World Mayor 2020

Braga Mayor Ricardo Rio
Ricardo Rio, Mayor of Braga, Portugal, since 2013

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WORLD MAYOR 2021
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- Mayor of Bratislava
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- Maire de Grigny
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- Sindaco di San Bellino
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ESSAYS
- Mayor of Ankara
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- Mayor of Bratislava
- Mayor of Grigny
- Maire de Grigny
- Mayor of Mannheim
- Mayor of Raqqa
- Mayor of Rotterdam
- Mayor of Saint-Omer
- Maire de Saint-Omer
- Mayor of San Bellino
- Sindaco di San Bellino

TESTIMONIALS
- Mayor of Amsterdam
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- Mayor of Bergamo
- Mayor of Bogotá
- Mayor of Braga
- Mayor of Bratislava
- Mayor of Buenos Aires
- Mayor of Carmignano
- Mayor of Cascais
- Mayor of Compton
- Mayor of Dantumadiel
- Mayor of Freetown
- Mayor of Grenoble
- Mayor of Grigny
- Mayor of Guarulhos
- Mayor of Kuala Lumpur
- Mayor of Mannheim
- Mayor of Mexico City
- Mayor of Milan
- Mayor of Raqqa
- Mayor of Rostock
- Mayor of Rotterdam
- Mayor of Saint-Omer
- Mayor of San Bellino
- Mayor of Villa del Conte
- Mayor of Warsaw



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THE ESSAY

Braga, a growing
and sustainable city

According to Portugal’s latest census, recently released, the city of Braga recorded the biggest increase of population in absolute figures at the national level (around 12,000 inhabitants) and it was one of the few big cities to register a significant increase in this period (6,5%, from 2011 to 2021).

These numbers become more impressive as there was a general decrease in population in the country, in the northern region and in most of the Top-10 biggest cities (in which Braga is included).

Braga was already known as a young and vibrant city, with a very dynamic university and with a large part of the population below 30 years old (nearly 40%, including 20.000 university students). This allowed the city to be granted the titles of European Capital of Youth in 2012, of IberoAmerican Capital of Youth in 2016, of European City of Sports in 2018. It is also an important asset of our application to become European Capital of Culture in 2027.

Still, when one looks for the main reasons behind this recent growth, one has to recognise the city’s high quality of life, which have been acknowledged by many national and international rankings.

According to the latest European Union Eurobarometer (2020), Braga ranked third among European cities, with 97% of its population stating they were happy to live here, over 50% considering the quality of life has improved in recent years and the city is being considered as especially welcoming to young families, elderly people and migrants. In a word, a good city for everybody.


Sustainable development
This link between happiness and quality of life can easily be extended to sustainability. In my view, a city is as much sustainable as it provides high standards of quality of life to its citizens (both the current ones and the upcoming generations), thus allowing them to be happy and to fulfill their hopes and dreams.

How can somebody be happy where he/she lives? Obviously by having access to a wide range of services and infrastructures, by enjoying good job opportunities and career prospects and by benefiting from a comparatively  low cost of living.

Braga has it all. From health to education; from leisure and sport facilities to cultural venues; from natural parks to a very dynamic commercial structure, the city is also known for the wide offer of inhabitation at a low cost, compared with most of the big and medium size cities in the country.

In recent years, the creation of the first local based economic development agency in the country – InvestBraga – boosted the economic growth, attracting new companies to the city and supporting the growth of the ones previously established.

9,000 jobs were created from 2013 to 2019. The city became Portugal’s fourth biggest exporter (with over €2 billion of exports) and one of the most innovative hubs in Europe, with a strong link between companies, research centers and universities. Tourism more than doubled in the same period.

Wile the local economy was also hit by the COVID pandemic, its resilient structure will allow a quick comeback in coming months.


Tourism as an asset
Instead of creating a ‘theme park’ for tourists, Braga attracts visitors because of its authenticity, with offers a peculiar mixture of history and youth as well as a balanced development of each of its attractions. Visitors to the 2021 European Best Destination can enjoy a ‘locals experience’, as each of the attractions is part of residents’ daily life.

The quality of Braga’s gastronomy, the beautiful landscapes, the World Heritage Sanctury of Bom Jesus do Monte or the vibrancy of Braga’s cultural activities form the background to the daily routines of the people from Braga.

If one considers for instance the fast renewal of the city center, one can easily find a fine balance between new residential developments, services and commercial areas and tourist facilities.

