• UNECE recognizes the City Diplomacy Lab as a Center of Excellence

    UNECE recognizes the City Diplomacy Lab as a Center of Excellence

    19 January 2023

    The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and Columbia Global Centers | Paris (CGC|Paris), one of the ten global centers of Columbia University in the City of New York, signed a Memorandum of Understanding recognizing the City Diplomacy Lab at CGC|Paris as a UNECE Centre of Excellence in France.  

    The cooperation between UNECE and the City Diplomacy Lab will contribute to the development and implementation of collaborative activities and projects to promote the principles of the Geneva UN Charter on Sustainable Housing. As a Centre of Excellence, the City Diplomacy Lab will provide municipalities in the UNECE region and worldwide with best practices, research, support, and training in the areas of city diplomacy and smart sustainable urban development.  

    UNECE Executive Secretary, Olga Algayerova, emphasized: “This is an additional step towards inclusive city diplomacy and multilateralism. We at UNECE are glad to join forces with the City Diplomacy Lab to further reinforce our engagement with cities and look forward to cooperating on critical urban development challenges in the region”.  

    “We are delighted and honored to have the City Diplomacy Lab recognized by the United Nations as a Centre of Excellence,” said CGC | Paris Director Brunhilde Biebuyck. “With multiple crises affecting urban communities worldwide, city-to-city collaboration is more critical than ever.” City Diplomacy Lab Director Lorenzo Kihlgren Grandi said: “The recognition of City Diplomacy Lab as a Centre of Excellence will help us scale up our efforts in empowering cities to address issues including climate change, rising inequalities, migration, and food insecurity. Today’s challenges are global in nature and primarily urban in impact.”   

    UNECE and the City Diplomacy Lab will cooperate to support the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG 11: to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. The partnership aims to strengthen the capacity of cities to actively contribute to the “more inclusive multilateralism” called for by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, which the UNECE Forum of Mayors is putting into action. 

    Specific activities that will be undertaken by the City Diplomacy Lab will include training curriculum development; capacity-building and publications on city diplomacy and smart sustainable urban strategies; and the organization and hosting of meetings to disseminate information about UNECE and the Geneva UN Charter at international, national, and subnational levels. 

    To facilitate the work of the City Diplomacy Lab as a Centre of Excellence, UNECE will encourage the exchange of information, knowledge, and experience within the network, as well as with relevant international and national organizations in the UNECE region and facilitate cooperation and exchange between the Centres of Excellence. 

    Note to editors  

    About UNECE  

    The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) was established in 1947 by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). It is one of five regional commissions of the United Nations.  

    The major aim of UNECE is to promote pan-European economic integration. UNECE includes fifty-six member States in Europe, North America, and Asia. However, all interested United Nations member States may participate in the work of UNECE. Over seventy international professional organizations and other non-governmental organizations take part in UNECE activities.  

    For further information on the work of the Committee on Urban Development, Housing and Land Management, please consult http://unece.org/housing/committee.  


    About Columbia Global Centers | Paris  

    Columbia Global Centers | Paris is part of a network of ten global centers of Columbia University in the City of New York, one of the world’s leading academic institutions. The centers serve as knowledge hubs that aim to educate and inspire through research, dialogue, and action.  

    Located at historic Reid Hall, which was gifted to Columbia University in 1964, CGC | Paris partners with regional and international institutions to engage students, faculty, alumni, and the public across borders and disciplines. 

    For further information on CGC | Paris, please visit https://globalcenters.columbia.edu/paris.   


    About City Diplomacy Lab  

    Launched in September 2021, the City Diplomacy Lab is a special project of CGC | Paris that fosters the design and implementation of effective local solutions to the world’s multiple crises. The Lab strives to enhance the understanding and practice of city diplomacy, which forges international collaborations between cities to promote sustainable development and peace while jointly addressing challenges such as climate change, rising inequalities, and migration. 

    The Lab’s action, which includes applied research, capacity-building, and public programming, is implemented through numerous collaborations with municipalities worldwide, city networks, universities, and international organizations. The Lab also benefits from the resources of the Columbia Global Centers network. 

    For further information on the City Diplomacy Lab, please visit https://www.citydiplomacylab.net

  • Celebrating decentralized cooperation projects connecting Europe to the world

    Celebrating decentralized cooperation projects connecting Europe to the world

    Everywhere in the world, city diplomacy owes its expansion primarily to the determination of a growing number of municipalities to emulate the impact of its most successful applications.

    This is particularly true in the context of decentralized cooperation, a term for the wide range of partnerships through which cities collaborate internationally to further the development of areas of the world most in need. 
    In a global context where inequalities within and across national borders are sharpening considerably, it seems particularly useful to identify and celebrate methodologies that have stood out for their impact on the ground so that they can help guide the evolution of this practice.

