Why is Bristol risking £150,000 on the mayor’s invitation to bring the Global Parliament of Mayors (GPM) to Bristol next year? If I had done the same thing there would have been an outcry, most probably led by Council members, but I was well used to that!
The GPM was the brainchild of a remarkable US academic, Dr Benjamin Barber, who advocated that cities should take a lead where national governments are failing. This has been recognized by many international agencies and organisations that recognize that it is cities, not states, that are closer to the issues of today.
I was inspired by Ben Barber in 2014 when he spoke at the University of Bristol. He invited me to help him with the formation of the Parliament of Mayors and we met in Amsterdam with many European mayors and some from other continents. I chaired this trial session, which had a strong emphasis on environmental and social justice, and it resulted in great enthusiasm to proceed to a permanent, global, parliament.
Very sadly, Ben Barber died earlier this year, as did mayor of Amsterdam Eberhard van der Laan, and I thought the GPM was bound to die without their inspiration and drive. However, the remaining mayors have decided to keep this ship afloat. We had considered bringing the first parliament to Bristol and London, and nearly did so in October 2015, our year as European Green Capital, but the required funds could not be raised at that time.
Is the GPM just another talking shop? It could become so, but I think not. As devised, it is a strong network between the more outward-looking cities of the world – of which, Bristol is a proud member.
Why does that matter? Because as a relatively small global city we have to punch above our weight – one reason I spend much of my time as a roving ‘ambassador’ for Bristol. I recognize much of our success as a trading city is dependent on recognition and reputation.
I write this from China, where I was invited to take part in the UN World Cities Forum, debating the future of cities with some of China’s leading mayors. Mayor Wen of our sister city, Guangzhou, which has a population of some 20 million, was in attendance: he is impressed with Bristol, in particular our record as Green Capital, and has invited Marvin Rees to Guangzhou next month for the Fortune 500 meeting.
I also took part in city workshops on urban transport and a lecture at South China University, learning much of use to Bristol, especially in the explosion of shared bike use in China over the past 12 months.
So, in conclusion, I fully support Marvin in his brave move to bring the GPM to Bristol. Life at the top is not without risks, and there is the risk that we will be left with a hefty bill, but, as with Green Capital, it will hopefully be the private sector who will stump up the £150,000. It should pale into insignificance against the greater world recognition that Bristol and its business sector will receive.
George Ferguson was mayor of Bristol from 2012-16 and now advocates for the power of people and cities, including Bristol, at events around the world.