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(In)forming the next generation of city leaders

By Kerry Milton, on 29 October 2014

The City Leadership Initiative (CLI) is a joint project of UCL, UN-Habitat and the World Bank aimed at understanding the role of city leaders in the wake of global challenges, and at better informing urban policymakers in global cities, and beyond.

Based at the new Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (UCL STEaPP) established by UCL in 2013, CLI is collaborating with major international players to improve understanding of how city leadership translates into long-term strategic visions and to foster a governance of the urban environment that is informed, responsible and forward-looking.

Why do we need city leaders?

The United Nations recognises the importance of urbanisation in its ‘New Urban Agenda’ (Habitat III) to be released in 2016 and major international actors like the World Bank are making strides in charting the path for the evolution of cities in the 21st century.

However, little is known and discussed about those who are deemed to be responsible and at the very heart of these momentous challenges: city leaders. Recognizing this substantial gap, UCL STEaPP has teamed up with UN-Habitat’s UNI and Safer Cities programmes, as well as with the World Bank’s Leadership, Learning and Innovation Vice-Presidency, to encourage an innovative dialogue on the future of cities and the global political role of their leaders.

CLI will act as an open initiative designed specifically with those key policy practitioners like UN-Habitat, that are tasked with delivering and enhancing city leadership.

What will CLI do?

The Initiative is working towards Urban Connections, a global overview of city leadership covering over 200 local governments the world over, in collaboration with UN-Habitat, World Bank and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and has already partnered with a number of other key urban actors to expand its focus on specific challenges for city leaders. For instance, in collaboration with the Japanese Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR), CLI has developed a project on the influence of city branding and the responsibilities that city leaders are taking when presenting their visions to the world, titled Branding the City

World Urban Forum 2014

With Palgrave Macmillan, CLI is launching a new series on Cities and the Global Politics of the Environment that is based on Palgrave’s Pivot platform, offering affordable and rapid publication monographs gathering challenging research on the interplay between global urbanism and environmental governance.

Likewise, in collaboration with the UK Government Office for Science, and in particular its Foresight project on the Future of Cities, CLI is currently conducting a national review of the strategic priorities and challenges of city leadership in 37 UK cities, The Future of City Leadership in the UK, and is planning on extending this national review to several developing and developed countries beyond Europe.

The Initiative is charting new collaborations with key international players like the World Health Organisation or leading centers of research like the Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’ and the Australian National University, to expand in 2015 its research on city networks, strategic planning and city diplomacy.

What has CLI discovered so far?

CLI’s research has already evidenced the challenge and merits of thinking cities ‘in context’, beyond North-South and ‘global city’ divides, and has been testifying as to critical role of strategic planning, city networking and city diplomacy in a time of pressing more-than-national challenges.

We need, however, to pay closer attention to the capacity, leadership structures and catalytic capacity of cities, perhaps pointing towards the wider need for ‘new’ city leadership positions like Chief Resiliency Officers, city diplomats or urban Chief Scientific Advisers. CLI has been promoting these changes, for instance, by collaborating in underlying the role of city (health) diplomacy with WHO on phase V of its Healthy Cities network, or by collaborating with Clingendael and the Robert Bosch Foundation on a China-Europe “city diplomacy consensus.”

As of 2015 CLI will also lead the establishment at UCL of UN-Habitat’s Safer Cities Hub, one of eight core research hubs connecting universities from around the world to provide advice and promote collaborations in the area of urban safety and security. The path towards Habitat III, and beyond 2016 in the implementation of a fair, responsible and innovative new urban agenda is a challenging one, but the growing interest and sustained international support

Find out more

Interested in the Initiative or keen on engaging? Visit CLI’s website or contact us – today’s urban challenge require cross-disciplinary and science-policy collaborations more than ever!

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