    This is precisely why PLATFORMA, the platform dedicated to development cooperation promoted by the Council of European Municipalities and Regions and supported by the European Union, organizes the PLATFORMAwards. This annual prize aims to identify and celebrate the best practices of decentralized cooperation fostering the realization of the 2030 Agenda jointly implemented by European local communities and those in partner countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.

    The award ceremony for the third edition of the prize was held on December 6, 2022, in Grenoble, France.

    As explained by Dr. Lorenzo Kihlgren Grandi, City Diplomacy Lab director and PLATFORMAwards jury member, the awarded projects owe much of their success to their “proven ability to actively engage the residents that benefit from them. The latter, far from being mere recipients, become true partners in the project’s design and implementation.”

    These are the 2022 winners:

    1st prize: Belgian Federal Programme for Communal International Cooperation (PCIC) between Anderlecht (Belgium) and Marsassoum (Senegal).

    This is the second phase of a program begun in 2017 aimed at simultaneously strengthening inclusive local economic development and municipal governance in Marsassoum. Its implementation rests on a meticulous application of the multi-actor principle of action in both cities.

    2nd prize: Rehabilitation of infrastructure and the strengthening of the economic activity of spirulina production between Zaragoza (Spain) and Ouonck (Senegal).

    The project is a virtuous example of co-development. This cooperation methodology involves migrants in order to foster integration in the community of residence and the sustainable development of their community of origin.

    3rd prize: Unesco Heritage for Sustainable Cities between Haskovo (Bulgaria) and Douala 1st (Cameroon)

    The project was able to advance sustainable development through a broad strategy that systematizes and adapts to the local context some of the most innovative methodologies developed internationally in the areas of preservation and enhancement of tangible and intangible heritage, participatory budgeting, support for cultural and creative industries, and sustainable smart city. 

    Special prize: EU-Ukraine partnerships

    The jury also decided to award a special prize to all Ukrainian and European local and regional administrations currently engaged in collaboration. The more than 700 pre-war European and Ukrainian local and regional government partnerships there are facts and have multiplied since its outbreak last February.


    Every year, the evaluation of PLATFORMAwards’ shortlisted projects is made by an international jury of European elected officials and city diplomacy professionals. This is the composition of the 2022 jury:

    • Mr. Fabrizio ROSSI, Secretary General of CEMR, president of the jury
    • Dr. Pierrette HERZBERGER-FOFANA, MEP, First Vice-Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Development (DEVE)
    • Mr. Emmanuel CARROZ, Deputy Mayor in charge of International Cooperation and Europe, City of Grenoble (France)
    • Ms. Pilar DIAZ ROMERO, Mayor of Esplugues de Llobregat and Deputy to the Presidency, responsible for international relations, Diputació de Barcelona (Spain)
    • Ms. Gertrude Nadia Sèna DOSSA, Mayor of the 2nd district of Porto Novo (Benin), United Cities and Local Governments Africa
    • Dr. Lorenzo KIHLGREN GRANDI, Director, City Diplomacy Lab at Columbia Global Centers | Paris
    • Mr. Alessandro DA ROLD, Director General, EU40 (Network of Young European Parliamentarians)
    2022 PLATFORMAwars winners and jury members

    For more information about the prize and how to apply for future editions, visit the dedicated website.

  • Shaping the future of Italian cities’ international action

    Shaping the future of Italian cities’ international action

    Since its dawn following World War II, city diplomacy has featured Italian municipalities among its main drivers of expansion and innovation. Twinning agreements, the municipal peace movement, the partnership approach to international cooperation, and, more recently, solidarity related to the pandemic crisis and the war in Ukraine have seen Italian cities as prominent advocates.

    A such international commitment of Italian cities rests on two particularities. First, its convincingly participatory approach stems from the involvement of a broad spectrum of local actors. Second, the international outlook is manifested by a considerable amount of small and medium-sized centers. These dynamics are all the more remarkable considering the overall absence of a national strategy to coordinate and support city diplomacy, in contrast to countries such as France and, most recently, the United States.

    For some time, however, a determination to give further impetus to Italian city diplomacy seems to be emerging in various national instances.
    To discuss this, a wide-ranging panel discussion took place at the 39th assembly of the National Association of Italian Municipalities (ANCI) on November 22 in Bergamo, Italy, featuring the participation of City Diplomacy Lab’s director Lorenzo Kihlgren Grandi. Strong determination was expressed by the various mayors, including host Giorgio Gori and Parma’s Michele Guerra, to support the spread of city diplomacy as a pillar of municipal action, enabling more and more small and medium-sized Italian municipalities to benefit from it.

