More than half of us already live in cities and towns. And that number will continue to rise.

We've identified three Big Ideas for transforming our cities - giving them the power to shape the future, putting sharing centre stage to build communities and reduce resource use, and education that empowers you to participate in decisions on air pollution, transport, energy and food. What do you think of these Big Ideas?

Big Idea - Help cities to grasp and share power

To flourish and to contribute to global flourishing, cities and their people need both greater control over their own destinies, and a strong ethical compass. Cities cannot just lobby for such powers to be delegated, instead they also need to work collaboratively and network together to realise their existing capacities. Grassroots groups and communities, as well as businesses, also need city authorities’ help to network to build their power, share ideas and learn from each other.

The work of the C40 Cities Network, the experiences of participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre, and the empowerment of slum dwellers in cities such as Delhi suggest how such strategies might transform urban futures.

Big Idea - Provide lifelong education for equal participation

True democracy at any scale requires an educated, questioning and participating public engaged in ongoing dialogue to expose, analyse and solve problems. Public authorities should support lifelong education to ensure that all people, regardless of background and advantage, are able to participate in democracy as equals. This requires recognising that participants have experiences and knowledge to share and are not empty vessels to fill. It also requires recognising that real life issues, such as social and economic justice, human dignity, environmental threats and politics should be central to the agenda.

Such transformative education can be seen happening in participatory budgeting, the Occupy protests, community enterprises, and campaigning. An interesting example of education that builds on shared experiences is the University of Abahlali baseMjondolo in Durban, South Africa where the shack dwellers are the professors, teachers and students.

Big Idea - Embrace sharing through harnessing digital technology

A reinvention and revival of sharing in our cities could enhance equity, rebuild community and dramatically cut resource use. With modern technologies the intersection of urban space and cyber-space provides an unsurpassed platform for a more inclusive and environmentally efficient sharing economy. 

City authorities should invest in sharing infrastructure and culture, remove barriers, and support and promote civic, communal and charitable sharing. This requires appropriately enabling and regulating commercial sharing platforms.

Good sharing can support participatory democracy and build greater empathy and solidarity. We can learn from emerging ‘sharing cities’ like Seoul and Amsterdam where better sharing is seen as a critical policy goal.

Related Big Ideas

See also Big Ideas on Empathy and Internet Freedom in Politics, Transport in Energy and New Money in Money.

Further reading

Agyeman, McLaren and Shaefer-Borrego (2013), Sharing Cities, Friends of the Earth

Bulkeley, McFarlane and MacLeod (2013), Enhancing Urban Autonomy, Friends of the Earth

Scandrett (2013), Citizen Participation and Popular Education in the City, Friends of the Earth

McLaren and Agyeman (2015), Sharing Cities, MIT Press

Childs and McLaren (2013), A Synthesis of Literature on Cities, Friends of the Earth,

Sharing Cities Network

The University of Abahlali baseMjondolo

Big Ideas Change the World is a Friends of the Earth project. It seizes the biggest ideas out there for enhancing our lives, preventing the mass-extinction of species and looking after the planet.

Crowd of people walking in a city