Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
The mayors of Athens and Bristol discuss the mass-scale influx of refugees during The Atlantic’s CityLab 2015 summit.
Refugees are not just a problem to be tackled, they’re also an opportunity. That’s the optimistic take on Europe’s current refugee crisis from Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis, governing the capital of a country that’s currently seeing 7,000 new refugees and migrants arrive every week. Discussing Athens’ response to the crisis during an interview at The Atlantic’s CityLab 2015 summit in London Monday, Kaminis suggested that migrants had partly helped sustain Athens during crisis.
“We had migration flows in the last years, and many migrants helped our social security system remain functional,” said Kaminis. “Many young people coming and participating in the system helped us to maintain it—young people with skills. We are old societies in Europe and we have to face that.”
Kaminis admitted that he might be addicted to the constant adrenaline needed to steer his city through ongoing crisis, but stressed the importance of keeping Athens innovating and truly connected to a global network of cities. His refugee-friendly attitude was echoed by George Ferguson, the mayor of the British city of Bristol, who joined him during the interview. “The definition of a good city is a generous city,” insisted Ferguson, underlining how a global perspective had been benefiting his city for centuries.
“Some people say Bristol is full. Some people say Athens is full, but we can show the way. We have made our wealth in Bristol by trading with the world, we have to play our part,” said Ferguson. “I’m not saying we must play a part out of kilter with everyone else... but these will be solved in the cities. They’re not solved by nations, they’re solved by communities.”