What If Mayors Ruled The World?
‘In our interdependent world, cities have not only the obligation but the right to achieve solutions to global issues.’
Dr Benjamin Barber
In 2016, on the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11, an extraordinary event took place in The Hague, Europe’s city of peace and justice. The elected Mayors of over 60 cities across the world came together to formally convene a global city rights movement. The result was the Global Parliament of Mayors (GPM) a unique and timely body that leverages the lived experience, expertise and leadership of local Mayors to address critical challenges facing humankind today.
The GPM had its genesis only three years earlier. Dr Benjamin Barber, a New York City born political theorist and author, released his book ‘If Mayors Ruled The World’. In September that year Benjamin Barber gave a TEDGlobal talk in Edinburgh entitled ‘Why Mayors Should Rule The World.’ Barber’s premise was simple; democracy was in trouble, the problems facing the world were interdependent in nature and nation states were increasingly irrelevant to finding or implementing the solutions. His solution was radical; stop talking about nations and start talking about cities, the political institutions in which, according to Barber, our civilization and culture was born.
Cities and urban experts began to gather and discuss the idea of a new democratic global governance platform by, for and of cities.
During 2013 and 2014, three planning sessions were held – the first in Seoul, Korea, then in New York City and finally, Amsterdam. At each meeting the number of mayors, local government officials, urban and governance experts increased. An Advisory Board of current and former mayors, academics and urbanists was formed to provide guidance for the proposed Parliament. It was also agreed that any iteration of a GPM would be self-sustaining, self-funding and self-governed.
The vision was large and progress was quick. The inaugural meeting of the Global Parliament of Mayors, in September 2016 defined the scope of operations, priorities for an action oriented platform and issued The Hague Declaration. The founding Mayors committed to fully support the UN sustainable goals, deliberating specifically on the issues of migration and climate change.
The views formulated by mayors at the first GPM were presented to the UN Habitat III Conference (on housing and sustainable development) in Ecuador the following month. Subsequently the UN acknowledged ‘the rights of city residents and the central place of cities in achieving global development objectives.’
Since that first meeting the GPM has grown rapidly in statue and influence, connecting and sharing its idea with new mayors, intercity associations and leading philanthropic foundations. It has convened each year since. In 2017 the city of Stavanger, Norway, hosted 45 mayors from around the world who considered A Governance Revolution Empowering Cities. Twenty eighteen saw Bristol in the UK welcome over 100 leaders under the banner Empowering Cities as Drivers of Change.
Just six months after the inaugural GPM meeting Benjamin Barber passed away. However his vision for a global body that brings local knowledge to the international table and combines debating global strategy with action-oriented solutions continues to be embraced by cities and mayors committed to better communities for all.