Tech philosopher Jaron Lanier explains in Foreign Affairs how the small and young but mighty democratic nation of Taiwan utilized civic technology to rapidly prototype and build apps that enables their society to organize on of the world’s most effective responses to COVID-19.
Taiwan’s success has rested on a fusion of technology, activism, and civic participation. A small but technologically cutting-edge democracy, living in the shadow of the superpower across the strait, Taiwan has in recent years developed one of the world’s most vibrant political cultures by making technology work to democracy’s advantage rather than detriment. This culture of civic technology has proved to be the country’s strongest immune response to the new coronavirus.
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer recently released a new digital “Affordability Index” to track the rising cost of housing, transportation, healthcare and other necessities for households in New York City.
An article by Caroline Spivack digs into the data revealed by the index, including incomes by household type, housing costs, and cost of food and taxes. The story remains the same throughout: it’s getting harder and harder to make ends meet in New York City.
Transit agencies often treat fare evasion with arrests and prosecution, but Seattle’s King County Metro is going with compassion and progressivism.
Turnstile jumping typically stems from poverty — 43 percent of King County Metro fare-beaters had incomes of less than $1,000 a month. An independent audit the same year found almost a quarter of the warnings and citations went to “people experiencing homelessness or housing instability.”
The audit said the way the agency was conducting fare enforcement was not very productive and was also at odds with its equity goals. So, beginning last year, the agency removed the court system from the process. The previous civil penalty was $125 and could be referred to the court system for nonpayment. Now, fare evasion reports are now handled by the agency itself.
By Evgeny Morozov and Francesca Bria. Following the celebration of the “creative city” (as described by Richard Florida), the “smart city” has become the new flavor of the month—and a brand. It makes clever use of resources, and it attracts money, corporate power, and private industries. Offering us cheap, effective solutions to social and political problems, the smart city is functional, optimized, and safe rather than participatory, sustainable, and fair.
As Evgeny Morozov and Francesca Bria point out, however, the problem is not merely the regulatory impulse of smart technologies. Coming from a political-economic rather than a purely technical perspective, the authors argue that the smart city can only be understood within the context of neoliberalism. In order to remain competitive in the era of austerity politics, cities hand over the management of public infrastructure and services to private companies, both de-centralizing and de-personalizing the political sphere.
How can cities regain control not only over technology, data, and infrastructure, but also over the services that are mediated by smart technologies—such as utilities, transportation, education, and health? Offering a wealth of examples and case studies from across the globe, the authors discuss alternative smart city models, which rely on democratic data ownership regimes, grassroots innovation, and cooperative service provision models.
Evgeny Morozov is a prominent critic of digital capitalism, dealing with questions of how major technology companies are transforming society and democracy. The author of several books, he also writes for various newspapers, including The New York Times, The Economist, The Guardian, and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. With a background in social science and innovation economics, Francesca Bria is an expert in digital strategy, technology, and information policy, who is active in various innovation movements advocating for open access, open technologies, and digital rights. She is currently Chief Technology and Digital Innovation Officer at the Barcelona City Council.
Laying out what works and what doesn’t in the smart city of today, the authors do not simply advocate for a high-tech version of socialism in the fifth publication of our “City Series.” By carefully assessing what is at stake and for whom, this timely study offers practical solutions for how cities can be smart while retaining their technological sovereignty.
SEATTLE—On an overcast morning in earlyApril, three members of the Seattle City Council arrived to find their cavernous, titanium- and maple-paneled meeting chambers packed to capacity with a noisy, unwelcoming crowd. Many wore T-shirts bearing the message “I drive, I vote.” When the council president tried to open the hearing, one argumentative man kept interrupting so industriously that security had to escort him from the room.
The confrontation had been orchestrated in part by Uber, the ride-share company, as the latest move in its long-simmering war with the city. Almost from the moment Uber chose Seattle as its third test market, back in 2011, the city has sought to put itself between the company and its drivers: first, there had been an ordinance attempting to cap the number of ride-share drivers here; then, in 2015, the City Council passed a law allowing drivers to bargain collectively. Now, the city was considering a law to force ride-share companies to nearly double the base rate paid to their drivers, from $1.35 to $2.40 per mile.
