"The New Localism: How Cities Can Thrive in the Age of Populism" - book & London event

Pittsburgh pioneers  the "New Localism"

Pittsburgh pioneers the "New Localism"

We devote an entire category tag to "Localism" in the Daily Alternative - many pages of riches there. But it's a term whose meaning, scope and scale is being struggled over (though in a fertile way, we think).

Is it the "localism" of Flatpack Democracy - a movement which identifies where small zones of local government have become moribund, frozen into traditional-political-party standoffs, and shares practices to open them up again? Is it the "localism" that the old political parties in the UK have ideologically battled over in the last decade - the Tories legislating for localism, the Corbynites seeing value in experiments like Preston? Or the "localism" (often named the "new municipalism") that pushes for post-capitalism solutions in "fearless" cities like Barcelona, Valparaíso, Jackson and Ghent? 

That power is returning to the local level - while seeking a new relationship with global forces, like climate change and information networks - is certain (as many nation-states falter and lose legitimacy). The Alternative UK wants to provide a tool-box for all that - and here's another one come to these shores...

The New Localism: How Cities Can Thrive In the Age of Populism is by Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak (buy book, main website, and get tickets for their London April 9 author event). They make a major claim (summarised in this Prospect article):

The nature and locus of power is shifting in the world due to profound demographic, economic, and social forces. Cities have become the go-to level of society for solving the problems characteristic of modern life: economic competitiveness, poverty, the challenges of social diversity, and the imperatives of environmental sustainability.

They also have become increasingly responsible for financing the future through investments in innovation, infrastructure and inclusion, the fuel for long-term economic competitiveness and social mobility.

...“New Localism” reflects a new horizontal rather than vertical mechanism for how societies solve hard problems. Cities are constantly crafting new ways of addressing challenges that are urgent, immediate and often highly visible.

Solutions that are concrete, imaginative and tested on the ground do not stay local for long. Rather they are captured and codified and then adapted and tailored to other cities, taking into account the different economic and social starting points and fiscal conditions of different cities.

Cities may be on their own... but they are not alone. Other cities are continuously inventing solutions that are ripe for replication.

The rise of “New Localism” is a reminder that the power of cities and counties is not like the power of nations or states. It is grounded in markets and civics more than constitutions or charters. It is multi- rather than mono-sectoral. It is defined by pragmatism rather than strait jacketed partisanship. And it is enmeshed in global flows of capital, labour, products, ideas and practices.

Katz and Nowak are writing from an American perspective - where cities (like Pittsburgh, pictured above) have to step up to their challenges, dealing with "the abdication of higher levels of government, stymied by partisan gridlock and angry populism".

But one of their case studies showing the vitality of the new city localism is relevant to this site, inspired and connected as we are to Denmark's Alternativet. Katz and Nowak love Copenhagen's City & Port Development Corporation. This is a publicly owned but privately managed land developer, which K & N see as an example of new forces across sectors coming together to progress cities - regardless of what national parliaments are doing. 


Katz tells the story in this LinkedIn Pulse piece:

In the mid-to-late 1980s, Copenhagen was experiencing a 17.5 percent unemployment rate, a loss of taxing capacity, and an annual budget deficit of $750 million. For decades, government policies had subsidized the outmigration of families to the outskirts of Copenhagen, leaving a city overrepresented by pensioners and college students, neither of whom contributed greatly to the city’s tax revenue. With a stagnant economy and the traditional manufacturing industry moving out, the city government had to do something radical to spur economic growth and attract a strong tax base.

And so it did.

Beginning in 1990, an alliance formed between the Social Democratic mayor of Copenhagen, Jens Kramer Mikkelsen, Prime Minister Poul Schlüter of the Conservative People’s Party, and Social Democratic Party leader Svend Auken. These three leaders agreed to transform Denmark’s capital city by catalyzing investment in housing and state-of-the-art infrastructure, making it attractive to new citizens and strengthening the city’s tax base. Undertaking these improvements without increasing local taxes posed a challenge, so the trio decided to focus on developing public land within the city’s borders that had been left idle and unused.

The solution: a new publicly owned, privately managed corporate vehicle that could regenerate large areas in the city’s core, maximize the value of underutilized public land, and use the revenues generated by smart zoning and asset management to finance transit and other infrastructure. The aspiration was to combine the efficiency of market discipline and mechanisms with the benefits of public direction, legitimacy, and low-cost finance.

And so began the remarkable transformation of Copenhagen over the past twenty-five years from an ailing, depopulating manufacturing city to one of the wealthiest cities in the world. Through this process, Copenhagen established itself as a preeminent leader of New Localism, demonstrating that market power, innovative thinking, and solid leadership can be used for public benefit.

More here. And to remind you, tickets for the London event featuring Bruce Katz, one of New Localism's co-authors, are available at Eventbrite now.