Moderators: Fabienne Perucca and Kodjo Mensah-Abrampa
Summary of the Dialogues:
The “urban frameworks dialogue” deals with the enabling environment and frameworks conducive to sustainable urban development, covering issues such as (not exhaustive): urban rules and legislation, national urban policies, governance, capacity and institutional development, municipal finances, legal frameworks, the distribution of responsibilities and resources, fiscal and financial arrangements as well as political, managerial and administrative processes in place to respond to the citizens’ needs. The three Issue Papers related to this area are: Issue Paper on Rules and legislation; Issue Paper on Urban governance; Issue Paper on Municipal Finance. The dialogue will inform the following Policy Units: National Urban Policies, Urban Governance, Capacity and Institutional Development’ Municipal Finance and Local Fiscal System.
Two main questions were proposed for the participants:
- What are the good practices in developing urban governance frameworks and systems that are tailored to specific contexts?
- What are the main challenges and/or constraints of existing urban frameworks that would have to be addressed in order to advance sustainable urban development?
Along the e-discussions, more specific questions have been asked such as would be required to ensure local governments’ sustainable financial resources and capacities? Could you share any specific examples of incentives or best practices in regard to transparency and accountability mechanisms to improve tax recovery and reduce the trust deficit between communities and local governments? Is the informal sector a response to certain urban conditions or a coping mechanism; can the challenges of the informal sector be responded to without “formalizing”? Is it time for new models when a significant proportion of legal frameworks for urban development are based on ‘international models’ but are often ineffective in terms of implementation?
Key Themes and Takeaways:
The relationship between spatial design of existing parts of cities and integrating newer, developing areas was discussed. Constraints in developing urban frameworks were cited with respect to the lack of acknowledgment by some city governance structures of the value of existing and well-functioning informal spatial frameworks.
Urban-rural linkages and metropolitan coordination:
Participants highlighted that there was a need to address the fact that labour markets, business flows, private and public services, resource flows as well as ecological impacts of urbanization often span over various municipalities or even provinces. Thus, cities often present functional linkages that may overcome traditional administrative boundaries, which requires new coordination frameworks appropriate for managing the functional area level beyond city boundaries.
Local Governance and Local Economic Development (LED):
Local governments were heavily discussed and were said to have a critical role in urban frameworks. Yet, they are often under-funded, poorly respected, and lack the capacity and resources to fulfill their potential.
Participants mentioned that the ‘Urban Governance’ issue paper is ambivalent about informal systems of service provision, despite the job-creation potential and urban services that these provide. Brazilian cities, however, have shown how inclusion of waste-pickers in municipal service delivery can improve working conditions and social protection and provide much-needed urban services. The paper also argues that ‘tax evasion produced by the informal economy is one of the major threats to good governance’. In practice, informal businesses often pay considerable amounts both officially and unofficially in taxes, licenses or daily fees, including bribes and protection money. The problem is for local governments to eliminate the need for payments to non-state actors by providing effective legal protection in exchange for existing taxes and fees, produce transparent accounting, and provide identifiable benefits in return.
Additional comments were made concerning competitive sectors in LED (Local Economic Development) that should be promoted in the background of traditional skills and productivity, as well as industrial location and development policy. Technical expertise with local governments should also be facilitated with intergovernmental support. Transparency was also cited as an important element in LED to avoid any sort of corruption on urban development projects. Governments need to also ensure that the projects stay free of politics, with a third party independently overseeing development projects.
Decentralization of national governance systems and the empowerment of local governments were cited in allowing for improved urban management, better consideration of citizens’ needs and larger representation of migrants, indigenous, youth, women, and minority communities. The promotion of multi-level governance came into the discussion in various occasions. Comments also included calls for states to adopt a sound national urban policy, while operating links between grass root level and intergovernmental system to support provincial and city governments deliver basic services.
Cities grow because of migration. Cities in developing countries with weak capacities in urban planning and governance already struggle to provide basic services for their residents and lack response mechanisms for greater influxes of migrants due to conflicts and environmental disasters.
