‘Now is the time to be visionary’

6 October 2020

Invited to open the Forum of Mayors at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) this week, the mayor of Milan, Giuseppe Sala, brings forward the voice of cities.

In his speech on Tuesday, he highlighted the efforts cities have already made in facing the crisis and their commitment to build a sustainable and inclusive society for all, and he calls for national governments and multilateral agencies to support cities’ efforts.

Mayor Sala, why do you think gatherings like this are important?

As a mayor among mayors, I am honoured to open this gathering and grateful to our UN host for convening a meeting of cities, for cities.

It is an important recognition of the key role of municipalities in addressing the most pressing challenges of our times, being them the current pandemic, the climate crisis or their social and economic consequences.

Only by acknowledging that cities are key actors and by creating close collaboration among local institutions, national governments and international organisations, we will build a sustainable and inclusive society for all.

Milan has been hard hit by the Covid-19 crisis, as have many cities. Cities have also been the first to react to the crisis, how?

Milan was hard hit by the pandemic, early on. It is a particularly difficult experience in the 26 centuries of history of our city. As the mayor of Milan, I was clear that any recovery in my city must be rooted in the principles of equity and climate action. I quickly found out that fellow mayors all over the world shared this same vision and stood ready to deliver it.

As soon as the crisis broke out, we realised that it would hit the most vulnerable citizens the hardest, further exacerbating existing inequalities. Migrants have been on the frontline of the pandemic, risking their lives as essential workers in the health, food, waste and mobility sectors, for instance.

We felt that it was essential to prevent the impacts of the pandemic from endangering the progress done so far in the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals.

In Milan, we support the transformation of the city’s lifestyle into a ‘new normal’ that benefits all people and addresses the challenges of climate change.

As other cities, we are pursuing a ‘15-minute city’ dimension, one in which basic services are available within a short walking or cycling distance. We do so through our ‘Open Streets’ and ‘Open Squares’ initiatives that open up new public spaces through additional bike lanes, traffic-restricted areas, terraces for bars and restaurants from reclaimed parking lots.

The plans were under way before the pandemic, but the whole process was greatly accelerated by the need to ensure physical distancing and the increased demand of citizens for a better city environment.


“The outbreak of Covid-19 has shown us how vital collaboration is”


What has the pandemic revealed and what do you think we could learn from it?

The outbreak of Covid-19 has shown us how vital collaboration is, both to tackle emergencies in the short term and to plan more liveable, green and welcoming cities in the long term.

With time, we also came to realise that the new reality imposed by the coronavirus was offering an unprecedented opportunity to push further the shift to a greener and fairer city that was under way.

While treating the symptoms of global destabilisation, we could also address the deep, systemic causes that existed long before Covid-19 and prepare for future shocks. When cities tailor their plans to the needs of the most vulnerable, they also make them work for everybody else.

If I had to draw one lesson from the experience of the last few months, it is that adapting our urban contexts to new conditions rapidly is possible. Now it is the time to use the skills we have developed during the crisis to be visionary and lay the groundwork of a sustainable and inclusive future for all.

What do cities need to continue in this direction?

As the Mayor of Milan, I was clear that any recovery in my city must be rooted in the principles of equity and climate action.  I quickly found out that fellow Mayors all over the world shared this same vision and stood ready to deliver it.

This is why, very early in the pandemic, the C40 Cities network, under the leadership of the Mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti, established a Global Mayoral Recovery Task Force, that I have the honor to chair.  We envision a swift and strong recovery based on the principles of a Global Green New Deal, in three main areas: jobs and an inclusive economy; resilience and equity; and health and wellbeing.

As mayors, we cannot achieve a green and just recovery alone – we call on national governments and multilateral agencies to support our efforts in this direction.

Whether it concerns resilient infrastructure, mass transit or clean energy, we are requesting them to commit to ensure that all economic recovery funds and stimulus packages support a fair and sustainable transition.

To ensure that no one is left behind we must champion policies that invest in a just transition to an inclusive economy and correct long-running environmental and social injustices through the creation of new decent, green jobs for all workers.

Watch the full speech of Giuseppe Sala in this recording from the opening session of the Forum of Mayors (starting at 29’20” minutes):


Wilma Dragonetti Eurocities Writer