Cities and Great Powers: Perspectives from Latin America

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he Great Powers and Urbanization Project—a joint initiative of the University of Pennsylvania’s Perry World House, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the University of Melbourne’s Connected Cities Lab, the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB), the Argentine Council for International Relations (CARI), and the African Centre for Cities—brings together research and policy development at the intersection of global urbanizations and geopolitics. As I wrote for the Diplomatic Courier at the launch, “The return of great power politics and continuing urbanization are not separate phenomena. Cities have become the economic engines and sites of innovation for nation-states, as well as targets for surveillance and cyber-attacks for national governments. Successful powers in the twenty-first century will build stable and innovative cities at home while projecting influence, and at times military strength, in urban settings abroad.” The first workshop, “Cities, Geopolitics and International Legal Order” was convened by Perry Wold House. The second workshop, “Cities in Global and Regional Governance: from Multilateralism to Multistakeholderism?” was hosted by CIDOB. Findings and summaries that emerged from, or as part of, both sessions can be found here and here. Meanwhile, the Great Powers and Urbanization Channel at the Diplomatic Courier has featured a series of essays from participants, offering a one stop shop for national security officials and urbanists alike trying to navigate global challenges in an urban world. On March 16th, the Argentine Council for International Relations (CARI), the Government of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and the Diplomatic Courier hosted a third workshop, the webinar on the “Cities and Great Powers” with a particular focus on Latin America. 4 | CITIES AND GREAT POWERS

OPENING REMARKS FERNANDO STRAFACE City of Buenos Aires Secretary for International Relations IVO H. DAALDER President of Chicago Council on Global Aairs JOSÉ OCTAVIO BORDON President of CARI


ARI president and former Argentinian Ambassador to the United States, Jose Octavio Bordón opened the session: “We are very close to the perfect storm caused by a new era, changing dynamics in global power, and the COVID-19 pandemic.” Bordón highlighted the role of local governments’ role within the democratic frameworks, and their innovative capacities to generate new practices that increase democratization. “We have the tools to introduce and lead citizens towards stronger decision making and public policy. These tools can produce a virtuous cycle. Our political system needs to recover legitimacy and credibility.” Bordón, whose full remarks are provided below, thanked the participants and emphasized the necessity to share “the know and the how” between cities to increase effective governance. Following Bordón’s opening remarks, Ivo H. Daalder, President of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and former United States Ambassador to NATO, thanked the panelists and audience for participating in the initiative. He emphasized the importance of democracies and of enabling local populations and communities to fortify democratic practices globally. Daalder noted his enthusiasm for participating in a project that brought together local and national leaders. The General Secretary for International Relations in Buenos Aires, Fernando Straface, closed the opening session. He mentioned that it was an honor for the City to partner with prestigious institutions, diplomats and thinkers. presented the dynamics cities face today: economic and social change, demographic shifts, renewed urban strategies, and crucially the growing challenge of cooperation between the urban and international systems. Lastly, Straface stressed the need to construct a global structure allowing access to funding for future reconstruction. DIPLOMATIC COURIER | 5

GLOBAL CITIES AND THE “NEW NORMAL” FROM A LATIN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVE FRANCISCO RESNICOFF Undersecretary of International Relations of the City of Buenos Aires ANDREA LAVERDE Deputy Director of International Aairs of the City of Bogotá DIANA ALARCÓN GONZÁLEZ General Coordinator of Advisors and International Affairs of Mexico City ADAM RATZLAF (Moderator) Contributing Editor for Latin America, Diplomatic Courier


n the seminar’s first session, moderator Adam Ratzlaff, Diplomatic Courier’r Contributing Editor for Latin America, identified some of the challenges being faced by cities in Latin America. Eighty percent of the region’s population lives in urban areas, and the region has four of the twenty largest cities worldwide. Buenos Aires’s Under Secretary for International Relations, Francisco Resnicoff, whose full remarks are provided below, observed that COVID-19 had generated important discussion around cities. He stated how there are two separate sides; those who consider that the crisis will lead to the decline and loss of cities’ importance, and on the other hand, those who believe that cities will recover their economic vitality, including through advantages of proximity and economies of scale. Resnicoff observed that city systems and local governments are prepared to provide quality services to these communities. He stressed that local governments are one of the main elements for economic revival, specifically regarding the tourism economy and the climate change agenda. 6 | CITIES AND GREAT POWERS

Andrea Laverde, Deputy Director of International Affairs for the City of Bogotá, acknowledged that the pandemic management evidenced problems that already existed in Latin American societies and that were essentially visible in large cities. Moreover, she argued for the need to build an agenda to address COVID-19 and the post-pandemic city, focusing on more egalitarian and environmentally sustainable urban societies. Laverde observed that the pandemic presented an opportunity to test ambitious social and environmental policies. She then highlighted the relevance of local governments’ international offices as they generate knowledge and inputs in dealing with crises. Dr. Diana Alarcón González, the General Coordinator of Advisors and International Affairs of Mexico City, closed this session. Focusing on Mexico City, Dr. González emphasized the importance of innovation-focused cities actively guaranteeing people’s rights. She noted the importance of balancing welfare and health in informal economies such as that of Mexico City. Dr. González’ noted that crises are an opportunity to expand beyond traditional ways of thinking and allow leaders to correct mistakes while facing reality.


