THE CITIES DIPLOMACY SERIES (I): URBAN ISSUES AND SOFT-INFLUENCE IN THE GLOBAL AGENDA OF GOVERNANCE
URBAN 360º, the blog edited by Pablo Sánchez Chillón, Urban Planning Lawyer, International Speaker, Strategy and Public Affairs Advisor and Urban Advocate. Pablo is Co-founder of Eolexcitylab and Sánchez Chillón, Urban Innovation Advocates, Consultants & Lawyers (Spain)
“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” (The Art of War – Sun-Tzu)
* New times, tools and actors for the global Urban Agenda.-After my recent analysis of the attributes and characterization of the Lobby strategies developed by Cities and the goals of the Advocacy for Cities, in the following two posts I want to share with you the result of my recent investigations about the content, extent and insights of the global performance of a true Urban Diplomacy by Cities, explaining how the mix of influence, reputation and collective efforts of mayors, advisors, private companies and individuals are pushing for the opening of an international Urban Agenda and a new framework for global governance, in which Cities have a principal role.
In a moment in which the World is becoming more open and connected than ever, Cities, traditionally mere followers of the dictates of national governments in terms of foreign affairs, are assuming a dynamic role as proactive actors in the global arena by using Global influence, Lobby techniques and ‘Soft Diplomacy’ tools to gain weight and resonance in the global conversation and decision making scenarios.
Although the states and national actors retain much of the traditional power and resources for shaping the global agenda of governance (budget, armies and political legitimacy), Cities, regardless of their size are working alone or joining new collaborative platforms of influence with their counterparts, linking the domestic agendas of governance with the universal challenges of massive urbanization, sustainability, economic growth and security, opening the door for the reinforcement of an international Urban Agenda and promoting the rise of new international urban-based ‘currencies’ as innovation, reputation, livability, creativity and other valuable intangible assets. Against the rudeness and elite-reserved performance of classical Diplomacy skills, Cities are getting on very well in developing the charms of soft and subtle Diplomacy, a natural field for the exercise of global influence of urban entities and their stakeholders and influencers.
Without a doubt, several Cities, like San Francisco, Tel Aviv or Berlin for starting-up purposes or Melbourne or Vancouver as livable cities, have succeeded in linking these new values to their global brand and reputation, using storytelling tools and collective urban embassy and digital influence to support and disseminate the message around the World. But beyond the current urban hypes and regular topics about how cities compete and grow, in a World in which international, national and domestic arenas blend together, less attention has been paid to the way in which cities are designing their international agenda and to how Mayors, Counsellors, public servants, companies, entrepreneurs and other urban stakeholders are performing a true diplomatic role on behalf of a common urban interest.
Turning to classical tools like the Sister Cities programs or appealing to brand new tactics based on the use (and sometimes abuse) of the Storytelling techniques, promotion of brands or more subtle strategies (specifically lobbying) Cities are strategically placing themselves near the decision making processes, by engaging and promoting the action of an increasing number of stakeholders and eventual actors in the tasks of city promotion and urban branding, playing a significant role in the international arena.
This new time for the choral Urban Diplomacy demands strong professional commitment for Cities and their structures, a new leadership and global skills for Mayors and their advisory teams, the help of a growing number of connected urban stakeholders and the smart use of the new digital tools and social networks and influencing as ‘weapons of mass diffusion’ of the merits and virtues of Cities and their strategies.Accepting that Cities are proactive participants in World politics and global governance implies a substantial change in terms of municipal leadership and regarding the performance of mayors and city leaders, who are more willing than ever to linking their municipal mandates to global agendas of diplomats and international organizations. In the process, some Mayors are becoming a sort of rising stars of global politics, being exposed to a growing attention of outer media, while frequently dealing with coldness and distrust from local electors.
* The growing role of urban issues in the global arena.- We are living the golden age of ‘urban’ seduction, as cities, urban challenges and not few concerns about growing population and limited resources for municipalities have become a popular topic for public discourse, managerial talk and political debate.
