Friday, 8 March 2013

Cities lead the way

I read recently of the notion of London becoming separate from the rest of the UK, which tends to be rather jealous of its wealth and supposed privilege anyway, and govern itself as a city state – the Singapore of the West. In many ways this makes sense as London surely could hold its own as a global city, perhaps The global city.
When it comes to support for sustainability and international treaties, the cities of the world seem more nimble footed and, I understand, were far more pro-Kyoto than nation states. Since 2002, London has had its own Sustainable Development Commission (the LSDC) and on 30 January it launched its forth report on Quality of Life. This includes indicators on every aspect of sustainability from ecological footprint, bird populations and water consumption to volunteering, fuel poverty and housing affordability.  In terms of key environmental measurable, like air quality and carbon emissions, London has improved since 2009. But some economic indicators are unsurprisingly slightly down.

Other cities, Birmingham and Edinburgh, spring to mind in the UK, but there are many European and global examples, which have been able to unilaterally set sustainability measures and start up supporting schemes.

Perhaps the most interesting measure in the London survey is the falling level of democratic engagement expressed in voting. This significant fall could have many reasons but it highlights one of the main concerns with the overall notion that cities might be the more useful unit of global government than states.

Cities may have more coherent interests than the regions and are more easily organised. This shows up in their ability to ‘get up and go’ to support sustainability. But the concept of sustainability is based on equity and engagement. Larger states have to engage many more groups and balance a wide range of competing interests. They have to face the difficulties of spatial inequities and find ways of binding people together. This may make them (states) a bit sluggish at times but surely in sustainability mass co-operation is the key, bringing along the slowest if we can, rather than a few racing ahead?

David Jackman

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