Educating Cities interviews Josep Roig, UCLG Secretary General

Josep Roig, UCLG Secretary General

Josep Roig was named Secretary General of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) in September 2011. He was a founding member of Metropolis in 1985, becoming Secretary General of the organization in 1999. 

Could you describe the UCLG’s main goals?

United Cities and Local Governments is the world organization of local and regional governments, and their representative associations. It was created in 2004 when local and regional authorities around the world decided to join together to have one single voice on the international scene and carry on the missions of two organizations: the International Union of Local Authorities (IULA) and the United Towns Organization (UTO/FMCU), established in 1913 and 1957, respectively.

Today the UCLG is present in 155 of the 192 United Nations member states and its direct membership comprises 1,000 cities and national associations. 

The UCLG’s aim is to represent local and regional governments on a worldwide level, promoting their values, goals and interests in the international community, through ongoing cooperation among them.

This organization is committed to working towards, through the action of its members, a fair, sustainable and supportive society, based on local democracy, autonomy and decentralization, in the defense of citizens’ general interests.

The UCLG defends the “Right to the City.” How do you define that right?

Indeed, in recent years, the concept of “the right to the city” has become a part of the UCLG members’ brief. As we see it, this right aims to establish a new political and cultural model whereby the local territory is built collectively to be a space in which citizens can enjoy their rights.

In other words, we see the right to the city as a tool with which to build democratic, sustainable, fair and humane cities that allow equal access to resources, services and opportunities provided in urban areas. 

In 2011, the UCGL took a clear stance in support of this paradigm in adopting the Global Charter-Agenda for Human Rights in the City, that was drafted by the members of the Committee on Social Inclusion, Participatory Democracy and Human Rights. 

The Charter-Agenda encourages local governments to design public policies that contribute to make the right to the city a reality in their territories. In this document, the right to the city is about respect and the protection and implementation of a set of rights (to participatory democracy, accessible basic public services, housing, gender equality, sustainable urban development, etc.) through local public policies drawn up in close dialogue with citizens.

The added value of this text, which sets it apart from earlier documents (for example, the European Charter for the Safeguarding of Human Rights in the City), is that each of those rights is linked with a proposed plan of action that aims to help the local signatory governments put the stated commitments into effect through municipal programs or policies.

What are the main challenges faced by cities today in a context of globalization and increased social inequalities? Does the UCLG offer recommendations on how to fight inequality?

A worrisome question with regard to inequality and social exclusion, is the lack of access by vulnerable groups to basic citizen’s rights (civil, political, economic, social and cultural).

During the course of 2008 UCLG members debated these issues in depth and drew up the document For a World of Inclusive Cities which proposes that social inclusion policies be a main focus in local government agendas, together with the human, infrastructural and financial resources required to carry them out.

What are the principles and policies that should characterize an inclusive city?

In the document I mentioned earlier, For a World of Inclusive Cities, we identified four basic principles necessary in building more cohesive cities: that the social policies be part of a global policy, in other words, a priority for all local governments around the world; that they pursue the affirmation of rights, that is, to not consider them assistance policies; that they contribute to promoting diversity; and, lastly, that they contribute to fomenting local democracy and active citizen participation.

With regard to the type of policies that can lead things in that direction, it is important, above all, to point out that the range is very broad because fighting against social inequalities requires making an impact on various levels: social, economic, political, cultural, relational, digital, generational, and gender-wise. 

Without trying to cover the whole ground, I would mention policies of reducing poverty, and generating employment and income; policies promoting health and personal independence; of attending to the needy and supporting families; combining paid work time with care giving, child rearing, and leisure time; policies protecting young children and the elderly who are vulnerable; of opening more doors to culture, information and ongoing training; urban policies based on relationships of proximity and accessible, sustainable mobility by means of quality public transportation; policies that strengthen democracy and critical, participatory and co-responsible citizenship; full rehabilitation policies in the poorest urban neighborhoods that lack quality public spaces and facilities. And there are more. 

