The role of glocal cities in the third millenium

Interview with Peter J. Taylor, Professor of Geography at Northumbria University


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Prof. Taylor, in your interesting paper on Milan in the world city network, published in Paolo Perulli’s book (Il Mulino, 2012) “Nord. Una città- regione globale”, you highlighted that, in the face of the many crises that are already evident (energy, climate, inequalities, identities, etc.), it becomes important to concentrate our attention on the governance of cities, besides considering only the strictly economic priorities. In your opinion, which stimuli need to be developed on the governance front for a city like Milan?

Governance is a particular problem today because it is traditionally place-based and merely deals with flows by border controls (from city walls to nation-state boundaries). Further, although city governments sometimes have formal links (e.g. Eurocities, 'sister cities'. twin cities) the emphasis tends to be on politics (e.g. administrative best practice) rather than commerce and its facilitation. With emphasis on the latter, there are two forms of  'network governance' that needs to be pursued to supplement current place-based governance.

First, there is the on-going need to identify the Milan city-region so as to develop a coherent governance of the basic economic (as opposed to political) entity that is Milan in the world today. Being specifically ambitious, this region might be transnational if it brings in nearby Swiss cantons - what would be the advantages for the Milanese economy to include the commercial maneuverability of transgressing the border?

It is this city-region that needs both voice and supportive management in governance. Second, there is the much more difficult question of having economic voice and management in Milan's non-local connections - a wider network governance. In general terms, such arrangements have effectively been banished by modern nation-states although they did exist as 'leagues of cities' in earlier European commerce. There are current city networks of political links but these relate to central cities (mayors) not city-regions which require commercial governance for the mutual benefit of members.

If Milan were to join such an economic club what other cities would it join in network governance? Would the club be constituted by similar cities so as to stimulate and sustain their joint position in the world, or would cities with different functions come together to present a comprehensive economic face to the world? We do not know but something like this is likely to develop in this century. In the past city leagues followed company links (e.g. the German Hanse); translating this to today the network governance might be in the form of rival global geographies as formed by contemporary airline alliances.

The impact of globalisation on the local dimension has placed cities at the centre, because they are where “strategic global input” is produced, bringing up the issue of what a smart city is, and how a city can become smart. In the case of Milan, the city will shortly be facing the important challenge of theExpo 2015Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”, on the issue of nutrition and sustainability. What would be the smartest approach for Milan to adopt so as to make the most of the opportunity of this glocal appointment?

This is a great opportunity to bring thinking about the environmental challenge away from states and locate it in cities. Clearly because of myriad free-rider temptations with 200 plus states there is not going to be a "global deal" to be made via international relations. Therefore we need to move from the competitive world of states to the mutualities of cities as the way forward. Any solution must involve a fundamental change in our ways of living (generally over-consumption) and such changes have occurred historically in cities (from peasants to townsfolk, emergence of civilization, etc.).

The current consumerism was invented in cities a little more than a century ago (from a frugal bourgeoisie to conspicuous consumption) and it has to be despatched to history in the same locale. Cities must be central to this because there will be no other way to settle nine billion people by the end of the century. But this is not a matter of promotion 'green cities' - places scattered across the landscape. Rather we need to think in terms of 'green networks of cities' that function as the framework of a global steady-state economy. This is the strategic global input that would be a true glocalisation!


Interview by Globus et Locus
June 2013
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