Alternative City Futures: Lessons from Around the World

Join CUI’s Mary W. Rowe, Antonella Valmorbida, Secretary-General at the European Association for Local Democracy, Jean Pierre Mbassi, Secretary-General at United Cities and Local Governments of Africa, and Rudi Borrmann, Deputy Director at Open Government Partnership Local, as they discuss how municipalities across the world are driving reform in governance and citizen engagement to help reimagine alternative possible futures for Canadian cities.

2021 Massey Cities Summit

From April 6-8 2021, The Massey Cities Summit 2021 brought together leaders from across Canada and the world to reimagine the municipal role in Canadian federalism, while also acknowledging the constitutional rights of First Nations.

Organised by Massey College and the Canadian Urban Institute (with much appreciated support from the Maytree Foundation and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada).

5 Key

A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation

1. Local governance is about the people

Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi of the UCLG of Africa reminds us that local governance is not just about policies and legislation; for many people in our cities, it is a matter of life or death. Says Jean-Pierre, “Beyond the statistics, beyond the laws, beyond the maps, there are real human beings who cannot be reduced to averages, and whose lives can be destroyed by the stroke of a pencil.”

2. Accountability requires decentralized powers

Antonella Valmorbida of the European Association for Local Democracy argues that public accountability is built in part through citizens’ awareness of the authorities embedded within their local governments. But if responsibilities are not decentralized and local governments are not empowered to tackle the issues that matter to their residents, there is no reason for people to become invested in the future of local governance. Subsidiarity is critical.

3. The architecture of governance has become a “black box”

Rudi Borrmann of the Open Local Government Partnership says public trust is challenged by the fact that the architecture of government has become a “black box.” Without the resources and intentional opportunities to involve and explain to residents how their taxes are spent, how decisions are made, and how they can provide input, people will not care about equitable governance. “Local governance is important. Open local governance is key.”

4. More complex forms of governance are possible

Decentralized authorities open the door for more complex forms of governance that are more aligned with the experiences of residents. Jean-Pierre gives the example of African cities, where the legitimacy of public authorities sits alongside and sometimes in competition with traditional, religious, and other forms of authority. Local government can be strengthened through “positive complicity”—for example, by involving traditional authorities in local government.

5. Local governments need to work differently

During COVID, many local governments have stepped up to tackle problems differently, with cross-sector partners. But even when the global pandemic eventually comes to an end, there will be other challenges, just as visible and visceral, that demand local governments to innovate.  Training and capacity building for local governments will be critical.