Braga is one of the eight European cities working on the theme of Sustainable tourism within the URBACT network, Tourism Friendly Cities, led by the Italian city of Genoa. This is an action-planning network dedicated to explore how tourism can be made sustainable in medium-sized cities. In this network, there are cities at different stages of development concerning tourism: ‘over-tourism’ cities like Venice and Dubrovnik. Cities with many tourists but not yet with over-tourism, like the cities of Santa Claus, Rovaniemi in Finland; Krakow in Poland, Caceres in Spain and the lead city Genoa. In addition, cities that are trying to attract more tourists, like Druskininkai in Lithuania and Dún Laoghaire in Ireland. Therefore, we are working with these partners to reduce the negative impact on neighborhoods and areas interested by different types of tourism and its related aspects through integrated and inclusive strategies keeping a balance between the needs of the local community and the promotion of sustainable urban development at environmental, social and economic level.

Our strategy may also contribute to assure that a continuous growth in the number of tourists in coming years, does not damage the quality of life of the city residents. At the same time, we tried to create new sources of attractiveness that may provide a regular influx of tourists throughout the year and not just a seasonal over-demand.

Braga became UNESCO Creative City in Media Arts in 2017. We fully refurbished the local Market (a building from the 1950’s) and the city Exhibition Park (built in the eighties), transforming it in a modern venue that hosts international concerts, conferences and sports competitions.

Despite not having sea shore, Braga has a vast range of river beaches that attract thousands in the summer, as well as a network of natural hiking trails and very pleasant green parks (Picoto, Camélias, Rodovia, Sete Fontes, Tibães, …).

The Braga Youth Centre is a business unit of InvestBraga and its mission is to ensure accommodation and workspace, capable of promoting non-formal education, Human Rights and the development of Creativity, Entrepreneurship, Citizenship and associative projects for the benefit of young people.

The architecture of this space, reopened in the end of 2019, was the result of the urban re-designation, carried out by the Municipality of Braga that made it capable to accommodate services of interest not only to young people, but also to the general public. The Centre includes the integrated Youth Hostel and is also used by the Portuguese Institute of Sports and Youth.

After the re-designation, the Youth Centre is now capable of promote the development of Creativity, Entrepreneurship, Citizenship and other associative projects for young people. At the same time, it promotes youth mobility, providing young Portuguese, specially disadvantaged ones, to stay in touch with cultural heritage of Braga. Therefore, the Youth Centre has an important social role on the work with the young.

All the project development was made in order to respect the requirements of the Council of Europe for the application of a Quality Label, making it a national and international reference for the work with young people, with high quality standards, capable of implementing municipal youth policies, from a local and international perspective. 


The 'safety net'
and the inclusive city

All over the World, you may listen to political actors stating that there is a public commitment with “not leaving anyone behind”. Here, we try to move from words to action, creating a safety net to all of those that need special support in a certain moment of their lives.

Braga has been acknowledge in the last seven years as a ‘Family responsible city’, considering that we offer several benefits to families: manuals for young kids in school; vaccines to lower income families; support in the purchase of medicine to elderly people; full free dental care to citizens that cannot afford it; discounts on water charges and discounted tax rates for large families; etc..

The Municipality of Braga develops several programs in order to provide houing to homeless people (through several partnerships and housing first initiatives) and gives direct financial support to many social institutions that work for children, elderly people and disabled citizens.

Braga was one of the founders of the Intercultural network of cities and received a national award on the creation of the Local Council for Migrants Integration and Interculturality.

The Human Power Hub is a Social Innovation incubator, which connects social entrepreneurs with companies and other impact builders that provide finance for and advice on the promotion of new social responses.

In recent years, Braga has invested several million Euros in the renewal of Social Neighborhoods households and created specific programs to support the access to education, work and culture by ethnic minorities.


Braga, the green city
Connecting economic development with social inclusiveness is a genetic mark of our policy action, which also led to the fact that I was added to the OECD list of Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth in 2016.

But sustainability is also strongly connected to inter-generational solidarity, as a balanced use of resources from a financial and environmental perspective.

Working for a ‘green city’ provides a better quality of life to residents (by supplying green spaces, eradicating pollution or taking care of waste) and also give better life conditions to future generations (safeguarding biodiversity, promoting a sustainable mobility, producing/storing/using energy efficiently, dealing effectively with climate change adaptation challenges, etc.).

As always, it all starts with a political commitment (that was why we subscrib to the Covenant of Mayors and the Green City Accord). It moves forward with the definition of a mobilizing strategy (that engages civil society and citizens) and that produces a concrete plan of action with monitored results. Finally, it requires a strong long-term commitment and a vast range of financial resources.

