In a lot of ways, the city is the oldest political entity for humanity. Certainly, tribes and families have their politics, but the city is where traditional connections by family or faith are supplanted by the simple reality of proximity. People, in cities, in urban agglomerations of any kind, have been forced to interact, compromise, and solve problems since the first huts came together in a hamlet. In cities, we find efficiencies, safety, and socialization. Of course we also find their opposites, but cities are still the best setting for civilization. Without cities, politics as we know it would be moot. So would our economy.
It is interesting to notice how the city is becoming the most relevant locus for economic policy efforts. It is especially interesting to note how primary cities, in many states (and sub-national states as in the US) are able to intervene in economic issues more effectively than their host state or larger political entity. Although large-scale economic interventions such as quantitative easing and income redistribution (such as social security) are obviously important, local initiatives are where real traction occurs. Local construction projects, job programs, and educational opportunities lay the groundwork for prosperity. Urban leaders know employment and work for constituents are their highest priorities.
It is interesting to note the attention being paid to sustainability by local governments. Even without significant national initiatives, and lacking any sense of real international leadership, people are organizing efforts at the city level to promote sustainability. Of course there are many non-governmental organizations involved in this – such as Global Green , ICLEI, and BALLE, for instance. But more specifically, cities across the globe and especially in the US are putting together programs to champion sustainability, for the betterment of their citizens and for future generations.
Greenovate Boston is the new program in the capital city of the US state of Massachusetts. Greenovate telescopes the many programs of the City’s office of Energy and Environmental Affairs under one brand. The city wants to encourage energy efficiency and renewables, sustainable transportation and biking, green buildings in general, and increased recycling and waste diversion. Specific programs related to these goals have material benefits to citizens. PlaNYC in New York, in Philadelphia and in San Francisco show the growing trend. Thousands of city leaders have united through the Sustainable Cities Institute and the US Conference of Mayors to endorse climate mitigation efforts, among other sustainability issues.
One major side-effect of these big-city sustainability programs is how it affects smaller neighboring cities in the hinterlands of the primary cities. The Urban Land Institute recently published an article about this effect on Chelsea, a neighbor of Boston. Although they had a much smaller budget, they were able to connect to a larger purchasing effort by Boston to source LED streetlights. Working together, Chelsea was able to make their lighting retrofit cost-effective. As Jim Hunt, Boston’s environment chief said, “Cities, by nature, are aggregators. We aggregate people, we aggregate demand, and if you can harness that in a coordinated way, you can help build markets.” Most cities started as marketplaces, gathering places for merchants and consumers to gather and trade. And so it will continue, since fundamental economic activity depends on proximity and real material exchanges.