Copenhagen lord mayor Frank Jensen

Copenhagen is regularly recognised as a city with one of the best qualities of life in the world, and it is something that its smiling lord mayor Frank Jensen is keen to emphasise. His stand at Mipim, which was partnered with the neighbouring Swedish city of Malmo, was buzzing with life and cocktail parties throughout the conference.

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Mr Jensen says: “It’s been great to be here and discuss development, infrastructure and how to bring growth back again. I think it’s fantastic that Copenhagen and Malmo have one stand here. We are neighbours in two countries and the message we want to get out is that we can have a very close co-operation between cities coming from different countries.”

One of his most ambitious plans is to make Copenhagen a carbon-neutral city. He states that the city has cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 20% over the past 10 years, even with the urban population growing at a high rate. Much of this has been done with what is called a 'district heating' system, which involves heated homes with biomass and refuse. Mr Jensen claims that today, 97% of homes in the city receive their heating this way.

He says: “We want to attract investments that will make Copenhagen an international laboratory for green solutions. These technologies are better and cleaner. We want companies to come and share their expertise to develop new technologies.”

Frankfurt mayor Petra Roth

After giving her stump speech on the terrace outside the Frankfurt stand at Mipim, and while shivering under a heat lamp with a blanket draped around her shoulders, mayor Petra Roth suggested that development activity is heating up in her city and the proof was on display at the event.

“In previous years, Mipim has followed the status quo, and the guests have been developers and construction managers. They have brought ideas to us, the city and the municipality, and then we have done the politics on this product. This year we can see these ideas have now been successful.” One eye-catching example she cites is the Squaire, a nine-storey office development in the middle of Frankfurt Airport City that ‘floats’ on 86 pillars directly above Frankfurt Airport’s long-distance train station.  

“Ten years ago, when they mooted this idea, most people said ‘You are ridiculous, it is not possible.’ It is possible.”

Closer into town, and closer to the ground, work is under way to redevelop the old city centre. “I am personally trying to promote this to the municipality and the parliament – this is hard work. We will have public housing, private housing, a theatre, kindergartens and old people’s homes,” she says. 

Most of the development action, however, is happening to the east of the city, towards Offenbach, which sits on the Main river and where Ms Roth says there will be “first‑class real estate for housing”.

Despite an unsmiling, somewhat droll delivery, the mayor nonetheless is keen to convey her optimism about these plans. “The future is marvellous, and Frankfurt and Offenbach will become the heart of the centre of this metropolitan region,” she says. “Last year we had €1.5bn assigned by parliament; this year we have planned for €1.3bn. No other German city will have such a high level of investment. The future is beginning in Frankfurt and the region.”

Lyon mayor Gerard Collomb

As France’s third largest city, Lyon had an especially large presence at Mipim. Its Socialist mayor Gerard Collomb, who was a finalist for the 2010 World Mayor Prize, is bursting with ideas and optimism. He is well known among mayoral circles as the man who launched the first bicycle hire scheme which was later copied by both Paris and then London.

He says: “Our city is booming. Simply because Lyon is becoming a European hub with the TGV [train] that is now connecting us to Germany and the rest of Europe. Our development and our city is growing, but there is a shortage of housing and office space so we have to develop further. We also need more hotels to support our tourist demand.”

As a result there are plans afoot to build a string of new complexes around the city and Mr Collomb is confident that the investors are there. He is hoping that his message at Mipim will get across and that he will succeed in 'selling' the city.

Mr Collomb has also embarked on a co-operation project with the emirate of Dubai, which will result in some of Lyon’s neighbourhoods and buildings being effectively remade in the Middle Eastern city.

Lyon’s unemployment rate is about 8.5%, slightly below the national average, but growth has been solid. As such there has been much speculation that Mr Collomb, a party veteran, could find himself with a larger portfolio in the French government should his party return to power in upcoming elections.

Commenting on his future he says: “I’d love to continue as mayor and that is my first priority. But if one day someone offers me a ministerial position, I would take it on one condition: to be treated better than [French minister of foreign affairs and Bordeaux mayor] Alain Juppé.”

Riga mayor Nils Usakovs

Riga’s mayor Nils Usakovs has one of the toughest jobs in Europe. As the head of the capital of a country that was arguably hit the hardest by the financial crisis, he must find a way to cut the deficit, create jobs and bring the economy back to growth. Throw in some historic ethnic issues, something that as a Latvian of Russian descent he understands well, and it is clear he has his work cut out for him.

