Commonwealth Local Government Research Colloquium
Cardiff, UK, 13-15 March 2011
NOT TO BE QUOTED WITHOUT THE PERMISSION OF THE AUTHOR
Place-based leadership in a global era
Professor of City Leadership
Cities Research Centre
University of the West of England, Bristol
This paper examines the major challenges now facing local governments
across the world and advocates the development of a new focus on place-
based leadership for local government scholarship and practice. The
challenges facing local authorities are many but they can be summarised in
two words: globalisation and urbanisation. In response to these challenges
we have witnessed, in many countries, a shift from ‘local government’ to ‘local
governance’. This shift is discussed, and it is suggested that new models of
partnership working could, if handled in the wrong way, undermine local
democracy. To combat this danger it is essential to give civic leadership far
more attention – in the worlds of both academe and practice. A new way of
conceptualising ‘place-based leadership’ – one that identifies three ‘realms of
civic leadership’ - is put forward. This model emphasises the role of civic
leadership in shaping emotions and supporting public service innovation. To
illustrate the argument an example of very successful place-based leadership
is presented. Freiburg, Germany is probably the most successful eco-city in
Europe and the leadership model is used to help explain why. The paper
concludes with some reflections and pointers for research and policy. One
approach is to developing new forms of ‘engaged scholarship’ that can
advance the performance of civic leadership in particular countries and
places. It is suggested that a collaborative approach to social discovery,
involving academics and practitioners working together to co-produce
grounded ‘Innovation Stories’, could make a valuable contribution to local
government studies and practice. Biographical note
Robin Hambleton is Professor of City Leadership at the University of the West
of England, Bristol and Director of Urban Answers, a company he founded in
Local governments across the world now face remarkable challenges, mainly
because the world is changing very rapidly. The global economic recession,
shifts in our understanding of the causes of climate change, growing ethno-
religious friction in many multicultural cities, and startling advances in
personal communication technologies are just four developments that pose
massive challenges for local leaders and managers.
Skeptics will say that every generation believes it is living through tumultuous
change. Localities – both urban and rural – have always faced tough
challenges. What’s new? There are two overarching reasons why the current
dynamics of change lay down unprecedented challenges for local
governments: globalisation and urbanisation.
This paper provides a very brief description of these challenges and then sets
out a discussion of how local governments in different countries appear to be
responding. The shift from ‘local government’ to ‘local governance’ appears
to be taking place in many countries. While this can have advantages, it also
has drawbacks and, depending on how it is handled, it could actually
undermine local democracy. It will be suggested that civic leadership – and,
more specifically, ‘place-based’ leadership – can play a vital part in
strengthening the orchestrating role of local government in this rapidly
changing environment. The trouble is that civic leadership is being sorely
neglected in both academic and policy debates relating to the future of local
government. The paper sets out to make a contribution to filling this gap. A
conceptual framework, designed to advance understanding of place-based
leadership, is presented. This distinguishes three realms of civic leadership in
any given locality – political, managerial/professional and community.
The model emphasises the critical role that leaders from all three realms can
play in creating innovation zones – or new spaces of interaction – in which
new ideas can be generated and tried out. A short summary of the
outstanding achievements of the leaders of Freiburg, Germany, is then
presented to illustrate the argument. Here is a city that is very comfortable
with the idea of innovation – of setting remarkably high standards and then
delivering on them. This illustration is followed by a final section offering
some reflections. This develops some pointers for policy and practice and
some pointers for academe. Many scholars at the conference are involved in
research projects relating to local government and this section is intended to
contribute some ideas to the debate about the notion of ‘engaged
scholarship’. It will be suggested that one way forward is for academics and
practitioners to work closely together in the co-production of new knowledge
relating to civic leadership and public service innovation.
A caveat is due at the outset. Cities and localities are geographically and
culturally specific – they exist in different economic, political, socio-cultural
and legal contexts. It follows that we should guard against generalising too
freely about how to lead and manage local governments across the world.
Having said that, it is hoped that the discussion that follows identifies ideas
that can be used to stimulate fresh thinking on the nature of place-based
leadership and how to improve and develop it. Globalisation and urbanisation
The background discussion paper for the 2009 Commonwealth Local
Government conference on Improving Local Government: the Commonwealth
held in Freeport, Grand Bahama, provides a helpful overview of the
challenges now facing local governments across the world (Amis 2009). This
discussion paper reviews the changing international context for local
government and highlights: the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs); the
global economic crisis; and energy efficiency and climate change challenges.
Thirty years ago local governments did not, on the whole, need to concern
themselves too much with international developments. Now they do.