Apart from other national recognitions, Braga was included in the CDP – Disclosure / Insight / Action (former Carbon Disclosure Project) list of 88 cities that reached Grade A in 2020 in tackling climate change and pursuing environmental action.

The focus in innovation was the starting point for the project BUILD – Braga Urban Innovation Lab for Decarbonization and for the Batteries 2030 consortium, which involves representatives from the scientific community, energy companies, startups and the INL – International Nanotechnology Laboratory (also based in Braga).

Braga was also a pioneer city in Portugal in promoting voluntary assessments of the fulfillment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Together with the Catholic University CESOP research center, Braga has an annual report on its Municipal Sustainability Index (which accounts for nearly two hundred indicators, according to the United Nations’ best practices), while the City first Sustainability Report was issued early in 2021.


Cities show the way
to sustainability

As a member of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), I was nominated rapporteur on an opinion that was approved in July Plenary Session of the CoR: -Delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030’.

While the focus was on Europe, the report’s conclusion can easily be expanded to regions outside Europe.

In total, there are one million local and regional leaders across the European Union (EU). There are 41 national chambers of parliament, 74 regional legislative assemblies, and 280 regions. According to EU data, local and regional authorities implement 70% of all EU legislation. They represent 1/2 of public employment, 1/3 of public spending and 2/3 of public investment.

Also, regional and local leaders rely on the highest level of people's trust so that they can solve local problems with European solutions in fields such as transport, energy, climate change and digitalization.

Over the past six years since the adoption of the Agenda 2030, I have witnessed growing engagement from my fellow elected officials in cities and regions to the integration of the SDGs at the core of their long-term strategies and daily political decisions. These efforts are recognized specifically as an exercise of SDGs localization.

The engagement of regions and cities for the SDGs is still on the rise. The growing number of Voluntary Local and Regional Reviews is only the tip of the iceberg. For instance, the CoR is working with the OECD to support more regions and cities in their contributions to the SDGs.


Hence my two first recommendations:
1) The SDGs should be reinstated at the core of the EU political overarching narrative. EU action should be better aligned with action at local, regional, and international level on SDGs. Their disappearance from the EU narrative puts their implementation at risk.

2) In the spirit of partnership embodied by SDG 17, we should also all work in close cooperation to achieve this universal agenda. Many regions and cities in the EU, together with their associations and the CoR share a strong commitment to the SDGs. Their work on the ground with civil society and companies must be recognized and harnessed. For instance, the OECD estimated that local and regional authorities are essential for the realization of 65% of the SDGs. Only a collective effort of all these actors will ensure the successful implementation of the Agenda 2030.

This brings me to my third (3) recommendation: the re-establishment of an instrument for participative governance at EU level. The EU high level multi-stakeholders platform on the implementation of the SDGs facilitated the direct involvement and active participation of stakeholders in a structured dialogue with the EC on the SDGs. Stakeholders were able to advise the European Commission on SDGs. This created synergies and convergence between many of them.

My fourth (4) recommendation is linked to the governance process, which should be transparent and well coordinated. I believe that a more direct coordination and efficient division of responsibility are crucial to ensure the mainstreaming of the SDGs in a coherent manner across all EU policies.

Apart from a final recommendation that encourages the European Commission to start reintegrating the SDGs in the European Semester during the evaluation of the National Recovery and Resilience Plans by mapping SDGs' implementation in the Member States Plans, the report calls from a stronger role of cities in the implementation of national and “continental” goals (providing them further responsibilities and resources), which is something that we can prescribe worldwide.

Exhibiting and sharing best practices, nationally and internationally, thus learning a lot from my fellow Mayors and from cities from all over the World, was a decisive asset to make Braga become a sustainable city, in the benefit of all its citizens.


*Ricardo Rio
Ricardo Rio has been the Mayor of Braga, the third largest city of Portugal, since 2013. He was first elected to public office in 2005 as a City Councilman and City Assemblyman of Braga Municipality. He was also President of the Social Democratic Party of Braga and a member of the Social Democratic Party’s National Political Committee. He is currently the President of Galicia-North of Portugal Euroregion, and the President of the Intermunicipality Community of Cavado. He is also a Member of the Committee of the Regions of European Union, the Daily Board of Global Parliament of Mayors and the Executive Committee of EUROCITIES.

Prior to being elected, he had a career in the private sector and was the General Secretary of the Portuguese Association of Financial Analysts and the Director at Euronext Lisbon, a Capital Market Institute. He also worked as a consultant in business and governance with several leading Portuguese companies and public institutions.