Urban health and governance for health at scales from global to local was another topic of discussion. One point that was emphasized was that urban development should be human-centered, and particularly, should focus on the health and wellbeing of citizens as first among a plurality of important development objectives. Participants discussed the need for an expansion of the conceptualization of the goals of development to embrace health. For example, the paper on urban law lists key functions of towns and cities in regards to “…urban planning, municipal finance, urban land administration and management, infrastructure provision, mobility and local economic development,” but not health. The paper on governance mentions a wide variety of outcomes which governance must support, including economic and social development, efficiency, security, sustainability, resilience, climate change, ecosystems and diversity… but not health. The participants argued that there was a concern for human wellbeing throughout the Issue Papers, but that health should be more explicit in the texts. Past experience shows that an emphasis on economic development does not necessarily lead to improved outcomes. Conversely, an emphasis on health and wellbeing over the long term will always encompass other development objectives.
Social Accountability was one topic that was discussed in terms of urban governance frameworks. Through social accountability mechanisms, nearly all aspects of municipal activity can be tailored to the actual needs of citizens and thereby improved. “Social accountability is a form of accountability which emerges from actions by citizens and civil society organization (CSOs) aimed at holding the state accountable, as well as efforts by governments and other actors (media, private sector, donors) to support these actions.”(UNDP 2010). Hence, social accountability is the overarching theme for many concepts of Urban Governance such as civil society participation, sustainable development, access to political representation, formalization of the provision of basic services, decentralization, capacity building, transparency, and performance monitoring.
Due to the comprehensiveness of the concept of social accountability, it has become a guiding element at the World Bank, UNDP, and other international agencies. The media plays a crucial role in this form of accountability, as they act as a watchdog and disseminator of information on government actions and basic service delivery on the local level. Although the Habitat III Issue Paper 6 on Urban Governance targets the most important issues concerning urban governance, it omits the overarching concept of social accountability, which could combine most of the urban governance issues into an integrated approach. The importance of citizens’ participation is explicitly mentioned in the issue paper; however, it would be important to stress the significance of participation in the context of urban governance. Citizen participation is crucial to identify the most important governance issues, to monitor service provision, and to legitimize government actions.
Informality and ‘data challenge’:
It was raised that there is a need for territorial-based data and indicators disaggregated by sex and age to be readily available to support local planning and monitoring of urban development. National and local governments are often not up to date on the latest data on informal developments or the needs of informal communities. It was mentioned that grassroots, especially women’s groups, have been particularly effective in mapping these informal communities. Mapping puts grassroots women in the centre of information collection by empowering them to undertake critical evaluations of the state of their communities and once they have collected this information, local governments are pushed to provide access points through which the information can be easily shared.
Metropolitan Governance was a big topic of discussion throughout the Urban Frameworks Dialogue. Noted in the discussions was the weakening of decentralization and local governance in several cities around the world that have led to a significant increase in poverty and marginalization. There is an assumption that governance is an expression of the commitment by national governments to strengthen the coordination of local authorities between various actors that interact with city agencies. These include business, academia, civil communities, and NGOs towards a shared vision for a livable and sustainable city.
One participant, however, commented that in the case of the Metropolitan Area of Caracas in Venezuela, the mere existence of representative institutions does not guarantee the achievement of the conditions of governance needs. The participant noted that the institutional design for handling a metropolitan area incorporate not only regulatory-legal or governance structures, but also include the political power for local governments to govern effectively. There were calls to establish a stable institutional framework, less dependent on the situation or willingness of political actors and to endow mayors with skills and political power to meet the targets set out in the New Urban Agenda.
Suggestions were made to metropolitan governance including the creation of metropolitan institutions that may be responsible for coordinating the delivery of public services (transport, water, waste management) and urban planning, in which the participation of the central and regional governments can facilitate cooperation between municipalities. In addition, incentives should be created for cities to ensure sufficient financial resources for urban development. Some measures for discussion could include the expansion of the sources of revenue through reform of the property tax and user fees, improving equity transfer system and promoting public-private partnerships. Regulations were also suggested to be approved between the municipalities of a metropolitan area instead of continuing to support the creation of municipal planning institutes. The central government can help in creating such metropolitan planning institutes, shielded from political cycles and professional career service.