COVID IMPACTS AND GREAT POWERS COOPERATION: THINKING GEOPOLITICS OF CITIES FRANCISCO DE SANTIBAÑES Vice President of CARI MICHAEL COHEN Director of the Doctoral Program in Public and Urban Policy of The New School University JOCELYN PERRY Global Shifts Program Manager of the University of Pennsylvania CAROLINA CUENCA (Moderator) General Director of International Relations and Cooperation in Government of the City of Buenos Aires


arolina Cuenca, Director General of International Relations and Cooperation of the Government of the City of Buenos Aires, moderated the second session of the workshop. Cuenca discussed how megacities were significantly affected by the global crisis and noted that the pandemic showed the importance of international forums and institutions in discussing and coordinating local governments’ responses. Francisco de Santibañes, Vice President of CARI, focused his presentation on the challenges that cities currently face. First, there has been a growth in the politics of power and nationalism. Second, national leaders have been hostile toward certain aspects of urban life, directly affecting migration and market size. Third, the impacts and challenges of technological advancement in Latin American cities are not as significant compared to other global cities. However, he affirmed that it is necessary to start thinking and adapting to these challenges. He concluded that these challenges could be observed and exploited as opportunities, and how multilateralism between cities exists through the particular experience of C40 Cities, for instance. 8 | CITIES AND GREAT POWERS

Michael Cohen, director of the Doctorate Program in Public and Urban Policy at The New School University, conducted a cause and effect analysis of the current situation using historical examples. He concluded that we are presently contributing to latent inequalities and that the COVID-19 experience exacerbated them. Cohen focused his remarks more specifically on new ways of thinking about infrastructure. Cohen mentioned that a deficit of infrastructure produces and reproduces many inequities; therefore, we must rethink investment policies and strategies to be more resilient. As a final point, he stressed how local communities’ active organization tends to generate significant effects and establish a direct correlation between local activism and international operations. Jocelyn Perry, director of the Global Shifts Research Program at the University of Pennsylvania, presented four central challenges for cities in response to the pandemic: inability to enforce travel restrictions or quarantines for incoming individuals, limited fiscal and regulatory powers, loss of economic revenue and limited resources, and the lack of control cities have over national healthcare policy. Additionally, Perry mentioned cities’ proximity to decisionmakers, residents, and community groups as an advantage in better understanding their needs and for direct provision of public services. In general, Perry’s presentation highlighted Philadelphia’s experience, inequalities, and innovation during COVID-19. The second session’s final speaker was Mauricio Rodas, former mayor of Quito. He maintained that cities have been at the forefront of the COVID-19 crisis, and in spite of a dramatic reduction in revenue and huge job losses, in many cases they have shown remarkable resilience and adaptive capacity, which has proven the need to increase cities’ influence on the international stage to address global challenges. The former mayor of the Ecuadorian capital asserted that the international financial system should be reformed in order to provide cities with direct access to resources needed to develop resilient capabilities and infrastructure. He identified city diplomacy as a central tool to foster high-level discussion and innovation that could enable such reforms.


URBAN PLANNING AND INNOVATION IN A POSTCOVID ENVIRONMENT: CHALLENGES AND RESILIENCE-SHAPING HANNAH ABDULLAH Research Fellow with the Global Cities Programme at CIDOB (Barcelona Centre for International Aairs) ANDREW TUCKER Deputy Director of the African Centre for Cities ALFONSO VERGARA Founder & Honorary President of the Metropoli Foundation of Madrid PABLO AVA (Moderator) CARI’s Counselor


oderator Pablo Ava, CARI Counselor, opened the final session, “Urban Planning and Innovation in a Post-Covid Environment: challenges and resilience-shaping”. He noted that a number of cities were at the forefront of changes and innovations for the post-pandemic era.

Exhibitor Hannah Abdullah, Research Fellow with the Global Cities Program at CIDOB (Barcelona Center for International Affairs), discussed some of the long-term recovery strategies and plans that cities are developing to tackle the multiple crises they face, from the health emergency to its socioeconomic impacts and climate change. Abdullah shared how these long-term strategies aim to build back more resilient communities and cities through integrative and holistic policies that bridge the economic recovery with the green and digital transitions and in ways that are just and sustainable. Focusing on European cities, she highlighted three areas that will be key to a green and just urban recovery: the transition to clean and sustainable mobility, energy-efficient construction and renovation, and the mainstreaming of the circular economy. 10 | CITIES AND GREAT POWERS