    The appeal received the enthusiastic support of ANCI itself, the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation, and the City Diplomacy Lab, which announced their determination to support such nationwide uptake of the practice through capacity-building activities. The three institutions aim at reporting the first outcomes of such an agenda at the 2023 edition of the Italian municipalities’ annual assembly.

  • Scaling up diasporas’ unique contribution to decentralized cooperation

    Scaling up diasporas’ unique contribution to decentralized cooperation

    Diasporas are increasingly proving their empowering role in decentralized cooperation, i.e., development partnerships implemented by cities and local governments.

    With their knowledge of their territory of origin and ability to mediate between two cultures, diasporas’ contribution to designing and implementing such projects is unparalleled.

    So how can this practice be strengthened and spread to the height of its potential contribution to international cooperation?

    This question prompted City Diplomacy Lab, AIMF, and the Municipality of Tunis to organize this workshop on November 17 at Tunis City Hall. The keystone time of the day will be a dialogue between local elected officials and experts from cities in the Maghreb with European colleagues of Maghrebi origin.

  • Matching proximity and diplomacy at the Smart City Expo World Congress

    Matching proximity and diplomacy at the Smart City Expo World Congress

    The City Diplomacy Lab joins forces with ETI Chair – IAE Paris Sorbonne Business School and C40 Cities to support the global spread of local, participatory solutions to urban societies’ primary challenges.

    Join us at the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona for two not-to-be-missed events:

    Happy Urban Proximities

    🗓 November 15 at 11:30 a.m.

    📌 Expo Area | Green Agora

    Proximities are at the heart of our quality of life and are critical to transition our lifestyles and our urban and territorial models to achieve SDGs targets.

    Together with supporting cities, academia, institutions, NGOs, and thought leaders, ETI Chair has created a Global Proximities Observatory to accelerate the impact of proximities-centric models at the neighborhood, village, municipality, region, or country scale.


    • Prof. Carlos Moreno, Scientific Director, ETI Chair
    • Dr. Lorenzo Kihlgren Grandi, Director, City Diplomacy Lab
    • Ms. Hélène Chartier, Director of Urban Planning and Design, C40
    • Ms. Catherine Gall, Executive Director, ETI Chair

    Driving Climate Empowerment Leveraging Proximities and City Diplomacy

    🗓 November 15 at 3:00 p.m.

    📌 Level 1 | Zone CC1 — 1.1

    Join this expert workshop with the lead researchers of ETI Chair at IAE Paris Sorbonne Business School, City Diplomacy Lab at Columbia Global Centers | Paris, and C40 Cities Network to learn how cities and citizens are acting against climate and societal challenges thanks to the 15mn urban model and city diplomacy.

    Key takeaways for participants: peer-to-peer learning, research findings, best practices, actionable resources, and tools to drive positive impact.


    • Prof. Carlos Moreno, Scientific Director, ETI Chair
    • Dr. Lorenzo Kihlgren Grandi, Director, City Diplomacy Lab
    • Ms. Hélène Chartier, Director of Urban Planning and Design, C40
    • Ms. Catherine Gall, Executive Director, ETI Chair
  • Bringing environmental city diplomacy to COP27

    Bringing environmental city diplomacy to COP27

    In consideration of their extensive efforts to deploy their unique tools to combat the causes and respond to the consequences of climate change, cities have emerged as indispensable actors in climate action worldwide.

    Unsurprisingly, this is as much due to cities’ ability to foster participatory responses to local impacts of local change as it is to their international coordination in modeling and disseminating the approaches that have proven most effective.

    To explore such action, give it new impetus, and scale it up through a multi-actor approach, the City Diplomacy Lab, in partnership with the International Association of Francophone Mayors (AIMF), ACE Observatory, and Columbia University’s Climate School, is co-organizing three hybrid events at the upcoming 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Sharm el-Sheikh.

    Climate empowerment and city diplomacy. Exploring the potential of a thriving alliance

    In partnership with AIMF – International Association of Francophone Mayors

    📍Multilevel Action Pavilion, Blue Zone

    🗓 Tuesday, November 8 at noon, Egypt Standard Time (UTC+2)

    As the impact of climate change turns out to be increasingly dramatic, the need to motivate, coordinate and strengthen the action of various actors is still essentially an unrealized goal.

    However, a specific article in the Paris Agreement (Article 12) is dedicated to this imperative, known as Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE).

    Although the implementation of this article is often partial at the national level, the climate action of a growing number of cities around the world aligns with these principles.