Ownership and the need for urban expansion:
Informal settlements are about the dynamics of relationships and tensions that occur between landowners and the settlers. When talking about legal frameworks, it must be acknowledged that owners also have legal rights and have to be taken into account when addressing informality. In this sense, eminent domain and participatory and inclusive land readjustment were some of mechanisms mentioned to deal with landownership and the need of urban expansion and development, which require adequate legal frameworks. Along these lines, it was also raised that there are existing tensions between informal settlers and local authorities, which have immense pressure to provide services without suitable financing and cost recovery mechanisms.
It was discussed that a major failure of city governance is the inability to address needs of the poor. Water, sanitation, housing, and transport are not available to an increasing share of urban population. This may be attributed to the fact that some of these disbursed and decentralized requirements are undertaken through centralized solutions that are expensive and unsustainable.
Furthermore, it was discussed that local governments ultimately hold the key responsibilities for local actions, and therefore need adequate managerial and fiscal instruments to develop and implement local solutions.
Capacity Building and Social Participation
The lack of capacities at the local level has been a recurrent issue throughout the discussions and it has been considered a priority for efficient urban governance. Capacity building presupposes an institutional framework capable of undertaking the assigned tasks in a democratic and participatory manner. It was highlighted in various comments that there is a need to make adequate institutional arrangements, framed rules, and procedures to facilitate civil society participation.
Inclusion and local economic development
Strengthening the rights of women, youth and workers in informal economies, as well as establishing functioning good urban governance structures, was mentioned to be a crucial prerequisite for sustainable urban development. It was also mentioned that local economic strategies work and succeed where there is a projection of effective economic governance – fiscal policy, transparency, accountability, and inclusive decision-making at the local level. A National Urban Policy can set up a link among the key elements such as comparative advantages of urban centres, expected role within the national system, and infrastructure requirements. Governance is the software that enables pieces to hold together and to function adequately.
Right to the City:
Many participants promoted the idea of Right to the City to build just, democratic and sustainable cities. This include the social function of land /property and the city, democratic management of the territory, the right to produce the habitat and economy for life (not for accumulation, speculation and profit), the responsible and sustainable management of the commons (natural, energy, historic, and cultural assets) and the equal enjoyment of public spaces and community facilities. The Right to the City also includes the need of a framework for the decentralization of public administration (office, technical ability, resources) and an active role of local authorities, ensuring democratic and participatory mechanisms in decision-making processes.
Local governments’ role is to ensure all citizens the Right to the City. Public policies must correspond to the population’s needs and aspirations. It is essential that local public authorities assure institutionalized spaces that facilitate citizens’ participation in public administration. This participation should be wide, direct, equitable and democratic. Citizens should be similarly included and consulted in all stages of the decision-making process: planning, preparation, approval, investment decisions, project management, implementation, and evaluation. Governments must also ensure transparency and access to information to the population in order to facilitate monitoring and accountability.
Civil society and social movements participation in public governance is essential to define a comprehensive and integrated analysis of public policies for the territory. Besides representing the interests of the population before public authorities, these participation models may also play a management role of public services along with the government. Once the main existing models of civil society participation in territory management are identified (for example: popular initiative bills and urban development plans, citizen mobilization platforms, etc.), it is possible to assess civil society interaction with local authorities and how its actions will complement the institutional mechanisms developed by the government. It is important to observe which are the main obstacles to civil society participation in public management to better understand how to overcome them.
UN Major Groups:
Some NGOs highlighted the important challenge of austerity in achieving sustainability. Austerity policies (for instance as elements of structural adjustment policies) imposed on many countries and cities by governments, international agencies, supranational institutions and international treaties substantially reduce the provision of decent housing and other basic services and have an extremely negative impact on equity and livability of human settlements.
Missing from the Issue Papers is a critical review of impacts of public private partnership (PPP) agreements – as recommended at Habitat II – and of the privatization of essential public services like water, transport and electricity on service quality, costs, municipal finances and the living conditions of citizens, specifically those with lower income. There should also be reporting on the consequences and risks of existing and planned international free trade agreements (like TTIP) on housing and cities.
