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How to face globalization (II). Cities innovating in politics

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AP Photo, Idaho Statesman/Darin Oswald

If we agree on the basics that new problems, such as those derived from globalization, require radical new approaches, then we should be able to agree on the principle that innovation should be the main axis to confront the new economic and democratic cycle.

It would be useful to understand which forms in cities this innovation may adopt. On the political side, for instance, cities are innovating both in macro and micro-politics.

At the micro scale, new paradigms of civic participation are been experienced in cities, many of them under the umbrella of what we can call city-making or, at an even smaller scale, place-making. This micro-scale participatory processes, and the new labs and institutions that host them, will be subject of a further treatment in this “How to face globalization” series of posts.

On the macro side, the most important cities in Spain hosted in 2011 the “innovative” and spontaneous 15-M wave of political discontent, and New York witnessed the “Occupy Wall Street” protest movement. In Western countries, the 15-M has been one of the most relevant expression of discontent since the beginning of the crisis.

Although in 2013 the 15-M was on the verge of failing due to the lack of a political implementation, today, at the dawn of 2015 and with a series of political elections (local, regional and national) beginning in a few months, the political expression of 15-M (“Podemos” party), has irrupted on the political map as a fresh stream, whose positive consequences go far beyond their actual program, forcing traditional parties to double their bets on reforms towards equity and transparency.

So there is non-negligible flow of innovation in politics coming out of cities at this precise moment of times, originated symbolically in their central squares or plazas, and whose effects are spreading over their countries (the Arab spring is another example). Countries, shaped like the European institutions around regions, are not yet identifying cities as providers of solutions to the most acute problems of our societies (unemployment, climate change, demographic stagnation,…). In the worst case, country governments are directly attempting to prevent cities from finding successful ways out of the austerity labyrinth as is the case in Spain, whose government recently passed a bill that treats cities and city halls as minor institutions whose finances have to be supervised and whose policies reduced and kept to a minimum.

According to the Spanish government, cities’ field of action should reduce, in short, at ensuring that buses arrive on time and that streets are clean enough. Energy, education, innovation, employment or, in other words, the policies that really make citizens (not cities!!!) smarter and resilient to new crisis should be planned, designed and executed by institutions (regional, national and continental) with little or none contact with citizens. In the case of Spain, and maybe in the case of Greece too, the political articulation of the protests movements coming out of cities is making his way through most of the institutional layers (paradoxically, “Podemos” Spanish party will not directly run for city council elections, leaving its political space to other grassroot or so-called citizen platforms, like “Ganemos Madrid or Guanyem Barcelona”).

Greek national elections are scheduled for the end of January; Spanish national elections will be held next fall. We will be able to know, in a ten month timeframe, up to what extent exactly the political movements originated in Spanish and Greek cities are capable of infecting their respective countries with these new fresh politics.

Next post: How to face globalization (III). Cities that empower children.

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