An interview with Elizabeth Johnston, new Executive Director of the Forum

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Elizabeth Johnston

Elizabeth Johnston was appointed Executive Director of the Forum by the Executive Committee, in October 2011, to replace Michel Marcus who has retired from this position. Educated in France and in the United States, Elizabeth has a degree in Political Sciences. She has always worked in the field of urban policies, first in a local authority, then at the Forum, as well as, more recently, at the World Bank in Washington.


You have just been appointed Executive Director of the Forum. What is your role?

Elizabeth Johnston: Together with our team of eight permanent collaborators, which is based in Paris, my role is to listen to and support the cities that are part of our network, and to implement the decisions and policies agreed on by the Executive Committee and its President. We also are in permanent contact with our partners as well as with a number of experts -academics, researchers and specialists in various fields-, who bring their experience and know-how to our member cities.

On what themes is the Forum working now, and what are its projects for the near future?

We work on a wide array of themes that reflect the diversity of our members and also the diversity of subjects that local elected officials deal with. One of the most pressing themes that has been a motive of concern for our network for quite a while now is migrations. The Forum has repeatedly alerted on the necessity of taking into account the needs of cities in this respect. In particular, it has voiced its concerns to European institutions. So the theme of migrations is a short and medium term priority.

We are also working on a number of interesting projects. To name a few: Falprev, on the prevention of reoffending, for which we are currently realising an e-learning platform, Goal, on the prevention of violence in sport, and RECO-STREET VIOLENCE, on street gangs.

How does the current crisis affect the work of the Forum? What role can the Forum play in this situation, in the field of prevention?

We are affected by the crisis because our member cities have to cut costs and this has a consequence on their population, as well as on the number and scope of projects they are developing. In this respect, Efus can play a leading role, in particular to support the notion of prevention, and show that it is not a cost but an investment that is profitable since it reduces crime. More than ever, we must keep on proving that prevention works because it is an intelligent approach socially and economically.

This is why I am optimistic about the development of the Forum, in spite of the difficult current situation. Our principle is to put in common our means and expertise so that cities can help cities. This approach is even more relevant given the economic crisis and the fundamental changes that are taking place in governance throughout the world. We must resolutely plan our future and that is the key theme of our 2012 Conference, entitled “Security, Democracy and Cities: the future of prevention”.

What themes will be addressed during this conference?

Apart from taking stock of the theories, experiences and practices existing today in Europe in a number of fields, the overall theme of the conference is the future. It is about prospective: what will prevention be tomorrow? The conference will bring about new ideas and new partnerships. It will be organised around four major themes: risks, technologies and prevention – governance and citizenship – cities and sustainability – a Europe open to the world.

The host cities chosen by the Executive Committee are Aubervilliers and Saint-Denis, two neighbouring municipalities situated near Paris that are faced with difficult challenges but also a lot of opportunities, among others because they have a young, extremely varied population.

One of the main objectives of the conference will be to put together our Manifesto, which is the political charter on which our members agree, and on which they build their urban security policy. Indeed, our Manifestos have become a reference over the years, and they are now quite known in national, European and international institutions, including the United Nations.