Early this year, former Mayor of New Orleans (2002-2010), Ray Nagin was charged with using his office for personal gain, accepting more than $160,000 in bribes and gifts in exchange for city contract work after Hurricane Katrina, as well as other city benefits.1 In total, a federal grand jury charged Nagin with 21 counts of corruption, including bribery, conspiracy, money laundering, wire fraud, and false tax returns. Nagin’s deputy mayor, Greg Meffert already pleaded guilty to accepting bribes and kickbacks for influencing city contracts in 2010. Nagin was Mayor of New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit, which makes the charges all the more damming. One of the worst natural disasters to hit the US, Katrina killed almost 2000 people across five states. FEMA’s estimated damage totaled $108 billion.2 New Orleans was especially hard hit, with the infamous levees and other infrastructure failing, and widespread socio-economic despair. Of course there were many factors, including the federal and state responses or lack thereof that made preparing for and rebuilding New Orleans challenging. But a strong mayor would have benefited New Orleans tremendously, and Nagin was not up to the task.
‘From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere!’
That one blue fish cost a million plus,1 that one blue fish and all the fuss.
In cities here and cities there, you’d think by now we’d be aware.
That we’d take some care for what is rare. But here’s another to make you stare:
Soup can come with a shark’s fin; yes, so strange a fin that’s mixed right in.2
So much money is being spent, just how far can we go, and to what extent?
‘Say! What a lot of fish there are.’ Yet there they go near and far.
Tuna, sharks and even rhinos too; all sold in a city near you.
Save a fish, save a tiger, save an elephant or two. Here’s what a kid could do
Shout ‘Oh Mr. Mayor in that great big chair, is your city doing its fair share?’
‘Lord give me patience, but please hurry.’1 Everyone working with cities has probably felt this sentiment. We see the new buildings, read the reports, and know that the hurly burley rush to urbanize across the world is picking up speed – we are about to repeat the amount of city-building we did in the last 200 years, but this time we will do it in just 40 years. Surely we have no time to slow down.
Chaucer said it well in Canterbury Tales, ‘In wicked haste is not profit.’ Or as in the sage Chinese proverb, ‘A hasty man drinks his tea with a fork.’ Haste makes waste. In the rush to urbanize, we are in danger of wasting many opportunities within our cities, as we lock in little foibles and big mistakes.
Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania: Saturday around 7:00 am, Punxsutawney Phil (PA, USA) emerged from his burrow, did not see his shadow and predicted an early end to winter. A few minutes later and a few hundred miles north, Wiarton Willie (ON, Canada) surfaced, didn’t see his (or is it her) shadow and also predicted an early spring.
Once again, like last year, immediately after the groundhogs issued their prognostications, the Houston and Calgary based ‘Committee for Climate Certainty’ rebutted the groundhogs’ findings, claiming the science was uncertain. The Committee released several years of hacked emails between Wiarton Willie and Punxsutawney Phil – “What are we going to do about those climate doubter’s concerns? We are likely to have a repeat of last year.” Willie is purported to have written Phil in an email. “Let’s stick to the date, fudge the timing, and hope no one notices,” Phil is reported to have responded.
First the good news: Earlier this month, Mayor Iñaki Azkuna of Bilbao, Spain was awarded the prestigious World Mayor Prize for 2012. Mayor Azkuna was in good company. Other finalists included the mayors of: Perth, Australia; Surakarta, Indonesia; El Paso, USA; Changwon City, Korea; Auckland, NZ; Angeles City, Philippines; Zeralda, Algeria; Matamoras, Mexico; and somewhat surprisingly, Mayor Regis Lebeaume of Quebec City, Canada.
The bad news for 2012 and mayors was best seen in Canada. The World Mayor Prize shortlisting of Mayor Lebeaume came amidst a spate of problems for other mayors in the Province of Quebec. At least four mayors resigned over corruption allegations in Quebec, including Montreal’s Mayor Gerald Tremblay.
As of January 1st, I’m officially ‘retired’ from the World Bank. This is a dozen years before I had to retire, but I wanted to move back to Ontario for love and opportunity. However, I’ve already come to the conclusion that if you care about sustainable development and cities, you can never fully leave the World Bank.
Things are about to get ‘very hairy’ as we bump up against, and in a few cases pass right through, planetary limits. Sure, sure – everyone’s familiar with the rebuttals to the ‘limits to growth’ argument, and true, humans are amazingly resourceful. We will certainly pull a few innovative planetary rabbits from our hat. But make no mistake, tomorrow’s world will be much more affluent, uncertain, less stable, and at times, down-right scary as we deal with a billion-plus people that expect to live a similar lifestyle to today’s fortunate few (the planet’s richest two billion are being joined by another two billion ‘middle class’). All this is happening while we still have more than a billion people living in absolute and debilitating poverty (the single largest source of instability in the world).
Jesus and Muhammad traveled to the wilderness to develop their teachings. Even Gautama Buddha is said to have sat quietly beneath the rural Bohdi tree while he waited for enlightenment. But once they knew what needed to be said, all three men travelled to the closest city to convey the message.
It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a city to change the world. Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, and influential mortals like Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, Eva Peron, Marie Antoinette, Chairman Mao; they all gave their impassioned speeches, teachings, and at-times arm-twisting arguments, in cities. Cities are where the spokespeople for civilization come to urge the rest of us to follow a new path.
Around 5000 years ago, the first cities emerged in Mesopotamia and the fertile valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Agricultural surpluses enabled a few people to start specializing in something other than agriculture. The farmer who now had extra grain could trade for a better spear or a winter fur coat. This specialization and the ability to trade goods and services is the basis of urbanization. And, there was enough food that the starving artist didn’t starve completely, so along with trade, culture emerged.
Cities grew at a modest pace until about 1800 when the Industrial Revolution took off in the UK and cities developed at staggering rates. Manchester, for example experienced a six-fold population increase from 1771 to 1831. London went from about one-fifth of Britain’s population at the start of the 19th Century to about half the country’s population in 1851. This rate of urbanization has not let up for the last two hundred years; in fact it is still accelerating. The growth of cities seen over the last two hundred years will now be repeated, but this time in just forty years.
While consensus in the COP18 negotiations has yet to be reached, most can agree that national governments cannot be solely responsible for addressing climate change. Local governments, the private sector and individuals must each play a part in supporting and growing the green economy. However, one way national governments can easily step up to the plate is to remove policy barriers for subnational actions on climate change.
We all have the currency of a country or two in our wallets; maybe a passport too. We can be brought to tears when we see ‘our’ flag unfurled at the Olympics or a World Cup. Sure there are great sporting rivalries between cities like Milan and Barcelona, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and (in that other football) Dallas vs. Washington. But it’s countries that need flags and currencies, languages and laws, to inspire passion and fidelity. Running a country is about protecting an idea, an ideal, and a dream. Psychologically and physically countries have borders – barriers to entry and exit; people, ideas, money – it all needs to be controlled by a national authority.
Cities are different. Cities are anchored to a specific place. A sheltered port, the mouth of a river, a fertile valley, or a strategic vantage point: cities emerge where geography and opportunity combine. Much has been written on the creative class – that fickle, mobile group of professionals wandering the planet looking for their next engagement. City officials may actively seek them, but far more important are those people willing to stay and fight for their city. With links and roots like children, mortgages, and history, people who feel they belong are the foundation of every city.