More global cities working independently from their country

An upcoming conference in Chicago will look at how global cities operate across and independent of national boundaries:

“By pursuing their own business ties, trade missions, cultural exchanges and agreements with each other, global cities may even have the ability to disrupt the foreign policy agendas of their nations,” said Sassen. “Cities are more nimble and often less weighed down by national politics than central governments are, and that means they can push the envelope further and faster by working with other cities that share a similar set of social and economic issues and interests.”

Already, cities around the world have formed associations and networks to work together and share information on such issues as the environment, transportation, energy efficiency and economic development. These include the C40, comprising some 70 global cities working together on climate change; Cities for Mobility, with its 650 members in 85 countries focusing on transportation; and Metropolis, in which more than 100 cities network on environmental issues.

“With countries struggling to reach basic agreements, city-to-city communication and coordination is not just innovative, it has the potential to change the nature of the conversation about international commitments,” said Sam Scott, chairman of Chicago Sister Cities International, a knowledge partner of the Chicago Forum on Global Cities…

“We’re going to see cities like London, Paris, Chicago and Sao Paulo frame their own civic foreign policies, with their own offices and representatives – sort of embassies and ambassadors – in the great cities of the world,” said Richard Longworth, a senior fellow at The Chicago Council whose report, On Global Cities, will be issued in advance of the forum. “This won’t usurp the prerogative of national governments. But cities, like nations, have their own interests that they need to promote and defend. If their nations can’t do it, cities can and will.”

Given the size of their economies (on the scale with many countries) plus their international connections, this isn’t too surprising. But, it would be fascinating to see when major cities and governments clash. Perhaps something like an international trade policy signed by a country that a city willingly violates. Or a national security arrangement that a city goes against for economic gain. Could cities actually pull off a major change in policy or would nations react strongly?

Over the years, I’ve seen a number of proposals for how nations might become less important on the global scene. The rise of global governance and agreements (on the national level). The increasing scope of multinational corporations. Perhaps the fragmentation of powerful countries into competing racial, ethnic, and cultural groups. But, the independence of major cities might hint at the return of nation-states. When can we expect one to secede?

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