Marvin Rees: The case for the Global Parliament of Mayors

Bristol mayor Marvin Rees, in Bristol. Image: Bristol City Council.

The Labour mayor of Bristol on how local issues are global issues.

As the leader of a city like Bristol, I come face to face with unique challenges every day.  Across the world other international cities will also have their quirks – but we are united through our shared challenges that come from global issues, from migration and global security to population inequalities and climate change.    

Some 55 per cent of the world’s population live in cities, and this set to rise to 68 per cent by 2050.  With the majority of the world now classed as urban, governments and international frameworks cannot afford to make choices without consulting city leaders. 

But cities need power not only to shape what happens within them, but also to affect the context in which they live. The Global Parliament of Mayors (GPM) is a governance body of mayors from all continents who are committed to tackling the local challenges and opportunities that result from global policy and events.

In the UK we need a focus on local government which has the knowledge of what works on the ground and the right to self-govern. As part of the GPM we are able to promote the importance of collective city decision-making across national borders as a route to discover new solutions to these international problems.

My argument is not that all city leaders are individually necessarily ground breaking creative thinkers: we know that not to be the case. My argument is that the delivery-focused kind of politics that is possible at the city level can open the door to, and even demands, innovation in a way that national politics does not. More than this, it is it is that cross border collaborations of cities can generate ways of thinking that individual cities and national governments cannot.

Earlier this year I spoke at the UN negotiations on the Global Compact for Migration. Global institutions such as the UN can benefit from more proactively involving and collaborating with cities. Places like Bristol offer a grass roots viewpoint that can help to shape and test effective policy.

It is because of this that I am welcoming mayors from across the world to Bristol as the host city of the GPM Annual Summit in October. 

This year’s GPM summit will be a world-first in that we will operate as a ‘global parliament’, ensuring that participants are actively involved in debates before voting on the key priorities that GPM’s mayor membership should take forward in the coming year.

A key focus of this year’s summit will be migration. This subject is close to my heart, with 187 countries of birth represented in the population of my home town, Bristol.  I therefore want to learn from Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr of Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital city, who will tell us how she works to both welcome migrants and refugees into her city, and to improve employment opportunities so citizens want to stay in the city and contribute.

Following the summit, Bristol will also host the first formal meeting of the UK’s Core City leaders and Combined Authority mayors. Building these relationships will be integral to establishing a united cross-partisan voice to challenge the status quo of over-centralisation in the UK. This will be a meeting of the most powerful politicians outside of Westminster, that will give voice to the narrative of decentralisation within our country.

Whilst many national governments continue to be in a state of flux, we are bringing cities together on national and international level so that we can influence the global policies and frameworks which affect our citizens.

If we only look to our national governments for solutions we will continue to be on the back foot. But if we listen to the cities, we can find hope that a politics of inclusion can start to break through with new and informed solutions to the global challenges of our age.

Marvin Rees is the elected Labour mayor of Bristol.


Covid-19 is highlighting cities' unequal access to green space

In the UK, Londoners are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

As coronavirus lockdowns ease, people are flooding back to parks – but not everyone has easy access to green space in their city.

Statistics from Google show that park attendance in countries across the globe has shot up as people have been allowed to move around their cities again.

This is especially true in urban areas, where densely populated neighbourhoods limit the size of private green space – meaning residents have to go to the park to get in touch with nature. Readers from England can use our interactive tool below to find out how much green space people have access to in their area, and how it compares to the rest of the country.


Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement Monday that people are allowed to mingle in parks and gardens with groups of up to six people was partially following what people were doing already.

Data from mobile phones show people have been returning to parks across the UK, and also across Europe, as weather improves and lockdown eases.

People have been returning to parks across the world

Stay-at-home requirements were eased in Italy on 4 May, which led to a flood of people returning to parks.

France eased restrictions on 1 May, and the UK eased up slightly on 13 May, allowing people to sit down in public places so long as they remain socially distanced.

Other countries have seen park attendance rise without major easing of lockdown – including Canada, Spain, and the US (although states there have individual rules and some have eased restrictions).

In some countries, people never really stopped going to parks.

Authorities in the Netherlands and Germany were not as strict as other countries about their citizens visiting local parks during lockdown, while Sweden has famously been avoiding placing many restrictions on people’s daily lives.

There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that access to green space has major benefits for public health.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Exeter found that spending time in the garden is linked to similar benefits for health and wellbeing as living in wealthy areas.

People with access to a private garden also had higher psychological wellbeing, and those with an outdoor space such as a yard were more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than those without access to outdoor space. 

Separate UK research has found that living with a regular view of a green space provides health benefits worth £300 per person per year.

Access is not shared equally, however, which has important implications for equality under lockdown, and the spread of disease.

Statistics from the UK show that one in eight households has no garden, making access to parks more important.

There is a geographic inequality here. Londoners, who have the least access to private gardens, are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. 

However the high population in the capital means that on the whole, green space per person is lower – an issue for people living in densely populated cities everywhere.

There is also an occupational inequality.

Those on low pay – including in what are statistically classed as “semi-skilled” and “unskilled” manual occupations, casual workers and those who are unemployed – are almost three times as likely as those in managerial, administrative, professional occupations to be without a garden, meaning they rely more heavily on their local park.

Britain’s parks and fields are also at significant risk of development, according to new research by the Fields in Trust charity, which shows the number of people living further than a 10-minute walk from a public park rising by 5% over the next five years. That loss of green spaces is likely to impact disadvantaged communities the most, the researchers say.

This is borne out by looking at the parts of the country that have private gardens.

The least deprived areas have the largest gardens

Though the relationship is not crystal clear, it shows at the top end: Those living in the least deprived areas have the largest private green space.

Although the risk of catching coronavirus is lower outdoors, spending time in parks among other people is undoubtedly more risky when it comes to transmitting or catching the virus than spending time in your own outdoor space. 

Access to green space is therefore another example – along with the ability to work from home and death rates – of how the burden of the pandemic has not been equally shouldered by all.

Michael Goodier is a data reporter at New Statesman Media Group, and Josh Rayman is a graphics and data visualisation developer at New Statesman Media Group.