The Forum for Cities in Transition is an international network of mayors, councillors, municipal officials, business people, and representatives of the voluntary and community sector.

The Forum for Cities in Transition brings together protagonists from divided societies. Its guiding principle is that one divided society is in the best position to help another.

Originating in a conference convened by South Africa President Nelson Mandela and the University of Massachusetts Boston in mid-1997, Professor O’Malley brought together Northern Ireland’s most senior party negotiators with those involved from all parties that led to the historic 1994 settlement in South Africa that brought the end to apartheid.

Northern Ireland party leaders were effusive in their praise of the contributions of the South Africans, revealing that one divided society can well assist the peace-making work of another divided society.

The proposed premise is:

  • That people from divided societies are in the best position to help people in other divided societies. Former protagonists are best equipped to share their difficult journeys to abandon violence whether sectarian, ethnic, racial or religious as the instrument to achieve their political aims and open the gateways to recovery, reconstruction, reconciliation and rejuvenation;
  • That cities which are or were at the epicenter of the conflicts in their countries are in a special position to assist each other because they are often a micro-representation of their society’s fault lines;
  • That securing the initially established peace can be fostered by citizens of divided cities working together;
  • That those who have real experience of doing the ordinary (refuse collection, water treatment, public transportation, social housing) in extraordinary circumstances (physical segregation, zero-sum politics, blaming the out-group for societal ills) are in the best position to learn from others’ practical experiences.

A pilot conference was held in Boston in April 2009, and delegates agreed a set of basic principles, expressing its collective desire to continue and expand this work. The Forum for Cities in Transition was established; there have been four annual gatherings since, hosted by FCT member cities Mitrovica (2010), Derry-Londonderry (2011), Kirkuk (2012) and Kaduna (2013).

These annual meetings are an ongoing process, grounded in the tangible outcomes the each city delegation pledges at each event conclusion. These commitments are projects to further conflict transition and reconciliation, designed so that cities on higher rungs of conflict transformation assist those on lower rungs. This process is reciprocal, because those with particular expertise are reminded of how they attained it, while recognising there is assistance from fellow cities for their own uncompleted work.

Each city/society is in a different stage of transition to “normalcy,” although  it might be better to think of them as societies in “recovery,” because if they do not continually address the causes of conflict, if the grievances of war remain unaddressed or inadequately addressed, if processes to nurture reconciliation are not promoted (especially at the community level), if disparities in wealth and income continue to grow among competing groups despite legislation aimed at closing such gaps, if an agreed history of the past cannot be reconciled, if the root causes of what resulted in the conflict cannot be acknowledged by all, then the residual causes of conflict and perceived grievances linger and fester, risking slow accumulation to a critical mass that sees the outbreak of conflict again. Thus, there is a need to put in place mechanisms that minimize this risk.

There are 15 member cities of the Forum for Cities in Transition.

The Forum is serviced by a Joint Secretariat: the Moakley Chair ( UMass Boston) and the Northern Ireland Foundation (Belfast).

FCT Logo square“Forum for Cities in Transition: The Power of Place”
by Ban Al-Mahfodh (UMass Boston William Joiner Center)
and Ryan Bruen (Northeastern University).
The logo for the Forum for Cities in Transition was based on the semi-circular arrangement of tables for the plenary sessions at the initial conference that took place April 14-16, 2008, at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. There is further inspiration from King Arthur’s famed Round Table, with no head and everyone who sits there having equal status. In this design, the circle is presently half-complete, but with leaders of each city at their place, there will be collaborative work among Forum participants to realise a full circle.