Earlier it was suggested that the two words ‘globalisation’ and ‘urbanisation’
sum up the overarching reasons why local governments across the world face
new challenges. The economic, political, social, environmental and cultural
changes implied by the term ‘globalization’ are truly startling. Hutton and
Giddens bring together a collection of essays on the contours of
contemporary capitalism that give weight to this view: ‘It is the interaction of
extraordinary technological innovation combined with the world-wide reach
driven by global capitalism that give today’s change its particular complexion.
It has now a speed, inevitability and force that it has not had before’ (Hutton
and Giddens 2000 pvii).
Globalisation is not
, of course, just an economic phenomenon – it has social,
political and cultural dimensions. Globalization enhances mobility and
connectivity among people and can, as a result, enhance the local quality of
life. However, the economic dimension of globalisation is particularly
important. Some authors argue that cities cannot do much other than
compete for inward investment.
Tiebout (1956) pointed to this over fifty
years ago, when he suggested that people and industry choose their locations
based upon a simple cost-benefit ratio of goods and services available.
later suggested that, due to local resource deficits and the
need to maintain their competitive position, cities had become dependent on
higher levels of government and private investment for survival. Thus, in his
view, local policy is heavily constrained – in effect local leaders can do little in
the face of wider economic forces. Urban dependency, on this analysis,
increases as the world becomes increasingly global. Labour and capital are
mobile, people follow jobs and industry opts to move to more distant locations,
where the cost land and labour are lower.
Others argue, however, that urban dependency theories overstate the power
of international and national actors and understate the power and influence of
1 This discussion draws directly on Chapter 1 of my recent co-edited book on Governing Cities in a Global Era
(Hambleton and Gross 2007). 2 I use the word ‘cities’ at various points in this paper but the argument applies equally to smaller towns and localities in general.
local leaders and activists. For example, Savitch and Kantor, in their cross-
national comparative research on urban development, point out that city
leaders can, in fact, bargain with business and that: ‘Cities with strong popular
control systems exercise greater influence over capital investment and
influence the course of economic development decisions’ (Savitch and Kantor
2002, p45). Other urban scholars support this view and some even suggest
that cities now have elevated in importance in the global world (Denters and
Reference was made earlier to the fact that we now live in a predominantly
urban world. In fact, the world is urbanizing at a remarkable rate. Figure 1
shows how the overall population of the world is set to climb from 6.5 billion in
2005 to 8.2 billion in 2030. By then five billion people (or 61% of the world
population) will live in urban areas. This is a staggering increase of 1.8 billion
in the world urban population in a comparatively short space of time. In 1950
there were 86 cities in the world with a population of more than one million;
today there are 400, and by 2015 the UN predicts that there will be over 550. Figure 1
World Population Growth
United Nations World Urbanization Prospects, http://esa.un.org/unup/
This urban population growth is spectacular. From a city planning and a local
government point of view it is just as important to record that this growth is
mainly happening in areas that have not
seen much in the way of
urbanization in the past. As Davis (2006) points out most of this surging
urban expansion will occur in the developing countries. He notes, correctly,
that the scale and velocity of Third World urbanization dwarfs even that of
Victorian Europe. From local government to local governance
In this section we explore the movement from ‘government’ to ‘governance’ - a shift that appears to be taking place in many countries. The argument runs that the forces of globalisation and, to some extent urbanisation, described in the previous section have forced change on local governments. It can be argued that the established systems of local ‘government’ were pressured into introducing ‘governance’ models in order to cope with radical change. The phrase ‘local governance’ is now very familiar in both public policy and academic debates about cities and city regions, but this has not always been the case. Back in the 1970s and 1980s analysts would be more likely to talk of ‘local government’ and/or ‘urban management’. Indeed, ‘urban management’ is still a phrase that is widely used in the literature relating to developing countries, and it is even described as ‘a relatively new topic’ in one recent, and important, contribution to the field (Dijk 2006, p xix). The literature on ‘urban management’ usually gives insufficient attention to the political processes that shape local affairs and this is a limitation. This is why urban scholarship, in western democracies at least, has been giving increasing attention to the politics of urban planning and city development. A number of scholars have contributed to the urban government/urban governance debate. Stone (1989), in his classic study of governing coalitions in Atlanta, influenced a generation of urban scholars. And DiGaetano and Klemanski (1993) made an important early international, contribution to the field of urban governance, with their comparative study of power in selected cities in the US and the UK. Over the last decade or so the literature examining the shift from urban government to urban governance has grown significantly (Denters and Rose 2005; Davies and Imbroscio 2009; Hambleton and Gross 2007; McCarney and Stren 2003). But what do these terms mean? For the purpose of this discussion government
refers to the formal institutions of the state. Government makes decisions within specific administrative and legal frameworks and uses public resources in a financially accountable way. Most important, government decisions are backed up by the legitimate hierarchical power of the state. Governance
, on the other hand, involves government plus
the looser processes of influencing and negotiating with a range of public and private sector agencies to achieve desired outcomes. A governance perspective encourages collaboration between the public, private and non-profit sectors to achieve mutual goals. Whilst the hierarchical power of the state does not vanish, the emphasis in governance is on steering, influencing and coordinating the actions of others. Moving to the local level, local government
refers to democratically elected authorities. Local governance
is broader – it refers to the processes and structures of a variety of public, private, and community and voluntary sector bodies at the local level. It acknowledges the diffusion of responsibility for collective provision and recognises the contribution of different levels and sectors. This argument suggests that approaches to leadership and public
service management that may have served societies well in the past will need
to be updated to meet the needs of changing times.
