Can cities solve the biggest problems of the twenty-first century better than nations? Is the city democracy’s best hope?
In an impassioned love letter to cities and their political leaders, Barber (Jihad vs. McWorld) celebrates the diversity and ferment that embody urban life. Modern cities, he claims, fulfill the promises of John Dewey and Walt Whitman’s paeans to democracy by allowing “democratic voices, ardent dreamers and lawless artists” to inspire each other. It is not always clear how mayors fit into this tumult of roiling humanity, but Barber calls them “possibly the best hope we have for the survival of democracy across borders.” By focusing on practical solutions to the day-to-day problems that affect their constituents, mayors champion a mode of governance characterized by collaboration and consensus, and the global ties they create offer a more human-centered, applied style of politics than the contentiousness of national legislatures or the bureaucratic talking shops of the U.N. and European Union, according to the author. Barber is more interested in crafting a metaphysics of urban life than the down-to-earth minutiae of local stewardship (he derides congestion pricing schemes, markedly successful in many cities, as “keeping-the-poor-from-driving plan” without offering any realistic alternative), and in the throes of his “longing for and expectation of an interdependent urbanity as encompassing as humanity’s perfervid imagination,” he neglects to notice that many of his castles are planted firmly in the air. Agent: Steve Wasserman, Kneerim, Williams & Bloom. (Nov.)
"If you care about cities, read If Mayors Ruled the World. It is the most important book on cities, their leadership and how they can make the world a better place to come along in years. Ben Barber has written a tour de force."—Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class and The Great Reset
"Political theorist Benjamin Barber's latest book is more than just theory. Networked governance by the world's cities is actually happening, and If Mayors Ruled the World is the book of the movement. Once again, Barber is ahead of the curve."—Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper
“Barber argues. . .persuasively, that city governments are closer to their people than national ones and as such are better at winning the trust of citizens – though the same goes for rural forms of local government.”—Ben Rogers, Financial Times
More than half of humanity now lives in cities, and, in coming decades, this proportion is only going to grow. In his new book, Barber (Ctr. on Philanthropy & Civil Society, CUNY Grad. Ctr.; Jihad vs. McWorld) argues that this is not just inevitable but desirable. The author cheers the decline of the nation-state and anticipates the rise of the city-state. He asserts that modern cities with pragmatic mayors are the political institutions that hold the most promise for reducing poverty, fighting terrorism, mitigating climate change, and building global connections. The volume is divided into 12 chapters, each cataloging the policy and civic innovations that have been engineered by cities. There are optimistic accounts of the expansion of mass transit and support for the arts and citizen participation but little reflection on challenges or quandaries. Paired with each chapter is a profile of a different mayor. These are uniformly positive and describe careers, aspirations, and accomplishments with barely a mention of pitfalls, controversy, or failure. VERDICT Barber has a knack for describing promising trends, and this work will grab the attention of readers interested in politics and urban issues. However, his almost uncritical treatment of the interrelated subjects will make this title less useful for those researching difficult policy issues.—Ahmer Qadeer, Brooklyn
Political theorist Barber (Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, Graduate Center, City Univ. of New York; Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole, 2007, etc.) asks whether the world's cities, and the mayors who lead them, can come together as an alternative to the failures of the nation-state. The author not only provides a positive answer, he also discusses how cities and their mayors have already collaborated for a variety of purposes and assesses the characteristics that make leagues or confederations of cities potentially viable as broader networks. Barber has no patience for the successors of Rousseau or Thomas Hardy whose "pastoral nostalgia leads them to curse the wickedness of cities." He contends that cities can provide a framework for a globalization that is "public rather than private, democratic not hegemonic, egalitarian rather than monopolistic." A parliament of cities is already emerging. In his view, the nation-state is incapable of cooperating on global issues with other states, since global cooperation violates the institutional foundation of nations. Citing historical precedents like the Hanseatic League, among others, Barber insists that local consensual problem-solving is a characteristic of mayoral offices and "seem[s] to override deficiencies in political landscape." The author reviews areas like security, the environment and global warming, and standard setting for service provisions to illustrate the many different ways in which the world's cities are coming together, and he features a multitude of organizations that have already been formed. Leaders who have stepped forward include New York's mayor Michael Bloomberg, Stuttgart, Germany's former mayor Wolfgang Schuster and the mayor/president of Singapore Tony Tan. A provocative, informative account of a different kind of globalization. Highly recommended reading for policymakers and other readers intrigued by forward-thinking forms of governance.
