The Business Roundtable has released a new definition of a corporation, which advocates that companies account for all their stakeholders, not just their shareholders, when distributing corporate value. To fully implement their stated intent, companies will need to invest not just in their own strategic objectives but in processes that allow communities to self-determine their priorities and direction.
Corporate investment in socially beneficially initiatives may have finally reached a tipping point. This August, the Business Roundtable released a new statement on the Purpose of a Corporation, the first time this credo has been updated in more than twenty years. Signed by 185 member CEOs, including those of many of America’s largest companies, the new statement stipulated that a corporation would no longer solely seek to deliver profits to its shareholders but would instead seek to maximize value for their broader community of stakeholders.
While in recent decades, many companies have increased their philanthropic investments in social programs that benefit communities where they operate, this statement marks the first time that such a large group or business leaders have explicitly changed their shared understanding of a company’s operational intent.
While the new statement offers cause for celebration, it is likely to be met with a healthy dose of skepticism from social change advocates. Adding a CEO’s signature to a one-page letter of intent, while culturally significant, is a simple act that doesn’t itself deliver any social value. Adapting supply chains, business models, and revenue management to account for the holistic needs of a company’s constituents is orders of magnitude more complex (not to mention, expensive).
Companies should be judged, not on their intent, but on their actions and follow-through. Revised intent will only matter if corporate leaders make investments that drive results. The three big tech giants’ co-investment in Bay Area housing is a promising start. But more of those 185 companies need to make billion-dollar commitments that advance solutions to pressing social challenges.
As more companies seek to make good on their new shared intent, it’s vital that journalists and activists alike scrutinize not just what social issues companies choose to address but also the process they use to make those investments and the way that communities are engaged in determining the parameters of social value and wellbeing.
So who exactly are the “communities” these 185 companies will now seek to benefit? A majority of US corporations are headquartered in cities. In 2010, McKinsey reported that 85% of US GDP was generated by cities of 150,000 inhabitants or more. As such, when companies commit to improving the lives of their stakeholders, they should actually interpret this to mean the ecosystem of the cities in which they operate.
Urbanization worldwide is on the rise. More than half of the world’s population lives in cities, including 82 percent of Americans and 41 percent of Europeans. Human consolidation into urban centers helps companies find easy access to skilled labor. But increased human density creates its own slew of hairy problems. Housing is one issue that is well met with a private-sector solution. But what about education, transportation, childcare, healthcare, and general economic inequality?
Corporate leaders are accustomed to using the leverage of hierarchy to make choices from the top down. Based on whatever sources of information they choose to consider, a select group of senior leaders within any one company will typically decide how resources are allocated and utilized. When it comes to making meaningful, long-term investments in the health and well-being of cities and their residents, a top down decision making model will often fail to deliver meaningful outcomes. Indeed, companies could learn from the experience of the international development sector, where many practitioners have finally realized how vitally important it is to involve target stakeholders from the very beginning in the process of defining problems and devising solutions.
Why? Because the most effective solutions to the biggest problems facing the world today cannot be mass produced. Each city, each community is unique and requires an approach that is adapted for its specific challenges and needs. Service designers have demonstrated that those with the most direct experience of a problem often have the best insights into how to address it. For example, if you would like to understand the ecosystem of soup kitchens in a city, the best person to ask would be a homeless person. Yet, involving the users who are most affected by a problem requires that those making the investment appreciate that the process used to arrive at the solution is just as valuable as the process itself.
As companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook seek to operationalize toward their new collective intent, they will likely be rewarded for their attention to how, not just what, they seek to address. In cities, where many of these investments will likely originate, a collaborative process focused on intentional innovation and community involvement is likely to deliver the greatest return.
