GROUNDED CITY NOT COMPETITIVE CITY – Ewald Engelen (University of Amsterdam) and Karel Williams (University of Manchester)


Politics is increasingly febrile as established party franchises are challenged by all kinds of populism which encourage undeliverable expectations. The context is disillusion with an economy that is not delivering for many groups: the young, rust belt workers and the squeezed middle classes. When national politics is deadlocked, there are opportunities to create an economy that works for more citizens through experiment at city or city region level. In our view, the precondition here is not city leadership or redistributive funding but a shift in the imaginary so that we drop the ideal of the competitive city and ask instead how can we build a grounded city. The idea of the competitive city is an invention of recent date which comes out of the imperialism of main stream economics: so that cities are about density, the productivity effects of agglomeration and the competition to attract mobile resources of capital and labour. Against this we would revive an earlier civic provision concept of the city as a grounded space where we collectively provide for everyday needs by improving the quantity and quality of foundational goods and services in health, education, care, housing, food supply and retail banking. The “municipal socialism” of late 19th century cities used the profits of gas and water utilities to support civic amenities. Today’s question is how to build a grounded city for the 21st century through scalable experiments. The work starts with the reconceptualization of the economy as well as the urban that is at the root of our collective work on the website.