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Why cities could hold the key to many of the world’s problems


Who has the answers? The UN? Scientists? Entrepreneurs? Nation states? “Ordinary” people?

There is another subset of power, agency, ideas and progress that often gets overlooked in the search for solutions to the world’s problems.

There are estimated to be upwards of 4,000 cities around the world with more than 100,000 inhabitants. They are a burgeoning political, economic and social force, often able to implement change more deftly and decisively than national governments.

Witness congestion charges, bike sharing, digital hubs, green energy solutions, even immigration protection.

For this week’s Upside, journalists on our Cities desk have been scouting out great examples from Europe such as:

Crowds of tourists in Venice

Crowds at San Marco basin during high season in Venice. Photograph: Venezia Autentica/Sebastian Fagarazzi

The Cities-Upside crossover will continue into next week. Watch this space for more great examples of urban renewal.


A slew of opinion poll data published exclusively by the Guardian this week is worth reflecting on.

It asked 25,000 people worldwide for views on globalisation, populism, immigration and nationhood. The results told us what we know deep down but often forget in the daily hurly-burly: most people are pretty moderate, sensible and conciliatory. (A lot are pessimistic though – and clearly need to sign up to the Upside.)

They are also generally a bit less hostile to immigration than previously thought.

What we liked

This University of Washington article on what triggers compulsive smartphone use, and what we might do to keep our phone habits in check.

Also this Huff Post piece about a teacher encouraging her pupils to be open about their mental health, with a “wall of feelings”.

A wall with stickers on it denoting school pupils' mental health
Pupils can use the ‘wall of feelings’ to discuss their mental health. Photograph: Erin Castillo

What we heard

Poor health and social isolation is often due to GPs, the NHS (and the medical model) not opening up to community groups. The solution is for them to do so.

Sam Goold, who argues by email that GPs should start pointing some patients towards the huge number of community groups and peer support networks. Do readers know of any doctors who do this? Let us know.

Robert, my husband, and I really enjoy the Upside section of the Guardian, and the fact that although the Guardian is very urban, we can see there is an effort to cover rural issues, so thank you to Matthew Taylor for the article about conservation agriculture.

Lydia Somerville, via email

In your call for further articles to add to your series on populism, I would welcome one advising individuals what arguments and language they can use on a one-on-one and daily level to counter populist arguments put forward by those they know. I realise that getting organised/joining a movement (such as Libero) may be the most effective, but tactics to use individually would also help. Thanks – a great series.

Martin Roach via email. This is your homework, dear reader. Do get in touch with your advice for Martin via the usual email address –

Where was the Upside?

Within the community of people with HIV, as scientists announced a possible breakthrough in the 40-year struggle against Aids.

Also, at the other end of the scale, on Scrabble boards around the world after the game’s ruling body finally decided it was OK to use OK.

Letters on a Scrabble board

Six points. Photograph: Wachirawit Iemlerkchai/Alamy

Send us your Upside stories and suggestions: who are the legends of progress that need a little exposure? Email

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Content provided by The Guardian. Original piece can be found here

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