Monday, July 27, 2015

Do Cities Need A Foreign Policy?

Sao Paulo, Brazil
Hello Everyone:

Recently blogger came across am interesting article by Kathy Bergen of the Chicago Tribune, titled "As borders blur, cities mull 'foreign policies."  We live in a world where national borders seem to be nothing more than lines on a map.  Increasingly, cities such as Sao Paulo, Brazil are looking at other cities such as: Paris, London, or Buenos Aires to find out how transit systems work in these cities before ramping up the number of bus lanes in the Brazilian city.  This was not the first time Sao Paulo conducted this type of international study.  Leonardo Barchini Rosa, the head of Sao Paulo's international affairs department told Ms. Bergen, For almost everything we are doing that is new, we try to look outside.  Sao Paulo's international affairs department, its operational scale and reach, has been "...cited by urban scholars as a model for any city aspiring to forge a bigger global profile."

Crowded Sao Paulo street
Sao Paulo's approach is one example of a "outward-looking strategy" called "foreign policy for cities," "city diplomacy," alternatively by some academics, "paradiplomacy."  However you choose to call this global approach to urban planning and design, one thing is certain, mega-cities such as London, Hong Kong, New York, et al. are sharing information and building stronger alliances with their counterparts across the globe. This goes beyond the traditional collaborative efforts in the arts, education, and urban challenges.  Ms. Bergen writes, "If done well, a city can gain a reputation as a hotbed of innovation, a team player on pressing urban problems and a prime location for foreign investment, business partnerships and tourism."

Hummingbird mural
Sao Paulo, Brazil
For example, Sao Paulo recently took the top spot in a "Latin American City of the Future" survey conducted by fDI Intelligence, the research wing of The Financial Times, LTD.  The survey observed that between 2010 and 2014 the city attracted over 500 projects.  Quoting former Toronto, Canada Mayor David Miller, Ms. Bergen writes,

In a world where national governments are negotiating more and more trade agreements that make national borders less relevant, it is essential for cities to have a strategy for international relations..Otherwise...they risk becoming insular and isolated.

The importance of cities establishing their own foreign policy was one of the central themes at the first Chicago Forum on Global Cities, a three-day conference hosted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and The Financial Times at the end of May.  The event was intended to attract nearly 600 participants such as: business leaders, civic officials, and urban strategies from 25 countries.  Although most of the events were private, the opening, closing, and ancillary sessions were open to the public, bringing the total attendance to 2,500.  Among the speakers was former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who joined the Mayor of The Hague, Jozias van Aartsen and urban affairs writer Benjamin Barber.  There were panels that focused on a variety of subjects from economics and the environment, innovation, infrastructure, poverty, health care, and security.  Mr. Barber firmly believes that cities are better positioned nations to deal with a myriad of global problems.

Old Town Chicago
Quoting Mr. Barber, the author of If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities, Ms. Bergen writes,

Independent nation-states don't play well in the sandbox-they have reacted to problems by waging war for a long time.

Mr. Barber's book makes a case for a global council of mayors to deal with urban problems. He argues that Cities are less hamstrung by global tensions as as by national-level partisan politics.

Chicago has frequently ranked among the top cities but in recent years, the city has experienced painfully slow growth in its exports and foreign investment in new projects.  Chicago, according to Mr. Barber, has been a little more insulated than costal cities from a sense of the larger world outside...Chicago is just a little behind the curve.

Madison Street
Photograph by J.R. Schmidt
Chicago, Illinois
After the forum concluded, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs began to develop a, according to Ivo Daalder, president of the council, ... a "more effective" international strategy for Chicago by year-end. The non-profit World Business Chicago, the city's business attraction arm, will work with council, according to Andrew Spinelli, the director of global strategic initiatives.

The ambitious Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration has made efforts to raise the city's global profile by hosting events such as the NATO Summit and the World Summit of Nobel Laureates, in 2012, and last year, the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade meeting.  Chicago has also signed cooperation agreements with Mexico City and eight cities in China.  City officials are highlighting the Beijing-based Wanda Group's recent announcement of a nearly $1 billion hotel and condominium tower-a sign that Chicago is gaining traction among foreign investors.  However, convincing Chicago and other American cities to develop and aggressively pursue a foreign policies can be a tough sell.

Chicago State Street
In terms of scarce financial resources, trips to foreign countries could be viewed as "wasteful junkets."  This is especially true in Chicago, which is looking at "overwhelming pension debt and severe budget deficits at City Hall and the public school system."  Mr. Daalder recommends bringing Chicago's internationally-centric institutions under one umbrella.  He adds,

The city could make better alumni networks, for instance to identify economic opportunities for companies and for the city, in a more coherent way.

Chicago, like other major American cities, is rich with nationally and internationally renown universities and colleges.  For example my alma mater, the University of Southern California, have made efforts to connect itself to Los Angeles's economic development are in full swing, drawing talent from around the world.  Another example cited by Kathy Bergen is the University of Toronto. She writes, "The University of Toronto..., has an ongoing partnership with the University of Sao Paulo, which has led to an influx of Brazilian students."  According to university president Meric Gertler, We have close to 1,000 Brazilian students...and we were delighted by such a large number...Many love it here and want to enriches the labor force because there are a lot of entrepreneurs, risk-takers.  Definitely a good argument for immigration reform.

Study London
Meric Gertler is also fascinated by the British program, "Study London," a database for overseas families with college-age students interested in studying in one of the city's 47 universities.  Mr. Gertler continues, I've said to fellow university presidents...We should take a leaf out of London's book and do something here.

Hong Kong is another city drawing kudos for for its foreign policy.  Hong Kong's trade development has 44 offices around the globe, including Chicago.  The trade development office sponsors international conferences to promote the city as a gateway to Asia and brought its meeting to Chicago for the first time.  Andrew Spinelli enthuses, It's a big deal, referencing the fact that the conference was expected to draw over a 1,000 top-tier corporate executives and government officials.  Mr. Spinelli adds, This will let us highlight the city and help our companies make more connections.

Russell Street, Hong Kong
Kathy Bergen writes, "Sao Paulo's international relations team is part of a department that also acts as a liaison with Brazil's state and national governments.  The department doesn't operate foreign offices, but it devotes about 20 staffers to foreign affairs." The Brazilian international relations team participates in 16 issues-dedicated networks of cities with a high profile in six of them and partners with 10 international organizations. Leonardo Barchini Rosa said,

The goals...are to brainstorm with others on environmentally sound development strategies, to draw lessons from other cities and to work with Sao Paulo's separate business attraction agency on ways to improve the city...We can create commercial flows, we can create new contracts, we can bring attention to the city from foreign people.

One other point, "...collaborating with cities abroad plays a critical role in a city's foreign policy strategy."

Rohit Aggarwals served as a special adviser to former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg when Mayor Bloomberg served as chairperson of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group 2010-13.  Mr. Aggarwhal observed, Bloomberg clicked with former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, the group's founder.  This collaboration bloomed into "an in-depth sharing of strategies on issues ranging from dealing with traffic gridlock to fighting terrorism."  He told Ms. Bergen, Sure, you can meet someone at an event and develop a relationship, but it can end up being superficial...When you work on content with somebody, that's when you develop a real relationship.

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