In the process, cities have become the scenarios of the global economy, acting as magnets for the new hyper-connected communities of Digizens and playing a singular role as hubs of innovation and source of universal flows of information and data produced by people, things and the interaction between urban actors. Not in vane, many key voices in urban studies like Peter Hall (sadly passed away some weeks ago) have steadily argued how the story of humanity is a story of cities, subtitling the impact that cities are having on an increasingly globalized world.
In the context of the renaissance of the position of urban entities as dynamic places for social innovation, hybrid coexistence between real and digital layers that intersect and house for new challenges regarding governance and new leadership, Cities perform the role of true new Data Republics, expanding their policy reach to all levels of global governance, from the most localized spheres of municipal and domestic affairs to globalized issues such as climate change, security, new democracy or economic exchange.
In addition to this, cities are endorsing and promoting the rise of new international urban-based ‘currencies’ as innovation, reputation, livability, talent and other valuable intangible assets, launching municipal offices and local leaders to play a major role in the international arena and opening the door for the arrival of a new era of single or multi-lateral urban international relations, which is made of a mix of the steady commitments of devoted mayors, the oriented activity of several networks of cities, the global interaction of multiple digital stakeholders and urban advocates and the diffuse activity of a bunch of respected new social media influencers, ready to cooperate with municipal causes on the basis of diverse agreements and compensations.
Moreover, the rise of new urban based communities connected to global networks of influence and interaction, the funding activity and technical support provided by multilateral organizations as the World Bank (with programs such as the Municipal Development Program, “Cities in Transition” Strategy or the Sustainable Cities Initiative), the European Union (Horizon 2020 Programs) or the United Nations (setting up a urban dedicated agency, United Nation’s Human Settlements Program – UN-Habitat), the myriad of events organized around urban matters gathering a legion of experts on urban issues (Smart City Expo Barcelona, Metropolis World Congress, for example) and the arrival of new tools as Big Data for understanding how cities deal in a smart way with the domestic agendas in a hyper-connected World, are paving the way for a renaissance of the interest on the science of cities, enhanced by a new intelligent approach to urban governance and local leadership.
Beyond the traditional commitment adopted by cities regarding the opening of new markets, the promotion of economic opportunities and the attraction of tourists, talent and capitals that goes back to the commercial missions assumed by State-Cities like classic Athens, first, and Florence and Venice in the Renaissance time, as urban centers gain greater economic power and population and local matters are regularly discussed in global meetings by national governments, an increasing number of cities, led by a group of global metropolis (as NY, London, Tokio, Río de Janeiro, Vancouver or Copenhangen) have understood the importance of being proactive in the international arena, joining the debates that will have a profound impact on the political, economic, and social stability of their day by day.
Likewise, the new engagement and intensified interaction between cities, their leaders and the legion of urban influencers moving freely in social networks and digital context is coining a new standard of global exchange on urban issues and shared concerns which is made of trust, respect and (win to win) shared experiences, calling up many municipalities and their mayors to the international stage of policy making and discussion. This new time for the Urban Diplomacy is also creating new platforms of stable collaboration between distant urban stakeholders and not few formal international alliances of urban counterparts that are eroding the traditional role of foreign representation assumed by national governments.
Last, but not least, a distinguished team of mayors have joined –albeit with different degrees of success- the golden league of global ambassadors of their cities, expending time, resources and political capital in their international skirmish, making regular appearances in international media outlets and events while keeping an eye on their domestic stuff.
Far from the classical role given to mayors giving enthusiastic welcome to celebrities or their performance as leaders of large business delegations to promote export opportunities and emphasize the advantages of their cities for foreign investment, a new global urban leadership is emerging everywhere, for which the sophisticated mix of personal good manners, professional focus, influence and contacts definitely matters. While local agendas are being linked to the global ones, the role and skills of mayors in our days is about to change, opening the door to the participation of city leaders in policymaking at the international level and providing them with the power influence formerly reserved for Presidents, Ministers and diplomatic officials at the state level.