Elsewhere, I have argued that to contrast two ‘schools’ – the pro ‘government’
school and the pro ‘governance’ school – runs the risk of presenting a
caricature of a more complex political debate (Hambleton, 2007). However,
for the purposes of our discussion here, this juxtaposition will suffice. A key
theme in these debates concerns the degree to which elected city
governments are able to exercise democratic control over what happens to
their localities and the people living in them. As mentioned earlier some
scholars argue that locally elected politicians can do little to shape the
fortunes of their city – for example, Peterson (1981) argues that cities must
serve powerful economic interests if they are to prosper. Others take the view
that ‘place-based’ power can be significant (Savitch and Kantor, 2002; Heinelt
et al, 2006).
The move to ‘governance’ approaches is important for our discussion of civic
leadership as it raises questions about the effectiveness of local democracy.
Several studies – in, for example, the UK and the USA - have shown that the
new kinds of partnership created to advance collaboration between different
stakeholders in the city lack transparency. Worse than that, it would seem
that local ‘public/private partnerships’ and ‘special authorities’ are becoming
increasingly undemocratic and authoritarian (Davies, 2007; Judd and Smith,
2007). We can, then, raise a concern about the degree to which elected local
authorities are able to have a decisive impact on the life chances of their
residents. Certainly we need to recognise that powerful global economic
forces limit the power of the local state and partly explain the continuing
existence of major inequalities in cities.
Conceptualising place-based leadership
We now turn to the theme of civic leadership, which is used here to refer to all
leadership activity that serves a public purpose in a given locality. Civic
leadership is ‘place-based’ leadership - meaning that those exercising
decision-making power have a concern for the communities living in a
particular ‘place’. Some of the most powerful decision-makers in modern
society are ‘place-less’ leaders in the sense that they are not concerned with
the geographical impact of their decisions (Ranney 2003). Following Stiglitz,
who draws on Putnam, I take the view that an unfettered market, especially in
the context of globalisation, can destroy communities (Stiglitz 2006). There is
now a substantial body of literature on ‘social capital’ and the role that it plays
in fostering a caring society (Putnam 2000; Gilchrist 2004). There are
different kinds of social capital and sometimes this capital can be used to
exclude groups – the creation of social capital will not necessarily reduce
socio-economic inequalities. However, with the right kind of civic leadership –
of which more in a moment – it may be possible to encourage the bridging of
social ties between different social groups.
Civic leadership is inspirational and collaborative. In previous work, I have
defined leadership as ‘shaping emotions and behaviour to achieve common
goals’ (Hambleton 2007 p174). This implies a wide range of activities aimed at generating both new insights and new ways of working together – it prizes respect for the feelings and attitudes of others as well as a strong commitment to collaboration. If we apply this definition to place-based leadership it implies an approach that is very different from leading the ‘organisation’ or ‘leading the local council’. It invites leaders to move outside their organisation (be it a local authority, a business, a social enterprise, a university or whatever) to engage with the concerns facing the place. We can surmise that most of the people ‘concerned with’ a place actually live there. However, some individuals may be committed to a place and the people living in it without actually living there. For example, the chief executive of a local authority may live in a neighbouring area. The central point is that it is concern for the people living in a particular place that drives leaders to act. The literature on leadership - on political leadership, on managerial leadership and on local government leadership - has given scant attention to how people feel. Some scholars and writers have started to address this issue. For example, Goleman et al (2002) draws on earlier work on emotional intelligence to develop a ‘leadership repertoire’ that displays some awareness of emotions. Hoggett (2009), in his wide-ranging study of human feelings and identities in political life, makes a remarkably insightful contribution by introducing different theories of collective emotion. The point to emphasise here, however, is that these contributions are surprisingly far and few between. More worrying, there appears to be little evidence that these ideas have impacted debates about local leadership, still less the actual practice of leadership and management in local government.
