Members of the Brussels International team standing in front of the SQUARE glass cube where many of the BUS events took place, under the slogan 'Come ask the big questions. Come find the big answers”.

The Brussels Urban Summit: urban answers to global challenges

In June 2023, more than 1,400 experts and decision-makers from more than 200 cities around the world travelled to Brussels for the Brussels Urban Summit. A unique event that gave participants an opportunity to exchange ideas and define priorities for sustainable, affordable, and liveable cities!

The Brussels Urban Summit (BUS), which took place from 12 to 15 June 2023, was jointly hosted by the Brussels-Capital Region (BCR), Eurocities, Metropolis, and the Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The event brought together experts as well as representatives of political and civil society from around the world. In addition to discussing the challenges that cities face, they also had an opportunity to exchange ideas and define priorities for sustainable, affordable, and liveable cities.

BrusseIs International coordinated everything from start to end, working closely with its international and Brussels-based partners.

Dagur Eggertsson addresses the assembly, standing on a podium
Dagur Eggertsson, Mayor of Reykjavik (Iceland) and Chairman of the OECD Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth Initiative, opens the BUS during the opening event at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium.
Large audience seated in one of the SQUARE auditoriums
The BUS plenary sessions attracted a great deal of interest and were well attended.


The Brussels Urban Summit, a platform for exchange and solutions

Climate change, migration and diversity, urban growth, inequality… Today’s cities face tremendous challenges that are testing their limits, while driving the innovation for a greener, more inclusive future.

The aim of the BUS was to organise high-level political and academic discussions, to compare different urban models, and to see how the European model differed from its African, Asian, and American counterparts and to identify solutions to these global challenges.

The summit also set out to confirm the position of Brussels as a dynamic, international hub that is open to the world, by bringing together and facilitating a dialogue between the main city networks.

Panel of four speakers, including Anne Hidalgo, who can also be seen on the big screen in the background
“Major environmental projects are complex and often meet with resistance. So we need to go beyond this and focus on the technical and human aspects instead, by identifying the main pollutants, raising funds, mobilising private expertise, and helping people to change their behaviour. We need to convince them to make a change.” – Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris

A rich and varied programme

The BUS was also the first time that three international conferences on cities were organised simultaneously, namely the Metropolis World Congress, the Eurocities annual conference, and the Summit of OECD Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth. More than 200 cities from all over the world were represented, with more than 1,400 politicians, experts, and representatives of civil society gathering in Brussels for the occasion.

The exchanges, and their formats, were both rich and varied. In addition to the plenary sessions, numerous workshops were organised, as well as various other events, project visits, and meetings.


The moderator and panel of five speakers, in front of the screen on which their names and photos are displayed
The panel on migration included the Mayors of Lviv, Bogota, and Bamako.
Panel of five speakers and a moderator, in front of the presentation screen
The Mayors of Glasgow, Barranquilla, Bristol, Bratislava, and Brussels emphasised that access to affordable housing is key in reducing inequalities.


Urban leadership

Cities all over the world are growing. By 2050, it is projected that 68% of the world’s population will live in urban areas. As such, municipal governments are the closest tier of government to the people, meaning they can easily mobilise and coordinate the activities of local communities, stakeholders, and businesses.

And while it is obvious that the world’s cities face different geographical and political realities, the levers for change are the same everywhere. With the right governance structures and the necessary financial resources, cities can tap into their economic, social, and environmental resilience to stimulate innovation and pave the way for the major changes that are needed to cope with global challenges.


Climate action

Cities are positioning themselves as the vanguard in the fight against climate change. Besides being responsible for town planning, they also manage vast property portfolios and can influence the market with their formidable buying power.

Given the sense of urgency about the impact of climate change, their role is to engage citizens, stakeholders, and businesses in supporting and implementing prevention, mitigation, and adaptation measures (restoration of ecosystems, flood control, circular wastewater management, and so on). However, they can also use their skills, in housing and urban planning for example, to upgrade buildings, promote the use of innovative materials and low-carbon energy sources, and encourage soft mobility.

W. Van Waeyenberge in conversation with H.M. Queen Mathilde, who is seated at a table next to Asmaa Rhlalou.
The BUS organised several fringe events alongside the plenary sessions. Here, H.M. Queen Mathilde, Mrs Asmaa Rhlalou, Mayor of Rabat, and Willy Van Waeyenberge, Protocol & Liaison Officer at Brussels International, attend a power lunch dedicated to mental health in cities.
The protagonists seated at a table during the event
Burkhard Jung, Mayor of Leipzig and the new President of Eurocities, and Rudi Vervoort, Minister-President of the Brussels-Capital Region, at the Eurocities Awards ceremony at the Gare Maritime on the Tour & Taxis site, a Brussels heritage gem.


Diversity and migration

Migration has proven beneficial for urban economies. But while global mobility has made our cities more diverse, it has also increased discrimination and pressure on social cohesion.

Local governments need to capitalise on the diversity that shapes our cities, using it as an opportunity. In view of the current social, cultural, and economic challenges, they must adapt public services and provide opportunities for all, by tackling discrimination and recognising that diversity is a vital source of creativity and innovation. By investing in socio-cultural initiatives, cities can also help develop a shared urban identity, breaking down barriers between people who share the same space.


Inclusive growth and housing

All over the world, cities are centres for growth and opportunity. At the same time, they can also be places of great inequality, which poses a threat to this growth. To reduce these inequalities and achieve inclusive growth, new policies are needed, especially for housing.

Urban policies must therefore focus on tackling inequalities that are exacerbated by the cost of living crisis and ensuring fair access to affordable, quality housing that can withstand climate change and natural disasters.

The protagonists, standing during a reception
Major multilateral meetings are also an opportunity to deepen bilateral relations. Anne Claes, Director-General of Brussels International, pictured with Geneviève Brisson, Delegate General of Québec in Brussels.
A guide, who is holding a ‘Brussels Cruise” sign, walks in front of a group of participants.
The BUS gave participants a chance to (re)discover Brussels. Participants head off for one of the urban visits showcasing innovative projects in the Canal district, a strategic area where the Region is investing in economic resilience.


Giving cities the resources to be global partners

It is practically impossible for any tier of government to cope with the current challenges single-handedly. City representatives thus have their place at all the tables where decisions are made that potentially affect their ability to meet urgent and long-term challenges.

At the same time, this also means reviewing ownership of political agendas and looking at new ways of working between different levels of government to ensure that cities, their leaders, and the people they represent engage in an effective multilateral dialogue.


Connections to increase positive impact

Meeting global urban challenges in different contexts requires increased collaboration across borders, both at the metropolitan and regional levels. City networks are an opportunity for mayors and their teams to exchange ideas, create new knowledge, and ensure its dissemination.

The BUS was a unique event, bringing together 288 cities and three influential networks that have pledged to strengthen their collaboration and amplify the voice of cities. It also marks the dawn of a new era, towards more inclusive and sustainable cities and new alliances, recognising the central role of cities in the 21st century. Together the voices of cities will resonate even louder, and Brussels International is proud to have been able to be a part of this. 


For more information:

Brussels Urban Summit 2023 – Aftermovie