The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) held its first ever Integration Segment this spring on the theme of sustainable urbanization. In response to the themes and issues that were discussed in New York from May 27-29, I2UD prepared a contribution to the dialogue which can be downloaded at the link below. The full text is also included below.
[DOWNLOAD] Statement of the Institute for International Urban Development on the occasion of the 2014 ECOSOC Integration Segment
I2UD has special consultative status with UN-ECOSOC and is a member of several UN-facilitated networks. For more information about our involvement in these and other networks, click here.
Statement of the Institute of International Urban Development on the occasion of the 2014 ECOSOC Integration Segment, May 27 – 29, New York
Established in 2005, the Institute for International Urban Development (I2UD) is a non-governmental organization with special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council. The Institute regroups academics and professionals who established and ran the Center for Urban Development Studies at Harvard University, as well as other research associates from around the world who are experts in their fields.
The Institute would like to take the opportunity of the first Integration Segment, focusing on sustainable urbanization, to share reflections informed by recent research and technical assistance projects undertaken by I2UD researchers and affiliates covering issues of spatial segregation and social inclusion policies, adaptation action plans to cope with the impacts of climate change, historic preservation, reconciliation for development, access to land and infrastructure, affordable housing policies, institutional strengthening, and applied research in cities around the world.
Effective governance for sustainable urbanization
Urban governance requires the necessary ability to structure and deliver services to diverse populations. Much of that capacity is often dependent on asymmetrical decentralization processes. For effective governance to exist, local authorities require political legitimacy to make decisions, technical capacity to manage administrative responsibilities, and the financial resources to implement their urban development projects.
Local authorities, however, cannot and do not govern in isolation. Channels and institutional arrangements to coordinate with the central government are necessary. Engaging the participation of citizens by making information available and accessible to the population reinforces trust, which is necessary for participatory processes to succeed. Mechanisms that provide feedback and integrate citizen inputs into local action plans make citizen participation meaningful and reinforce transparency and social accountability in local governance.
Non-governmental organizations and research institutions are well-positioned to facilitate the adoption of innovative international experiences of participatory governance through meaningful partnerships with local communities and institutions. As former academics and practitioners, the staff at I2UD believe that capacity building is an integral component of technical assistance and that pedagogical considerations are crucial to ensuring the sustainable transfer of knowledge.
Policy making for sustainable urbanization
Coherent spatial policies need to urgently address social inclusion objectives including: increasing access to appropriately located land, fostering affordable housing for middle and lower income households; dealing with informal settlements located in environmentally vulnerable areas; and ensuring access to basic services. Policies should proactively address the growing housing and service gaps, with a special focus on land and transport policies, which underpin sustainable urbanization, particularly in areas experiencing accelerated urbanization.
Issues of land rights are at the center of many of the urban challenges we face today. Pro- poor land policies that are gender-sensitive are required for land governance to be sustainable and to ensure that social implications of land transactions and land development are taken into consideration.
The growing urban inequalities, since the 1980s, have reached unsustainable levels. Policies fostering social inclusion are critical in the effort to overcome the social, economic and political disparities experienced by urban dwellers. Inclusion can be most meaningfully fostered through land policies that address issues of access to land or property and the regularization of tenure rights.
Planning for sustainable urbanization
Embedding the planning process and planning capabilities with local authorities and local stakeholders is an essential element of sustainable urbanization and constitutes one of the Institute’s primary missions. Moving from planning to implementation entails raising awareness of and enhancing own source revenue generation. Innovative financing mechanisms and partnerships, particular financial instruments that leverage land to generate local revenue must be pursued to increase the feasibility and economic sustainability of urban projects.
Discussions around participatory processes for more sustainable urban and regional planning often highlight the potential of Information and Communications Technologies to reach more people than ever before. The digital divide however, must be recognized and addressed to avoid further marginalization of the most vulnerable groups in society. The exploration of new technologies for data collection must not ignore the soft data and qualitative nature of information provided by local stakeholders and authorities. Data should inform, not dictate.
Lastly, climate change has become one of the most globally pervasive threats to the sustainability of urbanization, yet the challenges faced by local authorities, adaption strategies and resilience building to the impacts of this change are largely not acted upon or defended by local authorities due to technical/financial constraints, as well as political and economic prioritization. To be salient, resilience-building strategies in developing countries must be linked to current opportunities and interventions, and solidly tied to government priorities.
Sustainable urbanization, therefore, requires a framework that integrates participatory governance, policy formulation, and planning for people and places to ensure that cities continue to sustain the lives of all those who call urban spaces home. I2UD contributes to supporting this urban agenda through our capacity building, technical assistance, and action research activities that enhance the economic, social, financial, cultural, and environmental sustainability of cities.