At the Nexus between Reducing Inequality and Realizing Global Citizenship

Mayor Marvin Rees. © Bristol City Council 

As a historic trading city, Bristol, United Kingdom, has always looked outwards and connected globally. Of course, we are not alone in this. In this globalized age, all cities in the world interact with places beyond their national boundaries. But in Bristol, we are set on understanding both the local and the global, ensuring that a mentality of global citizenship brings increased equality across the whole of the city.

A port city in the South West of the United Kingdom, Bristol is home to nearly half a million people. Between them, our citizens share 180 countries of origin, speak over 90 languages and practice at least 45 religions. Our modern business sectors, particularly in media, finance, green technology, aerospace and the creative industries, are intrinsically linked to nations and economies outside of the United Kingdom. Our two universities attract thousands of international students and academic staff, and partner in research and innovation projects with institutions around the world.

I became Mayor of Bristol in 2016, the first directly elected European Mayor of African descent. I have a Jamaican father, a Welsh-English heritage mother and an American wife. My sister is married to a Swiss man and my brother’s wife is of British Indian heritage. My mixedness, and that of my family, gives me a global identity that is all at once multidimensional, dynamic and secure.

It is an experience of identity that I find much easier to reconcile with the dynamism of my city than that of the one-dimensional debates of identity that happen in national political institutions. It is one of the reasons I support the move to ensure that the voices of cities feature more prominently in global leadership forums.

My priority is a more inclusive and equal city, where no one is left behind

Bristol is a thriving city with an international reputation as a sustainable, innovative and culturally diverse place. It wins national polls for being the most liveable city in the United Kingdom, receives European awards for its green credentials, and is recognized internationally for innovation.

As Mayor, I am proud that Bristol is a City of Sanctuary, working with organizations to support refugees and asylum seekers, and that we are the first United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Learning City in England, a Fairtrade City and in 2015 were the first European Green Capital in the United Kingdom. I am proud that in 2016, 62 per cent of the citizens of Bristol voted Remain in the European Union; it shows me that I am Mayor of an outward-looking city that values its international links.

However, the city’s greatness is not shared by everyone. We are a city in which inequality is growing. A quarter of our children grow up in poverty, we have 42 neighbourhoods ranked in the most deprived 10 per cent in England, and the cost of living is increasingly unaffordable. The areas of Henleaze and Southmead are within walking distance in north Bristol, and yet average life expectancy varies by nine years between them. Our challenge is not only to bring prosperity and international opportunities to the city, but also to ensure that those opportunities are shared by all.

I want to lead a city of integrity and that means all Bristol citizens have a reason to be hopeful.

Global citizenship can help ensure that everyone benefits from globalization

Global trade, as well as access to international opportunities for education or skills development, brings wealth to cities. However, economic growth per se does not always benefit the poorest areas. Last year, United Kingdom-based research and development charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation observed that the poorest areas “remain disconnected from the prosperity experienced by residents of wealthier neighbourhoods in the same region”.1 The growth in wealth driven by globalization’s effects has alienated those in the poorest areas further, and exacerbated the problem of inequality globally and locally.

A global citizenship mentality starts with young people, as do our efforts to grow global citizens in Bristol. Our schools celebrate various international days and engage in activities with our twin cities, for example our Mini Ambassadors programme with Bordeaux, France. At the University of Bristol, staff, students, employers and alumni have designed Bristol Futures, a curriculum enrichment programme designed to equip all students with the skills to be global citizens in our changing world. By 2019, Bristol Futures will become a formal part of the curriculum for every student. When these young global citizens enter the job market, they can further support a global approach.

Bristol seeks to realize global citizenship and engage in international issues

Earlier this year we published our International Strategy to align our international engagement and ensure it supports our aim to reduce inequality. For this to be a truly citywide agenda, coordination is essential. Drawing on the strengths of our business sectors, two universities, voluntary sector and international communities, the council has worked to map existing and targeted international links. We recognize that these links are often informal, and are to be celebrated alongside the structured global work we are developing.

We know that joined-up and focused international work will bring economic benefits through attracting trade, investment, funding, labour and visitors. When Bristolians feel a sense of connection to neighbours from different cultures, social cohesion within the city is strengthened, and coordination with the varied organizations in Bristol is the only way inequality will be addressed across all parts of the city.