Seoul, indeed, under the Park’s mandate, focused on social innovation and sharing economy with the goal to favour a paradigm shift, a transition towards an innovation-led Sharing City. A city that can really be a place of freedom and conviviality of diverse and different individuals. Social innovation is considered a tool to realize this transition and transform urban space in an a more equal, free and fair space that allow citizens to own the city together and become the subject of conviviality. “It transforms the life of self-development for competition and consumption into a life of friendship and hospitality for freedom, dignity, and symbiosis, and enables us to imagine and create a more free and dignified life-cycle”.
Today the Seoul Metropolitan Government in its
goal to build “the City for All” proposes to take the results of the Sharing
City Seoul project, launched in 2012, and go further, transforming the city in
“a distributed and resilient” urban system in which expand democracy in its
participative version. That means develop Seoul into a “City as a Commons”.
This crucial transition will proceed on three trajectories that will allow to
create and enjoy the commonwealth and the common rule that is “urban commons”:
The Economic transition for sustainable circulation of resources for production and consumption
The Ecological transition that pursues inclusive growth with the recovery of the social-disadvantaged
The Social transition that makes social value accepted as core principles of social operation.
To deepen the reflection about this transition, the Forum gathered many experts that framed the Commons universe. The plenary morning session, saw the involvement of LabGov, that intervened with a presentation of professor Christian Iaione. He talked of the meaning of making a civil regulation on commons for the future of the “Sharing Seoul” and for the city’s new task, presenting the Co-city methodological approach and the co-governance project run by LabGov, bringing insights also from the Bologna Regulation on collaboration between citizens and the city for the care and regeneration of urban commons“ (here to explore the Co-City protocol and here to download the Co-Cities full open book).
On the main stage also Michel Bauwens that introduce a model of poly-governance for
the creation of a partner city based on meta-regulation. “The poly-governance mechanisms and institutions discovered by Elinor
Ostrom (1990) as the hallmark of the management of commons resources becomes
the new normal in institutional design. Poly-governance structures, possibly
matched by appropriate property mechanisms, consists at least of the three
levels (commons, state and market) but can be even more fine-grained, as the
work of Foster &
Iaione (2016) has suggested” ( see here for more information).
The following open discussion with Iaione and Bauwens involved Mayor’s Park, professor Ezio Manzini (Politecnico) and professor Lee Kwang-Suk (Seoul National Universty of Science and Technology) focusing on the meaning of transitioning from a sharing city to a commoning city and the importance to prevent neoliberal capitalism from coopting commons.
The inspiring morning was followed by four sessions in the afternoon:
commons and co-creation: how to build the commoning platforms in Cities?
commons and democracy: who owns the urban nature? Urban commons against
as Urban Commons for resilient community and
Every session saw the participation of many experts, practitioners, scholars, from USA as Neal Gorenflo – executive director and co-founder of Shareable, from Europe as Mayo Fuster – director of Dimmons Research Group at Open University of Catalunia, and several presenters from South Korea, coming from various sectors, in order to deepen both economical, ecological and social aspects around the topic of the commons.
The Forum gathered also a C.I.T.I.E.S delegation with representatives from Montreal
and Barcelona. The Case of Barcelona with its sharing ecosystem, the experience
around the topic of commons, and the birth
of the Sharing Cities Action, was also presented on the stage by Mayo
Fuster during the first afternoon session as best practice in the field.
The day closed with
the message from the Forum Director, professor Seoung-won Lee (Seoul National
University) and from the Head of the Social Innovation Division inside the
Seoul Metropolitan Government. They both stressed the relevance of this crucial
paradigm shift, the importance to incorporate and let thrive the commons to
really build a city for all and the relevance of connecting experiences among
“Taken as a whole, the range of published evidence indicates that the net damage costs of climate change are likely to be significant and to increase over time” –Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was set up jointly by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environmental Programme to provide an authoritative international statement of scientific opinion on climate change, periodically assessing its causes, consequences and possible responses.
