Filling the Vacuum with Distinction
FIRST, SOME CONTEXT BEFORE THIS BLOG LAUNCHES into a series on some of the innovative mayors of the world. The series itself is based on the simple premise that mayors matter more to the state of the world and democracy itself than at any other time in the past 400 years.
We can be forgiven for feeling that politics isn’t up to the task of effectively managing the world anymore. The evidence is all around us: the complete inability to coordinate an effective response to climate change, the bewildered gaze of the world powers as they confront the ISIS crisis in Syria and Iraq, the mixed messages from prime ministers and presidents on the state of the world economy and the growing gap between rich and poor, and perhaps most poignant, the decline of democratic expectations among the citizenry just at the time when so many of our great problems appear to be coming to a head.
With all this confronting us, someone is sure to question the relevance of penning a series on mayors and their importance. Actually, it is specifically because of their relevance, and their nearness to the action, that we are about to witness cities and communities begin to take their rightful place among the power structures of the world. In fact, mayors are on the verge of becoming the most potent force for new ideas in politics today. These top elected officials in our communities are already accomplishing what international institutions and national governments can no longer manage. Elitist power structures and partisan wars have severely undermined senior levels of government to the extent that few look to them anymore for anything of meaning. The words and propaganda are still there, but the substance has gone missing. They once served us well, but now appear to diminish our expectations just as we need to be rising to them.
Rushing into that vacuum of ineffectiveness are cities and their mayors, to such a degree that a growing chorus of educators, economists, and social scientists now maintain that they are quickly becoming the prime source of fresh thinking and new ways of engaging the world’s problems. What might be ironic to some is nevertheless true: mayors are now accomplishing what their senior counterparts can only dream of. As author Benjamin Barber put it to the New York Times: “As the importance of cities has increased, mayors have been compelled to deal with a lot of issues that traditionally were taken care of at a higher level.”
But that’s only the half of it. Mayors and their councils are not only taking on heightened tasks, but are accomplishing them in a method that calls out from their own communities entirely new ways of building a collective life together, networking with the larger world, and breathing new life into citizenship. In other words, their view of the world isn’t about somebody getting elected to sit at the top of a pyramid, but instead to take a seat among fellow citizens and govern from within. It all might sound improbable to the uninitiated, but around the world the examples are many and the effects profound, as the next few posts will confirm.
We might be on the verge of discovering that cities are about to the lead the world into a new and sustainable age. But for places like London, Ontario, with its upcoming municipal election, the selection to the top office of the city will spell the difference between a better future or a prolonged and difficult present. We require a mayor worthy of the best in us, not the pettiest. As we embark on this new series of innovative global mayors, we mustn’t leave London outside the arc of great potential despite the fact we have endured some difficult years. If cities are the future, then London has a place in that grand architecture and its citizens and institutions will fill that space with distinction.