The Great Powers and Urbanization Project
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Over the course of the early twenty-first century, global economic and demographic trends have increased the relative importance of urban spaces, and cities themselves have organized collectively in the face of transnational challenges.
While cities and mayors have increasingly moved into the international arena, heightened geopolitical tensions have demonstrated that the nation-state, and tensions between nation-states, will still shape much of the future. Great power politics and urbanization are not separate phenomena. Peace, power, and prosperity in the twenty-first century will require urban expertise, as will solving global problems around climate change, migration, and equitable development. Successful powers will build stable and innovative cities at home while projecting influence, and at times military strength, in urban settings abroad.
The Great Powers and Urbanization Project, or GPUP, was a collaboration of global leaders in international and urban affairs: the University of Pennsylvania’s Perry World House, the University of Melbourne’s Connected Cities Lab, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the Argentine Council for International Relations (Consejo Argentino para las Relaciones Internacionales), the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB), and the African Centre for Cities.
GPUP took as its premise that neither the city, nor the nation-state, nor geopolitical rivalry are in retreat at the start of the twenty-first century. To the contrary, while the international system slowly evolves in the twenty-first century, great powers are increasingly competing for influence in regions around the world. GPUP sought to ask how can foreign policies be constructed, global governance reformed, and stakeholders represented in an era of competition and urbanization, including both the physical growth of urban areas and the increase in the number of people living in cities or otherwise urban spaces.
To begin to answer those questions, GPUP examined the divergent approaches—often top down—being taken in cities within emerging powers; it outlined the institutions, networks, and infrastructures through which geopolitical trends are crossing borders to influence urban development; and, uniquely, it explored the new modalities—including networks and cyber-attacks—through which states are projecting influence and power in urban spaces abroad. Through convenings and policy briefings around the world, written outputs, and multimedia communications, GPUP served as a platform for scholars and practitioners to engage with the intersection of geopolitics and urbanization, and provided policy analysis and guidance for policymakers at the local, national, and international levels.
China's Rise and Reach: The Belt and Road City | September 22, 2021, Chicago Council on Global Affairs
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs convened academics and practitioners for a virtual workshop to examine the role of cities in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Successful global powers in this century will build stable and innovative cities at home while projecting influence, and at times military strength, in urban settings abroad. As China seeks to reconceptualize its political place in the world, the BRI has the potential to significantly reshape the international order, repositioning the country at the heart of a web of global influence. This event formed the culmination of the Great Powers and Urbanization Project.
Geopolitics and Urbanisation in the Asia-Pacific | June 2-3, 2021, Connected Cities Lab
Focusing on cities across the Asia-Pacific, this session aimed to paint a picture of the geopolitical complexity of a ‘region’ such as the Asia-Pacific which involves starkly different urban realities when it comes to the intersection of multilateral and international politics with urban development. It sought to paint a picture of differing reach of this realm in cities through a vast and complex region, and the need for different sectoral and disciplinary perspectives needed to make sense of this. Particular attention was paid to the interplay between local and sub-regional politics, the wider influence of multilateral institutions, and the diverse drivers of urbanization shaping the region in respect to the broader geopolitical narrative of this GPUP series.
Geopolitics and Urbanisation in Africa | May 7, 2021, African Centre for Cities
This seminar focused on cities across Africa to explore how different urbanization challenges and opportunities take on particular inflections due to the relationships between local, regional and international scales on the continent. The workshop reflected on the tremendous need and opportunity for cities to engage in geopolitical processes, along with a series of challenges that need to be both acknowledged and addressed. Watch this event here.
Cities in Global and Regional Governance: From Multilateralism to Multistakeholderism? | October 26, 2020, CIDOB Barcelona
Cities have been advocating for a seat at the global table for decades. Although they are recognized as part of the international system, their capacity to influence is still limited to a consultative role and largely symbolic. Global and regional governance structures have been designed by and for nation states and they leave little room for the involvement of other stakeholders, including local governments. Within the framework of the Great Powers and Urbanization Project (GPUP), CIDOB’s Global Cities Programme brought together GPUP partner institutions, city diplomacy practitioners and other experts for a digital seminar to discuss the changing role of cities in global and regional governance.
Workshop on Cities, Geopolitics, and International Legal Order | September 5-6, 2019, Perry World House
The first GPUP workshop was hosted at Perry World House, the University of Pennsylvania’s global affairs hub, on September 5-6, 2019 in Philadelphia. This workshop explored the nexus of urbanization and great powers, past and present, as well as national urban policies and national security strategies.
Globalization has produced tensions between economic space and governance space, leading to new forms of global politics and relationship building, along with questions around authorities and sovereignty. How do we situate these tensions amid the longer histories of both capitalism and geopolitical competition?
The workshop also focused on how cities are engaging international law and legal institutions, identifying the potential implications of cities’ expanded role in global affairs in creating and changing international legal norms. Finally, it examined how cities are shaping, and being shaped by, great power politics.
Diplomatic Courier | The World Health Organization, Healthy Cities, and Africa, February 24, 2022 | Warren Smit
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought cities distinct health challenges and has shown the issues with attempting to apply blanket public health policies in specific places - for instance, the lack of success in enforcing social distancing measures in high-density informal settlements. It is time to reconsider the implementation of universal health programs in the Global South.