Climate change nowadays is an utmost emergency,
unleashing multifarious spin-offs with a worldwide impact. If years ago global
climate change still had latent effects, now they have become clearly
observable. Temperatures will continue to rise, frost-free seasons (and growing
seasons) will lengthen, precipitation patterns will change, the sea level will
rise 1-4 feet by 2100, droughts and heat waves are projected to become more and
more intense and cold waves less intense everywhere.
It seems evident that corrective measures by countries
are needed in order to stop or at least to decelerate the phenomenon: just to
mention one, the Paris climate conference (COP21) held in December 2015 was the
first-ever universal and legally binding global climate deal adopted by 195
countries in pursuance of the reduction of greenhouse emissions while limiting
global warming to 1.5°C.
There shall be no attempt in creating a hierarchy of
natural disasters, since each of them has severe impacts on the natural
environment and considerably threatens human lives.
Howbeit, there are some calamities which are
considered to be more harmful than others according to the scale of their
potential of havoc and disruption.
Floods, namely the abnormal accumulation of water over
normally dry land, are caused by the overflow of inland waters or tidal waters,
or by an unusual accumulation of water from sources such as heavy rains or dam
or levee breaches. At the
moment, they are the most common (and among the most deadly) natural disasters
in the United States, with an incidence of 38% amounting to a total of $1,011 bn.
A latest study released this month, “ How Climate
Change Will Impact Major Cities Across the U.S”, charts
cities’ risk levels for incurring damage from climate change, such as floods
for instance; what surprisingly has been recounted by the study is that the
most vulnerable cities are also the least prepared.
The correlates of readiness and resilience are linked
to some factors worth mentioning: wealth, income, inequality, unemployment rates
and so on.
As a matter of fact, top 5 low-readiness/ high risk
have shown a considerably larger black and Latino population and higher poverty
rates, disclosing therefore a direct causality between poverty and
vulnerability to climate change.
Flooding Cities: some examples
Still and all, we shall cross the American frontier to
shed a light on some other interesting cases.
For the purpose, the Indonesian current situation case
seems to be worth of interest.
Since its capital Jakarta continues to sink in the
Java Sea, the government and its president Joko
“Jokowi” Widodo, recently announced their plan of dislocating the
capital to the verdant island of Borneo. The interesting thing to notice is how
natural disasters can revolutionize the urban planning of a city, or better, of
a whole country. In fact, Borneo promises a “greener” future for the country,
significantly reducing traffic congestion, overcrowding and air polluting
factors. The idea lies in the grand strategy and believed abstraction of making
Indonesia’s capital a “forest city”.
Another high risk zone are the Netherlands, whose
large parts are situated below the sea level. Climate change effects, namely
the aforementioned rising sea levels and heat waves, further exacerbate the
threat of flooding for the country.
Since the last devastating flood of the North Sea in
1953 – which hit also England, Scotland and Germany – an elaborate system of
dams, sluice gates, storm surge barriers and other protective measures are in
place next to the dikes. These are framed within the Delta Program, whose aim
is to protect the country against the dreadful threat of floods.
Italy too has had a long history of disaster caused by
floods (Polesine in 1951, Florence in 1966, Genoa in 1970, Versilia in 1996,
Sarno in 1998, Piedmont both in 1994 and 2000, Friuli in 2003 and the most
recent in Apulia in 2005).
The safeguard protection concept has been implemented
by establishing the rules responding to the appropriate land management, while
identifying the river basin as the basic unit for developing a proper land
The infographic provided below shows the areas at high
hydrogeological critical state per type of disaster (floods, landslides and
Quite utopically, we could ask ourselves how a
flood-proof city would look like then.
An article from The Guardian underlines how
recent floods show that it is not just the unprecedented magnitude of storms
that can unleash a disaster, indeed massive urbanisation constitutes a
significant catalyst in this sense.
Tragic events such as the ones we have just mentioned,
shall therefore not only be seen in the light of fatalism, but rather as
artificial man-mad disasters.
