities4europe - Europe for citizens' campaign.

What opportunities does ‘Cities4Europe - Europe for Citizens’ present your city?

Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz: Residents in European cities are known for their positive attitude towards the EU. At the same time, cities are becoming more and more visible beacons of democracy. The combination of European and city level in the form of a Europe-wide campaign offers insights into the most important residents’ needs. It also brings our continent closer to its people. One of Warsaw’s key policies has been to empower its citizens and strengthen local communities in their efforts to implement direct democratic principles. As the Mayor of Warsaw I would like to use “Cities4Europe” also as a platform of exchange between cities: how to best manage challenges stemming from globalization and climate change, the use of big data, or job creation.

Marco Bucci: Genoa has always been at the forefront of  international relationships  as well as of the European scenario. Through this initiative, I hope  to deepen dialogue with my fellow citizens on European themes so that they can be more conscious and more active with relation to the great issues  but also to the great opportunities that Europe can offer.

How do you involve citizens in decision making in your city?

H.G.W.: In Warsaw, the democratic expression is achieved in many ways: traditionally, through directly electing the city’s mayor or by deciding about how to spend taxes – a practice commonly known by the name of “participatory budget”; by bringing together authorities and residents – a process called “social dialogue”, under which public consultations are held concerning the most strategic and long-term decisions in city-development. Finally, by designing the Warsaw Development Strategy 2030, where together with representatives of the local community we are deciding about Warsaw’s future. These and many other examples are driven by the idea, that a just and balanced metropolitan can be achieved only through inclusion and transparency.

M.B.: Since the beginning of my term, I have highlighted the need to start a process of continued involvement of citizens in decision making: our government focuses on the citizens as a reference point in the policy-making process. Cities are tremendous catalysts for opportunities to be seized by  community leaders.

Can you share one idea or project linked to participatory democracy your city feels proud of?

H.G.W.: One recent project I am very proud of in Warsaw is the revitalization of the Praga District. The project started with a bottom-up initiative, which was then quickly picked up by the City. Thanks to a close cooperation between the local society, authorities, as well as the business sector, a defavourized district is being transformed into a vibrant part of a modern city, a hub for the creative sector listed as one of the up-and-coming neighborhoods in Europe. Another example is the immense revival of the Vistula river banks. For decades, this area was lifeless; recently, it has become one of the most attractive spaces for leisure and entertainment in Warsaw. The Praga embankment, which features five beaches, along with a recreational cycling and pedestrian path, has retained its natural values. The left-side bank, however, along with the existing and newly established boulevards, is gradually attaining the status of a large-city river promenade and has become the center of city life during the summer.

M.B.: “Breakfast with the Mayor” is an opportunity  for me to reinforce dialogue with citizens with the aim of solving their complaints or problems: while enjoying a cup of coffee and a slice of Genoese  “focaccia”, citizens can report a bug about different topics or make a suggestion that will  be analyzed  and possibly  shared in decision making.  The event is held at various locations. Together with the city council members we are meeting citizens from the nine city districts on a regular basis.  I have also enhanced the need to increase accessibility of Municipal Government Websites in order to improve e-governance  and to bring the citizens closer to their Mayor and city services.

What role do you see cities playing in developing future European democracy?

H.G.W.: Residents feel comfortable and safe to identify with their cities. Warsaw’s population is aware, that the city’s development is directly linked to our membership in the EU. Therefore, the daily cooperation between authorities and residents, their use of infrastructure and city resources, creates an urban ecosystem which offers a sense of stability and progress. In this context, cities often assume the role of mediators between the community of residents and the business sector. They understand the need for constant change and enhancement, while simultaneously caring for the environment and human capital. City politicians are effective problem solvers ready to undergo never-ending evaluation. As agents of democracy, cities are creative and focused on innovative solutions, translating residents’ ideas and needs into particular solutions. This is how I see the future of European democracy: prioritizing citizens and focusing on sustainability at European, national, but, most importantly, city level. At the same time, mayors have an enormous responsibility towards city-residents when it comes to information sharing: a recent poll we have conducted among the residents of Warsaw shows, that 86% expect the city to organize campaigns, conferences and meetings focusing of bringing the EU closer to the people. This is why “Cities4Europe” has the potential to answer this exact call and thus bring down Brussels to the level where it matters most, to the cities.

M.B.: Cities are places of high concentration of both wealth and problems. Social conflicts have increasingly risen in recent years, due to the worldwide economic crises and  to migration. Nonetheless cities can make a new start for the European Union: Eurocities prove that the Europe of the cities can really work by means of shared partnerships and cooperation projects.

Now please complete the following statement: ‘My Europe in 2030 will…’

H.G.W.: We have been imagining Warsaw 2030 for quite some time now. The vision presented in the Warsaw Development Strategy 2030 includes three priorities: active residents, a friendly place, and an open metropolis. I would like to incorporate the same ideas into my vision for Europe. In consequence, my Europe in 2030 will be a community of people who pursue their own paths, develop their own interests, realize private dreams and professional aspirations, who are able to combine their efforts to engage in democratic processes, feeling responsible for the Union. Europe in 2030 is a friendly place where everyone feels at home – free and safe, enjoying the skillful mix of tradition and modernity, urban and natural environment, local character and European values. My Europe in 2030 boldly faces challenges and inspires the whole world. Owing to its diversity and willingness to engage in cooperation, it creates a unique environment for building and developing brave new ideas. It’s a place created for and by its citizens.

M.B.: Reduce bureaucracy, recognize the importance of citizen participation in policy making, improve dialogue with European Institutions as well as a cohesion policy that enables reduce the distance and the differences between the various regions of Europe.