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Dialogues on Covid-19 response

Meeting of the mayors of Rosario (Argentina), Montevideo (Uruguay), Curitiba (Brasil), León (México), Deputy Mayor of San José (Costa Rica) and the IAEC General Secretary to discuss strategies to deal with Covid-19.

27-05-2020    Networks

The online meeting took place on 26 may, upon proposal of the IAEC Delegation for Latin America, and with the participation of the mayors of Rosario (Argentina), Montevideo (Uruguay), Curitiba (Brasil), León (México), deputy mayor of San José (Costa Rica) and the IAEC Secretary General. The goal of the event was to exchange views and strategies to fight against the propagation of Covid-19 and its impact on the population. The five participating cities showed that they have adjusted well to the new situation, thanks to the creativity of their teams. Their role as educating agents, by raising awareness among the population and putting in place synergies has also been key. Their actions are well targeted, since the contagion index in most of these cities is lower than their national averages.

Rogelio Biazzi, head of Rosario’s cabinet, coordinated the dialogue. San José presented the work carried out to improve the situation of homeless people that were sheltered in hotels during the lockdown. Deputy Mayor Paula Vargas informed that, in addition of undertaking much needed healthcare initiatives, given the underlying health conditions that these citizens experience due to drug abuse, the city council has also provided them with trainings to improve their reinsertion outlook.

Mayor of Montevideo Christian di Candia explained that at the peak of the pandemics they were preparing over 26.000 food packs, which also included books, since culture is a right. Later, to help local economy, this direct help was replaced by vouchers that could be used at local shops. Culture was one the first areas affected by the lockdown. Thus, Montevideo’s city council allocated 1 million dollars to promote the continuity of cultural activities via streaming, TV and other channels. As regards housing policy, a campaign to prevent evictions was launched. This has benefited around 500 people. Protocols that deal with gender-based violence have been reinforced as well, with new ways to report incidents.

Pablo Javkin, Mayor of Rosario, talked about the reactivation of the local industry to produce safety items and thus do not depend on importations. He also highlighted that the city council wishes to extend these links once the pandemic ends. Rosario has mapped and organised a network to assist the 218.000 older people in the city. Agreements have been set in place with shops to avoid that seniors have to leave to house to go shopping. 6 shelters have been activated to avoid contagion, and some of those have urban gardens as a leisure activity. The mayor has met with the council of children to know first-hand how young people are living the lockdown.  Given that fairs and markets are closed temporarily, Rosario has launched an initiative called “green fairs”. A website has been created where sellers of the social economy can advertise their products and services so that interested citizens can contact them and proceed with the purchase and delivery safely, respecting current sanitation rules. Online shopping has increased due to the lockdown, and the local government has also developed the app “online shop windows”, to facilitate economic transactions between local buyers and sellers, in particular in the catering sector, free of commissions.

Rafael Greca de Macedo, Mayor of Curitiba, shared the project “Curitiba reads”, a website that contains over 200 on-line books, both world literature and local authors are included. The city manages over 400 public schools and has developed contents that are broadcasted on TV and online to ensure that pupils can continue their education. Also, the city increased its efforts in informing citizens and has developed an online medical visits’ system to avoid contagions and favour the early detection and treatment of infected individuals.

Héctor López Santillana, Mayor of León, highlighted that the city has worked in close cooperation with universities and research centres to join efforts and plan possible scenarios with a view of not implementing reactive policies. The parts of the city with the highest contagion risks and areas with more vulnerable individuals have been identified to ensure both are appropriately managed. According to the mayor, the current situation is a good opportunity for the city to showcase its commitment with being an Educating City. Indeed, León has focused on educating policies rather than punitive measures. Information and communication are key. The mayor has met periodically with all kind of groups, since they all are part of the solution: the council of youth, various districts, teachers and healthcare workers, business representatives, trade unions and neighbours. He hopes that this situation will strengthen the society. As regards formal education, he believes there will be a paradigm shift: contents and teaching methods will change. The capacity to adapt to a changing world will have to be reinforced. He presented the project “León learns”, an online platform to learn new competencies and technological tools to study and work, but many people in the area still has no access to technologies.

It will be interesting to organise a second meeting to discuss some of the questions that were raised in regard to the “new normal”. There are concerns on the impact of this situation on young citizens. Psychological assistance will be needed to compensate this period of physical isolation and digital hyperconnectivity, that in some cases has led to perceiving others as a threat or danger. The use of public space after the pandemic, given the key role it plays in the collective construction of Educating Cities, shall also be addressed. Furthermore, other topics such as how to educate and move towards responsible consumption/production or how to create sustainable labour markets could also be included in a second meeting.

Many thanks to the five cities and its leaders to share with us their time, experiences and lessons learned.

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