«A Radical agenda for Cities Sharing, Self determination, and deeper democracy Humans are ingenious. We’ve discovered and created some amazing ...»
A Radical agenda for Cities
Sharing, Self determination, and deeper democracy
Humans are ingenious. We’ve discovered and created some amazing things: electricity;
television; computers; mobile phones; medicine; cities.
We’ve also done some pretty stupid things. We’ve pumped vast quantities of greenhouse
gases into our atmosphere. We’ve caused species to die out one thousand times faster than
their natural rates of extinction. We’ve spoilt the soil we need to produce food. And we’ve built economic systems that give a few people billions of dollars and billions of people virtually nothing.
Friends of the Earth’s Big Ideas Change the World project will identify 25-30 key steps that could stop us doing the stupid things. It’s targeting a pathway to wellbeing for people and planet.
We’re looking at 10 topics - from cities to women’s power, from nature to new technologies.
We’ll debate each Big Idea. Test it. And make sure it’s robust. By the end of the project we’ll have mapped out an alternative route. One which leads us to healthier and fairer societies, living in harmony with the natural world.
This pamphlet is about one of the Big Ideas topics: cities. It presents three Big Ideas – sharing, self-determination and deeper democracy. They form a radical vision for Sharing Cities.
Together we can sort this. We have an amazing capacity for ingenuity, empathy and collaboration. Let’s be smart and use our best attributes to change the world.
Please tell us what you think at www.foe.co.uk/bigideas.
For more than 40 years we’ve seen that the wellbeing of people and planet go hand in hand – and it’s been the inspiration for our campaigns. Together with thousands of people like you we’ve secured safer food and water, defended wildlife and natural habitats, championed the move to clean energy and acted to keep our climate stable. Be a Friend of the Earth – see things differently.
1 A radical agenda for cities – Big Ideas Change the World What kind of cities do we want for the twenty-first century?
We know where we want to live A city with decent housing at affordable prices.
A city with clean air.
A city where it’s safe to walk and cycle.
A city with high-quality shared green spaces. Where we can relax, play, grow food and enjoy nature.
A city where everybody is treated equally and people look out for each other.
A city where our voice is heard. Where we can make a difference to the decisions that affect us and our neighbours.
A city with quality jobs.
A city which looks after its own environment and our shared global environment.
We could go on.
This kind of city is possible, even for cities that are failing now. All the characteristics of a ‘Sharing City’ are alreadyhappening – somewhere across the globe. But they’re not the reality for most people living in most cities.
Failing cities have many symptoms in common: downward spiralling economies, a lack of jobs, crumbling infrastructure and high crime rates. Often these cities are dependent on state handouts and the people living in them have low self-esteem.
How are these cities and indeed today’s ‘successful’ cities, going to cope with the challenges of the twenty-first century? Extreme weather, climate change, resource shortages, the digital revolution and new technologies like robotics and 3D printing, all suggest the need for radical change.
In this briefing we argue that cities need to be put in charge of their own destiny. They need to be given greater self-determination.
They need to deepen democracy – providing residents with the capacity to shape their city’s destiny.
And they need to put the sharing of resources, space, economy and power at centre-stage.
With greater self-determination, deeper democracy and a sharing culture, cities can weather the challenges on the horizon. They can make the most of new opportunities and navigate towards a better future for people and the planet. It’s a radical agenda, but a necessary one.
The rest of this pamphlet explains how the concepts of self-determination, deeper democracy and sharing can be applied to modern cities. It presents case studies of cities where things are going well and where they’re going badly. And it concludes by identifying some of the key questions that need answering.
A Sharing City Do you want to live in a world where resources are stretched to breaking point? Where climate change is ravaging wildlife and disrupting food supplies? A world where a few have everything but most have next to nothing?
No? Neither do we.
Still less do we want to live in a city of gated communities and guarded shopping malls. A city in conflict between squatters and developers. To avoid this dystopia, ‘sharing’ must be the focus of the agenda for cities in the twenty-first century. This is what Tufts University Professor Julian Agyeman argues in his think-piece for Friends of the Earth’s Big Ideas project.
For example, it seems nonsensical for everybody to own infrequently-used power tools.
Many of us have far too many books on our shelves, most of which will only be read once.
Cars sit on driveways or streets for much of their lives. What a waste.
David Mackay, the Chief Scientist for the Department of Energy in the UK, estimated that almost half of an average person’s energy consumption is accounted for by the stuff we buy and its transportation to us. Imagine the huge resource savings and reduced greenhouse gases that could emerge if we shared more.
The planet cannot sustain global consumerism for everyone. It is not possible for 8-10 billion people to each own a car, a thousand books and a power drill. Following this path may enable the economy to temporarily flourish, but the environment will collapse.
Sharing is the answer. Through sharing we can reduce expenditure. We can open up opportunities for low-income households to access resources currently out of their reach. We can foster community engagement. Sharing not only reduces resource use, it’s socially progressive as well.
Through sharing, we can use the dense population of the city to our advantage. Densely populated cities are ideal for sharing stuff.
Shared green spaces; shared cars; shared bikes; shared office space; and shared allotments. There’s very little that can’t be shared. But sharing goes much further than shared stuff.
In the future, the digital economy matched with innovations such as 3D printing will allow for shared manufacturing. Already communities have come together to share energy production. This has often been through solar power but can also be through wind and water power. And through virtual communities people are sharing brain-power and know-how to solve problems.
Finance can also be also shared via crowd-sourcing or micro-finance and credit unions.
