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Thursday, 28 May 2015

Global city-states - a new Hanseatic League

Yesterday, I noticed an intriguing Financial Times posting on my Facebook: "A new global order of cities" written by Ivo Daalder. Mr Daalder, a Dutch-American, states the following: "For the first time in human history, more people now live in cities than in rural areas. By 2050, 6.5bn people, two-thirds of all humanity, will live and work in cities. In 1950 fewer than one billion did so."

The environmental impact of this is well illustrated by his additional remark: "Cities only cover two per cent of the earth’s surface, but they consume 78 per cent of the its energy and account for 60 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions." Please see my May 3 blog regarding the impact of cities on climate change. Global urbanisation is not even considered a relevant factor in the 8 causes for climate change, as listed by the British Geological Survey.

Mr Daalder draws an interesting parallel to the "Hanseatic League of medieval cities, with global centres trading and working together". Wikipedia states the following: "The Hanseatic League was a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and their market towns that dominated trade along the coast of Northern Europe. It stretched from the Baltic to the North Sea and inland during the Late Middle Ages and early modern period (c. 13th to 17th centuries). The League was created to protect economic interests and diplomatic privileges in the cities and countries and along the trade routes the merchants visited. The Hanseatic cities had their own legal system and furnished their own armies for mutual protection and aid."

Mr Daalder stresses the importance of cities by stating: "While not sovereign, global cities are increasingly independent — driving policies that stimulate wider change. They drive the world’s economy. The 600 biggest cities account for more than 60 per cent of global gross domestic product. The top 20 are home to one-third of all large corporations, and almost half of their combined revenues. Tokyo leads the pack — in population size, economic punch and number of corporate headquarters — ahead of New York, London and Paris. [..] In short, global cities are increasingly driving world affairs — economically, politically, socially and culturally. They are no longer just places to live in. They have emerged as leading actors on the global stage."

Global urbanisation and an interplanetary Hanseatic League, often are key assumptions in science fiction movies. Quite often these Sci-Fi movies paint a dire socio-economic picture of our future life in global city-states. In general, they paint two societies living independently of each other: a small upper layer and a large lower layer with minimal interconnection. The upper layer is usually based on meritocracy. The lower level is based on "survival of the fittest" and a corresponding lack of moral values. Why does all of this feel so familiar already??

Governing these global city-states will become a challenge. A (parliamentary) democracy may not be a fit model for city-states. Perhaps Singapore already shows us the way forward. I wouldn't even be surprised if the future "mayor" of these cities will be labeled as a Chief Executive Officer.
Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today - but the core of science fiction, its essence has become crucial to our salvation if we are to be saved at all. Isaac Asimov