Urban governance

Young boys sifting through waste on a dump outside a city in Viet Nam

Source: UNEP, Thiyen Nguyen, Viet Nam, Still Pictures

Many urban environmental problems are the result of poor management, poor planning and absence of coherent urban policies rather than of urbanization itself. Through experience, it has been learned that no amount of finance, technology or expertise can secure environmentally sustainable development - or protect the environment - if the fundamentals of governance are not participatory, democratic and pluralistic. For example, many developing countries have extensive regulations on pollution, most of which are seldom if ever applied effectively because of the lack of proper institutions, legal systems, political will and competent governance (Hardoy, Mitlin and Satterthwaite 2001). Unfortunately, particularly where economic and social change is rapid, established political and administrative institutions have proved highly resistant to change.

The past 30 years have seen significant political change with profound implications for urban areas and for the urban and global environment. These include:

  • the collapse of central planning;
  • the extension of democracy;
  • decentralization and demands for empowerment and self-determination;
  • increasing pluralism in politics and society; and
  • pressures for participation, accountability and transparency in government.

These trends appear to be strengthening, reinforced by globalization and especially by the impact of freer and faster flows of information and knowledge.

Efforts to improve urban governance involve activities such as promoting participatory processes; developing effective partnerships with and among all actors of civil society, particularly the private and community sectors; securing greater effective empowerment of local government, including greater autonomy in finance and legislation; and reform of unresponsive organizations and bureaucratic structures.

Nairobi's garbage
The Dandora garbage dump in Nairobi provides a livelihood for many scavengers. In 1992 Father Alex Zanoteteli started the Mukuru Recycling Centre, helping the scavengers work together to collect different types of garbage more efficiently and sell to middlemen for better prices. The project now has 140 members and with the help of Habitat's Settlements, Infrastructure and Environment Programme has organized itself into a cooperative, with several different projects. One buys waste from individual scavengers, sorts it and sells it to recycling industries - in addition to running a dairy project. Another gathers waste from commercial buildings in the city; it earns small fees for cleaning up the commercial buildings and income from selling the waste to paper and other recycling industries. A third manufactures fuel briquettes from paper and other waste such as sawdust and coffee husks. A fourth manufactures compost from organic waste. The centre is about to establish a facility for recycling plastic.
Source: Panos 2001

They also involve city-to-city cooperation and exchange of experiences and lessons learned. The International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives works with 286 local governments in 43 countries to improve local energy management and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (Skinner 2000). Initiatives such as the Stockholm Partnership for Sustainable Cities have been developed to introduce sustainability into city planning through partnership between cities and business. Habitat's Local Agenda 21 initiatives have been proved effective in implementing sustainable development policies that involve community members and government (Tuts and Cody 2000).

Because of the importance of specific local circumstances and political realities, there is no viable approach to solving urban environmental problems that can be applied in every city. A first step is to develop a local environmental agenda to assess the local situation regarding environmental issues so that this information can be used in city planning. Whereas the emphasis in 1970 was largely focused on public policy and regulation, the focus of the early 1990s was on markets and technical solutions. At the turn of the century, urban environmental management appears to be focusing more on changing cultures - corporate, economic and political (Elkington 1999).

The rise of urban farming

Growing food in and around cities has become a major industry, vital to the wellbeing of millions of poor and some not-so-poor urban residents. It is estimated that 15 per cent of all the food consumed in urban areas is grown by urban farmers and that this percentage will double within 20 years. Some 800 million people are estimated to be involved in urban farming worldwide (see 'Land'). The following examples from different regions illustrate the potential of urban agriculture.

The cultivation of food crops is economically significant in many African urban areas, where city dwellers pay 10 to 30 per cent more for their food than do rural inhabitants. In Kenya and Tanzania, two out of three urban families engage in farming, and nearly every open space, utility service reserve, road, valley or garden in the towns has been taken up for crop planting. In Cairo, one-quarter of all households raise small livestock which provide 60 per cent of household incomes.

Women play a vital role in urban agriculture, many of whom engage in cultivation as a survival strategy. This process of the 'ruralization' of African cities is not a consequence of mass rural-urban migration but is a response to fluctuations in the economies of developing countries' cities. Urban cultivation is not practised exclusively or even primarily by recent migrants. Most farmers originate from poor households that are fully entrenched in the urban economy.

Latin America and the Caribbean
Every available space - including roofs and balconies - has been given over to urban food production in Cuba's capital, Havana. Intensive urban farming methods including hydroponics help secure fresh food for urban dwellers. The city council facilitates the integrated management of wastewater for food production.

Regional standards for wastewater treatment are developed by the Pan American Centre for Sanitary Engineering and Environment Sciences in Lima, Peru. Systems of wastewater management and re-use at different levels of purity, from woodlots to aquaculture, are promoted and utilized in several countries in the region.

Some 72 per cent of all urban households in the Russian Federation raise food, and Berlin has more than 80 000 urban farmers. The St Petersburg Urban Gardening Club has become famous for its promotion of roof top gardening. Its research shows that in just one district (St Petersburg has 12) it is possible to grow 2 000 tonnes of vegetables per season from 500 roof tops. Many crops are grown including radishes, lettuce, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbage, peas, beets, beans and flowers. The growth of chicory for salads is encouraged as a source of vitamins in the winter. Rooftop gardening is popular because the gardens are secure and cannot be attacked by vandals. The St Petersburg Urban Gardening Club publishes books and has its own web site.

Source: UNCHS 2001a and 2001b