By Adela Suliman
LONDON, June 25 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Cities can provide an "antidote" to populism and extremism if they build bridges between their diverse communities, London's mayor said on Tuesday, as he met the leaders of other major European cities in the British capital.
From funding parenting classes to providing space for sports clubs, cities across Europe could foster integration and stem the social fractures that often lead to extremism, said Sadiq Khan, the first Muslim mayor of a European capital.
"We've seen a rise of nationalist, populist, nativist movements across Europe, indeed also in America. What's clear is that cities can be the antidote to this sort of extremism," Khan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"If we're not careful, people can live in silos: rich, poor, old, young, black, white - so we need to make sure we have bridges between communities," he said on the sidelines of the European Union Capital City Mayors Summit in London.
Two-thirds of people in the world will be living in cities by 2050, according to United Nations estimates.
Khan was elected London mayor in 2016 on a manifesto pledge to tackle extremism, but has faced criticism on security following a spate of knife crimes.
In 2016 he appointed a deputy mayor for social integration to help forge better relationships across diverse neighbourhoods, a first for London.
To help communities mix, cities must offer more genuinely affordable public housing and improve transport links to ensure jobs and city life are accessible for all, Khan said.
Amsterdam's first female mayor, Femke Halsema, said providing social opportunities such as better education and access to jobs could help tackle extremism.
Halsema is overseeing the creation of a network of women in neighbourhoods across Amsterdam to offer "pragmatic" help to discover and root out extremism locally.
"I think women as the educators of youngsters are often the ears and eyes ... they can be a big help against the rise of extremism," she said.
However the mayor of Brussels, where 2016 attacks by the Islamic State killed 32 people, said it was a challenge to get diverse communities to integrate in growing cities.
"One of the roles of a mayor is building bridges in communities ... we know that it's not very easy," said Philippe Close. "It's a challenge, it's not a fight we can win in one or two years - it's for generations."
Molenbeek, a poor Brussels borough with a big Moroccan Muslim population, gained notoriety after an Islamic State cell based there mounted suicide attacks on Paris in November 2015 that killed 130 people.
Associates of that group attacked Brussels itself four months later, killing 32 people.
Khan said European cities had been "blighted" recently by extremist attacks from both the far right and so-called Islamist movements.
"It's really important we haven't got a situation where only the rich live in the centre of cities and the poor live on outskirts - housing policy matters," he said.
(Reporting by Adela Suliman; Editing by Tom Finn and Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org for more stories.)
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