Cities as agents of change

“A new urban global community is emerging in which cities are collaborating with each other on common problems while simultaneously competing with each other in the global marketplace. The days of sitting back and waiting for national governments to act are becoming a memory, especially as cities are faced with challenges that require immediate action.”

- New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the Economist (pointer CEOs for Cities)

Many city governments, residents, and organizations are taking action to circumvent inaction at higher levels of government. Take the health of citizens.

As of January 1, 2008 Calgary banned trans-fats at fast food restaurants. New York did so last year. Assuming these food ingredients are as unhealthy as claimed, federal government food agencies in Canada and the USA should have banned them long ago. For whatever reason, they did not. And so we have city governments being the agents that push for change.

Another health measure cities are tackling is cigarette smoke. For example, San Diego has banned smoking at public parks and beaches. Vancouver city council has banned it on outdoor patios. Many other cities have similar laws, or have proposed them. In some cases, city governments and the residents who elected them can provide inspiration to higher levels of government to pass broader restrictions such as state-wide or province wide bans.

Automobile exhaust and traffic accidents are other health hazards in cities.   Stockholm and London have congestion pricing — and Bloomberg wants it for New York — charging high fees for drivers who insist on driving in the city in peak times.  The city of Calgary Health Region wants a share of the photo radar ticket revenue to pay for hospital services for traffic accident victims.

Cities are chronically underfunded to provide infrastructure and many other services for their residents. So it is intriguing that city governments are finding other ways to provide a stable foundation for their residents and economy.


  1. Steve says:

    Agents of change or busybodies?

    What business do cities (or any government for that matter) have in telling us what we can or cannot eat? I can decide for myself thank you very much.

  2. Scott says:

    I agree with Steve, but I will note that Robert Kaplan talks about the growth of faux-city-states here in the US in his books Empire Wilderness and The Coming Anarchy and how he sees them developing that way in the future.


  3. Wendy Waters says:

    To an extent, I’m a little wary of this trend. It’s a little like telling me where I can shop.

    However, the federal governments tell us what we can, and cannot eat but approving or forbidding certain products through the Food and Drug Administration or the Canadian equivalent (the name of which escapes me right now – Food Safety Canada)?

    So, if the federal government can do it why not city governments?

  4. Phaedrus says:

    Local governments have long been agents of change – whether it be at the municipal of provincial/state levels. They are often seen as policy laboratories, in which policies can be tested and refined before being adapted at higher levels of government.

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