City officials argued the new rate was necessary to ensure that drivers earn Seattle’s $15-an-hour minimum wage. But Uber, king of the budget ride, was having none of it. After blasting an email to its Seattle-area customers warning that the city “wants to double your rates,” Uber dispatched a small army of company-friendly drivers to City Hall to lobby the council in person. Seattle, a city famous for promoting innovation, was innovating in a way that Uber didn’t appreciate.
Yet, it’s the kind of assertiveness that Uber and the rest of corporate America will probably have to get used to. Ever since 2014, when Seattle became the first major municipality to adopt a $15 minimum wage—over the objections of its own business community—the famously left-of-center city has rolled out a series of ambitious, often controversial laws aimed at shielding workers from the chaos of the fast-changing, technology-disrupted urban job market. Today, Seattle’s workers enjoy a list of on-the-job benefits that feels almost European in its scope—everything from a high minimum wage to a ban on last-minute schedule changes to a city-sponsored retirement savings plan. And more are on the way. This year, council members are considering a “bill of rights” for the estimated 33,000 housecleaners, nannies and other “domestics” who work for the city’s population of high earners.
The Kosovar capital of Pristina. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.
Blerta Thaci, Executive Director of Open Data Kosovo (ODK) and founder of Girls Coding Kosovo recently spoke with Hazwany Jamaluddin for an in-depth interview about the Republic of Kosovo’s open data and civic tech scene. Kosovo is a young republic, and faces a number of development challenges, including low government transparency, high youth unemployment, and issues of gender equality.
Since its founding in 2014, ODK has not shirked from those challenges, and has created a staggering number of projects to strengthen Kosovar civil society and democracy: 1. They built the country’s first open data portal 2. They created a popular app to report sexual harassment 3. And in order to expand education resources in the country, they’re compiling a database of online courses translated into Albanian.
Thaci says ODK’s biggest mission is to help institutions “build capacity for young people,” so that they “can all be part of this movement.”
In response to the Trump administration’s decision to separate children from parents at the US-Mexico border, a programmer has scrapped publicly available personnel data about US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — the agency responsible for dividing families.
New York-based programmer Sam Lavigne recently published a dataset of 1,595 people who identified as ICE workers on LinkedIn with the hopes of naming and shaming the workers responsible for carrying out Trump’s directives. However, the database was soon taken down by Medium. Similar data compiling exercises were carried out by the civic-hacking group Transparency Toolkit in 2015.
The Hong Kong skyline. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.
Taiwan’s “g0v” (pronounced gov-zero) not only holds the title of largest civic hacking community in East Asia, it’s also a vocal supporter for democracy and human rights. Now, a group of civic hackers in Hong Kong are putting their own spin on the g0v platform, and have recently held their first hackathon this June.
The group’s establishment comes as Beijing peels away the vestiges of Hong Kong’s semi-democratic system under the “One Country, Two Systems” framework. g0v Hong Kong — or “g0vhk.io” — plans to monitor Hong Kong’s Legislative Council sessions, and provide insight to Hong Kong citizens on how their city is changing.
Let’s face it, the internet isn’t great at answering tough questions. Sure, a Google search can tell you the capital of Uruguay is Montevideo, but things get complicated when you need to find the best shampoo for dandruff or the best resort in the Azores. But a website called “Answer Bot” seeks to use the wisdom of the crowds to help the public make better decisions.
The site collates answers on tough questions, and adds helpful side-notes when there are major disagreements on a certain issue. For example, asking the AnswerBot “what car should I buy?” will aggregate hundreds of answers, and then point out areas of disagreement on ‘best fuel efficiency’ or ‘best safety record.’
The prognosis for our planet, now widely accepted, is shattering our vision of a bright future for our cities, characterised by abundance and technological expansion. As a result, we urgently need to envision and confront the scenarios that are likely to become our reality, in the hope that this work of imagination can help us to adapt effectively and perhaps steer a different course.
This post is part of our series of articles on the Urban Commons sourced from the Green European Journal Editorial Board. These were published as part of Volume 16 “Talk of the Town: Exploring the City in Europe”. In this instalment, Pablo Servigne, an agronomist and expert in ecology, behaviour and evolution of social insects, examines the role of the city on the midst of a convergence of ecological and social crises.