Diplomatic Courier | The Geopolitical Implications of Urban Systems in African Cities, February 23, 2022 | Liza Rose Cirolia
African cities are increasingly called upon to engage directly with geopolitical processes. As they continue to gorow, they will need to contribute not only to local and national debates within their countries, but global debates on major political issues.
Diplomatic Courier | The Urban Century of China and India, February 9, 2022 | Xuefei Ren
Indian and Chinese cities are some of the most populous and fastest-growing in the world, and they are often compared with each other due to these similarities. However, differences in their urban governance highlight how the two countries' societies are evolving.
Diplomatic Courier | "Built by China" Going Global, February 8, 2022 | Xiangming Chen
China is investing vast sums in infrastructure and cities around the world, such as the China-Laos railway, which was launched in December 2021. This article looks at China's international infrastructure projects, and how they could affect the country's influence on the world stage.
Diplomatic Courier | Asia's Megacities and the Future of Geopolitics, February 7, 2022 | Parag Khanna
Understanding the complexity of geopolitical competition in the 21st century is impossible without understanding urbanization and cities as well, and the growth of Asian megacities could be set to change balances of power.
Diplomatic Courier | Post-Pandemic Cities: Recovery, Transition, and Renewal, October 31, 2021 | The Editors
On World Cities Day, this editorial looks at how cities can take advantage of the opportunity to reinvent how they operate, as they begin to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Diplomatic Courier | Towards Formal Representation of Cities & Regions: Lessons from the EU, March 15, 2021 | Marta Galceran-Vercher
Cities have long sought a more formal role for themselves within global and regional governance structures. The European Committee of the Regions, considered the most advanced mechanism worldwide for enabling local and regional governments to get involved in international policymaking, could provide a model.
Diplomatic Courier | Building Back Better: Cities and the EU Recovery Plan, February 12, 2021 | Agusti Fernandez De Losada
2020 does not appear to have been a banner year for multilateralism. Long-standing organizations and platforms showed worrying paralysis during the onset and spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. And yet, the European Union (EU) has been able to agree on a budget with the potential to generate unprecedented stimulus and guide the bloc’s recovery process. But in the design and implementation of this recovery, how can the EU engage effectively with cities?
Diplomatic Courier | Cities and Nations: A Mutual Dependency, February 3, 2020 | Michael Cohen
Though it might, at first glance, seem a paradox, the history of nations has been dominated by cities. The historical legacies of these cities are apparent today in the global concentration of wealth—with 65 percent of global GDP coming from 600 cities—in the global concentration of greenhouse gas emissions, and the growing share of global population, now almost 55 percent. Both the power of these cities and their current serious problems are legacies of their histories but also their contemporary inability to resolve many of the urgent and important problems they face.
Perry World House | Cities, Geopolitics, and the International Legal Order Report and Thought Pieces, December 30, 2019
We recently released the report from our September 2019 workshop, 'Cities, Geopolitics, and the International Legal Order', alongside thought pieces from experts who attended. These thought pieces explore key issues around the rise of cities, from how city networks are changing international relations, to why cities are often used as symbols of national power.
Diplomatic Courier | Cities in a World of States, December 4, 2019 | Charles S. Maier
Any geopolitical order based on cities must depend upon the partial dismantling of the territorial state order and thus of the notion of a unitary sovereignty as it developed from the Renaissance until very recently. Is that really plausible in this day and age?
Diplomatic Courier | Cities and International Lawyers Need to Start Talking to One Another, November 22, 2019 | William Burke-White
Over the past decade, cities have quickly assumed a place on the global stage. From the Chicago Climate Charter, signed by mayors of more than 50 cities, to immigration debates raging around the world, cities are meaningfully influencing global political discourse. Yet, international law—the primary system of norms, rules, and institutions through which the international order has been constructed—has remained off limits to cities and other non-state actors. The result is a disconnect between cities’ growing role in global affairs and their continued exclusion from the formal structures of the international system.
Diplomatic Courier | Announcing New Channel: Great Powers and Urbanization, October 9, 2019 | Ian Klaus
The Great Powers and Urbanization Channel will offer a one stop shop for national security officials and urbanists alike trying to navigate global challenges in an urban world.
Smart Cities Dive | Analysis: Cities are advancing the SDGs through collective action, September 25, 2019 | Mauricio Rodas and Ian Klaus
The diplomatic world is convening in New York City this week with all the speeches, cocktail parties and backroom meetings that make up High-Level Week of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). This annual event focuses the mind and schedules of heads of government and foreign ministers worldwide. Aside from a few wonky globalists, its policy debates and details have long been lost on casual observers, but that is changing. Indeed, a new audience, and new set of voices, have emerged at UNGA and in the UN system writ large: mayors and cities.
The Global Cable | A Tale of Three Cities, September 20, 2019
This is a special edition of The Global Cable, the podcast of GPUP partner Perry World House. In this special episode, we mark the launch of the Great Powers and Urbanization Project. Perry World House’s John Gans and Jocelyn Perry sit down with leaders from three major cities, and an expert on urbanization:
Ian Klaus, Senior Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs
Penny Abeywardena, Commissioner for International Affairs, New York City
Henri-Paul Normandin, Director for International Relations, City of Montréal, Canada
Mauricio Rodas, Mayor of Quito, Ecuador (2014-2019)
Due to a range of factors, cities and city leaders are increasingly active in international diplomacy, something that was traditionally the preserve of the nation state. This special episode explores what cities can do, what they can't do, and what this means for a changing world.