Belgium’s Mechelen, in the footsteps of Cape Town and Melbourne
Bart Somers, the Burgomaster of Mechelen, a middle-sized city between Brussels and Antwerp, has been awarded the World Mayor Prize 2016.
Somers, a Flemish liberal, was chosen by the jury of the World Mayor Prize for transforming “a rather neglected city of Mechelen into one of Belgium’s most attractive places” and for making it “a role model for integration.” Somers beat a German colleague and the Athens and Lampedusa mayors, among others.
The two-yearly prize is an initiative of the London think tank City Mayors Foundation. This edition highlighted the issue of refugees.
“Many of the mayors included in the top-10 honours list have developed and invested in longterm strategies as well as day-to-day measures to successfully integrate newcomers from different countries and cultures. They have also addressed local residents’ fears of and reservations about the arrival of people who speak foreign languages, observe their own customs or practise different religions”, the website explains.
Bart Somers has been at the helm of the city since 2001. Mechelen boasts a population of some 86,000 people and counts over 120 different nationalities – which makes it one of the most multicultural cities in Europe – and had a rather grey image at the time. Now, the city is blooming.
In their argumentation, the jury focused on the integration aspect: “Long before the flow of refugees from the Middle East and Africa officially became a ‘crisis’ in the summer of 2015, Bart Somers recognised the utmost importance of integration. In an interview with World Mayor, the Mechelen Mayor says What counts is not your origin, but your future.”
“The immigrant does not exist”
The jury continues: “Perhaps unusual for a liberal politician, Bart Somers is tough on crime. Indeed, he has been labelled a law-and-order mayor and given the nickname ‘Mr Zero Tolerance’. Safety and security are essential for people to strive for success and happiness. Mechelen has provided its police force with more resources and has installed more CCTV cameras than any other town in Belgium.”
“When asked what have immigrants contributed to Mechelen, Mayor Somers replies: “The immigrant does not exist, just as the autochthon does not exist. The 86,000 residents of Mechelen are all unique and all different.”
“There must be better mayors than me”
In a first reaction, Somers told reporters “I can put things into perspective. I think there must be better Mayors than me. But on the other hand, this is good news for the Mechelen residents and the city. If you see which cities won in previous years – like Cape Town and Athens – this is really nice.”
“This is a motivation to continue working to develop our city, one which succeeded in turning diversity into a positive story.”
Mechelen on the same list as Melbourne, Cape Town and Mexico City
Mechelen follows in the footsteps of some famous cities such as Athens, Melbourne, Cape Town, Mexico City, Bilbao and Calgary. Two years ago – when Calgary won it – the present Ghent Mayor Daniël Termont managed to take second place.
Flandersnews.be / Expatica