Cities around the world today face a whole host of grave threats: from pollution to climate change, resource scarcity to overpopulation, and many more. Growing awareness of this has led to a proliferation of ‘solutions’ such as ‘green’, ‘sustainable’, ‘smart’, ‘resilient’, ‘zero-carbon’ projects, as well as ‘eco-neighbourhoods’. But how effective can these initiatives hope to be, in light of the scale of the problems faced? Our vision of the future is in dire need of being injected with a good dose of realism. The vision of a ‘linear’ urban future is in effect fed by the imagery of abundance forged during post-war reconstruction. Yet the conditions of such prosperity are no longer in place. A closer look at the principal threats facing cities can serve as a base from which to devise potential future scenarios. By stimulating our imagination, it is hoped that this conceptual framework will help us design urban policies which are more credible and less unsustainable than those we have witnessed so far.
The risks of global warming are well known. According to the UN, more than 60 per cent of cities with populations of over 750,000 are exposed to at least one major risk. One of the latest reports from the IPCC describes one major risk, amongst others – of climate and environmental shocks breaking down the industrial food systems that feed most European towns. 
Resource shortages (metals, water, wood, energy, etc) also fall within these major threats. In fact, there is nothing simpler than seriously disrupting a city: it’s merely a matter of blocking its food and energy supplies. These are amongst the worst threats a city can face, because the social, economic and then political effects are felt almost immediately (within a matter of days). Hence the prioritisation of food security by all governments over the centuries.
Serious threats are also posed by certain types of pollution. As well as the heavy metals and organic compounds polluting the soil, and aerosols already rendering certain towns unliveable, there is the risk of major industrial accidents forcing entire urban populations to be evacuated. Cities must learn to anticipate all this, to absorb the shocks, to recover, and to learn from these events, most of which are already happening in certain parts of the world. Simply to achieve this, they need resources, energy and a degree of social order, which are increasingly hard to guarantee.
In fact, all these threats can be considered to come from outside the city (external threats). But there is another equally serious, and less well known, type of threat: internal threats. These arise mainly from vulnerable infrastructure and social conflict. It is well-known to historians and archaeologists that a town’s capacity to grow and thrive depends on its capacity to safeguard good communication, transport, and distribution networks. Today, much of the transport, electricity, and water infrastructure in OECD countries is over 50 years old (over 100 years old, in some cases), and is already operating well beyond maximum capacity.  The extent of its interconnection, complexity, and homogeneity, and the speed of movement of the components of city life, have also increased the vulnerability of this infrastructure. It is thus also easily destabilised by one-off events such as floods, hurricanes, and terrorist attacks.
When, following the rise in the price of diesel in the year 2000, 150 striking lorry drivers blocked major fuel depots in the UK, the consequences rapidly made themselves felt: “Just four days after the start of the strike, most of the country’s refineries had ceased operation, forcing the government to take steps to protect the remaining reserves. The following day, people rushed into shops and supermarkets to stock up on food. One day later, 90% of filling stations had stopped serving, and the NHS [National Health Service] started to cancel elective surgery. Royal Mail deliveries stopped, and schools in many towns and villages closed their doors. Major supermarkets such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s introduced rationing, and the government called in the army to escort convoys of vital goods. In the end, public pressure led the strikers to end their action”. 
In the cities of industrialised countries – including, need we add, Europe – it is highly likely that we will reach ‘peak urbanisation’ over the next decade.
The social order of a city can falter rapidly, even when networks don’t break down. All it takes is an economic or political crisis, leading to a collapse of industrial activity, massive job losses, housing crises, the bursting of a speculation bubble, riots, community or class conflicts, terrorist acts, and so on. These events have become frequent because of the significant increase in economic and social inequality within countries,  and even within cities.  This is nothing new, but seems to have been forgotten; archaeology shows us that the economic and political elites of great civilisations have often caused the inexorable degradation of their environment, due to the pressure they put on people and natural ecosystems. 
Last, but not least, all these threats are interdependent, and nowadays operate at a globalised level. Large, homogeneous, fast-moving, deeply interconnected international networks have – paradoxically – become more resistant to small disturbances, but more vulnerable to major disruptions, which, when they occur, can trigger a domino effect throughout the system, leading to collapse.  Scientists speak of a new kind of risk: the ‘systemic global risk’ inherent in these extensive complex networks, and, as major nodes in these global networks, cities are very exposed to these risks.
