If Mayors Ruled the World

I listened to the Long Now Foundation lecture from Benjamin Barber this afternoon. The lecture, titled “If Mayors Ruled the World,” is an interesting look at the growth and power of cities that I’d highly recommend listening to. I took a few scattered notes below. Enjoyed this a lot more than his book, Strong Democracy, that I read in college.

Around 40 minutes in there’s a section on global city growth that is fascinating. The stats he cites are mind-blowing, particular those around Chinese cities.

One of the main discussion points in the lecture is whether states or cities are more capable of governing on the global stage. Barber answers it by saying,

States cannot govern globally, that much is clear. Cities can and are.

As part of this cities must come to rely upon each other more directly as that’s the path to security and sustainability. To do this, though:

Cities cannot wait for states to figure out the meaning of interdependence.

In the Q&A he talks about Singapore’s subsidized home ownership process. It’s a pretty interesting idea that’s counter to how the US has approached affordable housing. In Singapore, the city basically subsidizes the construction and ownership of apartments instead of just their rental. What Barber describes this as doing is creating a wide group of stakeholders in the city’s future.

Toward the end of the Q&A Barber talks about why mayors don’t move on to more national government positions as frequently as one might expect. As he put it, “Ideology has very little to do with running a city.” Many mayors are more politically independent and, thus, don’t succeed as well on the national stage, where success is more determined by adherence to party line.