    Indeed, municipalities are using their very nature as the political institution closest to citizens to carry out such work capable of creating coherence in climate action while strengthening and reinforcing operational collaboration between citizens, climate activists, and the city’s economic, social and cultural actors. The result is a city in which the fight against climate change becomes an engine of cohesion, well-being, social justice, and shared innovation for the benefit of the entire urban community.

    What is emerging is a methodology that is easily replicable and adaptable to specific contexts. As a matter of fact, city diplomacy is increasingly spreading such an approach to cities of all sizes, geographic coordinates, and socioeconomic conditions.

    The International Association of Francophone Mayors (AIMF) and the City Diplomacy Lab at Columbia Global Centers | Paris are hosting a panel discussion at COP27’s Multilevel Action Pavilion to discuss the scope of this approach in cities using it and its present and future impact on the global fight against climate change.


    • Ms. Souad Abderrahim, Mayor of Tunis
    • Ms. Fatimetou Abdel Malick, President of the Regional Council of Nouakchott
    • Dr. Michèle Rubirola, Deputy Mayor of Marseille
    • Mr. Dan Lert, Deputy Mayor of Paris
    • Dr. Isatis M. Cintrón, Co-director, Research, ACE Observatory
    • Dr. Lorenzo Kihlgren Grandi, Director, City Diplomacy Lab, Columbia Global Centers | Paris

    Passcode: 397610


    Cities and universities. An alliance for sustainable development

    In partnership with AIMF – International Association of Francophone Mayors

    📍Francophonie Pavilion, Blue Zone

    🗓 Tuesday, November 8 at 3 p.m., Egypt Standard Time (UTC+2)

    As the global climate crisis deepens, cities and universities demonstrate unprecedented engagement.
    First, by their dual nature as the political institution closest to citizens and the primary provider of public services, cities are committed to addressing change through the imperatives of sustainability, participation, and equality. The same principles are guiding the actions of a growing number of universities, which are also eager to contribute in terms of research and training on both the characteristics of climate change and the best tools for governing and countering it.

    This convergence of intentions favors a growing synergy between the two actors. With the participation of prominent representatives from municipalities and universities, this roundtable, organized by the International Association of Francophone Mayors (AIMF) and the City Diplomacy Lab at Columbia Global Centers | Paris, aims to explore the nature and the local and global impact, present and future, of their collaboration. The event will take place in French.


    • Ms. Souad Abderrahim, Mayor of Tunis
    • Dr. Michèle Rubirola, Vice Mayor of Marseille
    • Prof. Slim Khalbous, Rector, Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie
    • Prof. Etotépé A. Sogbohossou, Dean, Environment Department, Senghor University, Alexandria
    • Prof. Patricia Crifo, Director, Economics for Smart Cities and Climate Policy Master’s Degree, École Polytechnique, Paris
    • Ms. Mélody Braun, Senior Staff Associate, International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), Columbia University’s Climate School
    • Dr. Lorenzo Kihlgren Grandi, Director, City Diplomacy Lab, Columbia Global Centers | Paris

    ACE City Champions: an equitable and participatory path towards sustainable cities

    In partnership with the ACE Observatory and Columbia University’s Climate School

    📍SDG Pavilion, Blue Zone

    🗓 Tuesday, November 15 at 6:30 p.m., Egypt Standard Time (UTC+2)

    The need for urban sustainability transformation underpins many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and is mentioned in the Paris Agreement as crucial to fostering country-driven capacity building.

    City governments, through their civic mandates and long-term planning perspectives, are critical institutions to address climate impacts, decarbonize buildings, infrastructure, and mobility, ensure food security, transition to renewable energy, and build more resilient and sustainable communities. Cities are both an input to the problem and the key to a solution.

    Action for Climate Empowerment (Art 12 of the Paris Agreement) calls on national and subnational governments to build a comprehensive strategy, including strong climate governance, participatory processes engaging civil society, and capacity building is key to an economic transition that addresses the climate crisis while reducing poverty and inequality and maintaining citizens’ trust at the same time.

    This event, organized by the ACE Observatory, Columbia University’s Climate School, and City Diplomacy Lab, will feature locally-led examples of inclusive climate governance and capacity building by mayors, networks, and non-party stakeholders. It will also launch and present how the ACE City Champions Initiative can help strengthen the institutional capacity to capitalize on the coordination through those ACE efforts.


    • Ms. Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris (TBC)
    • Mr. Yunus Arikan, Director of Global Advocacy, ICLEI
    • Ms. Mélody Braun, Senior Staff Associate, International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), Columbia University’s Climate School
    • Dr. Isatis M. Cintrón, Co-director, Research, ACE Observatory
    • Mr. Grégoire Merrheim, Officer, International Relations Department, City of Paris

    Registration coming soon

  • City Diplomacy Talks | Dr. Claudia López, Mayor of Bogotá

    City Diplomacy Talks | Dr. Claudia López, Mayor of Bogotá

    What happens when a city government puts care at the center of its action?