Scenarios for the Future: Forwarned is forearmed
With that in mind, four scenarios can be envisaged. The aim is not to alarm, nor to predict the future, but to stimulate the imagination and test the effects of these threats against possible futures. These scenarios are to be taken as signposts, pathways or stages, like the points of a compass. They are archetypes for the future, to help illustrate trends and provide insight into what might lie ahead. The division into four scenarios arises from two forward-looking works: Future Scenarios by David Holmgren,  and Resilient Cities, by architects and planners Newman, Beatley and Boyer.  The first work describes the possible trajectories in relation to peak oil and climate change.
If climate change has a gradual effect (providing enough room for manoeuvre to transform society), there are two possible scenarios: a ‘green tech’ transition, which, if resources decline slowly, could be relatively comfortable, or a radical and rapid change, known as ‘earth stewardship’, in the case of a brutally rapid decline in energy resources. By contrast, if climate change has rapid and violent effects, society will tip into a ‘brown tech’ future, where the powers that be would muster all their force to maintain ‘business as usual’. Or, even worse, society could completely collapse – the ‘lifeboat’ scenario – if these catastrophes coincided with a rapid loss of resources.
The second publication focuses exclusively on the end of oil, and analysing its effects on cities. It explores the following question: knowing that cities are completely dependent on oil, and have a massive carbon footprint, what would be the consequences for modern industrial cities of the end of the oil age? Two areas in particular are explored: transport and food security. The authors describe four scenarios, similar to those of Holmgren: the resilient city (corresponding to the ‘green tech’ scenario), the divided city (‘brown tech’ scenario), the ruralised city (‘earth stewardship’ scenario), and the collapsed city (‘lifeboat’ scenario).
However, both of these forward-looking publications only consider scenarios based on external threats (climate and oil), without taking account of internal threats. The latter have been explicitely included in the following proposed synthesis. 
The ecotechnical city
If the impact of global warming turns out to be gradual, and an ‘energy descent’  can be managed, society can adopt ‘green’ technologies, ensure a successful transition, and work towards distributed renewable energy systems, without conflict or disasters. This would lead to a resurgence in regional, rural economies, more sustainable agriculture, more horizontal political systems, and more compact cities that prioritise public transport and the local economy. A balance would be found between reducing consumption and slowing economic growth, thanks to energy efficiency technology and a relocalisation of the economy. However, it is only possible for a city to take this route if it already has a resilient, well-maintained infrastructure, and if it avoids major political, economic and social upheavals. This is clearly the most desirable scenario in terms of maintaining the living standards and security that our democratic societies rely on. To sum up, in the absence of significant obstacles, even in the context of an energy descent, an efficient transition is still possible. The city can prepare, slowly but surely, for the ‘storms’ ahead.
The ecovillage city
A rapid decline in resources, including oil and natural gas, could trigger a crisis that would bring the world economy to its knees. This global collapse could create political instability, which would in turn lead to serious social problems, but also, paradoxically, to an end of greenhouse gas emissions. Local resilient communities would then emerge in some rural areas (following a massive rural exodus). This would be achieved through agro-ecology and permaculture techniques, and above all by sustaining their capacity for local democracy. It is possible that the major megalopolises would still contain rich, private, gated neighbourhoods, by developing urban agriculture within suburban gardens. In this scenario, no-one believes civilisation can be preserved as it stands; people will have moved on, to work for something radically different. Cities would return to being semi-rural, meeting many of their food and energy needs very locally, along the lines of self-sufficient medieval towns. Peri-urban belts would be made up of ecovillages, supplying the town and recycling waste, much like the Parisian market gardeners of the 19th century. However, this ‘radical resilience’ policy will only be practicable if massive disasters (hurricanes, uprisings, revolutions, etc.), that could destabilise the political and social order are neither too intense nor too frequent. If they do occur, the organisation of the city could change radically, whilst retaining a chance of avoiding breakdown and chaos, and maintaining a semblance of democracy, albeit at increasingly local levels. In this scenario, the city is instantly transformed, yet without being wiped out by the ‘storms’.