". . . .Makes the intriguing, provocative, and counter-intuitive argument the. . . cities and the mayors who run them are the last best hope for a safer, more prosperous, and more just future. If Mayors Ruled The World is informative and imaginative.”—Glenn C. Altschuler, The Huffington Post
“If you like cities you will love this wide-ranging book that captures the energy, excitement and importance of what is going on in the world's great urban centers.”—Fareed Zakaria, CNN
"A provocative look at how cities can and do lead from the front in addressing the most pressing issues of our time."Michael R. Bloomberg, 108th Mayor of New York City and founder of Bloomberg LP
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IF MAYORS RULED THE WORLD
Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities
By BENJAMIN R. BARBER
Yale UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2013 Benjamin R. Barber
All rights reserved.
IF MAYORS RULED THE WORLD
Why They Should and How They Already Do
City of ships!
City of the world! (for all races are here, All the lands of the earth make contributions here;)
City of wharves and stores—city of tall facades of marble and iron! Proud and passionate city—mettlesome, mad, extravagant city! Spring up O city!
Walt Whitman, "City of Ships"
In a teeming world of too much difference and too little solidarity, democracy is in deep crisis. With obstreperous nation- states that once rescued democracy from problems of scale now thwarting democracy's globalization, it is time to ask in earnest, "Can cities save the world?" I believe they can. In this book I will show why they should and how they already do.
We have come full circle in the city's epic history. Humankind began its march to politics and civilization in the polis—the township. It was democracy's original incubator. But for millennia, we relied on monarchy and empire and then on newly invented nation-states to bear the civilizational burden and the democratic load. Today, after a long history of regional success, the nation-state is failing us on the global scale. It was the perfect political recipe for the liberty and independence of autonomous peoples and nations. It is utterly unsuited to interdependence. The city, always the human habitat of first resort, has in today's globalizing world once again become democracy's best hope.
Urbanity may or may not be our nature, but it is our history, and for better or worse, by chance or by design, it defines how we live, work, play, and associate. Whatever large-scale political arrangements we fashion, politics starts in the neighborhood and the town. More than half the world's people now live in cities—more than 78 percent of the developing world. As it was our origin, the city now appears to be our destiny. It is where creativity is unleashed, community solidified, and citizenship realized. If we are to be rescued, the city rather than the nation-state must be the agent of change.
Given the state's resistance to cross-border collaboration, our foremost political challenge today is to discover or establish alternative institutions capable of addressing the multiplying problems of an interdependent world without surrendering the democracy that nation-states traditionally have secured. In order to save ourselves from both anarchic forms of globalization, such as war and terrorism, and monopolistic forms, such as multinational corporations, we need global democratic bodies that work, bodies capable of addressing the global challenges we confront in an ever more interdependent world. In the centuries of conflict that have defined the world from the Congress of Vienna to the defeat of the Axis Powers and the writing of a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, from the Treaty of Versailles to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of a bipolar world, nation-states have made little progress toward global governance. Too inclined by their nature to rivalry and mutual exclusion, they seem quintessentially indisposed to cooperation and incapable of establishing global common goods. Moreover, democracy is locked in their tight embrace, and there seems little chance either for democratizing globalization or for globalizing democracy as long as its flourishing depends on rival sovereign nations. What then is to be done?
The solution stands before us, obvious but largely uncharted: let cities, the most networked and interconnected of our political associations, defined above all by collaboration and pragmatism, by creativity and multiculture, do what states cannot. Let mayors rule the world. Since, as Edward Glaeser writes, "the strength that comes from human collaboration is the central truth behind civilization's success and the primary reason why cities exist," then surely cities can and should govern globally.
In fact, it is already happening. Cities are increasingly networked into webs of culture, commerce, and communication that encircle the globe. These networks and the cooperative complexes they embody can be helped to do formally what they now do informally: govern through voluntary cooperation and shared consensus. If mayors ruled the world, the more than 3.5 billion people (over half of the world's population) who are urban dwellers and the many more in the exurban neighborhoods beyond could participate locally and cooperate globally at the same time—a miracle of civic "glocality" promising pragmatism instead of politics, innovation rather than ideology, and solutions in place of sovereignty.
