Governance in the city of the future

The Futures Centre held an event as part of their The City in 2040 series at Cardiff University, in this look at how we might Govern the city of the future, they consider some of the challenges of the coming decades.

On one side, cities are gaining recognition as vital vehicles for delivery of climate solutions, and deserving of greater control on policy. On the other, privatisation and fast-moving technology draws some decision power away from city instances.

Will government or business run the city? More and more functions previously delivered by the public sector will be privatised: services outsourced, utilities privately run, the public realm privatised. And not only will digital technology displace or disintermediate functions previously done by the state, it will also increasingly provide the space for, and define the parameters of, public discourse. […]

“There has been a proliferation of digital realms for people to engage each other, but unfortunately the dominant practice has been to use digital tools to separate people into smaller and more divided interest groups.” He would be excited to see more “research and experimentation with technologies that allow people to have conversations in digital publics that are driving towards consensus building.”

Many countries and cities, especially in the western world but also in China and Japan, are getting older, how might an older population change which services cities focus on? And how will younger generations react to growing climate impacts they are not responsible for?

“Unfortunately, we’re not very good at thinking about responsibility to future generations,” said Jane Davidson author of futuregen and an instigator of the pioneering Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. “Wales pioneered the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act to rectify this, but at the moment, is the only country in the world that has such a law”.

Digital technologies can be very democratizing, and as adoption grows they might help in improving city services and infrastructure. On the other hand, city administrations struggle to keep up and some platforms like Airbnb, Deliveroo, or Uber change the the way we use urban space.

These platforms primarily operate in urban markets and are often competing with or replacing government services or doing things that that used to be regulated”. […]

The risk is higher for countries, but cities will also be impacted by rising authoritarianism, often exacerbated by the climate crisis.

There is a risk that an increase in extreme weather events, population movements, and shortage of essentials, driven by climate change and other environmental and social pressures, provoke an autocratic response. Threats and risks — real or perceived — might arouse populism and authoritarianism

Citizens need to be able to participate in designing how their cities will evolve into the future, multiple generations need to take stock and collaborate, as in Japan’s Future Design, “a pioneering participatory and place-based process to engage with the future.”

Even more importantly, city authorities need to think much longer term and govern beyond their current mandate, thinking not only over a few years but also considering coming decades and generations.

“We won’t get it right unless we begin to take more responsibility with regard to what is known and unknown about the future..and think about who is involved in building knowledge about the future, and what values are necessary in order to instigate and to follow through on action.”