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Speaking of Cities…

Citiscope (a site I highly recommend to those readers who care about urban policy) has been focusing on Habitat III, the next major U. N. conference on cities.

Habitat III is to be held next month in Quito, Ecuador. For more than a year, global networks of mayors and local governments have been gearing up for what amounts to the Olympics of urbanism. Habitat III is arguably the world’s most important conversation about the future of cities. And it’s taking place at a time when rapid urban growth on all continents, especially Africa and Asia, makes that discussion more crucial than ever.

Officially known as the U. N. Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, Habitat III is a rare event in global policy circles — the one time every 20 years when heads of state and national ministers gather to discuss and debate urban policy. (The first Habitat conference took place in Vancouver in 1976.)

The gathering in Quito is expected to produce a sweeping but nonbinding global strategy on sustainable urbanization. Known as the “New Urban Agenda,” this strategy will include recommendations for fighting urban poverty, devolving authority to local governments and bolstering streams of municipal finance, among other issues. Diplomats are still negotiating the details, but once finalized in Quito, the document will join last December’s Paris climate agreement and other recent accords to create a global framework for sustainability.

The problem is that, thus far, U.S. Mayors are nowhere to be found. If the governance of cities is becoming increasingly central to the national and global future, “opting out” should not be an option.

In a different article, also posted to Citiscope, respected political scientist Benjamin Barber explains what he sees as the role of urban areas:

In my 2014 book “If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities”, I proposed that cities may be to the future what nations were to the past — efficient and pragmatic problem-solving governance bodies that can address sustainability and security without surrendering liberty or equality. If, that is, they can work together across the old and obsolete national borders. And if they can assume some of the prerogatives of sovereignty necessary to collaboration.

In fact, cities are doing just this. A few years ago, the United Nations announced that a majority of the world’s population lives in cities, while economists recognize that 80 percent or more of global gross domestic product is being produced in cities. From the United Kingdom and China to the United States and Italy, authority is being devolved to cities.

One of the reasons that scholars like Barber have high hopes for cities is their recognition of the importance of civic trust (an essential element of social capital); polling shows that citizens’ trust in city governments remains high while, on average, only a third of citizens around the world say they trust their national governments. Two-thirds or more of those same citizens say they trust mayors and other local officials.

Although Barber doesn’t address it, I think one reason for higher levels of trust in city governments is the perception–largely accurate–that individual actors can influence local government. That perception is in stark contrast to the widespread conviction that ordinary citizens have no voice on the national stage. Much of the anger and hostility on display in our national politics comes from a feeling of powerlessness–a recognition that systemic and institutional forces are beyond the ability of average citizens to modify or control.

Cities, too, face institutional impediments.

In the United States, federalism has meant devolution of authority to states, not cities, and as a result, in states like Indiana that lack meaningful home rule, urban areas lack political power to decide their own fates. If the scholars who write at Citiscope and the political figures who support Habitat are right–if cities are going to be central to future governance– eliminating the barriers to genuine home rule will be critically important.

I don’t know about other cities in other states, but in Indiana, where cities are firmly in the thrall of our “overlords” in the state legislature, gaining the right to self-determination won’t be easy.


On a Lighter Note…

Taking a “vacation” from my obsession with the state of our politics….

I was cleaning out my desk files in preparation for the upcoming semester, when I came across this PERFECT visual description of how a bill really becomes a law. It was shared with me several years ago by a government affairs professional.




Technical difficulties/Apologies

We are having technical issues with the service that sends out notifications when new material is posted to the blog. Some people are getting multiple notices; others are not receiving any. We’re working on it, and appreciate your patience while we try new “fixes” and possibly, new services.

Sorry for the inconvenience!!

Your Religion, My Body–Happy Mother’s Day

It’s Mother’s Day–an appropriate time to think about human reproduction.

So…let me suggest a science fiction scenario.

We’re 25 years into the future. In reaction to massive population growth, NoNo, a religion encouraging ritual sterilization, has become the majority religion  in the U.S.  Practitioners believe (sincerely and devoutly) that God wants humans to avoid reproduction. (This religion’s conception of Diety is noncommittal on sex–it’s just making babies She is discouraging.)

As this religious community has grown, it has come to control the majority of the nation’s hospitals; well over 60% of them have become part of a national network of medical facilities run by and faithful to NoNo principles.

Our protagonist is not a NoNo, but she lives in a small town with only one hospital, and it is part of the NoNo network. She suddenly becomes ill. She is taken to the hospital in her area, where she is diagnosed with a treatable condition that will require minor surgery–and she’s told that, according to the tenets of NoNo, she will also be sterilized during the procedure. She objects–she’s only twenty, has never had children and desperately wants to be a mother–but her objections are deemed irrelevant. She is deprived of her control over her own body and any chance of having biological children.

Far fetched? Not if you switch the text.

The California Medical Association is seeking to join the ACLU of Northern California in its lawsuit against a Catholic hospital system over one of its facilities’ refusal on religious grounds to allow a doctor to perform a tubal ligation after a planned Cesarean section….

The suit stems from a case at Mercy Medical Center in Redding, one of Dignity Health’s 29 hospitals across the state. Mercy Medical says its refusal to perform the procedure was based on the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, written by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Directives – followed by all of California’s 35 Catholic hospitals – prohibit birth control, abortion and, in most cases, sterilization.

The California Medical Association says hospitals should make decisions that are medically appropriate–and should not make medical decisions that are contrary to best practices for reasons of religious dogma, especially when the patient does not accept that dogma.

Civil libertarians–in this case, the ACLU–say individuals should not have to cede control over their bodies and beliefs in order to receive medical care.

Over the past quarter-century or so, Catholic hospitals have assumed control of a significant percentage of the nation’s hospitals. What the courts need to decide is whether the merger of these hospitals entitles the Church to dictate medical decisions that would at best be considered “non-standard” or at worse would constitute malpractice.

Because God.

Suddenly, my “science fiction” scenario doesn’t look so far-fetched. As I’ve said before–a government with the power to prohibit abortion (or birth control) is a government with the power to require it. As a friend used to put it, poison gas is a great weapon until the wind shifts.

Unless the courts rule otherwise, hospitals with a monopoly on medical care can impose their own rules. Based upon their religious beliefs. No matter which way medical science’s winds blow.