The challenge of democracy in the modern world has been how to join participation, which is local, with power, which is central. The nation-state once did the job, but recently it has become too large to allow meaningful participation even as it remains too small to address centralized global power. Cosmopolitanism responds by imagining citizens—literally city dwellers—who are rooted in urban neighborhoods where participation and community are still possible, reaching across frontiers to confront and contain central power. It imagines them joining one another to oversee and regulate anarchic globalization and the illegitimate forces it unleashes. Eighty-five years ago, John Dewey embarked on a "search for the great community," a community that might tie people together through common activities and powerful symbols into an expansive public organized around communication. In doing so, Dewey delinked democracy from mere government and the state and insisted it be understood as a deep form of association embracing the family, the school, industry, and religion. He was certain that when it is embraced "as a life of free and enriching communion," democracy will come into its own, but only when "free social inquiry is indissolubly wedded to the art of full and moving communication."
A world governed by cities gives democratic form to Dewey's aspirational vision of a great community. It does not require that a new global governing edifice be artificially constructed ex nihilo, and it does not mean that networked cities must be certified by the nation-states they will supersede. It places the emphasis, as the final chapters of this book do, on bottom-up citizenship, civil society, and voluntary community across borders rather than on top-down prescriptions and executive mandates emanating from unitary global rulers. New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg may seem hubristic, yet his rhetoric—hardly Dewey's, but rooted in realism—resonates with the power of municipal localism played out in an interdependent world: "I have my own army in the NYPD," Bloomberg says; "my own State Department, much to Foggy Bottom's annoyance." New York has "every kind of people from every part of the world and every kind of problem." And if Washington doesn't like it? "Well," Bloomberg allows, "I don't listen to Washington very much."
It is not boasting but both the burdens and the possibilities of the city that give Mayor Bloomberg's claims resonance. For, as he insists, "the difference between my level of government and other levels of government is that action takes place at the city level." While American government right now is "just unable to do anything ... the mayors of this country still have to deal with the real world." Presidents pontificate principle; mayors pick up the garbage. And campaign for gun control (as with the Bloomberg-inspired NGO Mayors Against Illegal Guns). And work to combat global warming (the C40 Cities). This can-do thinking is echoed in organizations such as ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability), whose report following the no-can-do U.N. Climate Summit in Durban at the end of 2011 observed that "local government is where the rubber hits the road when it comes to responding to the human impacts of climate change." The cities' approach to climate change emerged a year earlier, when 207 cities signed the Mexico City Pact at the World Mayors Summit on Climate in Mexico City, even as states were busily doing nothing much at all other than vaguely pledging to honor "strategies and actions aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions."
By expanding and diversifying the networks through which they are already cooperating, cities are proving they can do things together that states cannot. What would the parliament of mayors I will advocate in Chapter 12 be but the formalization of voluntary global networks already in existence? The 2010 World Congress of the meta-network called the United Cities and Local Governments, with 3,000 delegates from 100 countries, is already halfway there! What is a prospective global civil religion but the common civic expression of how people actually live in cities? The spirit that enables migrant workers, whether taxi drivers or accountants, to roam from city to city looking for work without ever really leaving town? Cities come in varieties of every kind, but they also resemble one another functionally and infrastructurally. The new City Protocol network suggests best practices that exploit such commonalities by offering a "progressive working framework for cities worldwide to assess and improve performance in environmental sustainability, economic competitiveness, quality of life, and city services, by innovating and demonstrating new leadership models, new ways of engaging society, and by leveraging new information and communication technologies."
How many ways are there to stuff a million people into a radically delimited space? Even in the eighteenth century, Jean-Jacques Rousseau noticed that "all capital cities are just alike.... Paris and London seem to me to be the same town." Are São Paulo, Tokyo, and New York that different today? The cross-border civil society we envision is simply the global network of partnerships and associations already sharing common civic values, of communities organized around the struggle for universal human rights, of religious associations with an ecumenical outlook, of international societies of artists and social networks of friends real and virtual alike spiraling outward to encompass strangers. Such a network is not waiting to be born but is already half-grown, waiting rather to be recognized, exploited, and formalized. These synapses that link urban nodes (detailed in Chapter 5) are already marking new pathways to interdependence.
