City limits: introducing the Global Parliament of Mayors

City limits: introducing the Global Parliament of Mayors The Global Parliament of Mayors
05 Nov
2016
City leaders from around the world gathered recently for the Global Parliament of Mayors. Could cities be set to overtake national governments as key decision makers?

What would happen if mayors ruled the world? We had our first glimpse last month, when mayors from over 60 cities around the world convened in The Hague, Netherlands, for the inaugural Global Parliament of Mayors (GPM), to discuss how our urban hubs can work together to solve the world’s challenges.

If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities, the inspiration for the GPM, is a 2013 book by political theorist Benjamin Barber. He argues that the days of nation-states being able to significantly influence the world are numbered, and that networks between cities have taken over as the most effective way to create effective global change. ‘After a long history of regional success, the nation-state is failing us on the global scale,’ he writes. ‘The city, always the human habitat of first resort, has in today’s globalising world once again become democracy’s best hope.’

There are well-intentioned moves towards networks of cities trying to address major social problems. This is partly driven by dissatisfaction with national government, but it also reflects the growing economic power of cities

After a weekend of debate, chaired by Jozias van Aartsen, Mayor of The Hague, delegates agreed upon ‘The Hague Global Mayors Call to Action’, establishing the GPM as an annual fixture in the calendar. ‘It’s one thing to have interesting ideas that engage people,’ says Barber, ‘but it’s quite another to move from an idea to the actual institutionalisation of a new global governance body.’ The mayors discussed how cities can respond to global challenges – such as climate change and the refugee crisis – emphasising these issues will by far have most impact on cities. ‘What happened in the The Hague was not that cities found solutions to these questions,’ explains Barber, ‘but that they acknowledged it’s their responsibility to look for solutions that can be enforced by cities working together.’

‘There are well-intentioned moves towards networks of cities trying to address major social problems,’ observes Neil Lee, Assistant Professor of Economic Geography at the London School of Economics. ‘This is partly driven by dissatisfaction with national government, but it also reflects the growing economic power of cities. The aim is to share best practice in areas of importance, but also to move forward the policy agendas urban policymakers think are important. Given that there has been a global trend towards devolution of powers to sub-national government, some of these agendas might be quite significant in the future.’

This was published in the November 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.

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