Geneva Cities Hub: an urban dimension to International Geneva

Red lights shine on the European Central Bank while the city's skyline is reflected in a golden pinnacle on top of a hotel in Frankfurt. (Credit: Keystone /Michael Probst)

We meet the director of the Geneva Cities Hub (GCH), the brand new platform dedicated “to bring forward the urban dimension in International Geneva”. Still fine-tuning her strategy, Daria Cibrario tells us all about the importance of cities and her vision for Geneva.

Geneva Solutions – Why Geneva?

Daria Cibrario – The Swiss authorities are aware of the importance that the urban dimension plays in current global challenges. This is why the City and the Canton of Geneva have created the GCH with the support of the Swiss Confederation. Hosting 177 states represented by permanent missions, 38 international and 420 civil society organizations, Geneva represents a unique venue for dialogue, exchange and global policymaking. Besides, the President of the GCH is the Mayor of Geneva, Mr. Sami Kanaan, who is also Vice-President of the Union des villes suisses (UVS). Geneva has long been an active player in the international municipal community of city networks, as a member of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), the largest and world’s most representative municipal network, and of the Association international des maires francophones (AIMF).

What is your vision for the GCH in international Geneva?

Until recently, in my own experience, there was no dedicated, structured space or regular opportunity for gathering and bringing together international organizations’ practitioners and urban actors in International Geneva. It was not straightforward to meet peers from other organizations, local government and city network representatives here. While several International Geneva organizations already involve cities and their international networks in parts of their work, this expertise tends to be dispersed and is not especially visible or accessible to outsiders. Few major events bring international municipal community actors to Geneva. A notable exception is UNECE, which since 2018 has organized public events involving urban actors around SDG 11 and recently held its first Forum of Mayors in Geneva, in cooperation with UN Habitat and the GCH.

The multiple global crises the world is experiencing – Covid, but also climate change and disasters, the global housing crisis, and mass unemployment – have brought to the forefront the critical role cities and local governments play daily as first emergency responders, public service providers, and as essential actors together with national governments and global institutions. The creation of the GCH is therefore particularly timely and purposeful.

What role do cities play in tackling the global challenges of our time?

As the global trend towards urbanization continues worldwide, local governments are playing an increasingly strategic role, developing effective and innovative ways to solve global challenges in their territories, often in association with their communities. They are frequently advanced in the implementation of SDGs, which must all necessarily be “localized”, meaning implemented at the local level. Many of these solutions such as those local authorities shared during the Forum of Mayors 2020 – adapting local public service delivery, shifting around municipal budgets, building emergency shelters, supporting vulnerable groups, becoming “carbon positive” or fostering participatory democracy to enhance local preparedness to future crises - represent a wealth of experience that can increase global policy effectiveness and facilitate local implementation.

Cities are living, non-monolithic ecosystems. When all urban actors – local authorities and community stakeholders - are meaningfully engaged, have adequate resources to function and work together towards a common goal, then they can collectively harness a truly transformative power. It is therefore not surprising that the preliminary results emerged from the global consultation launched by the UN in January 2020 on the occasion of its 75th Anniversary indicate that the UN should be more inclusive of cities, local governments and their communities among the top ten findings.

How can local and International Geneva be brought together?

Because of its focus on city issues, the GCH has a natural opportunity to build thematic synergies and linkages with the urban community in which International Geneva is embedded. Geneva is one of the world’s most affluent cities: it is not a representative sample of the average city of its size. However, “local” Geneva also happens to be an active center for participatory initiatives on cutting edge urban issues that resonate with global debates. For instance, Les Rencontres du développement, the Explore and Alternatiba festivals provide spaces for dialogue and consultation with inhabitants over themes such as sustainable transport, access to housing, smart cities, climate change, social inclusion, local food systems, sustainable livelihoods and consumption... These same themes are among those that cities, local authorities and communities have in their international agenda. So while the primary focus of the GCH remains International Geneva and the international municipal community, it will seize opportunities to work with “local” Geneva and with Swiss cities too, which are increasingly playing a proactive role in international city relations. As an example, the City of Bern will host next year the 2021 Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy (GFMDD), the largest gathering devoted to direct democracy worldwide.