Europe’s cities are leading the fight against xenophobia and the climate crisis

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By Ada Colau, Mayor of Barcelona. Friday March 6, 2020

Repost from The Guardian

Street in Barcelona. Image by Kirk F. License: CC0 Public Domain

Conservative politicians have long declared there is no alternative to capitalism. Many of capitalism’s cruelties, from housing crises and crumbling public amenities to increasingly precarious forms of employment, are most visible in towns and cities. But it’s also in these places that new movements are emerging and rebuilding politics from the bottom up. In cities such as Barcelona, Amsterdam, Berlin and Naples, local activists are defending human rights and public services against a rising tide of anti-immigrant xenophobia and fiscal austerity. We call these urban movements “municipalism”.

By achieving small victories around the world, municipalist movements are proving that there is another way of doing politics – one that begins in the places closest to us. It’s thanks to this movement that someone such as me, a woman from a working-class family who began my political career as a housing activist, can today govern a city such as Barcelona. A tide of municipal movements connects cities across the world, creating networks of alliances and shared objectives. Together, we have put pressure on our national governments and demanded greater powers to fight gentrification, increase the stock of affordable housing, and safeguard our collective right to the city.

In Barcelona we have curbed the Airbnb rentals that drive up demand for a limited housing supply, and have repossessed unused housing owned by banks. The city of Berlin has pledged to freeze rents for five years in an effort to halt gentrification. New York City has promised to divest $5bn from fossil fuels and to sue oil companies for their contribution to global warming. These small victories show that alternatives to our dominant economic system are within reach – and that cities are a key part of this future.

This doesn’t mean urban politics is without challenges. […]

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