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)

thedigitalembassySome days ago, the first delivery of this Urban Diplomacy Series I have tried to focus on 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 engaged individuals is contributing to the opening of an international Urban Agenda and a new framework for global governance, in which Cities and urban issues are performing a principal role.

By remarking the experience of some leading cities as Barcelona, Copenhagen or Medellin, their focus on internationalization and the use of storytelling techniques and transmedia languages to broaden their global reputation and influence as innovative, green or friendly cities, I have tried to explain how in a world more open, noisy and connected than ever, (clever) cities, traditionally set aside of the hot centers of decision and policy making, are pushing the global agenda of governance by taking on a dynamic role in terms of influence, lobby and ‘Soft Diplomacy’, more aligned with their interests, worries and expectations.

Against the secrecy and elite-reserved performance of classical Diplomacy skills, some Cities are getting on very well in developing the charms of soft and subtle Diplomacy in international arenas, by adding to the battery of actions and strategies deployed in global centers of decision a brand new (and diffuse) strong commitment of a network of urban stakeholders and digital activists willing to tell, sell and defend the city abroad. For the very first time in the history of Cities, Urban Diplomacy is being outsourced and performed by a rising Cloud of Influencers.

The diligent and constant work of those digital marksmen (ready to tell the audience where to go, what to dress or eat, and why to support distant initiatives and opinion battles) is adding a subtle layer of influence to the role developed by municipal staffs in spreading the word about their cities. Indeed, Mayors, as the rising stars of a constellation of urban celebrities (mostly tweeting or being tweeted) are actually assuming diplomatic commitments beyond the ordinary duty, opening debates about the content and extension of the performance of local rule.

for mayorLast but not least, 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, good reputation, livability, creativity and other valuable intangible assets.

Beyond the current urban hypes and regular topics about how cities compete and grows, 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. Urban Diplomacy, as an emerging trend and attitude for cities attends to how urban entities build tales, brands and strategies (from lobbying to external relations) to strategically position themselves globally as places for attraction of people, talent and investments but also about the way an increasing number of stakeholders and eventual actors are engaged in international city promotion and urban branding, aligning their action with the common effort to play a significant role in the international arena.

In the age of the “sharing-everything” standing alone is not more an option for cities.

* People-to-people interaction as a catalyst 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.

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 behaviour of Digizens (others call them Millennials), 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. The internet had enabled mass peer-to-peer cultural contact eroding the supremacy of the original elite-to-elite 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.

urban umbrellas by pabloschillonAs a result of that, influence is moving away from governments and institutions and towards individuals and civil society, especially in Cities and urban entities. Open Innovation for cities, talented freelance commitment and collaborative experiences through digital (and physical) networks are widening the weapons and resources in hands of cities, by removing the barriers for cooperative discussion and knowledge production. Talent has put down roots in cities and citizens are ready to join the fiesta. However, digital-raised global empowerment means that governments and companies gather more information about citizens than ever before and privacy concerns increase dramatically, posing new challenges for the contemporary living, not resolved yet by old-fashioned laws and traditional problem solving.

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 in my previous post, cities as London, New York or Barcelona have already achieved remarkable results on encouraging private sector in the global embassy of the City. The combination of private and public efforts make things happen. This same week, (sept. 2014) Barcelona have won the Mayors’ Challenge of Bloomberg Philanthropies (awarded 5 million euro ($6.5 million), a competition that spurs cities to develop novel approaches to improve urban by encouraging innovative ideas that could also potentially be spread to other cities.

* Follow the Leader: Mayors as Global Ambassadors –

the-new-diplomats-by-bbc-co-ukUnder the 24 hours scrutiny siege-like of our days, no Mayor would keep comfortable by being compared with the “Night Mayor” James J. Walker — colloquially known as Beau James— who presided over the city of NY as Mayor in the 20th century golden 20’s; with an allegedly strong commitment with life, dandyism and the mundane pleasures, Mr. Walker become a symbol of the jazz age romanticism and personified the city’s rebellious attitude against social restriction. It was Beau James who, during his first two years in office in NY was said to have taken seven vacations totaling 143 days, not too bad for an elected leader.

Nowadays, the script is quite different. Globalization, the Internet revolution, the rise of accountability and transparency and the (at least perceived) collective empowerment of citizens are long term trends that are changing the macro context of political and organizational leadership, also regarding the Cities level. In the context of this new time for a choral and soft Urban Diplomacy, the global conversation and performance demand strong professional commitment for Cities and their structures, and a new kind of leadership and global skills for Mayors and their advisory teams, as successful leaders are using a more integrative and participatory manner that places greater emphasis on the soft power of attraction rather than the hard power of command.