Civic leaders are found in the public, private, and community/voluntary sectors and they operate at many geographical levels – from the street block to an entire sub region and beyond. Three kinds of civic leadership can be distinguished:
• Political leadership
– referring to the work of those people elected to
leadership positions by the citizenry. These are, by definition, political leaders. Thus, all elected local councillors are political leaders, although we should acknowledge that different councillors carry different roles and responsibilities and will view their political role in different ways.
• Managerial/professional leadership
– referring to the work of public
servants appointed by local authorities, central government and third sector organisations to plan and manage public services, and promote community wellbeing. These officers bring professional and managerial expertise to the tasks of local governance.
• Community leadership
– referring to the work of the many civic-
minded people who give their time and energy to local leadership activities in a wide variety of ways. These may be community
3 This definition resonates with recent contributions to the literature on leadership, including Sashkin and Sashkin (2003); Heifetz, Grashow and Linksy (2009); and Keohane (2010).
activists, business leaders, voluntary sector leaders, figures in religious organisations, higher education leaders and so on. Particularly important here is the potential contribution to civic leadership of an independent and engaged voluntary and community sector.
These roles are all important in cultivating and encouraging public service
innovation and, crucially, they overlap. The areas of overlap between these
different realms of leadership can be described as ‘innovation zones’ – areas
providing many opportunities for innovation – see Figure 2
. This is because
different perspectives are brought together within these zones and this can
enable active questioning of established approaches. If mishandled
processes of dialogue in these spaces can become ‘conflict zones’ with little
listening taking place. This is where civic leadership can play a vital role – in
shifting the focus to learning and innovation and away from dispute and fear
Figure 2: Realms of civic leadership
This framework is elaborated elsewhere (Hambleton 2009; Hambleton et al 2009). For our purposes an important point to note is that inspirational, civic leadership can emanate from any of the three realms of leadership. Elected politicians can exercise a critical role but so, too, can community leaders operating outside the state. It is also the case that appointed officers – for example, an inspiring city manager or service director, a neighbourhood manager or area police officer – can set the tone of local leadership. The role of managers and professionals in local civic leadership is often undervalued. Officers can work closely with political figures and community stakeholders to bring about transformative change. In particular, street-level workers can play a key role in promoting dialogue over time that stimulates creative solutions to local problems. In the US context Nalbandian (1991) has emphasised the
importance of professional managers identifying, understanding and working with the values of their local communities. And in more recent work he has shown how professionals can play a crucial role in promoting community involvement and, what he describes as, ‘civic discovery’ (Nalbandian 2007). There is an important dimension to the local leadership debate that we should not ignore – the institutional design of local government. The powers granted by higher levels of government to local authorities in various countries vary dramatically. Clearly this shapes the capacity of local authorities to lead their place. In addition, the detailed design of local democratic institutions can vary significantly between countries. In relation to the civic leadership debate we can note that an increasing number of countries seem to be taking the view that introducing a directly elected mayor can provide a platform for strong, outgoing, democratically accountable, local leadership (Hambleton and Sweeting 2004; Swianiewicz 2007; Copus 2008). UK Prime Minister Tony Blair was enthusiastic about this approach (Blair 1998) and, in 2000, the Labour Government created the Greater London Authority (with a directly elected mayor). This was a major breakthrough in urban leadership. The model underpins bold outgoing leadership by the Mayor. Opposed by just about all involved in UK local government at the time, there are now no local government voices calling for the abolition of the directly elected mayor for London. In the Localism Bill, presented to Parliament in December 2010, the present UK Coalition Government proposes introducing directly elected mayors in twelve major cities in England (subject to local referenda). The institutional design debate about local leadership can be expected to continue in England. The debate about institutional design is, in fact, very much alive and well across Commonwealth countries. For example, in New Zealand the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance recently carried out a thorough study of alternative approaches to metropolitan governance (Royal Commission on Auckland Governance 2009). In this case the Commission recommended the introduction of a directly elected mayor for a large, newly created unitary authority. The Government rejected important aspects of the Commission’s recommendations, notably their suggestion that there should be a two-tier system of local government in the city (rather like London, Paris and Berlin). However, they did decide to introduce a directly mayor and moved swiftly to pass new legislation. Mayor Len Brown took up his duties as Mayor of Auckland in November 2010. For our purposes, the important point to note about the institutional design of local government is that it can either support outgoing civic leadership or hinder it. There is not space here to elaborate the pros and cons of alternative institutional designs. In any event, one of the arguments of this paper is that local government can gain much by paying more attention to leadership processes rather than focussing too much attention on structures and organisational charts. Let us now provide a brief recap on the argument developed so far. Today local governments exist in a rapidly globalising world, a world that is also rapidly urbanising. Buffeted by external economic and other forces, that appear to be outside their control, local governments strive to create a
positive and predictable future for their residents. As a result of these various
pressures many local authorities have decided that the ‘state cannot go it
alone’ and they have developed models of working designed to enhance
partnership working with other stakeholders in the locality. This shift from
government to governance has many advantages as important players can be
brought into the process of leading the city – local enthusiasts, ethno-religious
organisations, local businesses, economic players, the voluntary sector, social
enterprises, universities and so on. A risk, however, is that local democratic
accountability vanishes as new, secretive ‘partnership organisations’ take
over local decision-making. In the face of these challenges it is imperative
that local government, and all those who care about local democracy, develop
much stronger models of place-based leadership that can withstand place-
less power. It has been suggested that a new approach to civic leadership –
one based on strengthening the connections between the three realms of civic
leadership shown in Figure 2
– is needed.