Lots of mayors (of small, medium and mega- cities) are personally engaged with the international arena, playing a subtle role of ambassadors for their cities while accomplishing a personal agenda of global/local self-promotion, receiving sometimes in exchange, a fierce opposition and cold judgments from a big part of the electors of their district. You can follow the day by day of the new glocal leaders like the former mayor of NY, Michael Bloomberg (now a proactive philanthropist on urban innovation), Xavier Trías of Barcelona, Boris Johnson of London , Anibal Gaviria of Medellín or Eduardo Paes from Río de Janeiro to understand what is at stake when you mix the fire of internationalization with the gasoline of local perfomance.
* Towards a new multilayered global diplomatic environment.- Against the traditional ‘state-centric world’ in which national actors operate, we are facing the rise of a diverse ‘multicentric’ scenario in which cities and other non usual international actors operate the brand new multilayered diplomatic environment, expending time, money and reputation on the adventure of going global while remaining anchored to the domestic matters.
The new cartography of power is also marked by urbanization and the rise of cities as active hubs in global networks, with big implications for the economy and for how innovation happens, how ideas spread, and how governance is being transformed and power challenged everywhere. Some cities now rival states and regions in their wealth, population and global influence, racing for acquiring awards, merits, attention and international recognition and endorsement (and sometimes financial resources as well).
As rankings and classifications for Cities increase in number, from the latter “10 unfriendliest Cities” to the, last, but not least, so-called “World’s Most Influential Cities” by Forbes magazine, and show the arrival of rising urban stars in Asia and America (I do recommend the serious and non-partisan work of my colleague Boyd Cohen on ranking Smart and Innovative Cities), the classic measurement of urban performance is being enriched by the addition of new indicators and attributes (as the number of based start-ups, Innovation indexes etc) changing the theoretical framework used to compare cities and their global performance.
Anyway, the recent experience of international urban interaction shows for example, that size (formerly used as a solid kpi) is not key in terms of global performance, shifting the Influence (based on a soft-diplomacy focus), well-oriented Storytelling tools and Person-to-person Embassy are becoming the key factors for cities engaged in a global arena to win over their competitors.
In the era of unprecedented global access to information and digital empowerment of individuals and groups, the growing role of urban entities is being enhanced by the consolidation of the Internet culture (mainly open, collaborative and curious) which has expanded the opportunities to cultivate networks in the international urban political arena, opening the scene of the Public Diplomacy to the rising competences of a myriad of Non State Actors (NSA), like corporations, diasporas, refugees, celebrities, think tanks and, of course, cities and its ‘ambassadors’, essentially in the fields of influence and action-oriented People-to People Diplomacy.
As Cities are increasingly claiming terrain and responsibility for areas of competence and performance that were once considered as the sole preserve of the nation-states, and some of the global challenges for the upcoming years are tightly linked to the governance of urban entities, a new multilayered global diplomatic environment is coming into life, giving voice to single or networked cities willing to assume compromises and responsibilities beyond their traditional role as mere spectators of the international theater of policymaking. With Cities as New York , Vancouver or Copenhagen strongly committed to link their local agendas with the challenges of global climate change, no other actor would defend their position internationally better that themselves, bringing solutions closer to the urban problems and concerns.
On the other hand, this new multilayered scenario for global policymaking on urban matters, enlarged by the digital context of the Internet and social media cartography, opens the door for the occasional and collaborative action of Person-to-Person Diplomacy operated by an heterodox front of private actors (companies, advocates, digital influencers and networks of expatriates and diverse urban stakeholders) aligned with the goals of Cities.
Take the experiences of non-partisan an private organizations as London First, Partnership for New York City, or Barcelona Global as an example of private sectors doing soft-Diplomacy and Lobbying on behalf of their city based interests for understanding the new choral dimension of the global urban agenda.
