Looking at what’s possible: REACH attends violence-reduction symposium in South America
Urban centres around the world are often facing similar problems when it comes to safety and well-being, which is why Peace In Our Cities gathered in Colombia this summer to share ideas and experiences around reducing violence.
REACH Edmonton’s Executive Director, Jan Fox, attended the symposium, which yielded learnings, ideas and collaborative connections with a global perspective.
The gathering, Peace in Our Cities Symposium and Member Workshop: Innovations in Urban-Violence Reduction, was held in Medellin and Palmira, Colombia in June.
“Edmonton is a signatory on the Peace in Our Cities agreement, and in order to do that you need to have a civil society partner, and that is REACH,” says Fox.
Mayor Sohi supports REACH’s work with the network, knowing that collaboration leads to novel new approaches to solving problems.
“Edmonton has always been a city that strives to be innovative,” says Sohi. “We know that working together with partners around the world will result in new ways of addressing community safety here at home. This is why we’ve decided to be leaders in Canada by partnering with Peace In Our Cities.”
Peace in Our Cities (PiOC) is a diverse network of cities and organizations around the world driven by its members’ need to address the most severe forms of violence. PiOC believes cities that are safe, just, and peaceful for all are possible with sustained commitment.
PiOC invited Fox to attend and covered expenses for the trip.
“We went to Colombia because they were able to significantly reduce violence because of their work in addressing gang violence,” says Fox.
The gathering included municipalities and civil agencies from all over the world, with REACH the only representative from Canada.
“Every morning we were sitting at a university campus and groups would be sharing their best practices. In the afternoon they would take us to witness some of the things they had done,” she says.
In Medellin, the city was made safer by addressing the poverty that often pushes people into lives of violent crime for survival. The city faces dramatic geographic challenges, as mountainous regions separate the poorer parts of the city from the economic hub where employment is available. By creating an efficient metro system, which includes a gondola service across impassable areas, and transfer tickets that grant access to e-bikes, the city made it easier for people living in poorer neighbourhoods to access employment.
This investment was a major factor in Medellin moving from being known as one of the most dangerous cities in the world in the 1990s, to being named the world’s most innovative city in 2013.
Another group in Medellin shared their work reducing gang violence in the city by empowering local youth.
From programs like Empire Fighting Chance, which offers non-contact boxing for at-risk youth, to the process of teaching gang-involved youth to be Violence Interrupters, the city has seen success from investing in their youth.
“Oftentimes people on the wrong side of the law have incredible leadership skills,” says Fox. “They identify these strong youth gang leaders and teach them non-violent conflict resolution skills.”
This process, over time, spreads out conflict resolution skills into the wider community, law-abiding or otherwise. These projects could possibly have contributed to the city’s recent entry into disarmament talks with gang leaders.
Back in Edmonton, Fox is enthusiastic about the collaborative potential of having networks with organizations working for safer cities around the world.
“Edmonton is a global city. There are people here from all over the world,” she says. “We need to learn from each other. For example, we have kids who have come from war torn countries, kids that have come to live in Canada and often we’re trying to meet their needs by imposing western solutions."
In connecting with a not-for-profit in Nigeria, the experiences and needs of African youth were provided greater context.
“That really struck me,” said Fox. “What are their issues and challenges? Because they bring those with them to Canada. And they’re still able to stay connected to friends back home because of the internet, so it’s incumbent upon us to learn how to work with them in the global perspective of their life experiences.”
Moving forward, Fox is hopeful that as cities around the world share what they’ve learned, innovative approaches can spread.
“It’s important for us to look at what’s possible,” she says. “The violence interrupters idea in particular, we have the right agencies that could do it in Edmonton, they just need support.”