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Five Reasons Why Mayors Should Manage The World

Professor Benjamin BarberCan mayors rule the world? Some of them certainly think they would do a better job than the leaders of nation states and they have put together a proposal arguing just that, in advance of next month's summit to decide the shape of a future Global Parliament of Mayors.

This coterie of conspirators are:

  • Professor Benjamin Barber, political theorist and author of If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities;
  • Richard Florida, Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto; 
  • Don Tapscott, Executive Director of the Global Solution Networks program.

Richard Florida, Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of TorontoTogether they are calling for recognition of the emerging role of mayors as primary players in addressing global problems and proposing a global network of cities, on the basis that mayors actually get things done because they are free of the kind of multi-lateral agreements that both help and hinder the work of nation states.

"Their cooperative efforts in our new era of interdependence and globalization are increasingly insufficient and even ineffective and outmoded," say the three researchers. "A Global Parliament of Mayors represents a new type of governance network – one with enormous potential."

Don Tapscott Executive Director of the Global Solution NetworksIn support of their case for the network they cite the global governance network that curates the Internet itself as evidence that multi-stakeholder decision-making, independent of countries, can work and achieve legitimacy.

"The pace and complexity of urban life mean city governments must be closely involved in the day-to-day problems citizens face, such as pollution, transportation, unemployment and violence," they write. "At the same time, cities offer broad potential for citizen engagement and can facilitate collaboration amongst the companies, NGOs, learning institutions, foundations, local movements and citizens that are both their stakeholders and their constituent problem-solvers."

Of course networks at this level already exist, such as ICLEI , the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and the UCLG, but they are primarily about information-sharing and facilitating, not formulating agreements.

So the proposed Global Parliament of Mayors would encourage cooperation beyond this to the development of standards and policies, the delivery of solutions and ultimately a new model of "soft" global governance. It identifies ten types of global solution networks:

Ten Types of Global Solution Networks

The proposed Parliament would include not only mayors but other "key urban stakeholders beyond local government officials".

The decision making would be based on the Internet governance ecosystem's way of working, defined as "rough consensus" (decisions reached by consensus rather than formal voting) and "running code" (developing practical results that drive the network's activities).

The document, which is essentially a manifesto, lists five reasons why the world needs a Global Parliament of Mayors:

  1. Continued migration to cities, which now house most people in the world;
  2. They are expert at problem-solving: entrepreneurial, close to the people and richly connected;
  3. Traditional models of state-based global governance are not up to the job of solving many global problems;
  4. Technology can facilitate a largely virtual parliament that would be more cost-effective, transparent, inclusive and productive;
  5. The wisdom of the city-dwelling crowd – educated and motivated – could be harnessed.

The writers foresee plenty of room for innovation and improvement in the way that cities are governed. For example there is a massive unmet need for dedicated training, qualifications and standards to improve the skills and abilities of city leaders and their workforces, which presently – astonishingly – hardly exist.

The Parliament could provide guidelines for city leaders everywhere on topics such as: climate change strategies, energy usage, pollution levels, waste management, health, transport and almost any topic associated with city management, to be implemented as model city ordinances adjusted to meet local and regional environments.

It advocates participatory budgeting, in which citizens are asked how they wish the city budget to be spent, as already practised in, for example, New York City, Belo Horizonte, Zeguo Township, China, and Hamburg.

City leaders would be enabled to think globally while acting locally. The Parliament's management would be based upon collaboration and consensus building as opposed to a top-down management style in order to gain legitimacy.

Members would include representatives of all four pillars of society: city governments, private enterprise, civil organisations and individual citizens.

It would not aspire to be a surrogate top-down "world government" of cities. Instead, it would be digitally inclusive and self-critical.

It concludes with a call for founding members to step forward. A number of mayors have already expressed strong interest, and meetings have taken place last year. The formal launch is scheduled for September 19-21 in The Hague – International City of Peace and Justice – coincident with the annual Just Peace weekend, which will be celebrating the UN's International Day of Peace. There, the concept will be explored in detail.

It is expected that a planning committee will be created to develop a constitution, the online networking environment, a finance committee, publicity and so on.

Would Mayors do a better job of making the world a better place? Why not give them a chance?