Several NGOS defended the idea of the Right to the City as a central concept to development. These NGOs included ActionAid, Avina Foundation, Brazilian Association of Municipalities, Cities Alliance, Global Fund for the Cities Development (FMDV), Ford Foundation, Brazilian National Urban Reform Forum, Habitat for Humanity, Habitat International Coalition (HIC), International Alliance of Inhabitants, Pólis Institute, Shack Slum Dwellers International (SDI), Committee on Social Inclusion, Participatory Democracy and Human Rights (UCGLU), and WIEGO – Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing.
In a statement written on behalf of all the NGOs listed above, Right to the City was put forward as a key element in the Urban Frameworks discussion. They are opposed to the current model of urban development, in which a neoliberal logic prevails, benefiting the economic interests of a minority. This logic allows the commercialization of the urban land, the gentrification of traditional and popular neighborhoods, the privatization of collective spaces, and the use of public funds to promote major infrastructure. All of this ultimately undermines the development of decentralized, inclusive, and sustainable cities that ensure job opportunities, health, education, leisure, and culture in the different neighborhoods.
Youth participation and inclusion was one area of focus during discussions. Comments highlighted the fact that urban frameworks should better recognize the role of youth, prioritize their effective representation, and expand their access to information and city resources.
Many issues were raised with respect to the Urban Frameworks Issue Papers on Municipal Finance, Urban Governance, and Urban Rules and Legislation. First, participants noted that the Issue Papers could do a better job in adding more language and examples of innovative partnerships of women related to governance (e.g. local-to-local dialogues and the need to enhance training and capacity building around these strategies). Within the Urban Governance Issue Paper, participants noted the lack of women and gender equality issues throughout the paper. The access to basic services for the urban poor women must be acknowledged by government agencies. It still receives little attention, with thousands of slum dwellers living in everyday fear of eviction.
Women need to be heard in their demands through all levels of governance. For this to take place, it is important to include the training practices for women in local and state programs regarding issues of land and housing access rights.
The paper does not address the issue of women’s rights to land ownership and inheritance or ability to enter into legal agreements. Although ethics in civil services is mentioned, there is no specific reference to combating the practice of taking advantage of women’s access to urban services. Such inappropriate behavior should be easily reportable, investigated seriously, and disciplined swiftly.
Engagement does not specifically deal with involving women, especially grassroots women who have different needs and perspectives in community needs. Their points of view are highly valuable in policy considerations and should be integrated into the process.
Overall, the Issue Papers do not address the issue of local rule deciding a particular policy that is then reversed or superseded by state or national law that removes the right of local control from urban dwellers.
There were also suggestions to conduct participatory budgets with a gender perspective, as is largely happening in many Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay). The information related to Urban Governance is vital in taking into account the work of the women as actors of development in their communities. The inclusion of women must be mentioned in all levels of governance.
OTHER MAJOR GROUPS:
Urban planning and governance, without taking migrants’ voices into account, lack the capacity to develop concrete solutions that recognizes how migrants transform, expand, and diversify a city. Including migration in urban development will not only make cities more resilient in enabling them to respond to the physical, social, and economic challenges that increasing urban migration poses; but they will also allow cities to harness the potential and benefits associated with migration.
Good platforms/programmes/initiatives identified and discussed:
- Youth led development and guidelines toward achieving youth inclusive governance – joint report from UN-Habitat and The Norwegian Children and Youth Council (LNU)
Transparency in local governance – principles and tools Link 1, Link 2
- Legal frameworks for Eminent Domain, and Participatory and Inclusive Land Readjustment
- UN organisations (ILO, UN-Habitat, UNDP, UNCDF), United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLGA) and Commonwealth local Governments Forum (CLGF)
- Kids in India Are Sparking Urban Planning Changes by Mapping Slums’ by Sam Sturgis
- Participatory and Inclusive Land Readjustiment (PILaR)
- Cities of Migration- Good Ideas in Integration
- Fostering Social Accountability, UNDP
- Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad: La gobernanza de las ciudades y el territorio en México
- OECD Sintesis del Estudio Mexico
- IOM’s World Migration Report: Migrants and Cities: New Partnerships to Manage Urban Mobility (2015 forthcoming)