In the next section an effort is made to present what this might look like in
practice by providing a short case study of the achievements of civic leaders
in Freiburg, Germany.
Going green – a radical approach to local leadership
Imagine a city with a population of 220,000 where car ownership is going
down, and the citizens are proud of it. From having no bike paths in 1970 the
city now has a network of over 300 miles of bike lanes. The railway station
has its own ‘bike station’ with 1,000 supervised spaces, together with repair
and bike hire services, a cycle shop, a café and a travel agency. Some
neighbourhoods have been designed to achieve zero-energy or ‘energy plus’
development. In these areas you will find solar powered houses contributing
to the electricity supply – not taking from it. Freiburg, Germany’s
southernmost city, can now claim to be a world leader when it comes to
responding to climate change. A summary of the Freiburg success story
The origins of the community activism that underpins current innovations in
Freiburg can be traced to the late 1970s. A successful, local and regional
campaign against a proposal to locate a nuclear power station in nearby Wyhl
provided the original impetus.
Those involved recall that the campaign was both creative and inclusive – it
united farmers and conservative businessmen, students and activists, old and
young - in a new kind of political movement, a ‘green’ movement. A colourful
coalition of anti-nuclear activists was born and, from small beginnings,
success spurred further success. As early as 1986, the year of the Chernobyl
disaster, the council declared the city a nuclear power free zone.
In 1992 Freiburg was chosen as Germany’s ‘Environmental Capital’ for its
pioneering achievements, such as the installation of an early-warning system
for smog and ozone pollution, pesticide bans, recycling measures and its high
quality public transport. Freiburg is now one of the greenest cities in Germany
– no city of comparable size has more forests, vineyards and open space. It
has a high quality public transport system and it is very easy to move around
the city either by tram or bicycle. The map shows how the city has, over a
long period, worked to create an impressive tram network.
The Green Party has strong roots here and the city council, which has 48
members, currently has twelve Green Party councillors. In 2002 Freiburg
became the first sizable city in Germany to elect a member of the Green Party
– Dieter Salomon - as mayor. The population at large has a strong
commitment to environmentalism, one that has stood the test of time. Many
young people are now choosing to move to Freiburg not just because it has a
well-respected university, but also because of the strong, green values it
The largest solar research institute in Europe – the Fraunhofer Institute for
Solar Energy Systems (ISE) – is based here and solar technology has created
over 1,000 new jobs in the last ten years. The city council organises ‘Solar
Tours’ to enable visitors to learn from the practical experience of some of the
500 solar projects that are now up and running in the city. Environmental
policy, solar engineering, sustainability and climate protection are key features
of public policy and the city council is deeply committed to further innovation
to advance the green agenda for the city.
A key strength of the ‘Freiburg approach’ is that the city is not complacent.
Visitors from across the world now flock to the city to learn about the
achievements of the city – in public transport, solar energy, green jobs, urban
design, and the creation of communal forests and green spaces. But the city
is keen to redouble its climate protection efforts. Deputy Mayor, Gerda
Stuchlik, who leads on environmental and educational matters, has recently
promoted plans to reduce CO2 emissions to 40% of 1990 levels by 2030.
There are many examples of high quality, green urban developments in the
city. For example, Rieselfeld, is a new district in the west of the city which has
been constructed in the period since 1994 to very high urban design
standards. In the next section we provide a short profile of just one green
neighbourhood – Vauban. Vauban – a child-friendly, green suburb
The Vauban district, an area of about 40 hectares, on the south side of the
city, is a newly created, family-friendly neighbourhood full of green spaces
and attractively designed homes. It contains 5,200 people and around 600
jobs. Many local people work in stores, markets and gastronomy. There are
teachers and public service professionals, architects and designers. Around
one hundred work in a local electrical installation company and there is a
balance of social groups.
