27 mayors with visions to move beyond “business as usual”

27 November 2022

n our previous story „Imagine the city we want,“ we introduced the Mayors for Economic Growth (M4EG), a joint EU and UNDP initiative that supports a sustainable, digital, just and inclusive transformation of cities and communities in the Eastern Partnership countries. 

In a nutshell, the M4EG is about finding new ways to deal with complex urban challenges of the present and future. It is about going hyperlocal – engaging with local communities to learn, co-design and test together what transformation pathways could look like in the city or town system. 

A demonstration project to guide future investments of the EU Eastern Partnership Agenda“The M4EG is important for us because it firmly fits into a wider EU policy, it is a project that takes a radically new approach to local development; it is a demonstration project to guide investments and translate the Economic and Investment plan for the Eastern Partnership countries at the local level. For green and digital transition innovation is necessary, this is what this project is about for local development.”

Thibault Charlet, Programme Manager for the M4EG initiative at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR) 

13 mayors as frontrunners 

The M4EG introduces new tools and approaches, with four mayors currently testing what it could mean to go from a linear project approach to a systemic portfolio approach for local transformation. Kutaisi and Batumi (Georgia), Areni (Armenia) and Ceadir Lunga (Moldova) are cities making up the first cohort of the Portfolio Journey. Each designed a portfolio with a total of 40 different options to be implemented. Our partner here is the Chora Foundation

The other nine cities are undertaking an innovation and learning programme called Urban Imaginaries, where cities get a change to test human-centered design through seed-funds. The cities embarking on this journey are: AlaverdiAshtarak and Charentsavan from Armenia; PotiRustaviSamtredia and Tskaltubo from Georgia; and Cahul and Călărași from Moldova. Our partner here is Centre for Public Impact

Instead of looking for up front solutions, these cities and communities are examining the problem from different viewpoints, engaging with unusual suspects, and attempting to curb our reflex to focus on quick solutions for sticky problems.Embedded in empathy, they aim to get a different understanding of the city or town landscape and its economy – going out of the city hall and their offices to talk to residents and local actors, focusing on who the city is and the local stories are. The city teams set up hypotheses and go out to test, pilot, validate various ideas to see how it works. Instead of creating solutions, they are learning how to solve problems as a team, together with their local communities and residents.  

It is impossible to bring-in all 13 stories, but we have featured some examples to better illustrate what is “business as unusual” for local governments. 

Smart waste in Kutaisi, Georgia 

Kutaisi’s portfolio intends to place the city on the eco-smart urban planning frontlines in Georgia and beyond. Of the many designed interventions, the smart waste pilot is looking to gather data on two fronts: what’s the business case for implementing smart tech to optimize waste collection, and how does people’s sorting behaviour change when they are facing new sorting mechanisms such as non-transparent containers or monetary incentives through eco currency. The pilot will implement this tech intervention in a small part of the centre, with a limited number of containers to gather data. At the end of the pilot, they will know: how much money can be saved by automating the planning of waste disposal using sensors on waste bins and whether people sort just as well, better or worse, with financial incentives or with non-transparent containers. This data will give decision-makers an idea of what it would take to unroll this solution across the city, which will be an important infrastructure investment based on a pilot validated by residents. 

Energy transition of Ceadir Lunga, Moldova 

Ceadir Lunga is home to 20,000 people, located in the south of Moldova, right at the border with Ukraine. A key challenge is increased energy prices for gas and oil, particularly during winter months, coupled with the environmental harms of fossil fuel dependency. The town relies on imports for all their energy needs from the Russian Federation. While their energy standards are outdated; it is evident this is not viable nor sustainable going forward. That is why the focus of city transformation is on the transition to renewable and diversified energy sources to reduce imports and improve efficiency. The town wants to support vulnerable groups and tackle high unemployment rates with energy knowledge that can lead to new jobs. “What is new in this process for us is to bring in residents closer through consultations and interviews and to take a more holistic approach to a challenge such as energy imports,” notes Mayor Anatoly Topali from Ceadir Lunga.  

How another Moldovan town is reimagining waste management can be found in this blog from Călărași. 

Public transport system reform in Ashtarak, Armenia 

Our third example comes from the Ashtarak community in Armenia, only 22 km away from Yerevan. Ashtarak consists of more than 30 villages and has no public transport service, which significantly impacts economic opportunities for local citizens. “We started the public transport reform process as we want to have public transportation services available to our community. We shall establish a test bus route to connect our many community settlements. We are still developing the route, and defining the bus stops’ locations and tariffs in public discussion with our residents. We plan to build closed bus stops, which will have solar-powered heating, lighting and wi-fi. We will start with 3-4 small vans, but the plan is to buy 11 small buses, out of which 3 will be adjusted for use by people with disabilities. For our community development, it is vital to connect settlements with public transport – the 35 new bus stops and greater mobility will change many lives in our community,” shares Mayor Ishkhan Barseghyan. Attracting financing is often difficult for secondary cities and towns, however Astarak has successfully used the M4EG seed-fund to mobilize additional funding from the central government for its public mobility ambition. 

15 new city troopers – Azeri cities on board, re-start in Ukraine, and more frontrunners in Armenia 

Eight local authorities in Azerbaijan and Armenia recently joined the Portfolio Journey and Urban Imaginaries initiative, together with the seven cities from Ukraine, who put their work on hold due to the war but are back with a plan to re-build and re-imagine their future. We are looking forward to hearing what comes out of the learning journey for Khirdalan, Icherisheher, Sabail, Urva, Mingachevir and Naftalan in Azerbaijan, and Lviv, Melitopol, Poltava, Sumy, Trostianets, Mykolaiv and Ternopil in Ukraine, and Gyumri and Kapan in Armenia. 

The network of cities shares that the mutual success ingredient of this journey so far is their teams – people with open minds, dedication, deep engagement and who lean into a process that often goes beyond what has been tried and tested before, all with the guidance and space to experiment, created by their leaders, the mayors and deputies.  

Without people’s commitment, no transformative change can happen. 

The M4EG Facility builds on the Mayors for Economic Growth Initiative, launched, and funded by the European Union in 2017. Starting from 2021, the M4EG Facility – funded by the EU – has been managed by UNDP in close cooperation with the EU, local authorities, and a range of partners.