Beyond the biased characterization of the new E-Democracy as a cyclical debate on 140 characters lasting 5 minutes , it is clear that, regarding urban embassy, the help of a growing number of connected urban stakeholders and the smart use of the new digital tools and social networks and influence as ‘weapons of mass diffusion (and distraction)’ of the merits and virtues of Cities and their strategies remain a key factor in our days. With a lot of interests at stake, Cities, as the new Data Republics, are paving the way for the emergence of a brand new Person-to-Person Diplomacy, based in diffuse, dynamic and effective personal networks in which the exercise of power, in hands of committed politicians means eventual co-leadership and neglection of autocratic, ruthless and almost despotic performance.

Global information flows, informal alliances, social networks, person-to-person diplomacy and the need of having an active role in the international instances where local interests are not much represented by central governments, are reinforcing the perceived need for cities to engage in city diplomacy by showcasing the values and merits of the City in a good storytelling strategy, to be spread mainly, by a new firmament of star-committed Mayors dealing with international agendas, events and foreign compromises.

Against the firm belief that a mayor cannot lead remotely the City and its unique and urgent features, some mayors have taken the international engagement as a substantial part of their domestic agenda, linking both scenes on purpose. Sure, embarking on a new journey through the International Affairs arena –or supporting the previous one- is an strategic long-term decision for a City while a tempting and delicate choice for a mayor, who needs to demonstrate that the monies expended, the time devoted to, and the eventual trips abroad will be boosting the city’s profile and producing more than nice pictures and friendly press notices to be broadcasted.

In that context, my experience working with mayors and municipalities have taught me that good local leadership is one of the preconditions for successful City Diplomacy as well as a useful antidote against local criticism and mistrust, avoiding bitter tastings like the one reserve for the Cincinatti Mayor, Mark Mallory in his commitment with urban embassy “It’s not meant to just been seen in the city. It’s to be a global ambassador”.

New Urban Diplomacy requires of an strong commitment from the local leaders and their officials, and a ground based support from the city inhabitants and the rest of urban stakeholders, mixing pragmatic good manners and communication skills, and the ‘smart’ use of single messages and metrics (Big Data and Business Intelligence are of help) to transform the international City efforts in facts and figures to be understood by electors and taxpayers. Local politicians, as its national counterparts (and especially those elected for the office), are under a 24 hours scrutiny which has been enhanced by the growing culture of transparency and accountability in public life, the unsolved tension between domestication-globalization of politics and the requirements of openness in the context of the hyper-connected networks of citizens. Any single decision taken in terms of governance (and going into the international arena is a significant one) needs to be explained to a widening audience made of local electors and a diffuse myriad of stakeholders ready to argue from the balconies of social media.

But sure, accepting the privilege for mayors of going abroad on behalf of the City doesn’t implies an universal carta blanca to all the instances of a Municipality to do the same. When it comes to vice-mayors or lower staff in the city, public opinion is absolutely diverse. Take the example of the so-called Air-Miles Eddie” in London or the Vice-Alcalde Vives in Barcelona to understand that global embassy and city diplomacy are restrictive toys in hands of principal bullfighters, not subordinados.

When it comes to talk about joining up the global urban arena and its innovative cities (and their Mayors) are faced with a principal challenge: they have to accomplish that their efforts in this international field are perceived by citizens and opinion makers as a profitable job in terms of economic improvement and quality of life. The challenge for Mayors, aides and committed urban advisors is to share their enthusiasm about soft diplomacy and its benefits with the public and take seriously the hard task of making it accessible for every single voter, as sooner or later, accountability or re-election will be knocking the door.

In the age of social media, massive distraction and collective disbelief against politicians and institutions, it is all about metrics and ROI. Communication skills and civic engagement become crucial.

* Cities networking rather than being networked by states.-

We can find recent examples of municipalities responding better than their countries to urgent issues and challenges. From procurement to safety matters, cities are prone to addressing the current urban challenges through the lens of experimentation and lab-like focus, approaching problem solving to their needs, ground and stakeholders.

Just a few weeks ago, the creative Richard Florida, Benjamin Barber, Political theorist and author of “If Mayors Ruled the World”,  and Don Tapscott published a two-part research report advocating for the instauration of a Global Parliament of Mayors Governance Network. This United Nations-like ensemble of Cities, sponsored by such digital thinkfluencers as the mentioned above is actually gaining momentum and support, and the global parliament of mayors will convene in Amsterdam this same week while some scholars (keen on performing the role of enfants terrible of the urban constellation of thinkers) are wondering about considering the initiative as an useful response to urban problems – or as a half-formed idea coughed up by smooth talkers with books to sell”.

