Cities may be prideful of their autonomy, but they are fundamentally interconnected. More and more, they even look the same. They fly signage and advertising rather than flags; they are defined by connectivity and hence motion, never by stasis; and they are driven by aspiration, rather than history. They trade in risk and cultivate danger. Mayors don’t talk like presidents and prime ministers about autonomy and sovereignty and self-determination. They are compelled to persuade rather than enact and order, to debate rather than proclaim and pontificate. When they do talk, it is about crime, transportation and jobs; about plowing the snow and picking up the garbage. They focus on common problems rather than distinctive identities. The absence of sovereignty becomes a virtue: Local politicians don’t build walls, they build ports and bridges. They define success by how well they integrate, communicate and network with one another. No wonder New York and Shanghai are willing to share best practices and learn from one another while China and the United States bicker.
Cities may already constitute networks of collaboration that influence the global economy and bypass the rules and regulations of states, but they lie within the jurisdiction and sovereignty of superior political bodies. Mayor Bloomberg may have his own army, but let him try to deploy it in Cuba or Washington, D.C., or Albany—or even across the river in Hoboken or up in Yonkers, a few miles north of New York. He can route bikes through Manhattan, but try doing it on the state thruway or elsewhere along the interstate highway system. Unlike corporations, countries are territorial by definition, and cities always sit on land that is part of some nation’s territory. New York may not be looking to Washington, but Washington is paying attention to New York.