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In the U.K., a Case for Shifting Political Power to the Cities

A year-long independent effort has identified the most practical strategies for empowering the U.K.'s cities and metro areas.
Manchester, one of ten northern British cities agitating for more metropolitan powers.
Manchester, one of ten northern British cities agitating for more metropolitan powers. Flickr/Richard Heyes

The notion that national governments have become inert and dysfunctional while cities power the global economy has become a bit of a mantra among urbanists: Why not let mayors rule the world? Yet for all the talk, even the largest cities and most powerful urban leaders in the United States and around the world remain highly dependent upon higher levels of government.

But in the United Kingdom, at least, the scales may finally be tipping in favor of cities. Spurred on by the ill-fated Scottish independence movement, Labour Party leaders in the cities of Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield, Cardiff and Glasgow began agitating for greater powers. Prime Minister David Cameron has promised “wider civic engagement about [how] to improve governance in our United Kingdom, including how to empower our great cities.” In early November, 10 regional councils decided to allow Greater Manchester to elect its first metro mayor, who will oversee the area's transportation, social welfare, housing and police budgets.