The perfect city is already out there. Its parts are are just scattered across the globe in well-loved places.
The Himalayan kingdom has pledged to reduce its fossil fuel imports https://www.goodlondon.org/files/city-stories/by 70 percent by 2020. having no oil or gas reserves, bhutan has an abundance of hydropower to supply citizens with electricity, exporting much of the surplus to its larger neighbour, india. almost three quarters of the nation is forest and its 700,000 citizens produce around three times less co2 than is absorbed by its trees (bhutan seeks further reforestation and in 2015 broke the world record for number of trees planted in one hour – nearly 50,000). other initiatives include gradually replacing government cars and taxis with electric vehicles (recharging is estimated to be around an eightieth of the cost of petrol); the Gross National Happiness index – measuring policies and progress in terms of environmental sustainability and psychological wellbeing rather than purely economic – and aiming to be the first country to have an agriculture system that is 100% organic.
Germany’s second-largest city held a referendum in 2013 which led to Hamburg buying back its power supply from the multinational energy giants Vattenfall and E.On. The Hamburg Unser Netz (Our Hamburg Our Grid) coalition of environmental, anti-poverty, and consumer rights groups – launched in 2010 – successfully argued that the city’s energy grid be brought under local ownership after its contracts with private companies had expired. Germany has pledged to move away from reliance on fossil fuels towards providing renewable energy sources for citizens (a plan known as Energiewende). This has led hundreds of neighbourhoods, in response to what they consider to be the inefficiencies of privatisation, seeking a “re-municipalisation” of public utilities and a transition to renewables.
All intellectually disabled people in Sweden can choose where they would like to live and the type of support they receive in the community after the closing down of all former institutions. The de-institutionalisation process began in the 1970s (in the face of some parental opposition), as community-based services gradually came to replace institutionalised care provision in full. Group homes – often where five-or-so people live in individual small apartments – and supported living offers people with complex needs the freedom of their own space and ability to make their own choices – from housing to shopping and cultural activities. To aid this, the Swedish Government funds over three hundred ‘Personal Ombuds’ – representatives independent of healthcare services and family – who support people to assert their legal rights and make major life decisions.
Over 80 per cent of Singaporeans live in apartments built by the state Housing and Development Board (HDB), while 90 per cent own their home. In 1959, less than one in ten citizens owned their homes and it was clear that there was an acute shortage of sanitary housing. Post-independence, the Government established the HDB, which within five years built over 50,000 flats and encouraged citizens to use funds from a social security savings scheme to work towards owning their homes. Since then, the board has been able to provide publicly-built housing to a growing number of citizens and, with a staff of 5000, manages nearly a million housing units.
Estonia has pioneered e-democracy in the 21st century – internet voting has been in place since 2005, with around a third of ballots cast online for the 2015 General Elections. In a country with more mobile phone contracts than residents, basic internet access is seen as a human right. A free e-participation tool, TOM, (the acronym for “Today I Decide” in Estonian) is used as a forum for citizens to discuss political issues such as voter registration and allocating municipal budgets, and present collaborative ideas for new laws online, some of which have been adopted by parliament.
In Ethiopia’s capital, police officers’ relationships with the city’s ‘street children’ are improved through participating in arts workshops alongside the Adugna Community Dance Theatre. The project offers young people from deprived backgrounds – many of whom historically feel victimised by the police – a safe space to question their attitudes towards violence and authority, learn about constructive policing strategies, and educate officers about their day-to-day experiences in the hope that future confrontations may be avoided.
Following Iceland’s banking crisis in 2008, comedian Jón Gnarr set up the Best Party in order to satirise his country’s political system. Campaigning on policies including introducing a polar bear to the local zoo, building a Disneyland at the airport and offering free towels in public swimming pools, the self-described ‘anarcho-surrealist’ was elected Mayor of Reykjavik in 2010, winning fans from Noam Chomsky to Lady Gaga.
In 2008, thousands of young people in Newcastle had a say in how the city’s £2.25 million Children’s Fund is spent. Part of a city-wide participatory budgeting programme called ‘UDecide’, young people who attended a voting conference would influence the allocation of funds by ranking project ideas in order of preference.
The Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, has opened up 5% of the city’s investment to a participatory budgeting scheme named ‘Madame Mayor, I have an idea’. It aims to allocate nearly €500 million to projects proposed by citizens, including the building of school gardens, ‘pop-up’ swimming pools and recycle stations.
50% of Seville’s local government budget is decided by participatory budgeting and the process is open to all those living in the city. Citizens can submit project ideas in person or online, and volunteer neighbourhood organisers are in place to collect proposals from community groups and individual residents.