City sovereignty and intercity connections will reduce city inequality

At the nexus between reducing inequality and realizing global citizenship is city sovereignty. ‘Citizens’ are ‘people in cities’, and will make up 70 per cent of the world’s population by 2030. Cities attract migrants, becoming more culturally diverse and developing a stronger sense of global belonging and responsibility. Cities are home to entrepreneurs, start-up businesses and trade. City leaders are the closest to citizens and their daily challenges and opportunities. For cities such as Bristol to leverage global citizenship and reduce inequality at a local level, they need the freedom and space to do so. Thus a rebalancing of sovereignty is needed, giving cities the power to shape the national and international context in which they operate. For us, partnerships beyond our national borders serve as a crucial vehicle through which to achieve this.

The Global Parliament of Mayors (GPM) was established in 2015 to support just this and to help raise the voices of city leaders on issues including inclusivity and resilience. GPM aims to work with international institutions, networks and partners to ensure global and national frameworks support city leaders around the world in rapidly addressing citizens’ issues. We are making a clear call for stronger city powers on issues that our citizens care about. These powers should be more than just greater control over what happens inside the city boundary. Government can partner in delivering and driving the national economy by releasing powers and resources that can be used with agility and tact to address key local challenges, such as providing affordable housing and tackling congestion, to pursue a truly inclusive economic growth strategy that allows everyone to benefit from our city’s success and to facilitate our international connectedness.

Bristol’s other links into vibrant international networks, from the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities to EUROCITIES, and from the European Green Capital Network and Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI) to the EU-China Programme, also act as powerful forces for positive change, both in our city and elsewhere. Mayors and civic leaders must promote this approach of global citizenship and outreach, and identify opportunities and systems whereby cities can exchange technical, material and financial resources to get things done.

Learning from Best Practice

Linking to cities around the world and learning how we best approach the challenges of urbanization, such as housing, transport and social care, will help us to improve our own delivery. We can avoid repeating mistakes others have made, and can apply their learning in our own neighbourhoods, while standing ready to share our own.

We have recently begun work on Inclusive Cities, a knowledge exchange initiative designed to achieve a step change in our approach towards integration of newcomers in the city. Along with four other cities taking part, and led by the University of Oxford’s Centre on Migration, Policy and Society, we are building on the experience of cities in the United States taking part in the Welcoming America initiative. The project, building on American examples, aims to better integrate newcomers to Bristol, and has the potential to deliver benefits for the city and citizens in areas including community cohesion, democratic engagement, public health, housing and homelessness, employment, education and skills, children and care, and unaccompanied asylum seekers.

Global inequality

My focus and action is on reducing inequality in Bristol. In their book The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett argue that tackling inequality, rather than growth, is the key policy tool as we pursue better outcomes.2 I believe this is true for Bristol but also for our interdependent world.

Bristol is already home to the largest network of international development agencies in the United Kingdom outside of London. The South West International Development Network has a membership of 70 organizations and over 300 individuals, all committed to tackling global poverty, and working with partners in the city, and will contribute to meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Remittances sent from our city support communities all over the world, and I know that strengthening our own economy in Bristol will directly raise standards of living elsewhere. Remittances between cities are one of the key, and yet unmapped, ways in which wealth is redistributed around the world, and the movement of citizens between cities is key to this.

As I see my children before bed tonight, I will hear about their school lessons and what they had for lunch. But I will also hear about their interactions with friends of other religions, cultures and ethnicities, and their interest in their American grandparents and Jamaican heritage. As they grow up, I want them to strive to make Bristol a more equal place for their own children, and, as Mayor, I aim to help them with this by ensuring that our city remains open, welcoming and inclusive. I will continue to welcome newcomers whether for tourism, trade, studying or collaboration in any form, and I will continue our work to ensure that inequality is reduced across all our neighbourhoods in this global city.   

Notes

  1. Alasdair Rae and others, “Overcoming deprivation and disconnection in UK cities”, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 15 August 2016. Available from https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/overcoming-deprivation-and-disconnection-u....
  2. Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, 2nd ed. (London, Penguin, 2010).