By bringing together urban planners and residents in a highly constructive process of public participation, the neighbourhood has achieved outstanding environmental standards. The land was divided into relatively small plots, and preferences were given to private builders, households, social housing providers and co-operatives. Major house builders were banned. The outcome is a child-friendly, green suburb with an abundance of small-scale creativity. Sensitive, people friendly design is central and building controls are demanding. Highlights:
• Tram service available in the development from an early stage giving
frequent, fast and reliable service to the city centre and the city as a whole
• First class bike network encouraging cycling for longer and shorter trips
• Safe environments outside the homes with children free to roam
• Extensive green spaces for recreation and social interaction
• No parking in the car restricted residential streets, except for unloading
and/or dropping off frail or elderly people
• Multi- storey car parking in two garages on the fringes of the
neighbourhood provides space for cars for those that want them – but at a price
• Creative design of streetscapes, public spaces and community facilities
How local government works in Freiburg
Freiburg is located within the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg and the local
authority of Freiburg has two political institutions:
• The City Council (Gemeinderat). This has 48 members who are
elected for a term of five years. The law requires that the number of councillors, reflects the population size of the city. The city population is 220,000 and this results in 48 councillors. They are elected ‘at large’ – they do not represent districts or wards within the city – and they are expected to serve the whole city. Candidates must be 18 years old to be nominated by a party as a candidate and there is no upper age limit. The City Council, which meets around twenty times each year, is the main policy making body of the city – covering planning, the budget, city laws and taxes.
• The Mayor. This person is elected by the citizens for a fixed term of
eight years. The Mayor chairs the City Council and is the member
(and can vote). The Mayor is also the most senior representative of the city and is the Chief Executive Officer of the city administration. In cities like Freiburg one or more Deputy Mayors support the Mayor. There are four in Freiburg and they cover: budget and public housing; environmental politics, schools and youth; social and cultural affairs; and planning and development. Deputy Mayors are elected by the City Council for a term of eight years but they are professionals, chosen for their professional skills. They are not members of the City Council, but attend all Council meetings and have the right to speak on matters relating to their department.
Local authorities in Germany are stronger than local authorities in many
countries in the sense that the position of municipalities is guaranteed – they
are given the right to local self-government. In addition, they have the
authority ‘to deal with all local matters affecting the municipality’. Civic leadership in Freiburg
We now turn to consider how the leadership model outlined in Figure 2
help us understand the process of innovation in Freiburg. The evidence
suggests that leaders from all three realms of civic leadership have helped
create an innovative approach to local governance.
The role of politicians
has been critical in promoting and implementing green
policies. The elected politicians set the direction and tone of local policy.
Mayor Dieter Salomon, who was elected in 2002 as the first Green Party
Mayor in a German city with a population of over 100,000, says:
‘Freiburg is geared towards the principle of sustainable development and this
principle guides all our political decisions. The most notable changes can be
found in our energy and public transport policies. We promote the use of
renewable energies – solar power, wind power, water power and biomass –
and we have managed to significantly increase the percentage of renewable
energies, mainly with solar energy. We also promote the concept of a ‘city of
short distances’. To achieve this we put great emphasis on having a high
quality public transport service and an extensive network of bicycle lanes’.
Eckart Friebis, a Green councillor elected in 1989, adds:
‘The role of politicians was particularly important at the beginning of our work.
This is because the administration did not really know what sustainability
meant and did not really want to try out new ways. Before we had a majority
on the City Council we could not force the administration to change, but at
least we could enrich council and public discussions with our new ecological
ideas. Later, when we [the Green Party] gained power, we were able to push
these ideas more strongly and they are now embedded in the thinking of the
administration’. Professional and managerial leaders
have also played a key part. For
example, Wulf Daseking, the long-serving Director of Planning in Freiburg,
has provided strong, professional leadership to the planning and design work
of the city. His efforts have been recognised internationally. For example, in
November 2009 the British Academy of Urbanism gave the award of
‘European City of the Year 2010’ to Freiburg. In the following year, the
Academy made Wulf Daseking an Honorary Member of the Academy in
recognition of his outstanding contributions to city planning and urban design.
