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Does the world need a Global Parliament for Mayors?

Earlier this month a team consisting of Benjamin Barber (who is author of If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities), Richard Florida (who is Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute here at the University of Toronto), and Don Tapscott (who is a leading authority on innovation) released a research report advocating for a global network of cities that they’re calling a “Global Parliament for Mayors.”

Here’s a snippet from the press release:

“Nation-states work together through multi-lateral agreements and global institutions in an effort to solve global problems. But states have limitations, and their cooperative efforts in our new era of interdependence and globalization are increasingly insufficient and even ineffective and outmoded,” say the three prominent researchers. A Global Parliament of Mayors represents a new type of governance network – one with enormous potential.

“Our proposed parliament would operate as a global urban network with a vibrant online community that collaborates on key issues 365 days a year,” they say. “Multi-stakeholder governance has come of age and is now fully independent from control by any government, or governmental organizations like the UN.”

And if you dive into their report, you’ll find the following 5 reasons for why they believe a Global Parliament for Mayors (GPM) makes sense:

  1. Global migration to cities. Most people live in cities, so it makes sense to concentrate problem-solving capabilities there.
  2. Urban predisposition for problem-solving. Cities are entrepreneurial, close to the people and richly connected to a wide variety of stakeholders. They have a history of cooperation and pragmatic problem-solving. 
  3. A need for experimentation with new governance models. Traditional models of state-based global governance have struggled to advance effective solutions to many global problems, so there is an urgent need to experiment with new models. The GPM is the most promising. 
  4. Digital networks. Online collaboration technology makes it possible to operate a largely virtual parliament that would not only be more cost-effective, but more transparent, inclusive and productive.
  5. Digital citizens. There is a large, educated and motivated population of digital citizens that could be tapped to improve urban governance.

In principle, I agree with the direction. And I feel that way because of the two major shifts outlined above: More people are living in cities (a trend that all urbanists talk about ad nauseam) and digital networks are having a disruptive effect on the way we run companies and live our lives.

I’ve talked before about how the internet is causing a decentralization of value creation (see Airbnb, YouTube, and so on) and so I think it only makes sense that our governance structures will inevitably go through a similar transformation.

The governance models that we are living with today were put in place during a time when the world was a different place. At one point, nation-states were the de facto way to effectively organize ourselves on a global stage – probably because there wasn’t any other reasonable alternative.

But today, we are connected and interdependent in entirely new ways. And so the opportunity in front of us is to create a governance structure that leverages the progress and innovation that’s happening in cities, everywhere.

If cities are our most important economic unit, then mayors are arguably some of our most important leaders. So it behooves us to figure out how to give them the frameworks and forums to best do their job.

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