    In this interview by Lorenzo Kihlgren Grandi, Bogotá Mayor Claudia López explains how her city became a global model for equity and sustainable development.

  • The city without the country? City diplomacy as a platform for a new, cohesive municipalism

    The city without the country? City diplomacy as a platform for a new, cohesive municipalism

    By Michele F. Fontefrancesco, PhD

    Is city diplomacy just about large cities? How can small municipalities have a voice? Exploring the case study of Italy, the article reads city diplomacy as a viable platform to nurture a stronger relationship between the city and the countryside and better cohesion.

    The mass urbanization accelerated during the second half of the Twentieth century, culminating with almost 60% of the world’s population living in large, non-agricultural settings. Cities have a specific legal entity and regulatory power that are used to design, implement, and manage local infrastructures and services, as well as to protect the rights and improve the welfare of their citizens. The deep institutional changes that occurred in the past twenty years led to a situation of decentralized cooperation in which the rigid pyramidal structure of institutional hierarchy leaves space for a plurality of forms of interactions among institutions, making diplomacy and international relationships matters of municipal management. In this, new plural world cities grew in importance also in the international arenas. They became key players in discussing policies and implementing concrete initiatives about key issues, from socio-technological innovation to environmental and cultural protection, from human rights to economic development. Thus, city diplomacy brings to the fore the reality for individual municipalities to create solid international relationships and become players in global change. However, the increased relevance of the cities opens a fundamental question concerning their representativity in the diplomatic area. Whom do they stand for? Does their voice belong only to their citizens or to a wider community and territory?

    On a global level, rural areas are the ones that are mostly suffering from phenomena of political and economic marginalization and would strongly benefit from being inserted within broader international networks and initiatives. However, commonly this is not the case. City diplomacy appears a reality precluded from these territories, of which voice seems too often unheard at a national and international level.

    To move its point, this article looks at Italy as an example. This is a country among the largest world economy but also one that faces crucial challenges concerning its territorial cohesion. Italy has a territorial organization based on four different levels: the national, the regional, the provincial, and the municipal. The municipal is intended to be the articulation closer and more representative of the single communities living in the country. Each municipality has fundamental functions, among which are the local enforcement of national and regional legislation and regulation, tax collection, territorial planning as well as the organization of services, among which are primary education, social services, waste disposal, etc. There is no substantial difference in the duties of a municipality, be it Rome, the municipality with the largest population in the country (2.8 million people in 2022), or Moncenisio, the one with the smallest population (30 people in 2022). In this respect, all the municipalities can undertake actions on an international level, for example, promoting twinning, participating in international projects, or supporting international cooperation. This apparent equality should be read, however, considering the discrepancies in terms of means available for each municipality and the territorial socio-economic disequilibria. In 2022, there were only 44 municipalities with a population larger than 100.000 inhabitants covering 25% of the entire Italian population, while there were, however, 5535 municipalities with less than 5.000 inhabitants covering over 70% of the entire national territory. In this context, in the past decades, major centers, such as Rome, Milan, and Turin, have stood out for their international diplomatic activity, and, in so doing, they have made the voice of their citizens heard on the global level. At the same time, however, the voice of the smaller municipalities does not even have the opportunity of being raised.

    City diplomacy attains the individual municipality and is primarily the result of the political and administrative dynamics that occur within the municipal jurisdiction. This structural dynamic, however, makes the voice of a large city per se the voice of a city without a country. This is how people in the peripheries see cities’ diplomacy in their everyday life.

    When a project of policy innovation or international collaboration is introduced to civil servants in a small municipality, a comment is often heard: “Look, we are not a city!” These words outline the tangible and intangible distance that runs between a rural settlement and a large city: a distance that is created by the sense of being untitled in thinking, discussing, and acting in regard to big issues, such as the one of the UNSDGs. In this case, it is pointless to argue that some of the goals have more to do with marginal communities than urban areas. Local civil servants look at these issues with disfranchisement, aware of having to deal with limited resources and skills and lacking contacts and national and international prestige. Thus, the cities and their diplomatic efforts remain far away from the reality of the rural areas, unreachable and inimitable. However, this ideal position is not one of leadership; it is one of institutional otherness and remoteness.

    In the past decade, the Italian political debate indicated on the municipal scale the key issue to tackle in order to overcome this structural impasse. Thus, it was requested that small municipalities (the over 5.000 mentioned before) carry out their fundamental functions together through consortia, associations, conventions, etc. Despite the legal imposition, the results were limited in scale and impact. The failure speaks aloud of a context neither administratively nor culturally ready to accept a change so little in line with the long history of radical municipalism that characterizes the country.

