june 19, 2018
#Cities     #governance     #platforms

The monopoly of creative cities will end


All cities of the century are plagued with one very particular disease. It is the disease of best cities. It manifests in feelings of paranoia and inferiority. Cities feel that they are in competition with each other. Cities' leadership needs affirmation of being the best. Seeing one's own city being charted high on any given city ranking or index gets mayors really going.

Luckily there is a cure for this. It is the revelation that cities do not in fact simply compete with each other. They are fundamentally linked. The more linked the more successful it even seems. So the cities’ success is dependent not on how well they compete, but on how well they collaborate.

This viewpoint challenges many of the basic assumptions of cities.

Traditionally, cities have been well managed but dismally governed. Yet, it has become an empty truism to say that cities will take the role of nation-states. I absolutely disagree with this assumption, unless cities up their game politically.

There are plenty of possibilities for this, and they mean linking internationally. "Best city by all indexes"-city is quickly being replaced by thematic city-alliances which will start evolving around different topics. Autonomous transportation-cities, basic income-cities, and refugee-cities will emerge alongside C40cities and ICLEI. These networks can grow into clubs (like EU and Nato) that together decide on rules and investments.

Global Power City Index (2017) Institute for Urban Strategies MMF
Best reputation: Top 10 cities by Reputation Institute
Time Out's City Index: The most fun cities
CHAOS architects' note: Visual examples of popular online city rankings to illustrate the "Best city by all indexes"-city fever.

This can eventually lead into a new power nexus. It can rebalance the city vs. nation-state battle and give new powers for cities to evolve. In other words, cities can get the powers they want not by talking to national governments, but by speaking to each other and forming bonds. This is the new system of governing networks. It is a shift away from the government hierarchies, within nation-states. Cities, unlike nation-states, do not have clear boundaries, or, to be precise, the boundaries are not as meaningful as with nation states. Cities are essentially networks that have to be governed, not managed.

In becoming network governors, cities need to change how they see their purpose. They have to move from the design and attract game to the govern and innovate game.

Currently, cities see themselves as service organisations that are there to please their "customers".

Cities’ most valued customer has been the global mobile workforce, working in business services, finance or technology. "Best cities" have become like luxury service providers for this global knowledge elite, which makes them compete against each other. This has resulted in the global monoculture of creative cities.

At the same time the fundamentals of the success of cities are very well known. There are two things above everything: First, how well human resources are in use and second, how purposefully innovation systems the area are. Even the "best cities" score dismally on both accounts.

"Best cities" are all based on an assumption of only a small share of their population attracting the investments and, thus, creating value and bringing tax income. This "creative class" is responsible for the innovations in any given region. Yet, we are talking about a maximum 30% of the workforce (which accounts as little 15% of population, given the ageing of population and changes in work due to technology).

Serving a small fraction of global citizens is, however, not sustainable if cities want to rule the world, or even govern effectively in their own regions.

To become the global powerhouses that everyone predicts, cities will have to get political; they will have to understand that instead of a linear race, the world of cities is multidimensional. There are many ways for cities to flourish.

Getting political means changes to a few fundamentals of what running a city means:

1. The economic model needs to change from serving the high value minority to enhancing and making use of everyone’s capabilities. The creative class can no longer support cities’ economy. To flourish in the 21st century, cities need to democratise value creation and innovation.

2. Global inter-city relations must emerge. The biggest hindrance in cities evolving beyond service provision for the global knowledge elite is the uneasy relationship with the nation-states and regional government. At the same time, cities are where de facto globalisation happens.

3. The network governance needs to be taken up systematically by cities. Governing in complex networks means creating knowledge through experiments. Some of the greatest policies from Stockholm’s toll systems to New York Time Square pedestrianisation were created by experiments, but there is not a single city in the world doing this on an ongoing basis. Experiments need to be institutionalised.

4. The governance of platforms, with platforms, by platforms is cities' new Public-private partnership. Platform companies entering property and transportation business' will rewrite the rules of the use and planning of the city with or without citizens and cities. Nation-states have all the wrong reasons for dealing with technology companies, whereas cities have massive upsides in efficiency and trust.

5. Currently, cities are active only in a few narrow policy areas (transportation, planning/infrastructure, economic development, and sometimes culture, education and health). This is changing rapidly; social policy and international policy are musts for global cities in the 21st century.

I feel all of this will happen very soon. Nothing that I have written above is science fiction. It’s all happening in a minor scale somewhere in the globe.

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