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Extra/Ordinary Municipalism?

Authors: Matthew Thompson*, University of Liverpool
Topics: Urban Geography, Economic Geography
Keywords: Municipalism, Ordinary Cities, Urban Policy Mobilities, Community Wealth Building
Session Type: Paper
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In June 2017 Barcelona hosted Fearless Cities, the first gathering of a global urban social movement labelled ‘new municipalism.’ This builds upon a long history of trans-national municipalisms – from nineteenth century European ‘gas-and-water socialism’ and American ‘sewer socialism’ to more radical experiments in the 1970s-80s (e.g. Red Bologna, Greater London Council). Barcelona – a global posterchild for both urban-entrepreneurial boosterism (i.e. the ‘Barcelona model’) and political alternatives (Barcelona en Comú) – is at the vanguard of today’s embryonic movement. But what about those more ‘ordinary’ municipalist experiments?
This paper explores extra/ordinary examples of municipalist experimentation in ordinary cities, focusing on Preston (UK) and Cleveland (USA). Preston is England’s 50th city; Cleveland lost half its population to severe economic decline. The Preston model is becoming a fashionable buzzword in leftist policy circles, hailed by the media ‘Corbyn’s model town’, a ‘laboratory of Corbynomics’. This dual approach of harnessing anchor institutional spend through progressive procurement policies to develop worker-owned co-operatives was first adapted from the Cleveland model, an exemplar of ‘community wealth building’.
This paper draws on early findings from a three year research project on new municipalism to investigate the historical, geographical and conceptual connections between such ordinary cities and interrogate the process of their becoming extraordinary exemplars of local economic development alternatives. I explore issues around the performative impacts of mobile policy ‘models’ and their replicability, the relationship between economic decline and experimentation, the politics of urban centrality/agglomeration in community wealth building, and tensions between ‘ordinary’/‘extraordinary’ forms of municipalism.

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