The Crisis of DEMOCRACY
in the Age of CITIES

August 31, September 1-2    2021
Online International Conference

About the conference

The Aim of the conference is to examine the links between the crisis of democracy with its tension between “non-democratic liberalism’ vs “non-liberal democracy’ and, the 21st century as the age of cities, in which the various properties of cities and urbanism dominate life. This, at the background of Industry 4.0, the Anthropocene, globalization and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Crisis of Democracy

Democracy. Δημοκρατία—the rule by the people—emerged some 2500 years ago in the city of Athens. Since then it underwent a whole set of transformations until the second half of the 20th century during which it became a dominant governance approach in world society. Democracy, that for half a century was marked by stability due to a delicate balance and complementary relations between liberalism and the rule of the ‘Demos’, is currently in a state of instability and strong fluctuations: The division of labor between elected institutions designed to represent people’s interests and values (e.g. governments)  and professional institutions responsible for law, order and efficiency, (e.g. the judiciary system), that seemed clear and simple, it not clear nor simple anymore. The complementary relations between elected and professional institutions have turned into a tension between a spectrum of positions at one end of which is ״non-liberal democracy״ while on the other, ״non-democratic liberalism״. This tension, as is well recorded, takes different forms in different countries: A partial list includes the Brexit in England, Trump’s presidency in the USA, the ‘Mouvement des gilets jaunes’ in France, Orbán in Hungary … and the current political crisis in Israel. Some, like Yascha Mounk [1] see this tension in terms of The people vs. Democracy, some like Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt [2] claim that we are witnessing How Democracies Die, while Christophe Guilluy [3] in his La France périphérique suggests seeing this tension in terms of the center versus the periphery. More recently, in her Freedom: An Unruly History [4] Annelien de Dijn argues that we owe our view of freedom not to the liberty lovers of the Age of Revolution but to the enemies of democracy.

The Age of Cities


The 21st century is the age of cities. For the first time in human history more than half of world’s population live in cities and the process is still advancing. It implies that every aspect of human life is associated with the dynamics of cities, ranging from warfare through environmental issues to the basic social, economic, political and cultural tensions. It further implies, for example, that in a highly urbanized society the old (Marxian) “town-country antagonism” is not anymore a tension between urban versus agricultural societies, but between the big, “mega”, global, cities that are connected to, and form the hubs of, the global economy, society and culture, versus regular and small peripheral “country cities” that do not participate in the process of globalization; between the “creative classes” [5] in the big global cities, for which the nation state is an anachronistic disturbing entity, versus “regular” people in local-national cities, for which the nation state is a protecting entity.

More than 100 years ago, scholars such as Simmel [6] and Wirth [7], suggested that the big city – the metropolis – has an effect on the mind of its inhabitants and that urbanism is a way of life. Based on big data, recent empirical studies confirm these somewhat intuitive views. They show that the size, morphology and pace of life in cities, have an effect on a whole set of social, economic and cultural indicators that concern citizens’ cognition, motivation and behavior in cities [8,9]. Do the size of, and pace of life in, cities affect also the political motivation and the value system of their inhabitants? Are the changes that take place in cities and systems of cities related to the current crisis of democracy?


Four phenomena provide the background to the crisis of democracy in the age of cities: the first is The Fourth Industrial Revolution, or in short: Industry 4.0 [10]. It claims that due ubiquitous Wi-Fi, Big Data, IoT and AI penetrating every sphere of life, we are standing on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the structure of our society and cities, the way we live and work, and the ways people relate to one another. The products of Industry 4.0 had/have direct impact on both democracy and the city. On democracy, through the effects of social media, while on cities via the notion of “smart city”. In both domains there are already rich bodies of research and applications.

The second phenomenon is the Anthropocene epoch, namely, that “We are living in … the period of time in which human actions have a dominant influence on many of Earth’s physical and biological processes.” [11]. The third is globalization: the emergence of a global network of economic, social and cultural systems. The latter two phenomena entail and direct attention to, problems and social-ideological values that extend beyond the boundaries of national states and both require solutions that threaten the ideology of nationalism, the autonomy of nation states, and the interests of major sectors of their citizens. The fourth phenomenon is the COVID-19 pandemic that started as a minor disturbance in the life of the city of Wuhan, China and became a global force that dominates the life and daily routines of world society. Does it have an effect on the crises of governance, urbanism and democracy?




1.  Mounk, Y. (2018). The people vs Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and

     How to Save It. Harvard University Press

2.  Levitsky, S. and Ziblatt, D. (2018). How Democracies Die. Broadway Books N.Y.

3.  Guilluy, C. (2014). La France périphérique. Comment on a sacrifié les classes populaires,

     Paris, Flammarion.

4.  De Dijn, A. (2020). Freedom: An Unruly History. Harvard University Press.

5.  Florida, R. (2002/ 2019). The Rise of the Creative Class. Basic books, NY.

6.  Simmel, G. (1903/1964). The metropolis and mental life. The sociology of George

     Simmel (ed. Wolff, K. H.), pp. 409–424. New York, NY: Free Press.

7.  Wirth, L. (1938). Urbanism as a Way of Life. American journal of sociology 44, 1-24.‏

8.  Bettencourt, L.M., Lobo, J., Helbing, D., Kühnert C., West G.B. (2007). Growth,

     innovation, scaling, and the pace of life in cities. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 104, 7301-

     7306.  (doi:10.1073/pnas. 0610172104)

9.  Haken H., Portugali J., (2019). A synergetic perspective on urban scaling, urban

     regulatory focus and their interrelations. Royal Society Open Science. 6: 191087.

10. Schwab K. (2016). The Fourth Industrial Revolution, World Economic Forum,


11. Nature, 515 (2014).


Conference Team

Click the names for more information

Efrat Blumenfeld-Lieberthal

Senior Lecturer at the David Azrieli School of Architecture at the Tel Aviv University.


Conference Committee:

Itzhak Benenson

Professor of Human Geography at the Department of Geography and the Human Environment, Tel Aviv University.


Conference Chair:

Juval Portugali

Professor of Human Geography at the Department of Geography and the Human Environment, Tel Aviv University. 


Ophir Pines-Paz

Head of the Institute for Local Government, Department of Public Policy, Tel Aviv University.


Conference Organizing Team:

Yael Bulis

Holds an MA degree in urban planning from the department of Geography and Human Environment, Tel Aviv University


Adva Sahar

PhD student at the Department of Geography and Human Environment, Tel Aviv University