The idea of a global parliament of cities is not new and, for sure, it is quite arguable (what cities don’t need right now is a new layer of bureaucracy), but the effort means to be noticeable and challenging.

Beyond the partisan controversy to be checked out here, working alone or joining new collaborative platforms of influence with their counterparts, Cities, regardless of their size, are 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, talent and other valuable intangible assets and other Soft-Power by-products.

Mayors, Cities and the ensemble of urban leaders have not just been appointed as policy implementers, but have joined together in partnerships with other international actors, paving the way for a more dedicated defense of their interests in the global. As a result of that, nowadays we can find a lot networks of cities around the World with very different goals, members, funding resources and structure, and, also lots of mayors (of small, medium and big cities) engaged personally with the international arena, playing a subtle role of ambassadors for their cities while accomplishing a personal agenda of global/local self-promotion, going sometimes beyond the ordinary range of activities developed by a local leader and receiving fierce opposition and cold judgments from a big part of the voters and neighbours.

Pablo S Chillon II Tarragona Smart Forum by Actual Smart CityAlthough the networks of international cities and their partners are usually committed to encourage the exchange of information, experience and best practices on urban development and city management, acting sometimes as a source of information for local leadership and a catalyst for debate, there are other rising networks of urban actors supporting a more complex and deepest strategy of soft-diplomacy, by considering the international relations of cities as a sophisticated, professional and urgent issue, where manners, influence and contacts matter. These self-commited networks provide knowledge, inputs and practical tools to mayors and municipal offices wanting to engage in international relations and ready to address legal and institutional aspects of urban diplomacy, such as lobbying skills, communication tools, team building and relations with non-governmental actors at city level, and relevant partnerships with universities and think tanks).

Beyond the noticeable “question of size” and “west-centricity” in the latter state of the art of networked City Diplomacy (municipal networks shaping global governance have been dominated by European and American global cities, now challenged by the rising urban stars of Asia), we can find some relevant examples of networks of cities committed, somehow, to provoke and consolidate the emergency of an urban international agenda, (by networking instead of being networked from above):

Eurocities is the network of major European cities and was founded in 1986 by the mayors of six large cities: Barcelona, Birmingham, Frankfurt, Lyon, Milan and Rotterdam.

Today, it brings together the local governments of over 130 of Europe’s largest cities and 40 partner cities, that between them govern 130 million citizens across 35 countries. Through six thematic forums, a wide range of working groups, projects, activities and events, Eurocities has become a platform for sharing knowledge and exchanging ideas, and an evident instrument for lobbying on behalf of its members. One of its confessed aims is to influence and work with the EU institutions to respond to common issues that affect the day-to-day lives of Europeans. Eurocities looks for reinforcing the role that local governments should play in a multilevel governance structure, trying to shape the opinions of Brussels stakeholders and ultimately shift the focus of EU legislation in a way which allows city governments to tackle strategic challenges at local level. So, pure Urban Lobby.

You can also find the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) “the voice of America’s Mayors in Washington” looks more like a lobbying platform than a parliament of cities, and goes back to the Great Depression, hard times for the population of the American Cities. “In 1932, 14 million people were unemployed in the United States, “lines stretched for blocks in front of soup kitchens, homeowners were unable to pay taxes, veterans were selling apples on street corners, and the nation’s cities were close to bankruptcy”. Responding to the appeals of mayors, Congress created a $300 million federal assistance program for cities, marking the first time in the nation’s history that federal relief was provided directly to cities. In a dramatic White House meeting, a committee of three prominent mayors convinced President Herbert Hoover to sign this desperately needed municipal assistance bill.

Representing cities with populations of 30,000 or more (1,393 in the country today) the members of USCM (elected mayors) speak with a united voice on organizational policies and goals. Mayors contribute to the development of national urban policy by serving on one or more of the conference’s standing committee. The USCM is being reprogrammed and at the 82nd annual U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) meeting in Dallas in feb 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio of NY and USCM President and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson announced the “Cities of Opportunity Task Force.” Chaired by Mayor de Blasio, the task force will bring together mayors from across the nation to leverage the power of municipal governments to advance a national, common equity agenda.

