Reuters

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

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
Richard Florida

Richard Florida is a co-founder and editor at large of CityLab and a senior editor at The Atlantic. He is the director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto and Global Research Professor at New York University.

Most Popular

  1. Postcards showing the Woodner when it used to be a luxury apartment-hotel in the '50s and '60s, from the collection of John DeFerrari
    Equity

    The Neighborhood Inside a Building

    D.C.’s massive Woodner apartment building has lived many lives—from fancy hotel to one of the last bastions of affordable housing in a gentrifying neighborhood. Now, it’s on the brink of another change.

  2. Infrastructure

    Vienna Makes Peace With Its Trash

    The famously clean Austrian city boasts one of the world’s most innovative waste processing systems.

  3. Equity

    What CityLab Looks Like Now

    Bigger images, fewer ads—and a recommitment to telling a very important story.

  4. Equity

    The Poverty Just Over the Hills From Silicon Valley

    The South Coast, a 30-mile drive from Palo Alto, is facing an affordable-housing shortage that is jeopardizing its agricultural heritage.

  5. Design

    The Military Declares War on Sprawl

    The Pentagon thinks better designed, more walkable bases can help curb obesity and improve troops’ fitness.