Towards better urban planning

By Hugues Demeude
Posted on Friday, 27 September 2013 14:47

By 2030, more than 60 percent of the world’s population will live in an urban settlement. In Africa alone, the growth in population will equal the entire current population of the United States. This trend will affect medium-sized cities as well as metropolises. Without a plan for this increasingly urban future, the consequences will be cities that resemble Lagos in the 1980s rather than Singapore today.

Urban decay, crime, rotting infrastructure and political upheaval dog this population imperative, and the ability of urban planners to find ways around this dystopian future will shape the African cities of tomorrow.

Local governments’ access to international financing must be made easier, particularly for countries of the south

The challenges presented by urbanisation led the World Bank to recommend a city development strategy as early as 1999, in particular to try to contain the informal settlement that characterises many towns in the global south.

United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) estimates that an annual investment of $200bn is needed for cities in developing countries over the next 25 years to provide basic services to the most impoverished.

At the 2010 World Summit of Local and Regional Leaders hosted by UCLG in Mexico, participants outlined a new urban agenda for the ideal city of 2030 – a better planned and more inclusive urban environment. This new urban agenda will be at the heart of discussions at UCLG’s world summit to be held in Rabat in October.

UCLG members are focusing on four main points: new partnerships between central and local governments to manage and regulate the urbanisation process; support for innovation and economic development of cities to improve the quality of public services; promotion of strategic urban planning; and improving citizens’ participation in local decision-making.

Since it was set up in 2004, UCLG has created the Global Observatory on Local Democracy and Decentralisation (GOLD) “to periodically analyse the state of local governance and decentralisation across the world, to anticipate its possible evolution, and to analyse obstacles encountered and solutions found”, as the executive board of UCLG put it in June 2005.

The first UCLG GOLD report on decentralisation and local governance, published in 2008, threw up a surprising fact: the world is undergoing a quiet democratic revolution.

An early version of the third GOLD report will be a main focus in Rabat, looking at governance of essential local services and, more precisely, the role that local governments will play in the provision of these services. The report will be published in 2014, on the eve of the date fixed by the international community to evaluate the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals.

The GOLD III report is an important tool for UCLG, which is committed to the Millennium Development Goals. About 70% of the actions needed to realise these goals have to be carried out at a local level, Kofi Annan, former secretary general of the UN, has said.

To tackle poverty effectively, to make progress on health and sanitation is- sues or to push for universal primary education, it is cities themselves that need to be in the driving seat.

The Manifesto for the City of 2030 adopted in Mexico highlights the fact that it will be small and medium-sized towns who are responsible for receiving and looking after this new influx of urban dwellers, particularly in Africa and Asia.

Local and regional leaders believe that the interdependence between town and countryside is becoming even tighter and should be accompanied by a united vision of how the two interact, as much on a national level as on an international scale.

The focus will shift to new interactions between urban and rural zones, and the promotion of a territorial dimension to development.

Decentralisation brings political responsibilities, such as organising local elections, as well as an administrative side, which aims to make each local government a legal identity in its own right, to give them more credibility and solidify their relationship with the nation state.

Significant progress has been made on these two fronts, but when it comes to the financial autonomy of local government, progress has been slow – despite the fact that without it the rest of the urbanisation agenda becomes well nigh impossible.

Some countries in Africa are setting an example, however. Morocco, South Africa, Ghana and Cape Verde have forged fruitful dialogue between the finance ministries and local governments to generate tax resources that can be mobilised by local authorities for local investments.

Lagos has also seen recent advances in tax collection. The authorities there, led by Lagos State Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola, were wise enough to start improving the city first to demonstrate that the social con- tract of taxes in exchange for services, to a large extent broken down in swathes of the country, was being mended.

There are four ways to generate local resources: raising taxes; state transfers; cooperation agreements; and appeals for loans. But local governments often have a lot of trouble financing their projects, and access to loans from national and international financial institutions is not made easy for them.

International funding for local government

As the mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoë stated in 2007 when he was nominated president of UCLG: “Local governments’ access to international financing must be made easier, particularly for countries of the south. I am going to plead this case at the World Bank.”

Six years after his request, the same problem remains and was the subject of a special meeting for African mayors during the African Development Bank conferences in Marrakech in May. It will be brought up again during UCLG’s event in Rabat.

One of the major successes of the Africities 5 Summit in 2009, held in Marrakech, was an agreement between 50 African local government partners. It was an echo of the pan-African spirit of old, a vision which holds that the 15,000 mayors and 500,000 municipal councillors from some 50 African countries form the base of African unity.

Decentralised cooperation is an important tool for the UCLG. It helps facilitate local governments’ involvement in their attempts to bring people closer at the international level. But it also brings local governments together around concrete development projects.

In the spring of 2013, the Moroccan and Cameroonian Eco-cities associations set up a cooperation platform to exchange good practice, with the aim, in their words, to “build up Africa from its territories”. ●

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