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Government / Local politics

Should mayors rule the world?

In 2013, Benjamin Barber, a US political theorist, published a book called If mayors ruled the world: dysfunctional nations, rising cities. It was not, as one might guess, the fantasy project of an aggrieved public official, but a set of ideas about how cities and mayors could fix problems afflicting people all over the world.

Now, Barber’s co-authored a report with two other urbanists, Richard Florida and Don Tapscott, which lays out more concrete plans for mayoral world takeover. The report argues that countries are held back by their “sovereignty”: they’re not great at cooperating with other countries and are often tied up with their own internal politics. Mayors, the theory goes, are more practical: as New York Mayor Fiorella La Guardia once said, “There is no Democratic or Republican way of fixing a sewer”. Additionally, the report claims, cities share an “indifference to borders and sovereignty, and a democratic penchant for networking”.

To capitalise on these qualities, the report’s authors are planning a Global Parliament of Mayors (GPM). This will be made up of mayors and other “key urban stakeholders”: code, best we can tell, for political advisors and urban specialists.


The GPM’s goals include sharing solutions to issues like climate chance and pollution, writing “model city ordinances” to be used by member cities, and creating a global database of city information. It would rely on “consensus” rather than formal voting, and wouldn’t be able to make or enforce laws. Cities could leave whenever they wanted, and could implement the GPM’s recommendations in whichever way they see fit.

As with any self-respecting 21st century organisation, the parliament would be digital-first (no bad thing, in this age of tight municipal travel budgets). In the report’s words, the GPM would “operate as a global urban network with a vibrant online community that collaborates on key issues 365 days a year”. The founders have even got Steve Caswell, an early pioneer of e-mail and e-conferencing, involved.

There’ve already been several planning sessions for the parliament, with another planned for September, but there’s no word yet on when the first “Pilot Parliament” will take place. Watch this space.
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