He says: “On one hand the crisis for Riga was not as bad as in the countryside. The main problem for Riga right now is that we’ve got low levels of GDP growth and a big increase in unemployment. Our structural problems will not be solved automatically by an economic recovery.”

As such, Mr Usakovs has set forward a strategy that aims to attract investment by promoting Riga as the gateway to the EU for countries to its East, notably Russia. He has pushed forward legislation that allows foreigners investing in Latvia to remain in the country for five years and he is seeking investors for development projects in the city centre. On a sector basis he thinks Riga is very competitive when it comes to IT, pharmaceuticals and, perhaps ironically, financial services.

Just how successful he will be is hard to predict. The city’s budget was €600m in 2008. It is €400m now. Yet he is trying not to let this get in the way of promoting his other policies, which include social security and benefits to the unemployed and more investment into education. All this will come at a price, however, and with budgets slashed around the country, it is unknown how this will be achieved. Mr Usakovs says he understands the position that Latvian prime minister Valdis Dombrovskis is in, but criticises the way in which he has gone about sorting out the country’s problems.

Mr Usakovs says: “You have to cut expenses, but unfortunately cutting expenses just mechanically doesn’t lead to structural changes and reforms. If you just cut salaries of policemen, you just get thousands of underpaid police. That’s not a reform.”

Stockholm mayor Sten Nordin

Stockholm’s mayor Sten Nordin knows that his city is one of the most expensive to live in Europe, if not the world, but he is not concerned that this will put off investors. He says, certainly with a degree of self interest, that he has come away from Mipim convinced that foreigners remain keen on Stockholm’s real-estate sector.

The mayor has three years remaining on his term and he has given every indication that he will run in the next election. Among his top priorities are maintaining Stockholm’s growth and its public services.  

Sweden’s economy managed to squeeze out growth of 2.7% in the peak of the financial crisis in 2008. However, as many countries returned to growth in 2009 and 2010, Sweden’s economy contracted by 5% last year. It is expected to return to growth, but its record in the crisis years was somewhat perplexing.

However, Mr Nordin believes in the stability and growth of his city and country and says: “I think people are very interested today, not just both in Stockholm and the region but in Sweden as a whole. The discussions about the strength of our economy have created interest.

“We know that Sweden and Stockholm are expensive, but we can show that we have a growing economy. And that Swedes have a demand for housing that is sustainable.”

Like many other Nordic region cities, he sees a great deal of potential in Stockholm becoming a centre for green technology and expertise. 

Mr Nordin says: “We’re marketing our big city projects in the building and construction sector. And we try to combine projects in new city districts with other goals such as sustainability. We have a new city project where we are building new houses and flats with an area for research and development in the field of life science and bioscience. So we want to do more than just expand the city.”

Tbilisi mayor Gigi Ugulava

Tbilisi is not exactly the best known city in Europe; it rarely features atop tourists’ wish lists. But mayor Gigi Ugulava sees no reason why it should not be. There is envy of the large numbers of visitors Turkish resort areas pull in. Georgia’s capital has everything these locations have and more, Mr Ugulava insists.

“We have the Tbilisi Sea [an artificial lake and popular recreation spot], which is 25 kilometres in diameter. There are many possibilities for developing resorts here, because it is very convenient. For example, if you compare it with Turkey, in Antalya there are good hotels, but it becomes boring, because you have to stay in one place. If you go out, there is nothing in the town. You can have the same quality of resort here, but in the city. It is a five- or 10‑minute drive to the capital and the historical centre,” he says. “We have many opportunities for historical tourism, to get out and go somewhere, and to be in a normal, living city.”

These attractions may bring in visitors, but investors need more enticements. The strategy for luring in tourism-industry investment, as well as for other sectors, is to provide a friendly environment for investors and, he claims, from that point of view Georgia has succeeded. “As you probably know, we are in the top 10 for starting a new business in terms of the simplicity of bureaucracy,” he says.  

“But we are trying to convince investors to invest, in spite of all the problems that we have, for example with Russia, and to encourage them through partnership. We are developing the entire infrastructure, but we are not asking for shares. The land is more or less developed, so that they buy the land – in many cases, at a very favourable price – and develop it. Even in Anaklia, which is in the western part of Georgia, you can get land for free. The infrastructure is constructed by the state, and the main issue is that you can operate tax‑free for 15 years, which is also a big advantage for investors. We are open, and I think that we will succeed.”