Andrew Tucker, Deputy Director of the African Centre for Cities, focused his presentation on the challenges COVID-19 presented to South African cities in general and Cape Town in particular. He stressed the need to address informality in large cities, as it would have direct consequences on the strength and geopolitical standing of the South African state. Tucker questioned what could be done in the face of a post-covid context. He emphasized the disadvantages in proceeding with the demolition of informal settlements and the relocation of their residents. Moreover, Tucker emphasized the need to prioritize the global South’s particularities in addressing these problems and highlighted the need for participatory commitments and regional innovation platforms to improve lives. Alfonso Vergara, founder and honorary president for the Fundacion Metropoli, emphasized that changes in the face of a post-pandemic scenario would require a new scale of thinking that he called “super cities or territorial diamonds”. Alfonso also argued for the importance of competition and collaboration between mediumsized cities. An urban development senior specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank, Patricio Zambrano-Barragán, pointed towards two particular debts relevant to Latin American and Caribbean cities and their historical background: Informality and inequity. He shared how the most significant number of cases and deaths from COVID-19 have occurred in the highly vulnerable neighborhoods where informality preponderates. Zambrano-Barragán then expressed the absolute need to combat informality and inequity at two speeds, taking new agendas such as digitalization while working on traditional “bricks and mortar” needs. CARI Academic Secretary Juan Battaleme closed the workshop. He thanked the participants and the partners who made the event possible. Battaleme noted that cities are alive and active and have presented capacities to adapt to the pandemic crisis. Likewise, he noted global powers need to support cities with the resources required to rethink and rebuild the crisis’s losses. Finally, he emphasized that cities are interconnected zones of competition because they reflect, more than anything, the spirit of nations.




would like to briefly address the local government’s role within the framework of weak democracies. Every so often, national governments seek to advance their international strategies posing threats to local governments, for they may not be aware of local constraints. Cities, however, tend to reflect agreements made at the international stage. What do they need to do, then? While primary responsibility is at the national and multilateral levels, local governments are in charge of introducing new and better practices to increase citizens’ participation. To start with, we may imagine various contemporary key challenges concerning government transparency. How can cities improve their citizen’s knowledge in critical issues (like biometrics) to protect them? Who is responsible for privacy and personal data regulations? Cities authorities have many tools and skills to make citizens get closer to decision-makers and public policies. Local policies work to overcome both people’s lack of confidence in politics and help bring transparency to key political resolutions. They even have an international dimension and help the government build trust, akin to a virtuous circle. Cities are our democracies leading means to gain recovery, legitimacy and credibility. Local authorities have standing reputations building capacity because they are closer to people. Even with subnational capacities, they stand “face to face” with citizens. They hold credibility, power, and the capacity to coordinate intergovernmental relations facing geopolitical changes. For a fact, many mayors rely heavily on their international relations experts. 12 | CITIES AND GREAT POWERS

To share both failures and successful experiences between local governments is a key concern. Know-how sharing is a major affair not only to improve local capacities but to pave better roads to increase governance and governability in our democracies. Your relationships, your friendships can be the Political Imaginary, the Political Promise, for a better global future.


FRANCISCO RESNICOFF Undersecretary of International Relations of the City of Buenos Aires

he pandemic provides us with an opportunity to reflect on what kind of way out of the crisis we want to face, and how to put our cities back on track while prioritizing the safety and quality of life of our citizens.

In the global conversation about cities in the new normality there are those who believe that the role of large cities will increase: Many cities have demonstrated agility in responding to the health crisis, capacity for anticipation and innovation, and a remarkable openness to international collaboration. On the other hand, there has also been a proliferation of “anti-urban” discourses that point to a loss of centrality of cities. In the City of Buenos Aires, we favor the first scenario, though we are aware that the new normality will not be in the same terms in which we have been living until now. The pandemic has changed the consumption habits of the population, which will have a correlation in how to think and plan cities so that they remain attractive and continue to offer quality of life. Likewise, the decrease in the number of visitors and students at a global level due to restrictions on international mobility has had profound negative economic consequences for urban destinations. In order to remain competitive, cities will need to incorporate new attributes into their international projection strategies. Safety, health and sustainability will be key assets to determine the future attractiveness of cities. In terms of climate action, it will be essential to increase the focus on new spatiality and “15-minute cities”. The attraction of visitors, students and talent have a positive and direct impact on sectors that have been hard hit by the crisis and, therefore, are prioritized for reactivation. The international DIPLOMATIC COURIER | 13

positioning of strategic sectors is fundamental for attracting investment and increasing exports. In Buenos Aires, we redefined our international projection strategy and designed some programs based on very clear trends. For example, we launched a program to attract Digital Nomads. Also, with the launch of our new Climate Action Plan, we will continue working to make Buenos Aires a more resilient, sustainable and inclusive city, with quality of life at the center of our priorities, and collaborating with cities around the world to multiply the benefits of climate action. Through international coordination mechanisms, it is possible to overcome collective action problems and generate incentives to achieve more ambitious goals. Forums such as the Cities and Great Powers seminar, and partnerships with institutions such as CARI, the Chicago Council, and Diplomatic Courier will allow us to address these new challenges cooperatively, always aiming to improve the lives of our citizens.



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