    Thus, the possibility of a future in which small municipalities develop grassroots tools, practices, and vision to become new actors in city diplomacy appears remote. This substantial constraint sounds louder than a question concerning how cities can play a role of leadership and territorial representativity also outside the borders of their municipalities. This is a question that a city may discard, being tempted to indicate the higher institutional levels as the ones responsible for synthesis among different territorial needs. However, this would lead to the reproduction of an uncanny situation. In fact, is it enough for a city to be the vanguard in sustainability when the surrounding rural municipalities are coping with the severe impact of demographic loss and rewilding? Or is it enough for a city to be the front runner in the development of new inclusion or education policies when their neighboring smaller municipalities are closing primary schools and social services because they are too expensive for their budgets? Or, again, is it enough for a city to be committed to global change when outside its borders, people live in a socioeconomic decline and are forced to move to the city looking for economic opportunities?

    These, for sure, are provocatory questions but aim at spurring a reflection about the political limits of traditional municipalism that also taint city diplomacy. A municipality draws its legitimacy from the existence of its borders, and the borders represent the frontier within which municipal action should be limited. City diplomacy, however, entails a level of advocacy that overcomes the jurisdictional borders. In this respect, the vision that underpins diplomacy should not be limited to the bounded place of the urban space. It represents an opportunity for creating new, political, and administrative inclusive platforms of discussion that should also involve smaller municipalities and the rural communities, nowadays voiceless, in envisioning solutions for a world that is changing. In this way, this renewed form of political praxis can foster new territorial cohesion and, at the same time, generate a more comprehensive understanding of the challenges we are living and the scenarios the future discloses.

  • Exploring the best podcasts on urban affairs

    Exploring the best podcasts on urban affairs

    A brief review of the best podcasts focusing on global urban affairs and city diplomacy.

    By Emanuele Sala

    Sometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form.”

    Director Jean-Luc Godard reiterates that stories are vital to human beings. Podcasts are a contemporary form of educational stories: their success in terms of listeners and initiatives confirms our fascination with this narrative form. 

    In this connection, the podcast format is not only entertaining but taking on an increasingly important role as an information output for both academia and business. This product could impact education and learning and bridge academic research and wider public dissemination. A success due to the low-cost and accessible form of expression that the podcast ensures. Unlike other media, it can guarantee greater representativeness to different urban actors. It is a valuable opportunity also for the domain of city diplomacy, still often overlooked by standard academic works.

    With this brief general review of quality podcasts dealing with urban issues, we also want to highlight their focus on city diplomacy through specific episodes or an editorial approach based on the exchange of best practices and knowledge. It is not a thorough review, but it serves to give an idea of what the market can offer today.

    The classification followed is based on the criteria of podcast dissemination. Thus, what is the central targeted public of a podcast? Following this criterion, we recognize three podcasts’ categories: those addressing the general public, dealing with general and broad urban matters, those for students and scholars, and those targeting city practitioners and enterprises about more specific and operational issues.

    Podcasts for the general public

    Monocle 24: The Urbanist

    With more than ten years on the show, The Urbanist, by the radio Monocle 24, is one of the most well-known podcasts on urban affairs. It tackles broad topics and claims to have an influential audience of mayors, architects, and urban planners. The few-minute cycle of episodes “Tall Stories”, released weekly, offers fascinating insights into the best planning examples and sound management practices around the world. It is as entertaining as it helps promote the exchange of best policies in cities. “The Urbanist” weekly series consists of 30-minute episodes that address key topics. Two episodes highlight the peculiar relationship between certain cities and their diplomatic importance. In the episode Placemaking, Biodiversity and Diplomacy, we find an innovative insight into the urban dynamics that New York City faces when it becomes the stage for international diplomacy. The same relationship is addressed by Power City, on how the design of some cities (Washington, Brussels, Vienna) changes because of their diplomatic importance. It is an original perspective on how some cities relate to global affairs. 

    360 Degree City

    360 Degree City is a bi-weekly podcast by Californian Intelligent Futures that aims to highlight the steps of the actors that make cities better, and to change the point of view of its users about their city. The title emphasizes the complete vision that the audience must receive, 360 degrees. In this regard, the cycles “City Builder” and “What’s next” are two original contributions. The first one analyses the main actors that make cities. Thus, we find interviews with elected officials, architects, urban planners, transportation and civil engineers, etc. The second cycle asks questions about the urban future in various fields, such as housing, mobility, supply chain, and urban communities. Interestingly, Intelligent Futures intend to investigate the larger global system of which cities are part. The episodes address different scales, making evident the connection between all cities and their influence on the others. “Our guests,” the organization reports, “explained how cities connect to these systems and also how there are sometimes disconnects with how we understand how our cities relate to the world”.