The enclave city
A slow decline in energy supply could leave influential power structures in place, thus thwarting any chance of real transformation. The combination of an authoritarian state and greedy private business would foster an extraction industry rush for non-renewable resources, with predictably catastrophic consequences. But then the climate and environmental crises would be so overwhelming that all of society’s energy and resources would be needed to keep the ship afloat, due to policies that are centralised, securitised, militarised, and inegalitarian. The city would splinter; the rich, cocooned in their safe neighbourhoods, would maintain access to increasingly expensive supplies, protecting themselves from climatic variations with new technology. The poorest in society would be left to their own devices in semi-rural areas (with survival vegetable plots providing resilience), or even shanty towns, with less and less reliable access to resources. In this scenario, the economic elite (the rich) and political elite (the government), in their opulent enclaves, would use violence and fear to maintain their privilege. These elites would have no choice than to bring in ever more oppressive laws. Those in the most precarious situations would gradually lose the means to protect themselves from environmental and social disasters, and certain districts (crowded with arriving migrants) would become shanty towns, and police no-go areas. Political cohesion, and thus democracy, would be the first victims, leaving the field open for the expansion of the private sector and its irresistible machine for generating ever more privilege and social division – in other words, social chaos. The city crumbles, the rich ‘manage’ the crisis, everyone else endures it, and the former control the latter by increasingly undemocratic means.
The collapsed city
If rapid economic and political collapse (the Ecovillage scenario) is compounded by severe environmental and climate crises, it is too late to take the resilience route; collapse is inevitable. History shows that a lack of preparation combined with a succession of various disasters will end up getting the better of any city. There is no lack of examples of dead cities, such as Ephesus, the port and second largest town in the Roman Empire, abandoned in around the year 1,000 when the river dried up after all the trees on the surrounding hills had been felled. War, illness, and famine have always cleared cities of their inhabitants, and this can still happen. In Syria and Libya, armed conflict has devastated entire towns, which have still not recovered. When the shock is too brutal, some of the urban population flee, and those who cannot, stay, prey to shortages and chaos. Epidemics and/or conflict can reduce social life to clans controlled by local warlords. Some small population clusters would survive in exceptionally favourable conditions (such as a healthy river, stable damn, fertile fields, or an isolated monastery). These small islands (Holmgren’s ‘lifeboats’) would be humanity’s only chance to find a way through a dark period and retain the hope of renaissance in a few decades, or centuries. In this scenario, unpredictable and irreversible domino effects lead to the rapid breakdown of the city.
A rupture in our imagination
This four-scenario compass provides us with a new way of looking at the future. It enables us to see more clearly what is at stake: from a hardening of class relations, de-industrialisation of towns, urban exodus, and infrastructure collapse to the development of green technologies. Even if the details of these trajectories are not specified, global trends are clear: towards catastrophes, or what some might term collapse. These narratives differ from the more common forecasts, based on myths around technological progress, and luring us with a future ever more connected to the virtual, and thus in the end disconnected from the natural. But we have clearly run up against the limits of this approach (and of earth-system science), and now we must prepare for a future of rupture and interruption.
In the cities of industrialised countries – including, need we add, Europe – it is highly likely that we will reach ‘peak urbanisation’ over the next decade. In other words, we cannot carry on in this ultra-urban direction. The future of industrial towns will more likely be one of depopulation, reconnection with green belts and the countryside, an overdue reduction in social inequality, and the re-localisation of the economy. It is up to us to tip the balance in favour of a particular scenario.
Even if the precise nature of these scenarios is not clear, we can be sure that the urban future has to be resilient.  Cities will have to weather various kinds of ‘storms’, some with more ease than others, and this will radically transform how Europeans design and inhabit their cities. Anticipating these ‘storms’ today, feeling and imagining them, equips us to be prepared, and thus avert disaster.
This is a revised version of an article that was first published on barricade.be.
1. P. Servigne (2017). Nourrir l’Europe en temps de crise. Vers de systèmes alimentaires résilients, Babel.
2. I. Goldin & M. Mariathasan, (2014). The butterfly defect: How globalization creates systemic risks, and what to do about it. Princeton University Press, p.101.
3. P. Servigne & R. Stevens (2015), Comment tout peut s’effondrer. Petit manuel de collapsologie à l’usage des générations présentes, Seuil, p. 116.
4. R. Wilkinson, & K. Pickett (2009). The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, Allen Lane.
5. O. Razemon (2016) Comment la France a tué ses villes, Rue de l’échiquier.
6. For example, the salinisation of land during the third millennium BCE in Mesapotamia, or, today, the living stands of rich Europeans destroying
tropical forests. See N. B. Grimm, et al. (2008). Global change and the ecology of cities, Science, n°319, pp. 756-760.
