The Guest Blog

Guest post by Ahmed Aboutaleb, mayor of Rotterdam (Netherlands) and member of the European Forum for Urban Security (Efus) Executive Committee.

In the past few years, Europe has endured a series of terrorist attacks that have set Europeans on edge. While these attacks are devastating, the proportion of terrorist attacks in EU countries was in fact smaller than in the rest of the world. Europe is safer now than 50 years ago and also, its level of security ranks among the highest in the world. Furthermore, we are witnessing a more sustained and coordinated effort in keeping Europe safe. Cities are the social and economic engines of Europe. They are also ‘hands-on’ experts when it comes to safety and security. We will only be able to continue playing this fundamental role if we listen to each other and agree among us.The European Forum for Urban Security (Efus) gives precisely a voice to all the European cities who work together on safety and security. Rotterdam has been working with Efus and its member cities on a wide variety of safety and security subjects in the last 10 years, ranging from alcohol consumption in nightlife neighbourhoods to safety audits, migration, counter terrorism, violent extremism and organised crime. All these projects have a common ground in not just focusing on repression, but also on development and, more importantly, on prevention, combining those three elements in one comprehensive approach for the safety and security of our cities.

We enjoyed hosting the final conference of an Efus-led project on CCTV in 2010, working together with Efus on the “Policing Global Cities Conference”, held in 2015 in Rotterdam, and hosting the “Summit of Mayors’ Alliance of European Cities against Violent Extremism” and the conference of the “Methods and Tools for a Strategic Approach to Urban Security” project, both in 2016. Rotterdam’s story is not unique. Every city in Europe or elsewhere in the world is looking for ways to improve social safety and security. The world is changing rapidly, with political and social development impacting greatly on the daily lives of our citizens, and with new emerging economies and the internet dependency. In the next 30 years we will witness expansive technology growth, significant demographic shifts and increasing educational needs. Perhaps the biggest challenge for the coming years is how to ensure safe and prosperous cities. How can we better guide the process of social trust as an instrument for security and public order?

The mayors of European cities should work together to demand Brussels’ attention for this process. Cities are emancipation machines but generally have to pay a social price for the EU’s expansion. I support a strong Europe, but at the same time I feel that we have to give a voice to those who are not able to argue. We cannot allow European problems to become the sole responsibility of cities; we must share responsibility with Brussels. The need for community spirit is deep within us. People want to talk about and be involved in decisions about their own living environment. It is vital that we as local governments empower the people to take their own responsibility, and we should not neglect their signals concerning the huge social changes in their neighbourhoods.

We do not want our cities to be taken hostage by the recent incidents around the world. That’s why I’ve engaged in a dialogue with the citizens of Rotterdam. Furthermore, I’ve asked the Rotterdam police to make a threat assessment for the coming years. This assessment gives the city the opportunity to take preventive measures. Recent terrorist attacks in Europe demonstrate the necessity to take suitable measures. In order to do so, we have created a model for protective measures that meet these requirements, such as using robust street furniture to protect boulevards and nightlife venues.

I cannot stress social innovation enough. It is of utmost importance at this particular moment that we regain trust in our democratic institutions by demonstrating our full responsiveness to citizens’ needs and aspirations. In addition, by looking for answers at community level and capitalizing on the energy and willingness to make a difference and knowledge about the real needs on the ground of citizens, we will be better equipped to come up with realistic and effective answers to social challenges. Investing in communities at the local level also creates stable neighbourhoods that will have a positive impact on the perception of safety.

Social participation and inclusion must be the keys for achieving our social ambitions and strong societies. By providing education, inspiration and opportunities, it is my personal ambition to empower citizens to reach their full potential and to use and further develop their skills to the maximum, with economic self-reliance being the objective. In an open, free, safe and vital city while maintaining simultaneously economic growth, prosperity and welfare.

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