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Paris, Saturday, April 8, 2000

Mayors Not Stopping at City Limits

New Economy Gives Urban Centers a Global Role, They Agree

By Barry James International Herald Tribune
LYON - In an era of globalization, cities are becoming independent actors in the world economy and could be evolving toward a new ''golden age,'' according to mayors from both sides of the Atlantic.

''You can't be a mayor today without having almost your own foreign policy,'' Marc Morial, the mayor of New Orleans, said Friday.

Mr. Morial was one of more than 30 participants in a meeting of mayors from France, Germany and the United States seeking to share their experience about the new problems and opportunities stemming from globalization.

His view was that if in the past all politics was local, ''in the 21st century perhaps all politics will be global.''

It was a theme that kept cropping up during the two-day meeting. Cities are competing aggressively just like companies in the global economy, seeking to attract investment and workers, said Alain Juppe, the mayor of Bordeaux and a former French prime minister.

At the same time they are having to deal directly with the consequences of globalization because, as Mr. Juppe pointed out, ''governments are too small to deal with the big problems and too big to deal with the small problems.''

The mayors are ''where the rubber hits the road,'' said the U.S. ambassador in Paris, Felix Rohatyn, who has decentralized his embassy to several French cities to reflect his view that they are where the significant political and economic action are taking place.

Brent Coles, the mayor of Boise, Idaho, agreed. Federal and state governments get the prestige, but cities are where trade, education and culture develop and are at a ''tipping point'' to create new international alliances.

His colleague from Knoxville, Tennessee, Victor Ashe, agreed, pointing out that it was far cheaper for him to fly to Europe than to San Francisco or Seattle. Wellington Webb, the mayor of Denver, told how he traveled the world seeking to persuade foreign airlines to set up operations in his city's airport.

Mr. Webb said the mayors were like soldiers on the ground, state governors were like the navy, more concerned about territory, and Congress was like the air force, ''which drops things on us from high which we had not asked for and on which we were not consulted.''

In many cases, he said, state and federal government were an impediment to the flexibility that mayors need in the global economy, but he also conceded that they were ceding increasingly more responsibilities to city hall in fields such as health care and public safety.

''I believe that the 21st century is the century of cities in both America and Europe,'' Mr. Webb said. ''Globalization gives us new opportunities for partnership.''

Wolfgang Schuster, the mayor of Stuttgart, concurred that while globalization meant that cities would compete against one another, it also provided an opportunity for ''more intensive forms of international cooperation.''

Mayors pointed out that the new economy allowed many people to work where they pleased, and indeed an exodus to rural regions has left cities with social problems and inadequate means to deal with them.

''In Europe, the city used to mean security against violence,'' said Norbert Gansel, the mayor of Kiel, Germany. ''Now the region has more security.''

Cities once conferred citizenship, he said, but were now under stress because of international crime and illegal immigration. They were once places with universities and culture, ''but now people go to the university via the Internet and get their culture from TV.''

''All the social problems are concentrated in the city, but we cannot fight against them because we do not have the money,'' Mr. Gansel said.

Most of the mayors said, however, that successful cities are at the dawn of a golden age because in an age of globalization, although people can choose where to live, they at the same time are more in need of roots than ever.

Some mayors stressed the importance of ''livability'' and conviviality in making their cities attractive to people, companies and investors.

Mr. Schuster said cities were about ''assuring social links in the age of the Internet. People need the sense of belonging to a city and feeling at home there.'' Globalization has left many people alone and isolated, he said, and ''it is important to provide them with roots and a home.''

Mr. Juppe said cities had to learn to encompass both diversity and a sense of identity, by involving the citizen in civic life.

Mr. Rohatyn said nearly two decades of dealing with local government finances in New York had given him the idea of convening the meeting, which he did in collaboration with the U.S. ambassador to Germany, John Kornblum, and the Aspen Institute in France.

He said participants were ''speaking the language of real problems'' and that there was not the slightest hint of disagreement that usually occurs at international meetings.

''They clearly have a community of interests,'' he said.