The 15-year City: Annual POLIS Conference talks 'Audacity to Action’

From audacity to action! Transport decision-makers from across the POLIS membership joined the Annual POLIS Conference to interrogate the future of sustainable urban mobility.

On 30 November and 1 December, the Annual POLIS Conference held in Brussels, Belgium, convened cities, regions, and stakeholders from across the transport sector for two days of intense exchange on sustainable urban mobility and innovation.

A hard-hitting Closing Plenary concluded the event. The theme: ‘The 15-year City: From Audacity to Action’, examined what cities will need to do in the coming years to reach their ambitious climate goals.

“We need to move from ambition to action, and there is no time to lose. The next 15 years will be 'make or break' in our battle to decarbonize transport, and our cities and regions are at the forefront of this fight. We have seen so much good work, but the momentum must now be sustained and accelerated,” said Karen Vancluysen, POLIS Secretary General. 

European Vice President Frans Timmermans, Professor Carlos Moreno — the developer of the 15-minute City concept, and leading mobility decision-makers from POLIS members, London, Paris, Barcelona, Brussels, and Reggio Emilia joined the panel.

Carlos Moreno — Credit: Simon Pugh Photography

As decarbonisation, congestion, air quality and road safety targets loom larger than ever, time is rapidly running out to achieve them, and action is also more urgent than ever.

Frans Timmermans said: 15 years is what we are looking at when it comes to solving our climate crisis; this is no time at all! 15 years seems like a long time, but it is in fact a blink of an eye. European cities are our crucial partners in the transformation we need to achieve the Green Deal objectives.

We can grow, if we grow differently. We can move more, if we move responsibly. Cities are the places where many problems come together and where the solutions are found. There is reason to be cautious, but not pessimistic. It may be tempting to hide in a form of nostalgia, and it may offer comfort for 15 minutes. But it will not get us out of the situation we are in. We need to embrace the opportunities of the future.

Covid-19 put a lot of pressure on our transport systems, but it also showed how clean, safe and accessible our cities can be – for everyone! For cities, clean cars are not the only solution, it is also public transport, active transport. If you build and enhance these alternative mobility options, people will use them!”

Frans Timmermans — Credit: Simon Pugh Photography

An effective, durable — and just — transition to sustainable urban mobility demands the radical, audacious thinking as envisioned by the 15-minute City concept and other bold approaches, coupled with concrete action and strong political leadership.

Carlos Moreno said: “I am optimistic because we are more aware of the problems of urban spaces and can now act with full knowledge of them. I can feel a real desire for change coming from both politicians and citizens. The current dynamic is resolutely ecological and oriented towards well-being and quality of life on a day-to-day basis.”

POLIS then assembled a panel of leading local decision-makers from across Europe including;

  • David Belliard, Deputy Mayor for Mobility, Paris
  • Carlotta Bonvicini, Deputy Mayor for Mobility, Reggio Emilia
  • Elke van den Brandt, Minister for Mobility, Brussels Capital Region
  • Seb Dance, Deputy Mayor for Transport, London
  • Janet Sanz, Deputy Mayor for Mobility, Barcelona

Closing Plenary Audacity to Action

Janet Sanz — Credit: Simon Pugh Photography

These political leaders shared what changes they are rolling out within a 15-year horizon, pretty much the time we have left to move from ambition to action, to radically transform transportation, and to make sustainable mobility the norm.

These next 15 years are the defining ones for the future of the planet and our cities. And we just started this transformation. We need to be persistent because although we are the smallest administrations, we are the ones that are acting faster.” said Janet Sanz, Deputy Mayor for Mobility, Barcelona.

Brussels too has been at the forefront of action. By 2030, Brussels is seeking to achieve a 40% drop in CO2 emissions. Brussels SmartMove is part of the region’s ‘Good Move’ mobility plan, seeking to traffic during peak hours by around 30%. In addition, from September 2022, the use of park-and-ride car parks (P+R) in the Belgian capital Brussels became free for commuters. In addition, the subscription costs Cycloparking, a

Closing Plenary Audacity to Action

Elke van den Brandt — Credit: Simon Pugh Photography

network of secure parking places for bicycles throughout the Brussels’ agglomeration, is being reduced by 75%- thus encouraging commuters not to drive into the city.

Sanz's sentiments were echoed by Elke van den Brandt, Brussels’ Minister for Mobility, who said: “Mobility is a competence that requires political courage. Across Europe, mobility changemakers are leading the challenging fight to make our cities and regions more efficient, more pleasant and above all: healthier for people and our environment.

Across the channel, London too is stepping up its efforts to decarbonise transport. From shared bike schemes to low emissions zones- with a focus on accessibility and inclusion- the capital is throwing all its resources at climate neutrality targets.

Closing Plenary Audacity to Action

Seb Dance — Credit: Simon Pugh Photography

Seb Dance, Deputy Mayor for Transport said:In London, the Mayor and I are committed to tackling the triple challenges of air pollution, the climate emergency and congestion, and this means making bold action that means all Londoners can breathe cleaner air. We simply do not have time to waste and that is why last week the Mayor took the tough but important decision to expand our highly successful Ultra Low Emission Zone London-wide next year. This will also see new support put in place to help people switch to greener options such as public transport, bikes, e-bikes or car clubs. The Mayor and I are determined to continue building a cleaner, greener and more prosperous London for everyone and investing in and encouraging the use of sustainable transport options is a vital part of that."

Next year POLIS Annual Conference will take place in Leuven, the current POLIS president.  

Closing Plenary Audacity to Action

David Dessers — Credit: Simon Pugh Photography

David Dessers, Deputy Mayor for Mobility and Climate, Leuven said: “We have the ambition to be a frontrunner in sustainable and future-proof mobility as to keep our city attractive, healthy and sustainable. We strongly believe in the importance of exchanging knowledge and experiences to realise this ambition. POLIS is the appropriate network for this. As the POLIS president, we are very happy to share our experiences and insights with other European cities in the coming months and to welcome all POLIS members to Leuven in 2023!” 




— Credit: Simon Pugh Photography

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