Local power in a time of global crisis

by on Wednesday, 15 April 2009 Comments
The recession is a global phenomenon that requires global measures: coordination of economic policies, regulation of the world financial markets and instruments, as well as fiscal stimuli… At the same time, the crisis has revealed that too strong a reliance on the “global” side of economics jeopardizes the vitality of “local” territories: during the last two decades or so, local planning has been more or less identified with inserting these territories even more closely into global trends, networks and exchanges.

The crisis calls for a revitalization of local territories. Revitalization can apply to a number of actions:
-Diversifying economic activities, by developing alternative industries, encouraging “niche” services and products, fostering the revival of know-how that can be of economic value, be it in the field of agriculture, tourism or craftsmanship;
-Concentrating stimulus packages on needed infrastructures, especially in the fields of water access and sanitation, healthcare facilities and carbon dioxide reduction;
-Stimulating citizens’ participation when it comes to (a) solidarity with the population most affected by the crisis, (b) the common invention and planning of the territory’s future and (c) the impetus to nurture economic activities with a clear social and environmental outlook.

These are not only “side measures.” It might be actually in the flourishing of local initiative that the new economic paradigm we are looking for might be devised, tried and confirmed. “Globalization” will be beneficial to all if and when fully associated with a “localization” of economic, social and cultural dynamics.

Such turn of events requires a revitalization of local powers, without which local initiative will not come through. Though decentralization and grassroots democracy were the talk of our global village for long, the very globalization of exchanges and services has eviscerated the power bestowed to local communities. Today, the revitalization of local territories cannot be reduced to an experiment in economics, it has to be an experiment in politics as well.

The Greek city has been the place where modern politics has taken shape. Nowadays, our counties, metropolis and regions shape the space, both virtual and real, in which are found new ways of identifying challenges, fostering participation, giving room to dissenting opinions, devising consensus and mobilizing creative energies. Recession has come partly as a result of “political regression’, i.e. of the weakening of the public sphere. Now, the local public sphere is the space where political progress and inventiveness might foster a new model of sustainable growth that will make the network of our local territories the agents of globalization with a humane face.

Photo by C. Phiv
Benoit Vermander (魏明德)

Benoit Vermander lives in Shanghai. He teaches philosophy and religious anthropology at the University of Fudan.

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