U.K. Leads the Way on Mayoral Autonomy

Why it's a good thing that British mayors are getting more control over their economies and infrastructure.

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Reuters

The United Kingdom yesterday announced a major initiative to give some of its larger cities more power over their economic destinies. As the The Independent reports, six of England’s largest cities — Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Newcastle, Nottingham, and Sheffield — have been granted greater autonomy over their economies and infrastructure (extra powers for Liverpool and Greater Manchester were agreed to earlier).

It seems the notion that cities are increasingly the key economic organizing units of the world is finally making its way into the circles of national power.  

Discussing the shift in policy with reporters, U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg noted that cities "are the economic powerhouses of England - so it makes sense that the cities decide for themselves how to boost their local economies."

Brookings economist Alice Rivlin has long argued that policies geared toward spurring innovation, productivity and economic development are more effective at the local than national level. Mayors and city leaders are more in touch with their local economies, and often more pragmatic and less ideological than their national peers.

"Until recently, 'competitiveness' was outside a mayor’s domain because the factors defining it were decided at the national level,” New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg wrote recently in the Financial Times. "But today, with more than half the world’s population living in cities – generating about 80 per cent of global output – and businesses formulating growth strategies around urban markets, cities cannot afford to cede their futures to national governments."

In his forthcoming book, If Mayors Ruled the World, political scientist Benjamin Barber argues that cities and mayors must be a key element of global leadership and global governance in the 21st century. Gradually, it may be starting to happen.

Top image: A young passenger looks at the Liverpool sky line as the Mersey Ferry comes into dock at Pier Head. (Ian Hodgson/Reuters)

About the Author

  • Richard Florida is Co-founder and Editor at Large of CityLab.com and Senior Editor at The Atlantic. He is director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto and Global Research Professor at NYU. More
    Florida is author of The Rise of the Creative ClassWho's Your City?, and The Great Reset. He's also the founder of the Creative Class Group, and a list of his current clients can be found here