The City, the World's Local Laboratory

Sandrine Salerno, Mayor of Geneva since June 1, 2010, is convinced that the future of global governance starts at the local level. Here, she explains how cities should be working together to fulfil their natural role. And why it’s time that Geneva stopped being so modest and became the hub of global governance.


sandrine salerno

You have made two trips recently, to Mexico and to Senegal. What was behind these journeys?

Geneva is part of an international network of cities called UCLG, United Cities and Local Governments, and once every three years, this organization brings together as many of its members as possible. That was the reason for my trip to Mexico City, which followed a visit to Korea at the beginning of my term, three years ago. The UCLG meeting allows elected officials to share knowledge on issues, exchange information, learn best practices, even learn from each other’s difficulties and failures. It is also a network of elected officials who, like Geneva’s officials, are interested in developing local policy and comparing it to other realities, even if they are very dissimilar. And since the city of Geneva has funds for cooperation and development, we can work in certain directions at the local level, and have the financial means to support other local authorities, other elected officials, with their own projects. This helps to develop decentralized cooperation between cities. The city of Geneva is no missionary trying to develop its counterparts. Instead, the idea is to have a project that can enrich our city and the collaborators who work here, through which they can meet their counterparts in other parts of the world. It is also about creating intelligent solidarity between cities, because I think that, in the years to come, even if it takes time internationally and diplomatically, cities will have more weight and will be heard. Over 51% of the world’s population already lives in urban areas.

Were any important cities missing from the meeting?

 There are already some not in the UCLG structure. There are very few U.S. cities. Some Chinese cities, but relatively few considering China’s potential. UCLG now has about 1000 members, cities and local authorities. These can be a city or province or, in our case, a canton or a community of communes.

Why are so few U.S. cities members?

UCLG was born from the merger of two existing structures representing cities and local government where the U.S. already had very little presence. The organization is now seven years old, so it is young. Over time, as UCLG grows in importance, the U.S. will perhaps see that joining is in its interest. These include the realities of international openness, openness to the world. When you travel to the United States, it is a bit like traveling in China, even if the situations are very different.


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by Jean-Christophe NOTHIAS – photographs by Pascal Dolémieux