Convening September 10-12, 2016 in The Hague
The participants of the Global Parliament of Mayors project Third Planning Session, 19 September 2014. Amsterdam
In the face of the most perilous challenges of our time—climate change, terrorism, poverty, and trafficking of drugs, guns, and people—the nations of the world seem paralyzed. The problems are too big, entrenched, and divisive for the nation state. Is the nation state, once democracy’s best hope, today dysfunctional and obsolete? The answer, says Benjamin R. Barber in If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities, is yes.
Barber asserts that cities, and the mayors that run them, offer the best new forces of good governance. Why cities? Cities already occupy the commanding heights of the global economy. They are home to more than half of the world’s population, a proportion which will continue to grow. They are the primary incubator of the cultural, social, and political innovations which shape our planet. And most importantly, they are unburdened with the issues of borders and sovereignty which hobble the capacity of nation-states to work with one another.
Why mayors? Through rigorous research and extensive surveys, Dr. Barber demonstrates that regardless of city size or political affiliation, local executives exhibit a non-partisan and pragmatic style of governance that is lacking in national and international halls of power. In the immortal words of former New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia, “There is no Democratic or Republican way of fixing a sewer.” Through these qualities of leadership mayors have retained the trust of citizens in their office, helped cities become beacons of good governance, and spearheaded city-to-city collaborations in order to better address shared problems.
These kinds of voluntary partnerships, ranging from simple exchanges of best practices to continent-spanning urban networks, constitute a relatively-unknown layer of global governance that has already had a transformative impact on urban problems – and in the aggregate, on global ones. For example, cities are the source of 70% of the world’s greenhouse gases, and the C40 (a network of global cities devoted to addressing climate change) is on track to reduce their member’s carbon dioxide emissions by 248 million tons by 2020 – the equivalent of the total greenhouse gas emissions of Portugal and Argentina combined. This is merely one example of how if urban issues can be addressed through networked glocalism, world problems can be addressed. Apply this logic to other issues, such as terrorism, economic inequality, and epidemic disease, and you can see how city-to-city collaborations can provide an alternative to the traditional channels of global governance in addressing earth’s challenges.
Nonetheless, the ability of cities to consciously and forthrightly accept the challenges of global governance remains stymied as long as city-to-city networks remain disparate and uncoordinated. This is where Dr. Barber’s boldest proposal, a world Parliament of Mayors, enters the picture. Established entirely on a voluntary basis, such a body would enable cities to have a stronger voice in global affairs, provide a world- wide platform for the sharing and transfer of urban best practices, and establish a more democratic basis for addressing global priorities than has ever existed.
A planet ruled by cities represents a new paradigm of global governance – of democratic glocalism rather than top-down imposition, of horizontalism rather than hierarchy, of pragmatic interdependence rather than outworn ideologies of national independence. The book presents a stirring vision, yet not a utopian one. Rather, the foundations for this new world are being erected in our own age as cities collaborate–and citizens communicate–across borders with increasing ease and frequency. What remains is to sense the liberating possibilities of these developments and provide a detailed, inspiring plan for how they can be realized. This is what Dr. Barber has accomplished with If Mayors Ruled the World, is to spark debate, dialogue, and a new framework for global governance in the 21st century.
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