12/05/2016 Tel Aviv Part of a Network of Global Cities

In the last few months, residents of New York, London, San Francisco and Los Angeles have found themselves in a reality that has been the Tel Aviv reality for several decades. Elections have been held and referendums have been passed, whose outcomes constitute the polar opposite of what the denizens of these cities chose or envisioned for their future. Suddenly, some of the world's leading cities seem to be out of locks step with the rest of the residents of their respective countries. Now the leadership of these metropolis' need to deal with actions taken by their national governments which the overwhelming majority of their constituents oppose.

This political shake-up is happening in a world where, for the first time in human history, more people live in cities than in rural places. The cities, be they New York, London or Tel Aviv are cosmopolitan municipalities, where people from every part of the world can generally feel welcome and accepted. Cities are places that benefit most from globalization. The four cities named above are all hubs of global technology. However, cities are also the regions that face all the trials of the modern world first. Immigration, crime, and even weather events caused by climate change, are all challenges cities battle from the front line.

Those same cities are often dependent on their national governments to meet the tests they face. So how do cities meet their challenges, while maintaining their identity, and being true to their citizens who often do not agree with the larger national political entity? Tel Aviv, whose political reality has been out of sync with its national government for several decades, learned to do many things on its own over the years. Fortunately, being the financial and technical center of the country has given Tel Aviv the financial ability to develop and provide solutions on its own.

Recently, when the mayor of Tel Aviv was unable to get the national government engaged in a plan to create short-term small car rentals — similar to the way the city rents bicycles — Tel Aviv went it alone. When Tel Aviv could not get the national government to create affordable rental housing, it stepped up on its own to construct some rental housing.

Of course, there are some problems that are almost impossible for cities to solve. For instance, Tel Aviv has been home to the overwhelming majority of the African refugees who came to Israel over the past ten years (approximately 60,000). However, since the national government has no clear strategy regarding these refugees and the municipality has no means to change the migrants' legal status, the city has been struggling to find appropriate supportive solutions.

U.S. cities have often been at the forefront of similar problems. Providing care for undocumented immigrants is a major challenge for America's big cities. That challenge may become even more significant if there is a confrontation between the incoming Trump Administration and the “sanctuary cities", who have pledged to do their best to shield undocumented immigrants from the Federal government.

Cities have learned to work together and share solutions to common problems. This past week, Paris, Madrid Athen and Mexico City jointly announced they would ban diesel vehicles (which emit a high amount of pollution) from their cities by 2025. Collaboration between cities received a boost in recent years, when the Rockefeller Foundation started its “100 Resilient Cities Projects”. The Rockefeller resiliency project funds collaboration between cities by creating and financing the position of Chief Resilence officer in selected cities. The idea is to equip cities with a person who is responsible for preparing the city and ensuring it is resilient enough to respond to any challenge it may face.

Tel Aviv became the latest to join the Rockefeller network of 100 resilient cities. A day-long seminar was just held to jumpstart the collaboration, set to outline Tel Aviv’s needs and define its role in this group of select cities. Andrew Slakin Senior VP of the Resiliency Project presented the initiative to a room full of Tel Aviv stake-holders, and laid out the vision of a network of 100 (and eventually more) cities working together, sharing their knowledge and experience. The Tel Aviv stake-holders, many municipal employees, were very enthusiastic — especially about the possibilities of collaboration across cities around the world.

I left the workshop, that was preceded by an extended one on one discussion with Slakin, wondering whether we might be seeing the beginning of a new trans-national movement. While throughout the world, an appreciable portion of the electorate is pushing back against the 'Age of Globalization', that feeling is not shared by most of the major cities and their inhabitants. Most cities have embraced globalization and fear a retreat from it. Could 100 cities collaborating, across borders, provide an alternative vision of globalization? The world is clearly in flux. For many, a global network of cities could provide part of the solution.