Novel mechanisms of cooperation and common decision making are allowing cities to address, in common, issues of weapons, trade, climate change, cultural exchange, crime, drugs, transportation, public health, immigration, and technology. They need not always be formal: Rey Colón, a Chicago alderman, "first saw how well [bike-share] innovations work on a trip to Seville, Spain." Mayor Rahm Emanuel subsequently made a campaign promise to lay out one hundred miles of "green" protected bike lanes on major Chicago thoroughfares and is currently making good on the promise. New York City's bike-share program opened in mid-2013. Sharing green ideas among cities and cooperating on slowing climate change in city networks like the C40 with bike-share and pedestrian mall programs are not quite the same thing as ruling the world, but they do indicate that cities are far ahead of states in confronting the daunting challenges of interdependence, if only through voluntary and informal cooperation. Networked cities already supplement the brave but endangered experiment of the European Community in pooling sovereignty in vital ways likely to survive a fracturing of the Eurozone.
Long-time (and now former) Mayor Wolfgang Schuster of Stuttgart is a European statesman and civic organizer, but first of all he is a municipal democrat attuned to how local democracy is enhanced by intercity collaboration. "We are not an island," he insists; "we need a strong lobby for strong local self-government systems. But cities themselves are not islands, so we have to work in networks to make understandable what are our needs, what are our demands [by] ... learning from each other." It is in this grounded and practical fashion that cities may in time, with their own adroit associations, supplant the awkward dance of European nations in hock to their banks and thus to the machinations of the G-9 or G-20. How? I will propose a parliament of mayors that will need to ask no state's permission to assemble, seek consensual solutions to common problems, and voluntarily comply with common policies of their own choosing.
When mayors like New York's Michael Bloomberg institute measures to end smoking or control childhood obesity by curbing large-container soda sales, Washington can only look on in wonder—deprecating or admiring the initiatives but impotent in the face of mayors elsewhere in the world who might choose to do the same. (Of course, courts can intervene, as they did in overturning Bloomberg's soda ban.) Neither soda nor tobacco companies, influential with national governments through their hubristic lobbies and seductive bank accounts, can do much more than whine in advertising campaigns about the lost freedom to kill yourself (or your children). This is not to say that states are powerless in controlling, even strangling, cities trying to circumvent them. Legislative sovereignty and budget authority give states plenty of ways to block runaway towns. The only global city that coexists friction-free with its state is Singapore, where city and state are one. Yet a surprisingly large arena of municipal activity and cross-border cooperation remains available to determined cities.
The call to let mayors become global governors and enable their urban constituents to reach across frontiers and become citizens without borders does not then reflect a utopian aspiration. It is more than the longing for an impossible regime of global justice. It asks only that we recognize a world already in the making, one coming into being without systematic planning or the blessing of any state-based authority; that we take advantage of the unique urban potential for cooperation and egalitarianism unhindered by those obdurate forces of sovereignty and nationality, of ideology and inequality, that have historically hobbled and isolated nation-states inside fortresses celebrated as being "independent" and "autonomous." Nor need the mayors tie their aspirations to cooperation to the siren song of a putative United Nations that will never be united because it is composed of rival nations whose essence lies in their sovereignty and independence.
If mayors are to rule the world, however, it is clear they will have to pay dues to prime ministers and presidents. Cities may already constitute networks of collaboration that influence the global economy and bypass the rules and regulations of states, but they lie within the jurisdiction and sovereignty of superior political bodies. Mayor Bloomberg may have his own army, but let him try to deploy it in Cuba or Washington, D.C., or Albany—or even across the river in Hoboken or up in Yonkers, a few miles north of Manhattan. He can route bikes through Manhattan, but try doing it on the New York Thruway or elsewhere along President Eisenhower's Interstate Highway System. Governance is about power as well as problems, jurisdiction as well as function, so the relationship of cities to states is of critical concern here. There are two crucial questions: Are the interests of cities and of the states to which cities belong in harmony or in conflict? And can cities do what they do in the face of national governments that are not merely indifferent but hostile to their global aspirations?