In various speeches he has encouraged professionals to ‘stay put’ in a given
place for a reasonable length of time because this can enable professionals to
have more impact. He says:
‘It takes years to bring ideas to fruition. You must follow ideas through to the
stage of implementation. We have too many young people who just run after
a career – whatever that is – and change jobs like changing shirts. No, a
planner must work to make changes on the ground. This can be difficult as
planning time horizons are long - and can be in conflict with political time
horizons that tend to be short. Professionals have an important role in civic
leadership - alongside other leaders – partly because they are able to take the
Finally, community leaders
are critical. The roots of current approaches can
be traced to the community activism of the 1970s. Without the drive and
energy of community-based activists it is difficult to see how significant
change could have been brought about. Mayor Salomon stresses the
importance of working with a wide range of community actors in order to
advance green objectives:
‘To achieve our objectives we need the awareness of our citizens to make
contributions of their own, for example, by investing in the thermal insulation
of their homes in order to save energy. Many stakeholders are involved in
realising the goals of sustainable development – our citizens, our businesses,
environmentalist groups and institutions and, of course, the administration
There are, of course, conflicting views within Freiburg about the direction of
public policy. Some citizens believe that the Mayor and the City Council are
pushing the green agenda too hard, while there are radical groups that
believe that not enough is being done. Axel Mayer, Director of the Freiburg
branch of Friends of the Earth – is positive about the achievements of the
people of Freiburg, but he makes the point that the ‘ecological footprint’ of
Freiburg is still not satisfactory:
‘Many goods and resources consumed in Freiburg are produced and won in
countries far away from the Green City. These goods don’t actually pollute
our Green City, but they do damage the environment of those countries
producing them. An objective evaluation should not omit this pollution when
calculating Freiburg’s ecological balance’. Summary of key lessons from Freiburg
It is important to acknowledge that the story of Freiburg’s achievements
outlined here is impressionistic. The analysis does not stem from a major
research project. Rather the aim has been to begin to apply the place-based
leadership model to a particular city and consider how it might be developed.
Three lessons emerge for policy for from the Freiburg story. First, it illustrates
the value of strong, local political leadership. Indeed, it provides an inspiring
example of localism in action. Local leaders, unconstrained by centrally
imposed performance indicators, have developed a forward looking strategy
and delivered on it. Second, it is also clear that the officers and professionals
appointed by the city to push at the boundaries of good practice have played
a crucial role. Third, there is a clear lesson relating to the importance of
working with local communities and civil society in general. The community
activism in the neighbourhoods within Freiburg is lifting. The commitment to
green values and collective purpose is highly developed and this external
pressure has ensured year-on-year improvements in environmental
performance. Reflections and pointers
In this final section I offer a few reflections and pointers for the world of policy
and practice and for the world of academe. This is a conference paper and I
welcome comments so that these conclusions can be refined and improved. Pointers for local government policy and practice
There would are three main pointers for policy and practice emerging from
this analysis. First, it is clear that civic leadership matters. As part of this, it is
evident that elected politicians can exercise a critical role in setting the tone
and this is true for both local and national politicians. President Obama
provides an inspiring example of this kind of leadership. When campaigning
for the US Presidency Senator Obama gave a remarkable speech on race
relations in Philadelphia on 18 March 2008. It is widely remembered for the
way in which he saw ‘both sides of the race debate’ (Wolffe 2009, p178). But
it also provides a critique of place-less leadership. In his speech, which
reduced thousands to tears, he set out the choice that continues to present
itself to all civic leaders:
‘For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds
division, and conflict, and cynicism. Or, at this moment, in this election, we
can. talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men
and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to
Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we
want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who
doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for
will ship it overseas for nothing more than profit.’ (Obama 2008)
5 Further information on the Freiburg experience is available in report for the UK Local Government Improvement and Development (LGID) agency (Hambleton 2011).
Obama captured the mood of the nation and went on to win a spectacular
victory in the national election later that year.
In this paper it has been suggested that, given the growth of ‘place-less’
power in our rapidly globalising world, it is becoming increasingly important to
strengthen place-based leadership
. This is because ‘place-less’ leadership
disregards the concerns of communities living in particular localities, and it
rides roughshod over the rights of local people. A conceptual model for
thinking about civic leadership in a given locality has been put forward – see Figure 2
– and this outlines three realms of civic leadership. This model
suggests that inspirational, civic leadership can emanate from any of the three
realms - elected politicians, paid public servants or from civil society.
But are there limits to place-based leadership? The answer is ‘yes’. It is
important to recognise that the argument should not be taken to the extreme.
Untrammelled ‘place-based’ power can work against good race relations. For
example, if neighbourhoods are granted massive authority to rule their areas
we can be sure that the rich and selfish will be quick to ensure that people
who differ from themselves are excluded. Indeed, as documented by Davis
(1992), Minton (2009) and others, the growth of privatised ‘gated
communities’ is a worrying international urban trend. The creation of gated
communities with high walls and security guards could be described as an
example of ‘place-based’ leadership. In this case the residents of the fortified
enclaves strive to secure the success of their ‘place’ in what they consider to
be an increasingly hostile urban environment. This is not
what I am
advocating when I argue for a strengthening of ‘place-based’ leadership.