But make no mistake. Sharing is as radical as granting cities greater self-determination and demanding deeper democracy. Sharing cuts right to the heart of the materialism that dominates the economic strategies of cities and nations across the globe today.
Self-determination for cities Within the UK, Scotland has its own government with substantial rule-making powers. It’s largely in control of public spending. Yet London, with a much bigger population than Scotland, is largely dictated to by the National Government, as are Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Birmingham, Nottingham, Liverpool, Sheffield and Bristol. Is this fair or logical?
Does it help these cities deliver quality of life for their citizens? We don’t think so.
So how much power should cities have? And who should have the power within cities? Is giving cities greater power bound to lead to better outcomes?
According to a think-piece for Friends of the Earth by Professor Harriet Bulkeley and
colleagues at Durham University, the following types of self-determination don’t work:
1. Where States devolve responsibility but cities don’t have enough power or money to do the job. The UK Government’s localisation agenda, tied as it is to strict fiscal austerity, is a classic example. And its repeated across the EU. “Many Member States have undergone a decentralisation trend during the last thirty years, but … increased local responsibilities have not been followed by the related resources”, says an EU report 1
2. Where power is devolved in an incoherent or ad-hoc way that worsens inequalities it gives some groups more power than others. Professor Bulkeley cites Delhi’s Bhagidari programme, where power has been passed to Resident Welfare Associations but doesn’t extend to people living in informal settlements. Similarly, in Victorian England before universal franchise, the property-owning classes ruled the roost and conditions for the poorest were appalling. This type of fragmented self-determination is unjust.
The self-determination we are proposing is fairer.
1. Where power is devolved in a coordinated and planned way, as happened in Porto Alegre, Brazil, according to Bulkeley.
2. When areas or groups link-up to make the best use of the power they have, such as the the C40 cities initiative: More than 60 global city authorities are sharing knowledge and driving carbon reductions even where national support for such measures is lacking.
What should cities have greater power over?
Should cities be able to introduce housing energy-efficiency regulations or rent controls and land taxes to provide decent affordable housing for all?
Should cities be able to raise their own taxes, for example, from income or businesses?
It’s the norm in the Nordic and Baltic countries.
Should cities be able to introduce minimum wages for employees of businesses operating in their area? Perhaps even maximum wages?
We think the answers to these questions are largely “Yes.” It isn’t a call for total selfdetermination but it is a call for significant levels of it. Do you agree? Please let us know your thoughts at foe.co.uk/bigideas.
1 European Union Regional Policy, 2011, Cities of Tomorrow, P29 http://bit.ly/1aogwgc
Deeper democracy Who should be in charge of the city? Should it be the business bosses? Should it be the political elite? Should it be all citizens?
Dr Peter Shapely says2 that in the past, increased power for cities has led to the most vulnerable being excluded from important social decisions.
Dr Eurig Scandrett from Queen Margaret’s University in Edinburgh argues 3 for a vision of
deeper democracy in our cities. He makes four main points:
1. Involve people from the start, not once the outcome is decided. Local people are often invited to comment on the character of things like shopping centres when the decision to build has already been made. But they are not adequately involved in the initial decisionmaking process. Does the city need a new development to begin with? True participation involves people earlier on in the process. This is called 'upstream engagement’.
2. Encourage community-led participation. Decision-makers need to invite the public to participate as equals but also welcome citizen-led protests, petitioning or citizen-led commissions. Far too often, asking the public is a form of box-ticking and their views are discounted because they are not ‘experts’.
3. Redistribute power. The public's right to participate in the economy is often relegated to voting with their purse. This is what Shapely alluded to when criticising the primacy of the market in decision-making. Scandrett insists the public must have a right to choose what type of economy a city or country should pursue, through for example, participatory budgeting. This is where community discussions identify how the budget is spent.
4. Promote lifelong education. The formal education system doesn’t equip people for involvement in decision making and city politics. It has turned into an individualistic consumer-focused system which emphasises league tables, certificates and tuition fees.
Its primary focus is getting people a job, not the development of critical thinkers who can shape the world. Scandrett calls for lifelong education.
These four changes would lead to deeper democracy.
If cities are to succeed they need to engage the skills, talents and perspectives of all their citizens. They also need to reach out further to understand the impact of the city on the wider world. Citizens need to shape the decisions that matter.
Deeper democracy is a radical agenda. It fundamentally challenges current power structures and practices. But it is a necessary step if cities are to succeed in the fast moving and turbulent twenty-first century.
Do you agree? Is the formal education system broken? Does democracy at city level need a radical overhaul? Should power be shared more evenly?
2 Shapely, 2013, Sod the poor – a history of social exclusion, http://bit.ly/1aogqFm 3 Scandrett, 2013, Citizen Participation and Popular Education in the City, http://bit.ly/1i555Sq
Case studies of sharing, self-determination and deeper democracy
1. Seoul in South Korea has a new, city-funded project called Sharing City. It will expand sharing infrastructure and promote existing sharing enterprises. It will also nurture sharing economy start-ups, use idle public resources and provide more access to data.
Sharing is seen as a partial solution to shortages in housing, transportation and parking, as well as excess pollution and use of resources. It’s also seen as a means to create jobs and rebuild trusting communities.
2. Shared space has always been important for socialising and relaxation but also as a place for democracy to flourish. Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, Turkey’s Gezi Park and Cairo’s Tahrir Square have all acted as spaces of resistance. Los Indignados in Spain and the Occupy movement, which began in 2011 as a response to extreme wealth disparity, garnered support by gathering in public spaces; spaces which are increasingly privatised and policed restricting freedoms to protest.