The answers to both questions are complex and raise questions of legal and political jurisdiction that are the subject of Chapter 6. But what is clear from the outset is that the interests of cities and of the nations to which they belong (and belong is the right word!) are often necessarily in tension. However networked and interdependent cities may become in terms of their economic, technocratic, and cultural functions, they live under the law and in the shadow of the legal jurisdiction and executive and fiscal authority of states that are still very powerful states. States that are not going anywhere. If, as Saskia Sassen has suggested, "what contributes to growth in the network of global cities may well not contribute to growth in nations," and if the growth of global cities is correlated with deficits for national governments, governments are unlikely to sit back and do nothing while their suzerainty is eroded. In the 1970s, in a funny and futile campaign to become mayor of New York, the author Norman Mailer floated the nutty idea of detaching the city from New York State and perhaps the United States of America, endowing it with independence. Some will see the notion of cities becoming sufficiently independent from states to rule the world as equally nutty. Surely states will fight to regain control of globalizing cities that contemplate cross-border actions, demonstrating forcefully that however collaborative and trans-territorial cities may regard themselves, they remain creatures of state power and subsidiaries of national sovereignty.
Unlike corporations or associations, states are territorial by definition, and cities always sit on land that is part of some nation's territory. New York may not pay much attention to Washington, but Washington will be watching New York. While citizens can dream across borders, they are defined by and owe their fealty neither to the local city alone, nor to some emerging global civic cosmopolis, but to their national flags and patriotic anthems and defining national "missions." For Mayor Bloomberg and his proud New Yorkers—count me among them—this means we must hearken not just to "New York, New York, it's a wonderful town" and the Statue of Liberty, but to "America the Beautiful" and the Lincoln Memorial; to that larger nation that claims to be a "beacon of liberty" to the world. In France, it reminds intellectuals in the 5th Arrondissement that la mission civilisatrice is French, not Parisian; and in Germany, it warns that Deutschland Über Alles is not just a signifier of vanished imperial hauteur or fascist hubris but also of the sovereignty of Germany over Frankfurt and Berlin. Texas may sometimes imagine itself severing the ties that bind it to the United States, and Austin might imagine itself an in de pen dent liberal oasis in the Texas desert, but neither Dallas nor Austin is about to declare independence from Texas or the United States.
Excerpted from IF MAYORS RULED THE WORLD by BENJAMIN R. BARBER. Copyright © 2013 Benjamin R. Barber. Excerpted by permission of Yale UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Meet the Author
Benjamin R. Barber is senior research scholar at the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, the Graduate Center, the City University of New York. He is also president and founder of the Interdependence Movement and the author of seventeen books, including Jihad vs. McWorld and Strong Democracy. Barber’s project for a Global Parliament of Mayors has attracted scores of urban leaders and intercity networks and is on course for a pilot convening in 2016. He lives in New York City.
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"The city, always the human habitat of first resort, ,has in today's globalizing world once again become democracy's best hope." p.3 First page of the first chapter and I am already at odds with Ben. Life in cities represents a miniscule portion of human history not "the human habitat of first resort..." We evolved on savannahs and as mobile gathers, not a civilized creatures. Cities are an anomaly in human history ( so far ) and, while I don't see them disappearing anytime soon I don't see them as salvation either. Concentrations of humans may make the distribution of resources more efficient and that may be the strength of the arguments put forth in the "new urbanism". However, like all boosters, Ben neglects entirely the fact that cities are energy and resource sinks. Big cities ( read New York, Tokyo, London, etc. ) not self-supporting and probably will never be so. Smaller units that are sustainable are called for. Ben argues that there are communities with urban systems and in this he is doubtlessly correct, but a community in an unsupportable urban setting isn't of much use except as mutual support and as a vehicle for escape. We need to find community where we are, not in a massive urban migration. He does look into some problems associated with urban growth and tries to address the issues brought up by Mike Davis in "Planet of Slums " but doesn't dispel them because he can't. He tries because his argument that cities represent the last, best hope of democracy as national governments recede in relevance in a corporately controlled world hinges on a sustainable form of urbanism where mayors respond to citizens needs ( " mayors pick up the trash..." ). Big cities are not inherently sustainable and in a world of shrinking sources of high quality energy they are not likely to become so. Something of a flaw in Ben's reasoning.