Inspiring local level decisions steer innovative cities

Publication date:
April, 2011

Innovative and sustainable cities do not emerge by themselves. Market forces or political statements alone do not attract people and enterprises. Active leadership and broad partnerships are needed to steer our cities into a sustainable direction.

The network of Union of the Baltic Cities is a gateway to the many exciting ideas and actions that are already shaping the future of more than 100 great cities in our region. Our cities and our history might be diverse, yet our challenges are largely similar. We all want to live in physical environments that are clean, safe and well-functioning. We all want good housing, efficient transport systems and a wide range of social, cultural and commercial services. We all have an interest in improving the state of the environment in the Baltic Sea itself, whilst combating climate change and the loss of a nature and its diversity. The wide range of activities taking place under the Union of Baltic Cities bears testimony to the large scope that exists for learning from each other and sharing experiences on sustainable city development. Norway’s Cities of the Future programme has been set up precisely in recognition of the need to steer city development. It is built on dialogue, networks and partnerships involving local and central government, the business sector and other partners. It involves the people that live, work and lead their everyday lives in the 13 cities that take part in the programme. This initiative has over the time become the main platform for reaching a common understanding of the problems that the different cities face, and for rallying partners around a shared vision for the future. It underscores the need for joint efforts to reach sustainability goals.

The government has singled out four focus areas under the Cities of the Future programme; land use and transport, buildings and energy, consumption and waste, and climate adaptation. We have entered into agreements with key stakeholders on each of these four areas, with the parties

committing themselves to limit urban sprawl, strengthen public transport and reduce traffic from cars. The central government offers financial support packages for cities’ transport, environment and urban development. These are often difficult topics for local governments to handle. It is not always easy to introduce restrictive measures against the use of private cars, such as road pricing, even when the income could partly finance the public transport system. This is therefore an area in which politicians must steer and take a lead. There are many benefits in solving traffic problems, including clean air and more attractive city centers. The business sector also sees benefits in road pricing and improved public transport, as this will increase access to the city and lower transportation costs. Cities within and beyond our region are mobilizing to develop sustainable cities, creating networks to learn from each other as they go along. Herein lies the key to improved city living and a green low carbon future. It is encouraging to see that it is not always a matter of drastic or costly new solutions. To get started, all it takes is a joint decision to take action and show leadership on city development, whilst reaching out to networks for inspiration and support.

Erik Solheim
Minister for Environment of Norway