A very interesting network of cities focused on Urban Diplomacy matters is the Euro-Latin-American Alliance of Cooperation among Cities (the AL-LAs Project), a network based on a strategic urban approach that emphasizes the international role of cities as hubs of innovation in a global context, and that after one year of existence has proved to be a successful platform for bringing cities together and to underline the importance of international relations. With the financial support of the European Union, AL-LAs gathers Latin American and European partners to discuss, analyse and propose new formulas to internationalize local governments. The Government of Mexico City coordinates the project in partnership with six other Latin-American cities: Montevideo (Uruguay), Morón (Argentina), Belo Horizonte (Brazil), Quito (Ecuador), Medellín (Colombia) and Lima (Peru) as well as two European local government networks: United Cities of France (CUF) and the Andalusian Fund of Municipalities for International Solidarity (FAMSI).

By trying to create a new international order that is more local, horizontal and collaborative AL-LAs has succeeded in developing a strong Euro-Latin American network of cities and institutions with both technical-operational capacities, by re-thinking the way in which cities position themselves in the global arena; creating new ways to strengthen their international policies, to make them more strategic, less incidental, better planned and more professional.

Moreover, the C-40 Climate Leadership Group, which gathers some of the most prominent cities worldwide in an attempt to offer urban solutions to global warming. As their website declares, acting both locally and collaboratively, C40 Cities are having a meaningful global impact in reducing both greenhouse gas emissions and climate risks. C40 brings together a unique set of assets and creates a shared sense of purpose and offers cities an effective forum where they can collaborate, share knowledge and drive meaningful, measurable and sustainable action on climate change.

Still focusing on environmental matters, we can talk about the World Mayors Council on Climate Change, an alliance of committed local government leaders concerned about climate change. They advocate for enhanced engagement of local governments as governmental stakeholders in multilateral efforts addressing climate change and related issues of global sustainability. The Council was founded in December 2005 by Yorikane Masumoto, Mayor of City of Kyoto (Japan) at the time, soon after the Kyoto Protocol entered into force in February 2005. There are presently over 80 members of the Council, representing a vast network of local governments working to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Membership is open to Mayors and equivalent leaders of municipal levels of government. The Chair of the Council is Marcelo Ebrard, Mayor of Mexico City. Jürgen Nimptsch, Mayor of Bonn (Germany), is serving as Vice Chair while Former Mayor Yorikane Masumoto of Kyoto City (Japan) is the Honorary Chair.

The United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) represents and defends the interests of local governments on the world stage, regardless of the size of the communities they serve. Headquartered in Barcelona, the organisation’s stated mission is to be the united voice and world advocate of democratic local self-government, promoting its values, objectives and interests, through cooperation between local governments, and within the wider international community.

Established in 2005, the Global Mayors’ Forum (GMF) is a high-end global forum for sustainable urban development organized by influential organizations and enterprises from all around the world. The GMF holds events, conferences, and dialogues on sustainable urbanization, publishes the Dialogue to Mayors and facilitates a network of cities and of green industry practice zones.

C40_logo-130407-noboxICLEI – Local Governments to Sustainability vows to be the world’s leading association of cities and local governments dedicated to sustainable development. Representing 12 mega-cities, 100 super-cities and urban regions, 450 large cities as well as 450 medium-sized cities and towns in 86 countries, CLEI promote local action for global sustainability and support cities to become sustainable, resilient, resource-efficient, biodiverse, low-carbon; to build a smart infrastructure; and to develop an inclusive, green urban economy with the ultimate aim to achieve healthy and happy communities.

In a more specific performance, we can find The City Mayors Foundation, established in 2003 to promote, campaign for and facilitate good, open and strong local government. Last, but not least, the RECI – Spanish Network of Smart Cities, devoted to sharing knowledge and good practises among its members, 54 municipalities of Spain.

Hard to choose one, the list is quite long and maybe, although the need of a compass to avoid being lost in the sea of acronyms and initials, the existence of such ensembles of urban leaders prove that Cities are increasingly gathering on specific purpose, addressing the urban challenges and sharing knowledge and experience with their counterparts, rather than being networked from above. It is a question of scale, understanding and commitment.

[Liked it? Check out my Urban Diplomacy Series]

URBAN 360º, the blog curated by Pablo Sánchez Chillón, Urban Planning Lawyer, International Speaker, Strategy and Public Affairs Advisor and Urban Advocate. Pablo is Co-founder of Eolexcitylab, Urban Innovation Advocates (Spain).


  1. Reblogueó esto en Urban Mill – Building IntenCity!y comentado:
    «Last but not least, 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, good reputation, livability, creativity and other valuable intangible assets. »
    «Global information flows, informal alliances, social networks, person-to-person diplomacy and the need of having an active role in the international instances where local interests are not much represented by central governments, are reinforcing the perceived need for cities to engage in city diplomacy by showcasing the values and merits of the City in a good storytelling strategy, to be spread mainly, by a new firmament of star-committed Mayors dealing with international agendas, events and foreign compromises.»

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