Urban transformations and policy responses
We now have a rapidly growing global city system that is changing society. The economic and social settings are impacted and even ecology is changing as urban areas develop into new biospheres. The impact of this process is considerable and has far reaching consequences for the way society will develop in the future. Changes and challenges are channelled and mediated through societal structures and through the actions of a multitude of heterogeneous actors—formal and informal, top-down or bottom-up, individual or collective—in action and reaction to perceived changes in society. This means that the culture, lifestyles, design, economy, management and governing of cities is essential for world developments. The central issue is how societal actors in urban settings handle the impact of these changes (transformations) in a way that facilitates sustainable urban development?
Society itself is a continuous process of action, decisions and effects where the actions of earlier generations have a considerable impact on contemporary developments and where contemporary action and decisions will impact future generations. Accordingly, we are talking about an ongoing historical conditioning of society. One aspect of this is path dependency. Path dependency occurs when incumbent structures, i.e., infrastructure or institutions (norms, routines and rules) guides (facilitates or delimits) behaviour. It is important to state, however, that the structuring always is temporary path dependency only temper continuous processes of change. Change in path dependent conditions take place through formative moments or windows opportunity and this refers to situations were historical and contemporary circumstances align in ways that make rapid change possible despite structural constraints. Changes in formative moment can be rapid and revolutionary. Formative moments can be driven by different types of crises (political, economical, technological, social and environmental) leading to paradigmatic shifts in society changing the preconditions for policy making and making more radical change possible.
The urban setting can be perceived as a common. That is, a common pool of resource, challenges and problems that has to be owned and handled by the inhabitants of the city. Governance of commons requires a flexible system for policy making that includes interactive and adaptive steering, including social and policy learning. Flexible policy making demands a positive feedback loop that creates order out of our experience and storing these experiences as knowledge. Proactive and flexible policymaking is not about finding the right policy for the future to come. The focus must be on flexible and proactive policy making that is formulated at scales appropriate for decision makers and citizens. This is a more systemic perspective on policy that concerns itself more with who interacts with whom, about what, rather than targeting specific, well-defined outcomes as policy goals. From this perspective policy is perceived as a process. With this perspective on policy follows that a multitude of agents can act as policy-makers, not just government agencies, but also firms and industry associations, NGOs and private foundations. Uncertainty connected to social development encourages viewing policy as an on-going exploration with many possible changes of direction rather than an optimization exercise based upon detailed assumptions about the lay of the land ahead and a clear and explicit goal about where the journey is to end. One issue is, of course, if the incumbent policy system will be able to adapt to accommodate flexible policy processes or if path dependency will hinder or considerably slow down such development?
Glocalized governance and The Great Transformation of our time, the Department of Global Political Studies, Malmö University, 8 May 2013 (Key note).