    Strong Towns

    This podcast has been running weekly for more than ten years, and it deals with urban issues that are less generally discussed. The podcast addresses not only infrastructure, transportation, housing, smart cities, etc., but also the role of popular traditions, daily life, or grassroots movements in creating the city. Even though the theme of collaboration between cities is never explicitly addressed, the focus on grassroots movements gives the idea of a global system of cities facing the same challenges and opportunities. In the long episodes (an hour on average), participants include experts from business and academia, but citizens and their experiences above all. The podcast is part of a triptych of Strong Towns, the homonymous organization. Completing this three-part set are the podcasts The Bottom-Up Revolution, which deals explicitly with grassroots movements in cities, and Upzoned, which focuses on major debates in urban studies. The association’s main goal is to raise awareness about what a strong city is and advocate for policies that make cities better.

    Urban Matters 

    The Urban Matters podcast is produced by the UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe). Its episodes cover topics of different scales and scope – from the functioning of the Forum of Mayors, the event gathering mayors of cities in UNECE countries to fire safety in urban buildings, passing through housing, circular economy, and smart cities. Hosted by journalist Tom Miles, with contributions from experts, academics, and practitioners, it always retains a view on how cities can join forces to share ideas and grow together, to combat not only pandemics but also other ills that plague urban societies.

    Podcasts for an academic public

    The Cities of Refuge

    The Cities of Refuge is primarily a research project based at the University College Roosevelt, exploring the role of local governments in Europe in welcoming and integrating refugees. From a law perspective, the unit is researching the relevance of the local dimension in this global matter, adopting a new insight on the role of cities. The homonymous podcast focuses on this same theme and offers unique contributions to city diplomacy about migration. For example, the podcast offers an original view on the relationship between cities and international law, finding a position for an often overlooked subject in international relations. Another recent contribution to the domain is the episode on city diplomacy in global migration governance. Through the insight of two researchers in the field, the episode investigates the international stance of cities to promote specific priorities in the global agenda or to attract funds to the local level in the challenge of migration management. The episodes are generally aired twice a month.

    Connected Cities

    Started as an initiative of the Melbourne Centre for Cities at the University of Melbourne, the Connected Cities podcast began in the period immediately preceding the Covid-19 pandemic, with a variable schedule. The typology of the episodes is twofold. On the one hand, recordings of debates between academics and researchers on various topics, such as the role of cities in the fight against pandemics, housing, and sustainability. On the other hand, individual interviews deal with a specific theme in a shorter duration. For example, the podcast has addressed the issues of night economies in several episodes, offering valuable insights into the functioning and management of the night in the city. The podcast also devoted many episodes to the COP26, focusing on the role of cities within this framework. The focus on urban observatories about the pandemic concentrates on global relations between cities in the fight against the pandemic.

    Urban Political

    Urban Political is an academic podcast hosted by Ross Beveridge (University of Glasgow) and Markus Kip (Humboldt University in Berlin). The Georg-Simmel-Center for Metropolitan Studies at the Humboldt University powers the initiative to allow the voices of scholars and activists to be heard and be part of a transnational debate. As the name suggests, this podcast deals with a wide variety of urban issues. From social housing to tourist gentrification, from metrolingualism to troubling urban graffiti. The specificity of the podcast is that it deals with topics relevant to research in urban studies. The podcast aims to connect urban activism and scholarship, where each episode offers snapshots of pressing issues and new publications, allowing multiple voices of scholars and activists to enter into a transnational debate directly. The long episodes, issued irregularly, are one hour long.

    Podcasts for experts and city practitioners

    Smart and Sustainable City

    In this 30-minute podcast Pierre Mirlesse, the podcast host, interviews key people in organizations who are shaping the smart city field. These actors tell about the reasons that lead them to establish or work in a specific activity and its importance in implementing smart city policies. Experts and organizations come from both the private and public spheres, with episodes focusing on the European Commission, the World Bank, UNECE, or private companies such as BP, Deloitte, and OASC. Experts also come from local governments, as for the coordinators of smart city programs in Copenhagen or Barcelona. The podcast is a product without frills, which remains a valuable tool for understanding the activity linked to smart policies. However, it often favors an internal point of view and promotes a specific business vision. The podcast was interrupted in August 2021.

    Energy Cities

    This monthly podcast builds upon interviews with actors operating in cities as part of the promoting organization Energy Cities Network. It deals with sustainability and clean energy issues, collecting opinions and points of view of city actors, academics, and managers. It is a valuable tool for evaluating good practices related to specific urban energy policies. The Energy Cities Network gathers one thousand members, all cooperating to build future-proof cities. A related strength is the broad scope of cities involved, including global, medium, and small cities. As a means to inform about the steps undertaken by the most active and ambitious members, the podcast could be a valuable tool to help cities in the energy transition.

