Urbanisation and rising inequality are two of the great global trends of our time. By 2050, around 70% of humanity will live in cities, and income inequality in OECD countries is higher than at any point over the past half century. We rarely, however, think about these two megatrends together.
The 70-year global trend towards capitalism, together with the deeper labour markets and pools of capital that exist in cities, have inevitably increased the rewards to those at the top. The problem is that these unprecedented levels of inequality are suppressing social mobility, segregating communities, raising the price of private sector goods in poorer neighbourhoods and stratisfying society.
The good news is that some cities are already leading the way. Here are five steps every mayor can take to emulate their work.
- City and national governments should partner to address inequality
Mayors need to take their share of responsibility for addressing inequality, whilst also using their political clout to demand that national governments provide money and manpower.
They need sustained funding support from national governments to support new pilots, along with the greater autonomy to launch them. The Greater London Authority, Portland Metro and Verband Region Stuttgart are all good examples of metropolitan region governance structures which have been handed devolved powers from their governments and pioneered local policies. Meanwhile, in South Korea and Japan, the government redistributes tax towards Seoul and Tokyo to compensate them for the costs of urban sprawl.
- Deliver more and better jobs for those at the bottom of the ladder
City halls should partner with school, colleges and employers to ensure employment opportunities for those needing support.
At risk groups, such as migrants, the disabled and racial minorities, may be in particular need of support. The Young Urban Movement Project in the Swedish cities of Malmo and Gothenburg is a good example, targeting second-generation immigrants in deprived areas of those cities with entrepreneurial skills like communication and networking.
- Integrate schools and residential communities
Greater disparities between rich and poor tend to create more segregated schools and communities, which in turn perpetuate inequalities across generations.
In education, city halls should invite local school networks to bid to experiment with new forms of early-childhood education. In Dallas, for example, Lumin Education, which runs four early-childhood schools, tested out a home visit programme to educate parents as well as children, play therapy and classes for children from age one. Graduates of their programmes have a 94% high school graduation rate compared with an average of 69% amongst other children from the same neighbourhood.
In housing, mixed-income housing developments, support of community development corporations and demanding ‘inclusionary zoning’ (planning permission which demands that developers meet their responsibility to communities by including affordable units in new builds) could come together to increase affordability.
Singapore, for example, has pioneered mixed-income and mixed-ethnicity housing. The state’s Housing and Development Board ensures that each neighbourhood mirrors the wider population, and 80% of the population has chosen to live in government-built apartments. The result is a city-state in which communities are integrated, and people from across the income divide come together to discuss things like whether the elevator is working.
- Get everyone on the bus (or train, or tram, or…)
High-quality public transport can connect all parts of a city, linking areas of deprivation to job centres.
Existing transport networks in many places are insufficient. In London, for example, the underground network primarily serves the more affluent north rather than the less wealthy part of the city south of the river.
“Public transportation is desired by many but is even more important for lower-income people who can’t afford cars,” says Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School. Some mayors have taken up the challenge. Enrique Peñalosa, the mayor of Bogotá, has invested heavily in the city’s bus network as a means of bringing citizens together: “An advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use public transport.”
- Join with other global cities to form a Global Alliance Against Inequality
Finally, the cities of the world should unite in this effort. Through shared learning and collaboration, the collective can move faster and further than any one city acting on its own. In the age of mass, global urbanisation, these cities often share more in common with one another than with smaller towns and villages in their own countries.
They have already shown collective leadership on the issue of global warming. The Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy is an “international alliance of cities and local governments with a shared long-term vision to combat climate change.” Its members include Hong Kong, Jakarta, Lima, London, Mexico City, NYC and more.
The time has come for the leaders of the world’s greatest cities to come together and form a Global Alliance Against Inequality. The need is urgent, the challenge vast, and the opportunity theirs.
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