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4 September 2020

Collaboration networks help cities manage crises

On March 27th, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti gathered together a group of 45 mayors from around the world via a virtual meeting to share experiences from the Covid-19 response. Coming two weeks after the World Health Organization’s declaration of a pandemic, this network of city mayors nimbly pivoted from its original purpose of responding to climate change to address the pressing concern of the moment. This fluid leveraging of the expertise contained in the network exhibits the strength of committed networks that gather expertise and experience in providing support. The need for collaboration and support among city leaders from across the globe was emphasized by the weak guidance from national governments, leading cities to resolve their challenges on a local level.

The response from cities to the pandemic serves as a strong case study of how cities are able to move beyond geopolitical interests in responding to crises threatening their residents. The case of a rapidly evolving pandemic with very immediate impacts is a very urgent threat while climate change poses a more gradually evolving danger, yet one with vast consequences. The network of 45 mayors convened by Garcetti is one of an estimated 300 similar networks formed by cities in response to specific challenges. Many of these networks continue beyond their immediate need and offer resources for problem-solving different from those offered by direct collaboration between two cities.

International networks have been found to be of increasing value in the current environment. This impression was solidified by a pandemic with cities like Helsinki receiving valuable assistance through the WHO-managed Healthy Cities network and the Bloomberg Philanthropies managed Coronavirus Global Response Initiative through which the city developed its contact tracing system. These networks also function on various levels, from the formal and structured to more ad-hoc style communities. These communities exchange advice and perspectives in forums ranging from traditional seminars and congresses to a WhatsApp group that sprung up among city leaders early in the pandemic.

The Brookings Institute article offers recommendations on the paths city networks should take in evolving beyond their demand-driven nature so that they may better support cities in responding to the climate crisis.