We just have to walk through our cities, from Gloucester to Glasgow and Belfast to Birmingham, to see how much work lies ahead of us if we truly wish them to become and remain great places for us to live, work, and play.
Inadequate and overpriced transportation systems; unaffordable housing for people on low income, students, and young families; overcrowded and understaffed hospitals; schools lacking adequate numbers of teachers and qualified support staff; urban ghettoes where explosive mixtures of class, ethnicity and poverty take away citizens' hopes for a better tomorrow.
This bleak picture of our urban landscapes is crowned by fragmented and underfunded local governments that simply do not have the means, authority, and capacity to address the daily problems that affect most the lives of those who elect them.
And then there's London. A city-state with its own economy, exploding population, unaffordable costs of living, and reliance on the globally-connected financial, legal, and consulting services that make it in many ways Europe's commercial capital, London itself is bursting at the seams.
Home to our national politicians and their City friends, as well as to the rich and powerful from Europe, the Middle East, and Asia who choose to invest and live here rather than in their home countries, London exhibits the greatest disparities in terms of income, standards of living, and future opportunities anywhere in Britain.
These critical urban challenges that affect almost every single one of us cannot be fixed by a Westminster government that refuses to devolve the necessary power and resources where they are needed most. Nor can they be met without the support and assistance of European funds and networks of development and cooperation. Breaking these emerging ties between British and European cities - their ability to benchmark their activities, to learn from each other, to help each other as they face similar challenges, will only reinforce the central powers of our London élites and deepen the level of inequality between and within cities that has become the hallmark of Britain's modern urban life.
For the first time in human history, more than half the world’s population lives in cities. We are witnessing the emergence of a “Glocal Archipelago Economy” joining the largest metropolises in the world. They are connected economically, politically, and culturally by a dense web of media, information, communication, and transportation networks. This is where the world’s élites live and where the greatest part of global wealth and opportunities are concentrated. They have become the key nodes of power of the Twenty-First Century world and are attracting increasing numbers of people: not only citizens of the same country but immigrants and refugees from across the world. But cities themselves do not exist in a vacuum. In order to build creative, sustainable, resilient cities capable of providing our families with high standards of living and equal opportunities for success and fulfillment, we must also understand the geographic, historical, and normative environments in which they evolve.
The International Red Cross recently reported that “[m]ore than 70 million people have been forced to leave their homes because of conflict, political upheaval and disasters, as well as by climate change and development projects, and are now living as migrants… [F]orced migration has become increasingly "urbanised" as cities and urban areas become the main destinations for refugees, internally displaced people (IDPs), and those affected by disasters and conflicts… Now, about half of the world's estimated 10.5 million refugees and at least 13 million IDPs are thought to live in urban areas.”
In order to be sustainable and successfully address increasingly urgent challenges such as housing, land and property, violence, legal aid, employment opportunities, these cities need to invest a significant amount of resources in urban planning, new infrastructure, green energy, high-quality education, healthcare, as well as capacity building in social security systems and community safety and security measures. Yet most of them are ill-equipped to deal with such influxes of population and to provide the infrastructure and opportunities their citizens require.
Today cities constitute for us the most important level of governance, with the greatest impact on our daily lives. They must be given the resources to address the challenges they face much more effectively than they can do today. This means: direct participation rights for all; reducing environmental footprints; increasing economic competitiveness; promoting cultural diversity; and creating a common civic identity in which all individuals and communities take pride and share in.
Empowering creative cities where all citizens are included in decision-making processes and have equal rights and responsibilities is the great challenge of our human and natural environment. This will only be achieved by identifying the capabilities and activating the tipping points that will trigger a re-crystallisation of networks of connectivity and power away from the hierarchical, mechanistic model of the nation-state and towards more organic, flexible, diverse, decentered systems of governance.