The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on urban life: homelessness continues to rise; unemployment rates are shooting upwards and local companies are struggling to survive with the support of government schemes. In short, our resilience to confronting this crisis has been tested, measured, and found wanting.
Despite all this, city leaders continue on in the good fight. A big part of that right now is garnering support, through the European and National recovery funding to secure a better future for people and businesses.
“If we act quickly, we can still ensure the recovery funds find their mark to put people’s lives back on track and deliver the twin digital and green priorities locally,” commented Dario Nardella, President of Eurocities and Mayor of Florence, during an event Friday on the status of the EU’s recovery, organised by the European Committee of the Regions.
And that’s because, according to Eurocities’ own research compiling inputs of around 50 cities from almost all member states, cities have not been sufficiently involved in the development of their respective national recovery plans. In fact, only one in ten cities responding believed that their contributions have been considered in the current draft plans.
This is not for lack of trying.
In Riga, as elaborated in Eurocities research, the discussions over the national recovery plans coincided with a new political leadership that wants to promote an ambitious climate neutrality agenda. As well as investing in modern infrastructure to prioritise public transport and implement various micro mobility solutions, the city administration will support recent shifts in people’s habits, by introducing more green areas and bicycle lanes. Other key investment areas that the city hopes to get support for include increasing the energy efficiency of buildings and bio-waste management systems.
Utrecht wants to focus on projects related to the European Green Deal, such as circular city development, circular construction hubs, heat/cold storage, smart solar charging, and heat networks. In discussion with the government, the city emphasised that the Recovery and Resilience facility is an important opportunity to boost public investments, and that local (and regional) authorities are best positioned to deliver those investments and develop integrated solutions to address the current societal challenges.
Currently, 70% of the cities responding to Eurocities believe that the consultation process has been insufficient. However, the Italian government appears to be the frontrunner, working with its metropolitan areas and cities to build a recovery plan which fully considers the important role of cities for a sustainable recovery.
Venice, for example, sent a proposal in early September comprising 30 projects, covering all the issues relevant for cities, including sustainable mobility, green transition, social inclusion, economic development, innovation and digitalisation. So far, Venice and the other cities have been notified that some of the projects proposed will be included in the draft National Recovery Plan and they have started to revise their project descriptions following the instructions received, adding more details, defining the work-plan and timelines.
It’s a model that other member states can learn from – and luckily there is still time for cities to get their national government’s attention, as the deadline to submit National Recovery Plans to the Commission is 30 April. It will have a negative impact on cities’ ability to bounce back if the recovery priorities overlook the needs at local level for urgent investment into projects that can support a green, fair and digital transformation, while creating opportunities for people and business. And without cities, the prospects for a sustainable recovery look grim.
“In these challenging times, we have an important opportunity to rethink our cities and build back better: we are not going to waste it,” concluded Nardella, speaking at the event on Friday.