Friday, September 21, 2018

A Warning On Mayors Ruling The World From A Surprising Source

There is a determined push to decrease the importance of nation-states while elevating the worldwide political power of municipalities and their mayors, a trend I had assumed CityLab backed come hell-or-high-water.
Maybe not.
The writer of this piece, Amy Liu, hangs her hat at Brookings.

From CityLab, September 19:

Cities Have Their Limits
Urging urban leaders to go it alone celebrates a deep dysfunction in federalism—and normalizes a self-destructive shift in politics.
The mayors are coming. In recent months, City Hall occupants in Tallahassee, Nashville, and Tuscaloosa have won Democratic primaries for their state’s gubernatorial races. Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, and former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro are rumored to be considering White House bids in 2020. City leaders seeking higher office are banking on the idea that voters will respond to what cities embody today: innovation, diversity, and progress.

In the Age of Trump, some experts have been urging cities to declare independence from the federal-level chaos in Washington. Others herald local power and local actions as antidotes to national dysfunction. Across the country, corporations and philanthropies are pouring millions of dollars into city initiatives, attracted by the notion that solutions in urban areas—on issues like economic development, clean energy, and resilience—might bubble up to the national level. 

I understand the impulse. From the perch of a national think tank on cities, I see cities mounting promising responses to big problems like climate change, housing affordability, and criminal justice. At the Brookings Institution, we help local and regional leaders accelerate solutions to global competitiveness and shared prosperity.

But city boosterism can also go too far: Urging city leaders to go it alone celebrates a deep dysfunction in federalism—and it normalizes a self-destructive shift in politics and governance.

For instance, the Trump administration is using the narrative of increased local capacity to justify draconian cuts to federal support for cities, from transit programs, community development financing, to the entire Economic Development Administration. The president’s 2019 budget notes that it “…recognizes a greater role for state and local governments and the private sector to address community and economic development needs,” signaling abdication of a longstanding federal role in those areas.

Further, federal policies do matter, whether city leaders like it or not. Federal deportation forces are striking fear into city and suburban immigrant communities. The new tax law imposes a limit on state and local tax deductions, making it more economically and politically costly for city governments to raise revenue. Tariffs are threatening companies and jobs across all kinds of communities but the Trump administration proposes to protect farmers from those effects with billions of dollars in subsidies provided by urban and suburban taxpayers. City-by-city actions can’t overcome national policies that broadly undermine urban America.
And as Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund has observed, extolling the virtues of localism papers over the dark history of “local control” in America, where deference to local decision-makers has yielded persistent racial segregation and the active suppression of minority voting rights. “We should not romanticize localism,” Ifill wrote, responding to the recent New York Times column on “The Localist Revolution” by David Brooks. “It has often been brutish, oppressive & violent.”

Cities, however, are ultimately creatures of the state. And state policies and programs too often constrain rather than advance local progress. This probably isn’t what city boosters have in mind. We need a different narrative, one that promotes an effective partnership between all levels of government, but builds explicitly from bottom-up initiative and know-how.
It starts in cities, where localism advocates rightly observe that local leaders must be on the front lines of preparing their workers and businesses for the demands of the modern economy. They must overhaul fragmented, legacy functions like economic development and workforce development into modern strategies that embrace talent as the key to growth. They must also dismantle locally created barriers to wealth creation for communities of color arising from residential segregation, inadequate transportation, and lack of access to capital and social networks for minority entrepreneurs.

Cities, however, are ultimately creatures of the state....

February 2017 
Trends to Watch: "Can mayors actually rule the world?"
In low-key but very persistent ways technocrats* have been aiming at this target for years and now it seems to be gathering some momentum. Here's a good introduction by Harvard's Diane Davis....

May 2017 
"Gadabout Urbanist Richard Florida Has a New Book..."
"It advises cities on what to do about problems that result from advice he gave them in his previous books..."
September 2017
Return of the City-State, Or: The End of the Nation State May Be Upon Us

October 2017
"Why nation-states are good"
Yesterday two Alphavilleins, Izabella Kaminska on Twitter and Kadhim Shubber in the Further Reading post highlighted this Dani Rodrik essay at Aeon.

We've been kicking around ideas on how to profit from a devolution of power from larger entities (nation-states) to smaller (city-states) should said devolution occur. So, stealing a way of thinking from Eisenhower, in another context, obvs.:

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.
 - Dwight D. Eisenhower
Our most recent piece on what may or may not be a phenomena was last month's "Return of the City-State, Or: The End of the Nation State May Be Upon Us" which also linked to Aeon.

I'm not sure where Kadhim comes down on the structure-of-power thing but I suspect Izabella might not be aghast at a return to prominence of the Baltic City-States although probably not the Hanseatic League... 
October 2017
Pope Francis Calls For "Rethinking of the figure and the role of the Nation-State..."

November 2017
"Mayoral Powers in the Age of New Localism"
One of the problems with politics is that the people attracted to power are exactly the ones who should not be allowed anywhere near it.
Go figure.

We've been watching the mission-creep trend in municipal governance for a while now, trying to get in front of it—"Il faut bien que je les suive, puisque je suis leur chef"*—to make a bucko or two but, to date, have only come up with the tautology that these people would rather jet off to Buenos Aires during the Northern Hemisphere winter for the Global Parliament of Mayors** than stay home and fix potholes.
It was ever thus, or at least has been since 1967 when John Lennon noted "4000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire"

*Ledru-Rollin, 1848—schoolboy French translation: "I must follow them for I am their leader."
**This year the get-together was actually held in Stavanger in late September. Nice 'hood, nice time of year....
September 2018
There Seems To Be Some Tension Between Competing Visions For The Smart City

And many more, use the search blog box, top left if interested.
And if you have the time and the inclination do take a look at that "Trends to Watch..." piece linked at the top of the previously posts.
The author, Diane Davis is very sharp.