Legitimate Change & The Critical Role of Cities

Blog by Indy Johar: “We are living in the midst of rapid change and mounting evidence of the fragility of public trust in societal institutions. Increasingly our means of change are restricted not by capital or capacity (though we often like to point at these shortfalls), but rather by our means to create legitimacy, or shared coherence as to the proposed direction of travel, even as the climate threats to our civilisation become increasingly paramount.

How do we address the growing fragility of legitimacy in our increasingly complex contexts? There are multiple forces, trends and drivers in play — including major demographic shifts, climate destabilisation, nutrient system hazards, and industrial revolution 4.0 consequences — which are creating feedback loops with second and third order spillovers and unintended or unimagined effects.

Cities are the sites where these complex systems knot together — including property rights, food systems, logistics, financial systems, water systems, human development institutions, schools, universities, etc. Transforming these underlying systems in an integrated manner is required in order to address the challenges we face and open up opportunities to create the full decarbonisation of our society, unlock inclusive innovation capacity of our economy, and build climate stabilisation resilience . This requires system innovation at the city scale.

It is this complexity, knot of systems of systems and the need for socially legitimate solutions, which is forcing a new architecture of legitimacy and the growing global calls for the strategic devolution of nation states — and the rise of the city. But this transition is about more than just nation states handing over power to cities (which to date has been much of the call — understandably). If cities are to be genuine “engines” of Human Development 2.0, where we can address and transcend our societal challenges to create a regenerative industrial revolution 4.0, they will need to transform the lock-in of systems and unleash the economies of scope, context and systems change to create a legitimate landscape for solutions in a complex the world. It is this latter work that needs to be developed and reimagined.

Remaking legitimacy involves remaking the deliberative and participatory infrastructure of civic debate and civic policy making. This needs to go beyond just new tools of opinion harvesting (whilst they do have a space and a need). We increasingly recognise addressing complex challenge requires deliberative processes if we are to avoid meaningless simplicity or meaningless solutions — either addressing averages that don’t exist, or wishing away reality as we are increasingly witnessing with the political denials of climate destabilisation….(More)”.