- Municipal, regional and national governance
- What challenges do various scales of governance have when it comes to interacting, communicating and working together?
- What type of innovations and solutions exist to facilitate greater collaboration and cohesion between various scales of governance?
Why does governance matter? Cities are systems of systems; that are situated in particular geographies that are defined by historical and cultural processes; and are deeply embedded in regional and national socio-ecological systems, irrespective of what we’re continually told about globalisation. A riot in Hong Kong, a shooting in Los Angeles, a coup in Turkey or a massive street protest in Rio not only disrupts local life, but global supply chains and stock markets in other parts of the world.
Urban systems need to be governed effectively, if they have to become sustainable and resilient to both internal challenges and external shocks. This is difficult because of their relative size, dynamism and internal complexity; the range of stakeholders and competing interests who live in them and try and control them.
Sustainable cities have to be able to self-regulate, anticipate change, prepare for and respond effectively to changes in their environment; learn, adapt and sometimes even transform themselves.
Good governance of these cities doesn’t stop at their notional urban boundaries, it extends to the region that provides them food, water, air and essential ecological services, like drainage. It also means effective planning for the future with all its messy uncertainty about land use, population size, economic and social structure, infrastructure location and politics.
But what can we learn about governance from the history of cities?
Cities as self-governing entities, predate by over 2,000 years, modern nation-states. The history of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and Rome revolved around a series of powerful city-states. Athens, Sparta, Carthage, Rome and Constantinople, dominated the Mediterranean landscape and helped create some of the most important urban institutions that have survived into our times – Citizenship, Assemblies, Armies, Codes of Justice and Law, Bureaucracies and Universities; that were all born in cities.
But while only a few ancient city-states were republics and practised limited forms of democracy, they laid the foundations for medieval city republics like Venice; free cities like Athens, or later Bremen, Frankfurt and Basel which were permitted to have their own citizens, enjoy their own laws, elect their own magistrates and issue their own coins.
But over the last 500-odd years, the imagination of the self-governing city has slowly disappeared as the global political landscape transitioned from a series of large empires and smaller sovereign states, to a set of about 180 modern nation-states.
How did this happen? Was this inevitable with the growth of the nation-state and nationalism?
The independent role of some cities in feudal empires declined, following the great political revolutions in Europe and the Americas in the late 18th and 19th centuries, and the expansion of colonial domination over much of the rest of the world. This happened through a gradual process of centralisation of political and economic power in national capitals that then weakened peripheral cities.
Starting with France, the governance of cities, became yet another sector or department of a large national bureaucracy. This governance framework of a strong central state with weaker peripheral regions and cities, was exported in many shapes and sizes to European colonies across Asia, the Americas and Africa. This often created in the colonies a form of urban governance that mirrored the contest within the colonial powers.
This survives today in the segregated areas for post-colonial elites; and the working classes in most low and middle-income cities and countries. The emergence of large continental confederations in North and South America, like Canada, the United States & Brazil, the European states of the 19th century, like Russia, Italy and Germany – led to the creation of a two-tiered system of governance: the sovereign central or national government and a set of sub- sovereign provincial state governments.
From this – at least two types of cities emerged: most cities and towns became subservient to state and provincial governments. Others like Paris, Berlin and Washington DC became national capitals with much more autonomy. In more unitary or centralized states, like UK or France, cities and towns were effectively governed and financed by the national government and they were often separated from rural areas that surrounded them. Starting in the mid-19 century, the Constitutions of many nation-states were often based on a strong rural imagination, where the urban or the municipal had limited importance, or were sites of exploitation and extraction.
Some of these perceptions remain unaltered till today. The mid-20th century growth of metropolitan areas and megacities, forced a set of governance innovations which were necessary to manage large territories, flows of people across boundaries, economic activity and new sets of services.
During this time, the idea of regional and territorial development and governance emerged from Latin America, as country after country in this region became predominantly urban.
The counterfactual is post-1989 China, which as part of the largest urbanisation in human history, modified its long-standing framework of governance which was historically based on a hierarchy of provinces, prefectures and counties.
China created three special metropolitan regions (Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin) and two autonomous regions of Hong Kong and Macau, which have largely independent powers of local governance. But why is this comparative analysis useful?
With accelerating urbanisation, and the growth of large urban centres and regions, many parts of the world, in spite of their diverse histories and cultures are facing a common set of challenges. Older systems of governance that were based on the management of agrarian, land-based economies and small towns are no longer fit for purpose to address the operational challenge of contemporary cities.
As an example, Lagos, Africa’s largest city has grown over the last 60 years from a population of 300,000 to over 8 million. Its metropolitan area has more than quadrupled to over 1000 sq. kms.
Based on our understanding of urban systems and their opportunities for transformation, we’re going to try and understand how cities can be governed better to enable sustainability.
We’ll do this by examining two metropolitan centres from very different geographies and circumstances.
London, the capital and primate city of the United Kingdom; and a global financial and cultural centre. And, Mumbai, the commercial capital of India, the capital of the state of Maharashtra; a city in which over half the population lives in informal settlements.
