Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Conversations on Europe: European Cities in the 21st Century

By Jessica Mrase

This month’s Conversations on Europe conference focused on issues faced by city developers, city leaders, and residents of European cities. The discussion, titled “European Cities in the 21st Century,” probed hot topics such as how European cities are employing strategies for resilience against climate change, how technology is used to create “smart” cities in regards to transportation and energy grids (see last month’s post on Energy Policy), as well as sharing best practices learned from urban development within the networks of the European Union. Moderating the discussion was Director of European Studies Center at the University of Pittsburgh, Jae-Jae Spoon. Participating panelists included Katrina Kelly (University of Pittsburgh), Alistair Cole (Po Lyon), Marco Bontje (University of Amsterdam), and Ali Madanipour (Newcastle University).

The conference began with Spoon acknowledging that although European cities are becoming greener and more sustainable, the EU must do more to combat the challenges of climate change and unemployment. The floor opened to the panelists to provide their insight on the topic. Madanipour commented that there is no “single” European city. More often than not, larger, iconic cities are considered being “European.” They have identifiable trends such as cosmopolitanism, multiculturalism, high sustainability, and great public transport. The medium-sized cities are stable, but smaller cities are losing population. So what can cities do to counteract these problems and progress?

Kelly offered her expertise in energy as being the greatest case. On the city level, the European ideal for cities to aim for is alternative energies and focus on the advancement of the electrical grid. There is also contest in as European and reaching for a unified “continental” goal is similar to admitting that you are not a nationalist. Moreover, in the current political climates, there has been an inward pull to reclaim national roots and pride in the country. On the flipside of this, cities tend to be locations that are more liberal. The balance between politics and urban advancement is difficult to achieve since they currently contradict one another.

In light of recent events, Spoon wanted to redirect the conversation into a more positive mindset. Bontje allowed for recognition towards cities’ progress in mobility, for instance improved facilities and infrastructure. Madanipour mentioned that a key theme for this topic is a very strong and positive feeling towards urbanity. European city dwellers are presently pushing for aesthetic improvement of the city as a way to improve their quality of life across the EU. Cole agreed with these points, but he did pull the conversation back to the other side of city development. In larger cities, some neighborhoods are worse off than others are, and conscientious developers must ensure that vulnerable populations are not displaced via gentrification. Though this practice seems counterintuitive to overall city growth, it seeks to balance the city as both a space of justice and economic progress.


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