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Global Cities as spaces for Democracy

Cities have always had a crucial place in Western thought about democracy. This is because of the iconic status of classical Greek, medieval Italian and other city-states in the formation of democratic processes. These city-states have helped yield robust political institutions throughout the western world and have reinforced the role of the city as a democratic space.

During the last century, the link between cities and democracy only continues to become more robust and omnipresent. Post-modernization and globalization have yielded a new sense of citizenship that has intensified the role of the city in democracy.

Global cities have manifested into spaces where the very meaning, content and extent of citizenship is constantly being reinvented and refined. These cities have gradually become at the intersection of global networks and have yielded new commodities, services, capital, labour, images and ideas. These cities are empowering new political groups that claim new types of rights or seek to expand modern civil, political and social rights.

The modern city is also a space where it is most appropriate to deliver public services such as education, welfare, parks, recreation and more. A local or federal government's ability to deliver public services is often indicative of the quality of democracy in a city or a country – hence why the functioning of public services in cities is crucial for democracy to flourish.

The modern city is the perfect place to build modern social capital. Social capital refers to features of social organization, such as trust, norms, and networks, that can improve the efficiency of society by facilitating coordinated actions.

The special feature of social capital, like trust, norms, and networks, is that it is an ordinary public good, unlike conventional capital, which is ordinarily a private good. Book clubs, dance clubs, non profits, religious groups all yield social capital that helps lay the groundwork for democracy to flourish, and this equilibrium usually takes place in cities. Cities are animated by culture and networks of civic engagement, and this is where liberal democracies flourish.


[1] Low, Murray. "Cities as spaces of democracy: complexity, scale, and governance." In Does Truth Matter?, pp. 115-132. Springer, Dordrecht, 2009.

[2] Isin, Engin F., ed. Democracy, citizenship and the global city. Routledge, 2013.

[3] Putnam, Robert D., Robert Leonardi, and Raffaella Y. Nanetti. Making democracy work. Princeton university press, 1994.


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