City-States: are they on the rise again?

When the two co-CEOs of Goldman Sachs wrote in The Times on Thursday (14 Feb 2013) about why leaving the EU would be bad for business, the case they advanced was really about why leaving would be bad for financial businesses in Canary Wharf and in the square mile in the City of London.
Maybe it even got some right-wing MPs dreaming: if only ‘the City’ could stay in the EU but the rest of the UK could leave…?
And this may yet become the way of things, as I would suggest that city-states are on the rise again, with nation-states having a gently declining influence.
Some history: ‘City-states first appeared in Mesopotamia around 3200-3000 BC, and faded with the unification of the German and Italian city-states in the middle of the eighteenth century.’ (Badcock, 2002 p43). So city-states could be the ‘natural order’ of things.
And cities are rising in political influence again, and this is not just about finding Boris in the papers yet again pleading for more money for London. The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the USA has been led politically by many American cities, especially between 2000 and 2008 during the GW Bush presidencies when there was high levels of federal hostility concerning actions for less climate change.
We now have an increasing number of ‘world cities’ including London, Mumbai, New York and Tokyo: cities each of a scale and diversity that exceed that of many countries sitting in the United Nations. In terms of realpolitik these world cities already behave like small-to-medium size countries, even though they cannot sign treaties or raise an army.
However, the question also has to asked for places such as the UK: what is the impact of sharing your country with a world-city? How much does the gravitational pull of London add to or suck away from other UK cities? Some parts of the UK essentially see London as another country, an export market, a place where one hopes to sell products, a place to which people ’emigrate’ to find work, a place that may look to outsource some teleworking locally. Currently there seems room for only one world-city on each continent, so Paris and Berlin never mind a UK city have their work cut out in trying to out-bid London. But Winchester was once a major city, and not so much these days, so long-term change is possible.
In effect London already has powers denied to any other UK city, both hard power in laws such as regulating transport, and soft power in terms of gaining major investments and resources for its grand projets.
City-regions in the UK such as Greater Manchester are exploring how much they can increase their self-control with the new legal arrangement of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and the new softer powers within the City Deal agreements with the UK government to better manage some central functions locally.
However, the removal of many millions of pounds from the income of city councils in the UK, with thousands of jobs lost and services cut entirely, could set back the power of city-regions by decades. As President Obama said this week in his State of the Union speech, ‘we cannot cut our way to prosperity’. Exactly. Book:
Blair Badcock (2002), Making Sense of Cities, London: Arnold/Hodder.

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