Chapter 1 focuses on how the eight cities encountered, worked with and against austerity in the period after the GEC. It begins by providing a flavour of the histories and traditions which contribute to explaining how austerity was experienced and mediated. It then turns to a discussion of Athens, Baltimore, Dublin, Leicester and Montréal, where more-or-less harsh forms of forms of austerity were implemented in the decade after GEC. It then looks at the three cities which, in different ways, provide a contrast with the story of austerity. These are Barcelona, Melbourne and Nantes. It is from these cities, primarily, that positive lessons emerge for charting governing directions beyond austerity. Chapters 2 and 3 build further on these reflections.

The eight cities are rooted in very different political systems and traditions. For example, the military coup in Greece (1967–1974) and the Francoist dictatorship in Spain (1939–1975) created highly centralized administrations characterized by repression and the suppression of civil society, which nevertheless survived underground and played crucial roles in the democratic transitions of the 1970s. In contrast, the modern welfare state elsewhere emerged much earlier, for example in Australia or in the United Kingdom after the Second World War, to prevent recurrence of the Great Depression and in response to political demands raised by the working class. While we do not analyse governance trends through the twentieth century, these examples capture something of how the scope for democratic practices, like participation, varied in the aftermath of the war.

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