UCLG-MEWA Retreat Istanbul’23 was held on the historical peninsula of Istanbul between December 19-21, 2023, with the support of Fatih Municipality. Taking place in Neslişah Sultan Culture Center, neighboring the ancient city walls of Istanbul, the three-day event offered its participants a set of meetings and thematic sessions.  

UCLG-MEWA Secretary General Dr. Mehmet Duman made a general appraisal of the three-day program by greeting the participants with his opening speech after the Welcoming Cocktail and Get-Together session on the 1st day of the Retreat. Successive to the opening speech, the program started with the session, Strengthening Partnerships: Main Stakeholders, intending to foster the dialogue between UCLG-MEWA and its main stakeholders. Elaf Raslan, Associate Program Officer at UNDRR ROAS, one of the session’s panelists, touched on UNDRR’s promoting role on local governments in strategy development. In the sequel, Çiğdem Çörek Öztaş, Senior Manager at WRI Türkiye, shared the details of their sustainable urban transportation project, KAVSAK Network. Coordinated by WRI Türkiye, the project also has UCLG-MEWA as one of the stakeholders and as a member of its executive committee. While Tanyslu Nurieva, UCLG-Eurasia Learning and Research Programs Coordinator, addressed the opportunities for cooperation among the regional sections of UCLG, Johannes Sahmland-Bowling, a Private Sector Resilience Expert from UNDP, stressed the importance of collaboration for SDGs.

In the sequel, the session “Regional Insights: LRGs of MEWA Region Addressing Challenges” was moderated by Dr. Mehmet DUMAN. In light of the dynamics of MEWA Region, challenges and opportunities peculiar to the region were addressed. The first panelist, Dr. Hayri Baraçlı, Union of Municipalities of Türkiye (UMT) Secretary General, stated that as UMT, they are determined to build the future cities from an urbanist perspective. Afterward, Roya Leili, City Diplomacy and Members Affairs Director at AMF emphasized that cities are the centers of transformation in times of global transition. Attending the session online, Abdallah Anati, Association of Palestinian Local Authorities (APLA) Executive Director, drew attention to the current situation in Palestine and noted, “Allow me to talk about how a municipality cannot sustain its basic functioning, rather than talking about normal routines. Now, they cannot control their water, routes, finance. This is the reality we are facing in Palestine.”   And the last panelist, Rakez Al-Khalayleh, UCLG-MEWA Representative to Jordan, addressed the challenges faced by the Jordanian local governments.

The second day of the event started with UCLG-MEWA Regional Consultation Meeting. Participated by UCLG-MEWA members and stakeholders, the closed-door meeting allowed consultations on the 2022-2025 strategic plan.

The next session, ‘Participatory Approaches to Local Decision Making,’ opened the floor to various voices on local governance stories and civil society experiences in MEWA Region. Abdurrahman Kahyaoğlu, Head of Unit at Şanlıurfa Metropolitan Municipality, Directorate of CSO-Neighbourhood Affairs, mentioned the role of neighborhood representatives in local decision making. Rola Khlaifat, Director of International Projects and Programs Unit at Greater Salt Municipality, Jordan, touched on the elements and principles of participation they adopted. In his speech, Emin Yahya Menteşe, a Postdoctoral Researcher at Boğaziçi University, focused on disaster risk reduction and urban planning. Mehdi Fallahi Panah, Head of Internationalization and Comprehensive Studies at Tehran University, spoke on the importance of public participation in urban planning.

MEWA municipalities with VLR & VSR experience shared their experiences for the ‘VLRs and VSRs: A dive into regional preparedness for the 2030 Agenda’ session. Dr. Sukaina Al-Nasrawi, Lead of Sustainable Urban Development Portfolio at UNESCWA, shared practical guidelines for VLRs in Arab Region, which are prepared within the context of multidisciplinary program on urban development by United Nations (UN).

Fuat Özcan, Manager of Foreign Relations & European Union (EU) Projects Coordinator Fuat Özcan, addressed VLR & VSR preparation process regarding financing. Akram Khriesat, Director of Amman Urban Observatory, Mehmet Aktaş, Strategy Development Manager at Sultanbeyli Municipality, and Oğuz Şen, SDG Coordinator at Avcılar Municipality, shared reflections on their VLR preparation process. Çise Kan, Advisor to the Mayor of Fatih, noted that Fatih Municipality focused on the theme of Culture and Heritage in their VLR preparation process.

The last session of the second day was From Vulnerability to Resilience: Climate Resilient Infrastructure. Elaf Raslan deliberated on the importance of MCR2030 initiative. Dr. Mohamed Salheen, Head of Urban Design and Planning Department at Ain Shams University, addressed the integrative planning approach within the context of sustainable design and sustainable use of resources. Ebru Akyol Ergüner, Project Manager for Sustainability Projects at Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, stated that as a municipality, they follow a climate crisis-oriented plan in their activities and decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Helena Monteiro, Global Focal Point for the GCoM-GAP Fund Partnership, mentioned the details of the partnership’s support for cities’ climate strategy development.

#MEWAOpenMic: Crafting UCLG-MEWA’s 2024 Road Map, the first session of the last day, offered a space to foster collective networks and establish deeper dialogue among the members and stakeholders.

Closing the program with #Towards2025: MEWA Strategic Priorities, all the participants came together to restructure our strategic agenda regarding the dynamic needs of international communities, and they were informed about the schedules and programs expected to be organized in 2024.

Tayseer Abu Sneineh, Mayor of Al-Khalil, and UCLG-MEWA President, and Mohamed Saadieh, President of the Union of Dannieh Municipalities, attended UCLG-MEWA Retreat Istanbul’23 online. They informed the audience about the current situation in Palestine and Lebanon and called for peace.

The Historical Peninsula, where the event occurred, offered UCLG-MEWA Retreat Istanbul’23 participants an enthralling urban experience of the ancient city.

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