* Cities and the Soft-Power.- “I’ve already tried everything. I spoke to his sister, I sent a letter to Calatrava (Architect), who is his neighbor in New York, and I’ll pay whatever it takes to bring him to film here” said in 2013 of the Rio de Janeiro’s Mayor, Eduardo Paes to the New York Times about his efforts to bring Woody Allen and his cameras to the Brazilian City.
Despite the debatable and desperate attempt of the Brazilian mayor to catch the attention of Mr. Allen, the call to Hollywood charms and their seductive celebrities for the sole purpose of spreading the word about the attractions of a city is not new, and sometimes has proven to be useful, but risky and expensive.
In any case, the barriers to a proactive play of Urban Diplomacy have been lowered in recent years (lower costs, ICT tools and diminishing prejudices), and Cities are mastering in what has been called Soft Power, or the art of subtle attraction and persuasion as opposed to the coercion of hard (military) power, the entrapment of sticky (economic) power and the clever combination of all of these contained in smart power. The “Soft Power” definition (related to state issues) was coined by Joseph S. Nye (Dean of the Harvard Kennedy School and former assistant secretary of the US Department of Defense) in his work ‘Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power’ published in 1990 and refined in ‘In the Soft Power: The Means To Success in World Politics’ published (2004).
Urban Soft-Power, as an evolution of the concept towards the urban environment and interests, actually focuses on influence, cultural exchanges and reputation of cities in a global context. In our hyper-connected world, place for the global competition among cities, the Urban Soft Power has taken its place at the core of urban policy-making and governance. This Soft-Power refers to the influence, cohesion and appeal (image, brand, reputation) that a city holds in its regular global performance. These values remain the key element of the competitiveness and interact with the called hard power, for example economy and technology. The Embassy of Intangible goods, as city reputation, and its power to attract and influence are the new fuel for the global performance of cities and a part of their strategy for economic development.
Urban Soft Power involves influencing other cities and regions, through attraction, persuasion and co-option. This subtle power, based upon the culture, values and other city’ attractions is not merely a new name for traditional diplomacy but a natural field for the conduction of international affairs in hands of Cities, whose vocation, size, flexibility and capabilities for global interaction, have turned as key performers for that latter evolution of Urban Diplomacy standards.
The self-appointment of mayors and cities to the arena of international relations is actually creating a momentum for shared urban solutions and concerns that is being built up in on influence, prestige and reputation, helping them to transform the global perception of the city.
Take Medellín, (Colombia), for example. In March, 2013 Medellín, formerly known as the one of the most insecure cities in the World and after an strong commitment assumed by local authorities and society in turning over its bad reputation, was named the world’s most innovative city in a competition organised by the non-profit Urban Land Institute, beating Tel-Aviv and new York. In April 2014; Medellín, proudly welcomed, at the peak of its gained reputation of innovative and friendly capital, the ten thousand international delegates joining the World Urban Forum 7 supported by Un-Habitat. In August, 2014 Medellín has been awarded as the South America’s Leading Meetings and Conference Destination 2014” at the World Travel Awards.
But sometimes, influence is being performed in quite an interesting soft and subtle manner. Let’s talk about urban innovation and (open) standards. Some of you will know the existence of the City Protocol Society, for instance, an extraordinary global attempt to foster an open community devoted to creating the “Internet of Cities”, meaning common approaches and solutions to help cities build a self-sufficient future. Sure, the vision and mission of the Society remain clear, open and remarkable, but as the day by day direction of the entity remains in Barcelona and their values and capital concepts were born in the dynamic Catalan city, sometimes the Society has been reported by scholars and experts as overmuch aligned with a presumed hidden agenda for Barcelona city, something that, actually has not been proven.
Anyway, Barcelona merits a global recognition for its City Strategy and values that have made the Catalan city deserve the appointment as I-Capital for the EU (more innovative City in Europe in 2014), and a quick view of some of its contemporary actions and initiatives can explain the existence of a solid strategy of Soft-Diplomacy for the City, the choice of Innovation as the principal attribute of the City Storytelling content and the resulting return of such a wise election in terms of economic development for the City.
