*Photo taken from Metro Vancouver website
Cities are fast becoming more relevant players on the international stage as more and more people are living in them. And as more people live in them, the plethora of issues that need to be addressed and dealt with at the city level is also increasing. In a recent session held at SFU Surrey entitled ‘Rethinking the Region‘ a discussion was held regarding a variety of issues (climate change, quality of life, transportation…) and the challenges cities face in dealing with them all. While Metro Vancouver comprises between 21-24 distinct municipalities (depending on who you ask!) some issues are dealt with on a regional scale, such as water and sewage. Others remain under municipal jurisdiction. A look around the world reveals a huge variety of urban and regional ”arrangements” to deal with issues of a regional or urban character as cities continue to grow. These include trade associations, regional networking associations, transit authorities, economic and other development organizations. In some cases, city regions have taken the plunge and amalgamated altogether. On the other extreme, some municipalities remain staunchly independent.
One speaker, Ken Cameron, suggested that given the inability of conventional international actors (the state, or international organizations) to deal with climate change or unsustainable resource use, cities or urban regions would be a more appropriate ‘scale’ to tackle these issues. Other speakers noted that, in the case of Vancouver and British Columbia, while the regional district model has been an overall success to date, it may be time to reconsider the governance of the metro region given the wide variety of challenges facing the region as a whole. As the chart above implies, there are a whole range of possibilities in structuring regional governance.
On the international scale there are organizations and groups calling for cities to have more recognition and authority to participate and deal with world affairs. In Canada, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities represents, and engages, Canadian municipalities in events, partnerships, and aid missions around the globe. United Cities and Local Government is a ‘global network of cities, local and regional governments’. The Commonwealth Local Governance Forum is currently organizing a conference for May of next year to advocate decentralization and local government as a means of achieving development. In Europe there are a huge number of associations representing regions or cities at the transnational or international scale. All of these represent an effort to formalise the role of cities in democratic global governance. The implication is that the conventional institutions (state/nation and sub-national entities such as provinces) are ineffective at managing an increasingly urban world. From this standpoint, if cities are best placed to address the many issues mentioned above, they should also be empowered to discuss and deal with these issues with each other on a global scale. However, under the current international framework this is not the case. Despite the many associations outlined above, cities, and city organizations, play a “backbench” role in international affairs.
This all suggests to me a number of questions: Do municipalities and larger urban regions have the tools to govern effectively? Do, or should, municipalities and urban regions have the means to interact and engage on the global scale (on the same playing field as nations)? If they do, would they be more effective as large, amalgamated, metropolitan regions, or should they remain as distinct municipalities?
The answers will probably be different for each city around the world. What about where you live? What regional or international associations is your city involved in? Are they effective?