    Connected Places

    The Connected Places podcast is promoted by the Connected Places Catapult, a U.K-based innovator which reflects on and offers solutions linked to mobility. The podcast itself addresses topics of connectivity, understood in a broader sense. The connectivity could be physical, social, or digital. By employing and developing the full potential of all three types of connectivity, the organization wants to help create better cities and prosperity for its citizens. Therefore, the podcast deals with mobility issues, but in its broadest sense, considering the social and political implications. A significant focus is placed on infrastructure management, taking global models as examples. This podcast intends to be a resource for knowing good practices related to mobility.

    Urban Exchange: Cities on the Frontline

    The Urban Exchange podcast is a collaborative project to foster mutual inspiration for cities and city-makers. Based on interviews with city leaders, the podcast aims to be a virtual meeting point for city leaders to exchange successful practices. It includes only four episodes, issued irregularly, but is backed by two key institutions: the Resilient Cities Network and Smart Cities World. The two organizations cooperate on specific urban issues, in the belief echoed in the podcast that cities are indeed on the frontline for solving major contemporary problems and that cooperation is the way forward to fully harness this potential.


    The Eurocities podcast, released monthly, is a conversational podcast informing about the most relevant steps of the cities part of the Eurocities Network. This network has been operating primarily in Europe since 1986 to foster relations between cities and the EU. With more than 200 of Europe’s largest cities from 38 countries, Eurocities aims at shaping the EU’s urban policies. The network creates synergies between cities to have shared and clearly defined goals in this same direction. The podcast is a valuable tool to get to know the main European urban actors through interviews with the mayors of some key cities in Europe (such as Rotterdam, Nantes, and Utrecht) and get insight into the action of this leading urban network. 

    Honorable mentions

    Podcasts on urban issues are varied, and many of them are also very widespread and listened to. They address particular urban matters, such as transportation, architecture, landscape, urban planning, etc. Talking Headways is a very dynamic podcast that has been in production for years and systematically deals with transportation and infrastructure, exploring the relationship between transportation, planning, and quality of urban life. Among the podcasts focusing on urbanism and architecture, 99% Invisible is a reference, ambitioning to reveal the secrets and stories behind urban design, from urban furniture to major skyscrapers. The Smart Community podcast is a weekly show about the big issues of smart cities applied to the communities that inhabit them. Urban planning is the topic of the American Planning Association podcast (APA) that bimonthly addresses interesting case studies of American cities.

    Last but not least… the City Diplomacy Student Podcast

    And finally, be sure to check out the City Diplomacy Student Podcast. Episodes of this podcast, now in its fifth season, are produced by students from Sciences Po – Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA) and Columbia University, under the guidance of Dr. Lorenzo Kihlgren Grandi, director of the City Diplomacy Lab. Each episode provides a pedagogical and analytical insight into one of the key players in city diplomacy.
  • Urban metabolism and gender equity at WUF11

    Urban metabolism and gender equity at WUF11

    City Diplomacy Lab joins forces with UCLG and Cités Unies France to bring the global discussion on gender equity and city diplomacy to the 11th World Urban Forum.

    Through the contributions of mayors and experts, this conference aims to address the issue of gender equity from the perspective of urban metabolism. According to this perspective, equality is, in fact, not only a moral imperative but a necessary condition for the effective, harmonious and sustainable functioning of any urban society.

    The conference will particularly explore the contribution of municipal administrations to fostering this approach, with an emphasis devoted to city diplomacy’s potential to strengthen this action through the sharing of best practices, the introduction of joint projects, and international advocacy.


    • Ms. Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr OBE, Mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone
    • Dr. Lorenzo Kihlgren Grandi, Director of the City Diplomacy Lab at Columbia Global Centers | Paris
    • Ms. Céline Papin, Deputy Mayor of Bordeaux, Vice President of Bordeaux Métropole, President of the Latin American and Caribbean Dynamic (DALC), Cités Unies France
    • Ms. Elise Pereira-Nunes, Deputy Mayor of Tours, Delegate for gender equality, the fight against discrimination, international relations, city networks, and the Francophonie, President of the Gender workgroup at Cités Unies France
    • Dr. Diana Rodríguez Franco, Secretary of Women, City of Bogotá, Colombia
    • Ms. Julia Munroe, United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) focal point for gender equity

    date Monday, June 27, 2022, 13:30-15:00 CEST

    place Katowice’s International Congress Centre: Voices from Cities Room B