Among its goals, and in the Rabat Declaration, the UCLG aims to make the voice of the cities heard in the definition of Post-2015 Millennium Development Goals, and in the aims that will result from the 2016 Habitat III Conference. What are the main demands? 

The UCLG believes in the principle put forward in the Rio+20 Declaration which specifies that the new international development agenda must recognize the role of the sub-national spheres of government as main actors in development, given their demonstrated capacity to find innovative solutions to global challenges. In this regard, our job is to see that the Global Development Agenda focuses on people and empowers those actors and institutions—particularly those closest to the people— that are capable of bringing about changes that make for a more equitable and sustainable society.

With this goal in mind, local and regional governments around the world have promoted the creation of an international group to try to identify the priorities and shared messages with an eye towards the future Development Agenda.

The Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments for Post-2015 Development Agenda Towards Habitat III, as it is called, proposes a specific Sustainable Development Goal for urbanization that would recognize the growing importance of cities and also of regional cohesion, and of the ties between urban and rural areas in drawing up strategies, and actions to take, for a more sustainable world.

We are saying to the international community that sustainable development will not be achieved without addressing the growing inequalities in the current context of the world economic and social crisis that is increasingly playing out in many cities around the world.

In this regard, the future development agenda must boost local economic development with a focus on universal access to quality basic services, with policies aimed at eliminating poverty and with the creation of decent jobs. In addition, it is about fostering a sustainable urban economy that promotes responsible consumption and production and promotes solidarity and learning among equals, where culture plays a decisive cohesive and holistic role. 

The future development agenda must trust in governance at all levels, including local and regional, and promote a global partnership where all of the interest groups work in cooperation. In order to achieve that, decentralization must play a central role and the new Development Agenda must be reinforced by a New Urban Agenda in 2016.

In the Rabat Declaration, the UCLG manifests its support for the creation of one single Post-2015 global development agenda rather than various different sectorial agendas. Why has the UCLG taken this position?

After the Rio+20 conference, two interest groups began to emerge with regard to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). There were those who viewed them as something to be developed separately from the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and then there were others who believed that development and sustainability should go hand in hand, and that the new sustainability goals should be combined with the new development goals to shape a new single set of goals.

UCLG members have always asserted that the Post-2015 Agenda must be single and universal because you cannot consider development without taking into account sustainability nor can you consider global objectives without taking into account varying responsibilities that address capabilities and circumstances in different parts of the world. The new goals must be inclusive from the moment of defining them to implementing them and must rely on the involvement of all of the actors, not just the member states, thus making it easier to guarantee that they will be achieved.

What lines of joint work could be established between UCLG and IAEC to impact this international agenda by bringing to it increased awareness of the concerns and potential of educating cities?

Given that it is a network of networks, the UCLG is a privileged platform for developing new ideas and agreeing on global strategies. With regard to education in the cities, we want to promote cooperation and specific actions among them, to promote further discourse on social inclusion and educating cities, and support the most direct manifestations of that. 

Documenting the experiences that can serve as examples to encourage certain ways of shaping an international agenda could be of great strategic value. Our future aim is to convince many more cities and networks to join in sharing knowledge, and that world policies will include the lessons learned at the local level. 

What role can local governments play in the search for a solution to the dynamics of exclusion that we are seeing in cities throughout the world?

As mentioned previously, the numerous experiences of the cities and authorities should be incorporated into the Global Agenda, and the UCLG —together with its members and partners— aim to create this bridge between the global and the local level.

Our network offers local leaders the opportunity to learn from other experiences while, at the same time, conveying their own visions to different international institutions and organizations. The grass roots solutions need to translate into policies at the national and international level.

Thus, we must create a real exchange among members that is able to quickly respond to national and international proposals in addressing these questions and can work in close cooperation with other important partners such as civil society and the private sector.

Our aim is not to make the voices of local governments one, but rather to make sure that our diversity and experience reaches the international agenda with the strength of a well coordinated world-wide network.

The challenge we face in order to achieve that, is to understand more about the different worlds in which we live, develop new ways of learning, and build a network of knowledge to benefit the local communities that our members represent.

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Source. Educating Cities