For example, in July, 2011 Barcelona was selected to host the Mobile World Congress exhibition from 2012 to 2018, according to the GSM Association Ltd., the industry body which organizes the event. The award is said to be worth 3.5 billion euro (about $5 billion) to the city in terms of spending and increased trade.
In May, 2013: San Francisco’s (CA), Mayor Lee and Barcelona’s Mayor Xavier Trias renew and strengthen sister city relations by signing an agreement on cultural and economic exchanges, pointing to the Smart City and technology issues on mobility and urban management as triggers for cooperation between both cities. Also in May, 2013: Barcelona City Council and World Bank Sign an Agreement to Share Knowledge on Urban Technology and Innovation. In July, 2014, the Californian based company Cisco announced plans to open a new center dedicated to Internet of Things research in Barcelona, through a partnership with the city’s government. Cisco plans to invest about $30 million in the center between 2015 and 2020, especially in IT equipment, hiring talent, and maintaining the facility. Last, but not least, in August, 2014, Indian authorities announce that India will get three smart cities in five to seven years, that will be based on the Barcelona smart city model implemented by Cisco Systems.
Last (but not least), Jun, an small village (population 3.500) near Granada in Spain is being increasingly noted by the hard devotion of his Mayor, José Antonio Rodríguez (352K followers on Twitter today) to a brand new form of communication between government and people based on massive dialogs on Twitter. The gov model of Jun, “the town which runs on Twitter” (as a recent report on BBC called it) is being studied by the MIT and attracting tones of attention to that small city, proving that size doesn’t matter and global influence relies on attitude (and smart leadership and marketing tricks, of course).
Connect the dots. There is no coincidence in that.
Again on the extent and attributes of Urban Soft Power, as the exercise of power is shifting away from states altogether, Cities are playing more relevant roles and exerting greater influence in global affairs by reproducing and adapting strategies adopted by states and traditional actors of the international arena. As a matter of fact, Cities primarily try to influence decision-making through lobbying.
But It is not only about the need of lobbying resources for Cities (I have written a complete article on the matter a few weeks ago) but about considering the opportunity of devoting means and investments to the support of the their strategies of power and influence through softer and newer methods to strategically position themselves globally as places for attraction of people, talent and investments.
It was Michele Acuto in his work “Global Cities, Governance and Diplomacy: The Urban Link” who provocatively described cities as the invisible gorillas in the room of international studies” to illustrate how global cities interact with global governance, and how the catalytic role of their mayors and the networking capacity of the transnational policy-making networks they partake in are crucial in re-framing and re-scaling the world politics of our urban age. Despite of the animal you choose, Global Cities, due to their size, vocation, goals and structural flexibility might be outstanding pupils in the art of adapting and improving the tricks and tools of Soft Diplomacy.
* People-to-people interaction as a key enhancer for global urban influence.- In the era of Internet and social media accessibility, where millions of contacts are made person-to-person in real time, the empowerment of individuals and bodies beyond the state-centered paradigm and sometimes, outside governmental control coincides with an unprecedented degree of a choral performance of international affairs and a collective design of the global agenda, enhanced by the universal use of social media and the flow of information along the World.
In a moment in which social media plattforms are becoming bigger than countries , this move is closely associated with the new phenomenon of hyper-connectivity, as People-to-people contacts are growing in importance at a dramatic pace. The behaviours of Digizens (others call them Millenials), the 24-hour broadcasting, social media and mobile services are reinforcing a global society where like-minded people are better informed than ever before and can interact directly, bypassing borders and geographical distances and organize themselves, with limited governmental interference—even in places where government seeks to impose barriers upon the flow of information and opinion, as happened recently in Turkey. With 6 billion mobile phones around the world, 75 per cent of which are in developing countries (2013), the scale-up in people-to-people contacts is far from being a purely Western reality but a global mainstream, specifically in urban contexts.
