Over the past two decades the world’s population has become increasingly urban. According to the UN Habitat’s World Cities Report, small and medium cities now represent almost 60 percent of the world’s population and are growing at the fastest rates, while the number of megacities increased from 14 in 1995 to 29 in 2015. Trade and cultural realities are increasingly defined by cities and the increased mobility of their citizens. Direct cellular communication and horizontal transactional relationships increasingly connect people directly between cities and across national boundaries rather than through large corporate or national hierarchical structures. As a result cities are taking trade, commercial and environmental initiatives and establishing effective partnerships across administrative and political boundaries.
Such initiatives were previously the near exclusive domain of national governments and large commercial structures and rarely attracted the direct participation of individual citizens and small institutions. Civic engagement, once limited to local community issues, is now as much an underpinning for international or multi community initiatives as it has traditionally been for the neighborhood. Community is as much defined by issue and interest as by geography.
In the two and a half years between when changes in relations with Cuba were initiated at the end of 2014 and their reversal in mid 2017 over a hundred state- and city- level chambers of commerce and more than a dozen mayors led delegations to Cuba to explore commercial, cultural and academic relations. When the United States announced its withdrawal from the Paris climate change agreement in 2017, a group comprising some 30 US mayors, 3 governors and more than 80 university presidents developed a strategy to meet the agreement’s US targets and began to negotiate with the United Nations to have its strategy accepted alongside other countries’ contributions to the climate agreement.
These initiatives represent a willingness and ability of city level stakeholders to engage with each other and to engage as a group at the international level, whether in line with national politics or not. The sectors that define the engagement of cities with each other and with those in other countries depend on their own interests, not necessarily national ones. Citizens are likely to feel more closely represented in their cities’ intercity and internation relationships than when these happen at the nation-to-nation level, and are more likely to get involved and be supportive through investment of their time and resources. Citizens are increasingly alienated from national leaders and seem to be more engaged with city issues. As international programs develop at the city level, mayoral offices are likely to create offices to promote and coordinate them, and to collaborate on related affairs with other cities. Civic engagement, work force development, cultural and economic relationships are likely to be significantly more effective and satisfying as cities develop their international programs.