(Editor’s note: our readers asked me last week to segment the Monday Morning Thoughts column into separate parts, and I have obliged)
In the late 1960s, a phrase emerged, “Think globally, act locally,” which in essence urges the public to think about the world in a systemic way but take action at home – in their local communities. where they can make a much larger difference.
In a lot of ways, efforts locally – whether it is our local efforts to reduce our greenhouse footprint, our efforts to ban single-use plastic bags, or even our pursuit of food justice and other environmental and sustainability initiatives – arise from that thinking.
I recently read and viewed a fascinating TED blog talk first posted in 2013, that was entitled, “Why mayors have more chance of saving the world than global leaders do.”
“The challenges we face in the 21st century are global in nature. Yet it often seems like we are woefully ill-equipped to address issues such as poverty, violence, security or public health with our large-scale political institutions,” they wrote.
One of the speakers, Benjamin Barber, suggests that “we should transition away from nation states towards a system of cities, where mayors rule.”
Why? “Because, he argues, mayors are pragmatic problem solvers who are deeply involved in the issues of the cities they serve. They are ‘homies,’ that is, people who grew up in the city.”
They get things done, “they are responsible for fixing potholes and educating children.” Well, sort of. As we know, our city is finding it difficult to get the resources to fix its potholes. And, of course, our cities don’t educate our kids, the school district does.
But leaving aside the devilish details here, I think Mr. Barber has a point, as “presidents rule abstractly and distantly, governing imagined nation states from above.” He argues, that “cities are hotspots of potential for solving the challenges that face us. Most of the issues are concentrated in cities, and these governing bodies are best equipped to collaborate and address them together. Where nation states clash, cities mesh.”
At a time when our national government is polarized and often at gridlock, we do see cities and local government taking the lead on things like global warming. Gay rights initiatives on marriage equality emerged, not from the federal government, but at the local and state levels.
Even our economy is reemerging. A few weeks ago, we cited the Brookings Institute report on the emergence of innovation parks.
The report noted that, as the nation emerges from the Great Recession, “a remarkable shift is occurring in the spatial geography of innovation.” It continues, “For the past 50 years, the landscape of innovation has been dominated by places like Silicon Valley—suburban corridors of spatially isolated corporate campuses, accessible only by car, with little emphasis on the quality of life or on integrating work, housing and recreation.”
“A new complementary urban model is now emerging, giving rise to what we and others are calling ‘innovation districts.’ These districts, by our definition, are geographic areas where leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators and accelerators,” they write.
To me this is another example of local cities and communities changing the world – not just on a political level but an economic level as well.