7. P. Servigne & R. Stevens (2015), op. cit.
8. D. Holmgren (2009), Future scenarios, How communities can adapt to peak oil and climate change, Green Books
9. P. Newman et al. (2009) Resilient cities. Responding to peak oil and climate change, Island Press.
10. Here, armed conflict is not included in external threats, and civil war not included in internal threats.
11. In the context of a post-peak oil transition, this refers to the shift away from an increasing use of energy to a reduction.
Bruce Katz, Centennial Scholar at the Brookings Institution, and Jeremy Nowak, Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Drexel University’s Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation, argue in their recent book, The New Localism: How Cities Can Thrive in the Age of Populism, that the power to create social, economic and environmental change lies in the hands of a new kind of localism. Cities and communities are emerging as innovators and problem-solvers to address everything from social inclusion to environmental sustainability despite their being limited in these roles by fiscal distress. While not a replacement for the essential functions of federal governments, Katz and Nowak argue that this new localism is the ideal complement to an effective federal government. Indeed, they argue it is an urgently needed remedy for national dysfunction.
In an effort to reduce their reliance on federal and state funding, the City of Berkeley is turning to a surprising source: cryptocurrency. The idea is to leverage the blockchain — the technology that makes bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies possible — to spur private, crowdfunded investment in affordable housing and other local projects.
Led by Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín and City Councilmember Ben Bartlett, the city is partnering with University of California Berkeley’s Blockchain Lab and finance technology company Neighborly to create an initial coin offering. The offering will allow individuals to buy Berkeley’s cryptocurrency to fund city-issued municipal bonds. The money raised will pay for things such as affordable housing, homeless shelters, ambulances, street trees, even a community theater. Coin owners will potentially be able to spend the cryptocurrency at some Berkeley businesses. As with any municipal bond, investors who get in on the offering will earn a small return on their investment over time as the city pays them back with interest.
The idea grew out of concern over the impact corporate tax cuts (not to mention threats to cut funding to sanctuary cities) would have on their ability to address their affordable housing and homelessness crises. With lower corporate tax rates, corporations have less incentive to buy low income housing tax credits, a key source of affordable housing funding. In addition, big banks raised interest rates on loans to local governments in the wake of the tax cuts.
“We have over a thousand homeless people in Berkeley and expect that to grow by a factor of five,” says Bartlett. “We knew we needed to find a way to fund these things. This need is going to grow and it’s already a disaster that’s affecting our moral and physical integrity as a city.”
Beyond that, Bartlett says conventional municipal bonds are expensive, slow and have lots of red tape for investors, making it hard for individuals to invest in them at all, let alone in the small denominations most people might have to invest. With their idea, bonds could be smaller and be issued more quickly.
Neighborly was launched to do just that — to allow individuals to crowdfund municipal bonds. Austin issued a bond on the platform to pay for historic preservation. Cambridge, Mass., used it to fund schools and utility infrastructure.
Berkeley’s idea operates on a similar principle, but will use the blockchain technology to improve security and transparency, factors they hope will help spur investment (and provides a bit of flashy tech-factor that Bay Area residents might find appealing).
“You conceive of an idea, get the costs ready, push it out to the community, they can buy it right away,” Bartlett explains. “It’s more flexible. It doesn’t have to be a $100 million bond for a sewer. It could be smaller projects and with the lower denomination ability…It’s projected to be 50 percent less expensive to the issuer [than conventional municipal bonds].”
In simplified terms, a blockchain is a database stored concurrently on a peer-to-peer network of computers, making it less vulnerable than storing everything on a central server. Each copy of the database serves as a permanently available public record of every transaction on the blockchain. The technology keeps every copy of the database updated as people buy and exchange each “coin.”
“It’s immutable. It’s transparent. There might be fewer concerns about misappropriation of funds,” explains Stacie Olivares-Castain, who recently became state of California’s first ever senior advisor for impact investments and blockchain.
Olivares-Castain says she is encouraged by Berkeley’s experiment. “It’s very, very early, but what we’re starting to see is the blockchain can be used to improve a sense of individual agency and create more opportunity. The Neighborly model is a very interesting partnership. I think it could be used by other communities, too…Through the blockchain, there’s more democratization of access to capital.”
