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- Author or Editor: Steven Griggs x
This chapter seeks to better understand how austerity governance has been experienced in the eight cities, from the perspective of the local state. As earlier chapters demonstrate, austerity governance is a real challenge for cities and local states, which can often have competing priorities and imperatives. This is because traditionally, local managers and elected politicians are more inclined than those of the upper tiers of the state to listen to and be responsive to the residents of their local constituencies, because they are closer to them. Consequently, the principles and rules in municipalities for managing public budgets are usually more responsive to social demands. However, if the democratic local state is a political unit, with at least some autonomy to enact its values and citizen preferences, it is also subject to a range of structural and contextual constraints. These include cultures and practices of neoliberal marketization and the level of resources available through transfers and taxation. In that respect, local state managers and elected representatives are caught in a difficult situation. On the one hand, they seek to respond to the needs and priorities of their constituents while, on the other, they operate within the constraints set by national priorities of neoliberal marketization and cuts to resources. This leaves them looking two ways, trying to overcome continuous contradictions, conflicts and uncertainties that arise from this difficult positioning.
In addition to these immediate and contradictory demands on local officials, questions of local state power are strongly connected with urban culture.
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.