Should Cities Run the World?

In this week’s talk, Benjamin Barber presents the provocative idea that the future of global democracy should lie in the hands of city mayors rather than nation states. “We live in a 21st-century world of interdependence and brutal interdependent problems, and when we look for solutions in politics and democracy, we are faced with political institutions designed 400 years ago,” says Barber.

Barber points out that the kinds of issues we face – global pandemics, market economies, immigration, terrorism, war and climate change – are all cross-border problems with which nation states have difficultly dealing. Barber believes that city governments are better able to tackle these difficult problems because they are inherently more pragmatic and less political in their approaches. Cities do not get bogged down in politics, they get things done.

An excellent example of this get-things-done effectiveness is the C40 Climate Leadership Group initiative, a global network of cities committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. While the nations of the world bicker and haggle over how to stem climate change, the cities of the C40 network are already making meaningful progress towards developing sustainable solutions and reducing carbon emissions.

While Barber has been criticized for being too simplistic in his advocacy, already some countries are experimenting with empowering their cities. On January 1st 2015, Italy implemented an unprecedented restructuring of their political system by forming 14 “metropolitan cities” that will enjoy greater political jurisdiction within the governmental system. This will in essence cut out the provincial layer of politics and elevate the role that cities play in governing their surrounding regions. Although this is only a small step towards the global leadership that Barber envisions, it’s a practical test case for the effectiveness of investing more political power in city governance. It will be interesting to see how the Italian changes unfold.

Barber’s passionate appeal for global city governance definitely challenges the status quo and leaves the viewer with plenty to ponder. What do you think? Do you find Barber’s vision compelling? Would more powerful mayors make the world a better place, or would greater power lead to more corruption and political stagnation? How could the types of changes he advocates be implemented and to what end? Feel free to leave your comments and participate in the discussion below!

article and photo by Teresa Cvetkov


Header image credits royalty free

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