For the sake of this, many architects and urbanists
are pushing creative initiatives for cities that treat stormwater as a
resource, rather than a hazard. Just to mention some, the permeable pavements
in Chicago or the construction of 16 “Sponge Cities” in China as a solution for
the freshwater scarcity and flooding suffered by many cities as a result of
To conclude, we have mentioned how natural disasters
can constitute a threat, endangering human lives and altering the urban
landscape. Will this detrimental ongoing process ever come to a halt? The key
then is to increase the readiness of cities to the phenomenon, as in an “urban-smart”
metamorphosis, while keeping an eye on preventive measure and impact
Grasping the complexity of urban life in
dense and chaotic city spaces continues to be one of the main puzzles urban
planners, sociologists, architects and urban dwellers alike try to solve. The
book aims to provide a deeper understanding of the heterogeneity of the
apparent disorder of Asian cities. More than what can be judged by an external
eye as messy, Asian urban realities
have an order, functioning, cultural meaning, and history of their own that the
different authors help us discover.
Central to the book edited by Manish Chalana and Jeffrey Hou, is a reflection on normative dichotomies between formal/informal, order/chaos, legal/illegal and the impact that these dichotomies have on urban planning practices and discourses regarding the complexity of Asian Cities. In the first chapter, Chalana and Hou frame the debate on the notion of messiness and introduce the main tensions at stake analyzed by the articles in the book. Through multiple case studies, from Hong Kong to Manila, Tokyo to Ho Chi Minh City, the book deconstructs the meaning of messiness, bringing to the surface the specific colonial, racial, and class underpinnings hidden behind it. Messiness, as defined by the editors in Chapter 1, refers to activities and structures that do not follow institutionalized or culturally prescribed notions of order.
As previously mentioned, different authors throughout the book develop their chapters on a specific reality of messiness. If Chapter 1 serves as an introduction to the collection of articles, Chapter 2 directly presents us with anhistorical account of attempts at controlling the sidewalks of HCMC. Kim unveils the consequences on street life caused by colonial city building, regulation, independence and war, post-war nationalism and recent economic liberalization in Vietnam. Kim points out that the desire to order the streets has been constant through the various historical periods, and so has been the failure in controlling their fervent activities.
Chapter 3 similarly reflects on the power relationships that inform the practices of ordering and messiness. Kusno presents an historical understanding of Jakarta’s urbanism to show how the organization of knowledge changes in time in order to make of messiness a pretext for governing. The author moreover uses the example of the growing presence of motorbikes to highlight how messiness and informality can become an insurgent practice in itself, a re-appropriation of the urban space through mobility.
Chapter 4 and chapter 5 bring us to Manila and Bangkok, putting forward the importance of space and the embedded cultural and historical meanings that define it. Indeed, the disordered layering of multiethnic urbanity in Manila assumes a new significance through Gomez’s account of the semiotics of urban space. When looking at the urban mosaic of Manila we realize that its messiness is in reality a form of cultural concordance and dynamicity, of layered and intermingled realities. In the case of Bangkok, Noobanjong also highlights the embeddedness of urban space in cultural and historical contexts through the example of Sanam Luang or Royal Field. Showing how the symbolic role of the Royal Field has changed during royal, military and democratic rule, the author joins other writers in the book in defining space as a device for the State to manifest and implement its hegemonic powers.
Similar to Gomez’s analysis of Manila, chapters 6 and 7 highlight the multiple layering of urban life. Exploring the theme of urban development and its effect on pre-existing structures, Oshima walks us through the long history of Shinjuku’s transportation and commerce node. The vernacular urbanism of Shinjuku provides an example of urban stratifications provide the dynamicity of urban experience. It is the production of meaning and practices springing from messiness that is highlighted by Daisy Tam in Chapter 7. Little Manila in Hong Kong becomes the spatial embodiment of insurgent planning in that the domestic Pilipino workers that occupy the CBD’s space on Sundays resist and redefine the ideal use of the urban space.