In spite of the fact that Digital Diplomacy is gaining momentum among scholars and illustrated practitioners, and the repositories on the matter are growing – like the trustworthy “Digital Diplomacy Bibliography” of the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy, the emergence of a brand new digital and diffuse class of Soft Urban Ambassadors and its consequences for policymaking, external relations and governance for cities has been actually neglected by the specialized literature, leaving a void on the matter ready to be filled by amateurish contributions like this post.
In fact, we can track some initiatives devoted to the reinforcement of state’s soft-power strategies like the unique and serious Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence. The House of Lords Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence was appointed on 16 May 2013 to examine and report on the use of soft power in furthering the United Kingdom’s global influence and interests. Having completed its inquiry by providing a complete and read worthy Survey, the Committee has ceased, but releasing a quite interesting and worth reading Survey.
Indeed, there are some interesting studies of the soft exercise of international influence like the Monocle’s annual Soft Power Survey, released by Monocle magazine in collaboration with the Institute for Government and coming up with 30 countries who best attract favor from other nations through culture, sport, cuisine, design, diplomacy and beyond.
The internet had enabled mass peer-to-peer cultural contact eroding the supremacy of the original elite-to-elite first, and then elite-to-many focus, and was now entering a people-to-people stage, enhanced by travel, migration and the internet culture, resulting a world politics featuring many-to-many communications, where social media communities and emerging influencers are now more likely to trust and believe their peers than politicians or the traditional media. As a result of that, influence is moving away from governments and institutions and towards individuals and civil society, especially in Cities and urban entities. However, this digital-raised global empowerment means that governments and companies gather more information about citizens than ever before and privacy concerns increase dramatically. The digital age is somehow leveraging the Urban International agenda by empowering new channels for influence and exchange, specially in hands of the legion of Digizens (new digital citizens) , the committed work of a bunch of talented influencers and expatriates, who can contribute actively and with diverse degrees of intensity to the promotion and embassy of the City, paving the way for a (cheaper) and syndicated advocacy platform, made of the eventual contributions of privates and companies to the collective goals of the City.
As I have described above, cities as London, New York or Barcelona have already achieved remarkable results on encouraging private sector in the global embassy of the City and some national powers and offices, as the British FCO – Foreign and Commonwealth Office, for example, are convinced of the importance of recruiting a network of digital champions who will help them to share ideas and best practice.
Other Cities, like Copenhagen, have coined their own brand by attracting ‘green attention’ from everywhere. The City, deserving the role of the Greenest Capital in the World and mastering on Soft-selling of the City’s green capital and professional competences.
The facts for Copenhagen are clear; In 2014, as recognition of the city’s commitment to becoming the first carbon neutral capital by 2025, Copenhagen is awarded as the European Green Capital by the European Union, reinforcing its reputation as a global hub for green innovation.
In May 2014, Lord Mayor of Copenhagen, Frank Jensen, joins the Steering Committee of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group – the network of the world’s megacities taking action to reduce CO2 emissions and climate risks.
In July, 2014, the Danish Government signs an agreement with the Chinese authorities for implementation of Danish Smart City Solutions in the project for the Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City (SSGKC), call to be a unique, vibrant and sustainable city highly attractive to both talent and knowledge-based industries, and to serve as a model and catalyst for the Guangdong area. The agreement will pave the way for integrated Danish city solutions to be implemented in the SSGKC and thus provide Danish companies an opportunity to co-create smart city solutions in China.
* New Urban Leadership: Mayors as Cities Global Ambassadors – Let’s back to the New York of the 30’s, where can meet the dandiest figure of James J. Walker — colloquially known as Beau James — who presided over the city of NY as Mayor; with an allegedly strong commitment with life and its mundane pleasures, Mr. Walker became a symbol of the jazz age romanticism and during his first two years in the mayor office he is said to have taken seven vacations totaling 143 days, not too bad for a representative elected.
(The series on Urban Diplomacy continue HERE)