Rather, following Frederickson (2005), I am suggesting that politicians,
professionals and community activists should be guided by ‘instincts of
appropriateness’ and what is understood to be right and fair.
Second, the institutional design of local governance arrangements matters.
Structures, constitutions and decision-making processes are not the whole
story when it comes to defining ‘good governance’, but it is misguided to
believe that they are irrelevant. Institutional design can either hinder or
promote effective and accountable civic leadership, public involvement and
place shaping. Thus, governance arrangements can foster inclusion of
excluded voices or do the opposite. A warning note has been sounded about
the shift from government to governance. Privatised forms of urban
governance, sometimes advanced in the name of ‘public/private partnership
working’, can erode the corrigibility of decision making. A risk with these
models is that, ‘behind closed doors’ local leaders become servants of ‘place-
less’ leaders to the disadvantage of their communities.
Third, it seems clear that public service innovation – defining it, understanding
it, developing practical ideas on how to promote it – is a very important topic
now, not just for local government and governance, but also for all those
concerned with public services as a whole. There is light weight thinking in
this area and more than a little lofty rhetoric. Scholars can play an important
role in advancing thinking about public service innovation and helping public
service leaders move beyond performance management regimes that seem
to be increasingly outdated. The emergence of major, new challenges for
governments – notably climate change and the economic recession – give
added weight to this argument.
The civic leadership model advanced in this chapter advocates a political
opposed to a managerial, approach to public service innovation. It has
suggested that the overlaps between the different realms of civic leadership
can provide ‘innovation zones’ in which new ideas can be explored and tried
out. It goes without saying that it is imperative that the creation and design of
these new spaces for interaction need to be shaped by local people, and this
is particularly true in the multicultural city. This will require risk taking by both
political and managerial public service leaders.
Pointers for academe and training providers
I offer three pointers for the world of academe and training/educational
development – two relating to what universities and training providers might
do, and one relating to the need to stimulate a new wave of action research
on local leadership.
First, in relation to education we can at least raise the question of whether
leadership is being given sufficient attention in the undergraduate and
postgraduate courses being pursued by those who might hope to play a part
in shaping the quality of life in the place where they live. Are we doing
enough to educate future locality leaders? It would seem, for example, that
many of the courses providing pathways into local government careers are
dominated by professional institutes who, perhaps, have a vested interest in
perpetuating a highly specialised approach to knowledge and understanding.
Are these courses neglecting the cross-cutting skills and competencies future
civic leaders will need?
At a more advanced level the argument set out in this paper has significant
implications for leadership development programmes at local, regional and
national levels. For much of the time countries are investing in a ‘silo’
approach to public leadership analysis and development. Civic leadership
development, if it is supported at all, tends to be handled separately within
each of the three realms civic leadership set out in Figure 2
. And there is
further segmentation within each of the realms. Thus, there are many
leadership courses for specific professional groupings of officers,
development courses for councillors, courses for community organisers and
so on. A consequence is that breakthrough educational practice - linking
leaders in the different realms of leadership together in a shared process of
social discovery - is sorely under developed in universities and elsewhere.
A second pointer concerns the trajectory of research in universities. In many
countries, higher education performance management regimes are skewing
6 Many writers and consultants advocate a managerial approach to public service innovation (Tidd et al 2005). These approaches can play a role in improving service responsiveness, but radical change requires political, rather than managerial, thinking because significant shifts in power are necessary.
research away from policy relevance and away from active engagement with
the challenges faced by local communities. Despite the recent increase in
interest in assessing ‘research impact’ in some countries, the thrust of
university promotion procedures and research council funding priorities is to
promote esoteric research, some of which is of questionable value. Learned
journal articles are highly prized within these performance regimes and it is
certainly important to strengthen the quality of peer reviewed scholarship in
the field of local government studies. But it is essential that universities
reconsider the nature of modern scholarship to bring it into line with the
expectations and requirements of modern society. Ernest Boyer has provided
a marvellous start to this task by mapping out a holistic vision of scholarship
(Boyer 1990). A growing number of universities are following this model –
particularly public funded universities in the USA – but there is much more to
do on this front and this could be of immense benefit to the field of local
Third, and this brings the place-based leadership agenda back into sharp
focus, how can we stimulate a major expansion in place-based action
research on local leadership? One strategy is to develop an expanding set of
‘Innovation Stories’ using the leadership model outlined in this paper. We are
working on this approach in my university and hoping to pilot the model with
several innovative cities in different countries. In each case scholars and
practitioners will work together to co-produce new knowledge. It is a form of
action research that can advance theory and conceptual thinking, as well as
contribute to practical lesson drawing for the authorities involved. But this is
only one approach. It is hoped that the CLG Research Colloquium will
provide an opportunity to share a range of ideas on how to secure closer links
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