President Stevo Pendarovski addressed the Annual Summit of the Global Parliament of Mayors, which is being held in Skopje from 17-19 November, and which is hosted by the Mayor of Skopje, Danela Arsovska.
This year’s Summit is titled “Powerful, Inclusive and Caring Cities: Delivering Democracy and Development for Next Generations” and is attended by over a hundred mayors, as well as a large number of representatives of international organizations.
Through structured plenary debates, Summit participants have the opportunity to discuss topics related to urgent global issues in cities, as well as topics from multiple areas where their positive experiences and networking opportunities for city leaders would be implemented.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honor for me to address the Summit of the Global Parliament of Mayors, which is being held this year in the Macedonian capital – Skopje.
If you walk around Skopje these days, it is highly probable that many of you will come across streets, hospitals, kindergartens, schools and other public buildings that bear the names of your cities or states and their most prominent citizens. This, indeed, is not accidental.
60 years ago, a catastrophic earthquake almost razed Skopje to the ground. The city of houses and buildings was reduced overnight to a city of tents. Skopje is neither the first nor the last city affected by a disaster. But, for the first time in history, the rebuilding of a devastated city turned into unprecedented international solidarity.
The United Nations channeled aid from over 80 countries and coordinated the international competition for a new city plan. For the first time, an international team of top city planners and architects, with an international reputation, was assembled, who offered a vision for Skopje as a city of the future. It can be freely said that Skopje was built from the solidarity of many cities in the world. So, in that sense, Skopje is also your city.
Regrettably, 60 years later, the vision of Skopje as a city of the future seems more and more like an unattainable goal. The multi-decade centralization of services and the uneven regional development in the country accelerated the migration to Skopje and led to overpopulation. Like many other cities in the world, Skopje, unfortunately, faced rapid and unplanned urbanization, aggressive concretization, usurpation of public space and reduction of green areas. Rapid urbanization has also increased social inequality between elite neighborhoods and marginalized islands of poverty that exist within the same city.
The question we are facing is: how to restore trust between the citizens who live in the city, on the one hand, and between the citizens and their city, on the other?
This issue is as old as the cities themselves. As the oldest form of organization and arrangement, the city had to answer the fundamental question: how can people who are not part of the same family, kin or clan trust each other and cooperate?
The answer is that trust in such a case is built around the common good and the public interest. Even today, the public interest is the connective tissue of every larger human community, from metropolises to megacities with tens of millions of inhabitants.
Harmonizing the different needs and interests of thousands, even millions of residents is a true measure of success for city authorities. It is best achieved by restoring common good and public interest in the consciousness of the citizens and in the life of the city. Of course, this also applies to Skopje.
The good news is that the concentration of people and institutions, apart from being the cause of problems, can also be the basis for their resolution. Thus, in one place, there are the elements for success – people, knowledge and capital. Apart from political, Skopje is also educational, economic, investment and innovation center. 60% of the Macedonian educational institutions are in the city. The three most advanced technological-industrial development zones in the country gravitate around Skopje.
Skopje is also the hub of the Macedonian startup community that can offer innovative solutions for the city to become more sustainable, efficient and resistant to risks. If it responds correctly to the needs of the young digital generation, Skopje has the potential to become a magnet for digital nomads.
In the field of social cohesion, however, Skopje can boast of ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity as the greatest value of the Macedonian society. In the field of culture, we are given a unique opportunity to change things for the better. Skopje has been chosen as the European City of Culture for 2028.
This is a great challenge that must not be reduced only to changing the facade of the city, nor only to promoting the ancient cultural heritage, but to enable all the cultural layers of this once significant civilization crossroads to come to the fore. Through a public-private partnership, the City of Skopje can provide public spaces for the independent cultural scene, which will take care for contemporary, living culture and contribute to the development and nurturing of the cultural habits of the citizens.
The key to this is a participatory and direct democracy in which, instead of passive observers, citizen will be active participants. Citizens have the right to know what their tax money is being spent on, but they also have an obligation to participate in creating policies and making decisions. And this is achieved by activism, by building public awareness and urban mentality, by caring for the public interest.
Of course, for the local government to function, real fiscal decentralization followed by transparent operation of local government and administration is also necessary.
We know the path to success; we also possess some of the necessary mechanisms. The key is how to achieve synergy between the various sectors that will transform Skopje into a city with smart, sustainable and fair urban development. The Global Parliament of Mayors and the related city organizations can help our city governments with advice on good policies and practices.
I believe this Summit and the work of the Global Parliament of Mayors in general can contribute to making all our cities, including Skopje, better places to live in.