Chapter 8 also deals with contested urban space. Presenting the example of Mong Kok Flower Market in Hong Kong, the chapter points to the tension that exists between policy makers’ top-down planning decisions and the needs of citizens’ everyday lives. The conflicts at the Flower Market therefore also show how urban actors manage to compromise and act in a strategic way so to ensure their existence within the formal and institutional structures.
Chapter 9 returns to a post-colonial perspective in order to advocate against formalization and relocation policies with regards to informal settlements in Delhi, India. Through examples of livelihoods in Kathpuli Colony the authors show that formalization practices erase local knowledge and the local cultural structures based on which housing was built.
Chapter 10 distinguishes itself for introducing a new analytical framework. The author indeed interprets messiness as a result of transnational networks and connections that were formed in the making of the city of Chandigarh, India. Chandigarh’s architectural identity represents an example of a modernism that has been reappropriated by non-western cities.
Finally, chapter 11 and chapter 12 return to the analysis of messiness as a contested political notion. Hou in chapter 11 introduces the concept of tactical urbanism, that is, temporary tactics like the setting up of night street markets that allow the activities of these temporary urban dwellers to thrive in the cracks, so to speak, of the formal and institutional structure of the city. To conclude, Chapter 12 discusses the impact of Chinese paternalistic and developmentalist modern State practices in Quanzhou on community participatory practices and environmentally sensitive planning.
“Messy urbanism” develops a deep analysis of the meaning and historical underpinnings of urban informality. Though as hard as it can be because of the different locations and nuances of messy urbanism they deal with, the chapters lack a continuity of analysis between them. The organization of the book would have benefitted from a grouping of chapters according to their thematic and analytical framework. Because of this internal messiness the reader sometimes tends to get lost in each abstract and very specific production of knowledge without understanding what are the main narratives.
On the other hand the editors have succeeded in tying together the chapters to the overall thematic focus on messy urbanism. Analyzed in its totality, the book does a good job at reminding the reader of the importance of cultural subjectivity, historical contexts and power relationships built in urban practices.
While entering the very congested academic debate on urban informality this book provides a refreshing approach to the question of “disorderly” urbanism, cleverly using messiness as both a prism and a conceptual limit to overcome when reflecting on the chaotic nature of urban life. If the book does focus on specific contextual and historical circumstances in South-East and North-East Asia, its thematic interests contributes to answer the question of how to govern informality in today’s megalopolises of the world. It joins other authors like Castels, Portes, Roy, Al Sayyad, and Simone in explaining that informal practices are not limited to survival strategies and rational economic behaviors of the urban poor but rather, they represent and are embedded in cultural and historical patterns. It is important to underline such a refusal of the liberal economic analysis of urban informal practices as framed by authors like De Soto because they often end up completely ignoring the political significance of informal practices. Following Asef Bayat’s famous essay on the politics of the informal people, this book succeeds in recognizing the inherent political nature of the informal order.
Al Sayyad N., Roy A. (eds), 2004, Urban Informality:
Transnational Perspectives from the Middle East, Latin America and South Asia,
Lanham and London, Lexington Books
Bayat, Asef. “Un-Civil Society: The Politics Of
The ‘Informal People'”. Third World Quarterly 18.1 (1997): 53-72.
Chalana, Manish, and Jeffrey Hou. Messy Urbanism:
Understanding The “Other” Cities Of Asia. 1st ed. HKU Press,
De Soto H., 1986, The Other Path: The Invisible Revolution
in the Third World, New York, Harpercollins [English ed., 1989]
Portes A., Castells M., Benton L. (eds), 1989, The
Informal Economy: Studies in Advanced and Less Developed Countries, Baltimore,
John Hopkins University Press
Simone, A. Jakarta: Drawing the City Near, University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 2014
The result of years of research and experimentations on the field to investigate new forms of collaborative city-making that are pushing urban areas towards new frontiers of participatory urban governance, inclusive economic growth and social innovation.
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