There are plenty of criticisms of cryptocurrency — coin wallets getting hacked, the wild fluctuation of currency value, the absurd amount of energy bitcoin “miners” consume to run their computers as they continually search for new bitcoin tokens produced somewhat randomly by digital algorithm. Bartlett says none of those issues apply to Berkeley’s project. There will be no coin “mining” for Berkeley’s coins, so the city’s coins “won’t be a tool for speculation. It has a set rate of return at darn near public rates,” he explains.
There are still plenty of details to work out in the plan, but the city is aiming to launch its initial coin offering in May. Bartlett says he’s already fielding calls about it from cities in the U.S. and abroad and is confident that there’s a future for their approach to city funding.
“Digitization, crowdfunding—these are just social impact bonds for the next generation,” he says. “For cities to survive this escalating disinvestment in the public trust, we’re going to have to start thinking outside the box and creating our own resources.”
The 8th edition World Water Forum, the world largest event on water in the world, is taking place in Brasilia from 18 to 23 March, gathering a high number of delegates involved on the water and sanitation management at all levels. The mission of this year’s edition is to promote awareness, build political commitment and trigger action on critical water issues at all levels especially considering the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6.
In the framework of the World Water Forum, the International Conference of Local and Regional Authorities, co-organised by UCLG, the World Water Council (WWC), the Global Water Operators’ Partnerships Alliance (GWOPA), the National Confederation of Municipalities of Brazil (CNM), the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) and the Secretariat of Federal Affairs of Brazil gathered 400 leaders and practitioners to reach recommendations on how to intensify action at all levels in order to leave no one behind in water and sanitation goals.
High participation from Latin America and Africa
UCLG, as co-organiser of the International Conference, mobilised a delegation of 40 mayors and governors, co-lead by Iván Arciénega, Mayor of Sucre, President of FLACMA and Vice-President of UCLG, and Rose Christiane Ossouka Raponda, Mayor of Libreville and Vice-President of UCLG.
“Our mobilization, that of cities, municipalities and regions, must not weaken in order to achieve SDG6 and SDG11.” Rose Christine Ossouka Raponda, Mayor of Libreville and Vice-President of UCLG for Africa
“We must recall the national and international communities that access to water is a fundamental human right and must be the basis for rebuilding our collective action“, Iván Arciénega, Mayor of Sucre and Vice-President of UCLG for Latin America
Many municipalities face tremendous challenges regarding water management, water scarcity, and the impact of climate change on water resources as well as in providing clean water and sanitation services to all citizens and the Forum counted with a high participation from local and regional elected officials from Latin America, particularly Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Africa, especially Kenya, Benin, Gabon, Botswana, Malawi, Senegal, Mauritania, Morocco and Sao Tomé who conveyed that message of alert to the world.
Local governance, capacity-building and water scarcity on the agenda
Throughout the Forum, local and regional leaders recalled that local and regional authorities are the central actors regarding management of water and sanitation. The issue of municipalisation of water and sanitation services was put on the table and had a central role in the discussion. In order to ensure that the needs of the communities are met, local and regional governments should have a stronger role regarding decisions on water management.
During the plenary sessions of the Conference, mayors and governors underlined the need to promote decentralized cooperation between local governments as well partnerships between all levels of governments. International and regional support should be provided to training centres and programmes to strengthen capacities of local governments and service providers and improve provision on water and sanitation.
Participants all agreed that climate change will have an impact on the entire water cycle and on the citizens of our communities: it will make water scarcer, increase the risk of extreme natural events such as floods and droughts, limit the renewal of groundwater reserves, cause rising sea levels and temperatures and make rainfall patterns and the regimes of rivers more unpredictable.
In this respect, the responsibility for SDG6 on access to water and sanitation for all falls principally to local authorities and cannot be achieved without good local governance, the sustainable management of natural resources and effective urbanization. Mayors and governors recalled that effective local-level water management is critical to the achievement of all global goals.
A call for immediate action
The International Conference of Local and Regional Authorities committed globally by agreeing on a “Brasilia Local and Regional Governments Call for Action on Water”, encouraging actors to apply 10 recommendations resulting in experiences and lessons learned.
The 10 recommendations include, among others, the promotion of urban water resilience, capacity building in water governance, and equity access to balancing quality and quantity for marginalised population.