College Green, Bristol with Bristol City Hall in the background. Photo Credit: Bristol City Council

Can place-based leaders deliver progressive policies?

Across the world, progressive city leaders are working to strengthen the power of place. Given the rise of backward-looking populism in many countries, it becomes more important than ever to develop a better understanding of those place-based, leadership efforts that strive to advance progressive values relating to economic, social and environmental justice in modern society. 


Reflecting on the US mid-term elections

The US mid-term elections held on 6 November 2018 delivered a dramatic set of results. Not surprisingly, headline writers have drawn attention to the implications for national politics in America. Thus, apart from highlighting the highly divisive nature of the campaign, media coverage has, in general, spotlighted the following outcomes:

  • The Democratic Party took control of the House of Representatives with the consequence that there is now, for the first time, a legislative check on Donald Trump’s presidency;
  • The Republican Party retained control of the Senate, the upper chamber of Congress, and this will ensure that the President will almost certainly be able to get his executive and judicial appointments confirmed;
  • There was a very high voter turnout, Democrats easily won the popular vote and record numbers of women and people of colour were elected to the House of Representatives;

For those of us who are interested in place-based leadership the results indicate a troubling increase in the already well-known political divide between urban and rural areas in the USA. More detailed analysis is needed when the full election results are available, but the early evidence suggests that in rural counties, meaning those with 100% of their residents living in rural areas, 90% voted Republican while 10% voted Democrat. Urban areas, by contrast, provided strong support for the Democrats.


A spatial fissure in modern politics?

It would be unwise to claim that this divide between urban and rural political preferences is replicated in all countries across the world. National cultures and politics vary, as does the power of place within the constitutions of sovereign nations. Even so, there is international evidence to suggest that cities and city regions often display a more progressive outlook than their rural hinterlands. For example, in the 2016 UK Referendum, relating to UK membership of the European Union, the cities in the UK tended to vote Remain whereas many of the so-called ‘left behind’ small towns and rural communities voted to Leave.

These shifts in the spatial dynamics of modern politics provide the backdrop to ongoing research and analysis of place-based leadership in many countries. Accordingly, in this post I want to draw attention to a series of short articles on progressive urban leadership.


New research on Progressive Mayors and Urban Social Movements

The international online journal, Metropolitics, is currently publishing a series of articles on ‘Progressive Mayors and Urban Social Movements’. The central aim of the series is to explore whether or not locally based governing coalitions can pursue policies that reduce inequalities in income and opportunity. The editors intend for the series to address several questions including:

  • What can local place-based leadership accomplish?
  • How are such efforts being pursued? And
  • What can we learn from such efforts?

I have offered a contribution to this series. Titled Inclusive Place-based Leadership: Lesson-drawing from Urban Governance Innovations in Bristol, UK, this article outlines a way of thinking about place-based leadership and reports on the effort now being taken by Mayor Marvin Rees and other civic leaders in Bristol, UK, to test this model in practice.


I welcome comments and criticisms of the argument presented here. I also encourage colleagues to share their research findings on place-based leadership on this new Place-based Leadership Website.

Shifts in national and international politics suggest that we need to renew our efforts to understand better the power of place in modern societies and, in particular, the potential of wise, place-based leadership.


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Robin Hambleton
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