What do Medellín, Katowice and Kingersheim have in common? Despite their cultural distance, what connects them is their social and civil planning.
They are located on two different continents and in three distant cultural areas. Medellin, Colombia; Katowice, Poland; and Kingersheim, France are cities that have risen to the challenge of putting the common good at the center in a most authentic way, and not just as the sum of private interests. Administrations and citizens have worked to find a way to break through the ego, poverty and isolation to recognize each other as brothers and sisters. Those playing a lead role in this field are Federico Restrepo, Danuta Kaminska and Jo Spiegel, who told their stories, which were different but with similar themes, at the “Co-
Governance, Co-Responsibility in Cities Today” conference.
The first story was told by Federico Restrepo, an engineer who is already a director at EPM, or Medellín Public Enterprise. Together with other friends, he did not give up in the face of the inevitability of the situation, which seemed beyond his strength. Medellín, a city that counts almost 3 million residents, like many South American cities was showing a strong tendency for growth in urban areas to the detriment of the rural population.
“There are people in some areas of Medellín who try to build their own cities in the suburbs,” says Restrepo. For some years a pilot experience to carry out urban integration projects was started in neighborhoods that were started due to forced migration. Immigration, which has been increasing in Colombia partly due to the crisis in Venezuela, cannot be solved by building walls.
“We have the responsibility,” he continues” to build relationships between cities to be able to resolve these social issues that our society is going through.”
But it’s not just a question of urban planning – there are other challenges that have emerged to rediscover the heart of the city and make it beat.
The experience that Danuta Kaminska tells links the Americas and Europe. A public administrator at the Upper Silesia Council, in Poland, she presents everyday stories that are extraordinary at the same time. They tell of citizens of Katowice welcoming migrants, mostly from the Ukraine. Just in the past year their number reached 700,000.
“In order to start the shared governance of our city, we understood that we needed to support our citizens. We have been collaborating with religious communities and nonprofit organizations to help them assimilate, such as supporting the Jewish and Muslim communities.”
Katowice, which has 2 million inhabitants, underwent profound changes these past years, transforming itself from an industrial city to a UNESCO site, and hosting the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP24).
For cities to be a transformational space, for democracy to be fraternal, engagement and spirituality need to be nurtured. This means public servants who become facilitators of decision-making. Jo Spiegel, who is the mayor of Kingersheim, a French town with close to 13,000 residents, continues to spend all her strength bringing back a multifaceted approach to her city, where different cultures and generations can coexist.
“Twenty years ago,” says the mayor, “we founded an ecosystem of participatory democracy, starting a “citizens house” – a privileged place where citizens and politicians learn to live together.”
More than 40 projects have been completed, such as revising the local urban plan, planning parental leave, and creating a space for Muslims to worship.
“Fraternity cannot be delegated, it cannot be decreed. It’s inside us, it’s between us. You build it.”