By Balazs Szekely, Associate Editor
The keynote speakers of Tuesday’s afternoon session at the MIPIM 2015 City Investment Forum were local government officials from Amsterdam, Barcelona, Hamburg, Manchester and Stockholm, as well as several analysts and other representatives from the commercial and institutional sectors. The debate marked the launch of an investigation on local leadership, which will be published this June at the OECD Forum in Manchester.
This group of cities–the “leading powerhouses of the future”, as they were referred to during the session–represents key European markets that are expected to create the framework for a modern-age cooperation network between the leading cities of the old continent. Prof. Greg Clark, Chairman of the OECD LEED forum on Development Agencies and Investment Strategies, drew a comparison between cities and businesses in his keynote speech: even though cities are indeed becoming more and more like businesses, it is actually the set of challenges the two do not share, that requires city leaderships to be creative and come forward with a new array of institutions, tools and approaches. As globalization reaches into a new cycle, it brings a shift with it in how we think about successful world cities–and this is good news for the middleweight cities often considered less significant. A series of studies by the Brookings Institution has shed light on how these upcoming markets began competing with established megacities in wholly new ways. The lack of worldwide companies no longer constitutes an obstacle and a city doesn’t need to be a major corporate HQ or a financial services hub in order to join the list of world cities. A particular kind of culture or lifestyle can be enough to make a city a perfect match for one of the emerging industries and from then the road can lead directly to the major league, Clark explained.
By switching to this new paradigm, cities need to leave the traditional concept of competition behind and embrace the notion of teamwork on a regional scale, like Amsterdam did. This resurgent city has not only become a global leader again, as it was for centuries, but a leading entity in a striving region of the Netherlands. The cultural and economic success of Amsterdam as a location has been the key driver which has enabled other municipalities to wish to affiliate with it. Deputy Mayor Eric Van der Burg attributes Amsterdam’s success to the density of universities in the area and considers that the prominence of the other four cities can also be traced back to the quality of higher education.
Barcelona’s success is partly due to a mature leadership that, by working together among others with the Chamber of Commerce, brought forward a new growth agenda after the global crisis. One part of this is a deal to create transparency and responsibility between finance and politics. It ensures that political leaders stick to a continuous program of investments and reforms and the projects are carried out in accordance with an organic and regulated schedule.
Hamburg owes its current status to the speedy and highly organized recovery from the financial crisis. Mayor Olaf Scholz has been a leader of a new growth strategy since the beginning of his mandate in 2011. This new approach is an even mix of long-term investments and the tackling of short-term problems, coupled with balancing the local government budget and the introduction of sector-based leadership and a significant amount of new alliances.
Manchester has learned how to use leadership to earn the power to propel the city forward. The city needed to negotiate with the British Government because its jurisdiction was too small for the local economy. These discussions have yielded favorable results in terms of devolution of the central government’s power to the city.
Stockholm’s purposeful approach to becoming a global innovation core in the future is already paying off. This is in a large measure the result of the Stockholm Business Alliance’s work, a leadership platform colligating 53 municipalities. Its task, simply put, was to build a coalition that can ensure that the city lives up to its slogan: The Capital of Scandinavia. A strong support of business contributed to making this happen, and of course, the fact that universities are increasingly active in the city leadership cooperation.