Both cities are situated in active and vibrant democracies; are highly productive and culturally diverse; were linked to each other through colonisation in the 19th and 20th century; but represent different levels of economic development, social challenges, and need innovative governance to implement the SDGs.
So what do we need to do to sustainably govern the early 21st century city?
Let’s elaborate this within a ten point mandate.
1) Govern the rural-urban continuum: The settlement system in most countries goes from hamlets and villages to towns, cities and metropolitan areas. Because of the interconnection between rural and urban areas , it’s not possible anymore to deal with them separately. Integrated territorial planning is one way to address this. This is a new idea in many countries; even though it’s been practised successfully for decades, in many cities of Latin America.
The development of New Bombay in the 1970s, was an attempt to de- longest the island city by linking it more effectively with the mainland and the surrounding rural areas, integrating industrial and commercial development with agriculture and ecological land uses.
2) Enhance the resilience of infrastructure, housing and buildings of the city during redevelopement. In old cities that have been rebuilt many times over, urban redevelopment is crucial for the long-term sustainability of the city. In the 1980s shutting down of the textile mills that dominated the industrial economy of Mumbai led to some of the most intense conflicts about the planning and re-use of surplus mainland. But in London, the 2012 London Olympic Park conceptualised around sustainability and resilience has had a strong impact on the redevelopment of the more depressed eastern boroughs of the city.
3) Protect ecological systems and regional resources that provide the city with food, water, clean air and other essential resources. Regional and metropolitan governance has now become an essential part of urban sustainability and disaster risk reduction efforts. Mumbai experienced a dramatic rain storm in 2005 which drowned over 300 people, flooded large parts of the city, disrupted the entire metropolis for over a week.
This was primarily because of poor land use, coastal zone and drainage management and the clogging of a major local stream by construction debris and informal and high income development. With the increasing risk of climate change and endemic flooding in parts of England, the Thames barrier is a critical adaptation infrastructure for the city that was constructed to protect East London from storm surges and flooding.
The barrier was originally commissioned by the Greater London Council but after the 1986 abolition of the GLC, it was operated successfully by Thames Water Authority and National Rivers Authority until April 1996, when it passed to the UK Environmental Agency.
4) Develop critical infrastructure for transport, power, water and sanitation, solid waste management, IT and telecommunications. Some of this is best delivered by public agencies and utilities, like water and sanitation and public transit.
Others through public-private arrangements and yet others like telecom via private providers under effective regulation. Mumbai for example, is one of the few Indian cities that provides both electric power and bus transportation in a commercially viable manner. This combined with its railway network and walkability makes it a good example of how sustainable transportation services could be provided in a large middle-income metropolis.
Transport for London or TFL is one of the best global examples of integrated metropolitan transportation that links underground, light and surface rail, trams, ferries, buses and taxis in a seamless manner. TFL was put together in the 2000s, from a range of legacy public agencies and private providers into an autonomous body that increased its accountability but also gave it the freedom to act.
5) Provide housing and buildings that determine the quality of life and safety of its citizens, its energy use and long-term sustainability. Mumbai is one of the most housing-challenged cities in the world, with over half of its population living in informal settlements of poor quality and with very limited access to public services like water and sanitation. Multiple attempts at slum redevelopment in Mumbai have had limited impact on this overwhelming challenge, which is driven by one of the most unequal land and housing markets in the world. The struggle to redevelop Dharavi for example – an extremely productive informal settlement of half a million people that was once on the periphery of the city, but is now on prime real estate has lasted over two decades and many electoral cycles, and no reasonable solution has yet been found to retain its vibrancy and yet upgrade its dire living conditions. Both London and Mumbai have large historical building stocks from the 19th century but their conditions are now very different.
While the Rent Control Act in Mumbai has led to a lack of ownership and commitment to building improvement by the owners or renters, London has been innovating around social and council housing for close to a century to add and to improve on its existing stock.
6) Create livelihood opportunities and promote economic development. Since the bulk of economic activity happens in the household and enterprise sector, the primary role of urban governance institutions is to create enabling conditions for local economic development and to regulate economic functions.
Since the creation of the Greater London Authority, which is responsible for the creation of the Green Plan, London has strengthened its position as a global financial centre and economic hub.
In Mumbai, there is diffused responsibility for urban economic development which is fractured across multiple departments of the state government of Maharashtra. There is almost no connection between regional development, especially planning, economic development, policy and investments. This eventually has taken a toll on the economy of the city, along with the livelihoods of a large number of its citizens who are self-employed and work in the urban informal sector.
7) Enable the integration of all the urban systems through planning.
London has been the site of planning innovation, since the Greater London Plan of 1944 that attempted to correct the haphazard urban development due to rapid 19th-century industrialization.This was followed by the Greater London Development Plan of 1976 that addressed employment, housing, transportation, open spaces and public services. Following the dissolution of the Greater London Council in 1986, there was a hiatus in planning for London, till the publication of the London Plan in 2004.
This was one of the first metropolitan plans in the world to focus explicitly on sustainable development, making London a healthier, green, more inclusive, accessible and prosperous city.The challenge of territorial planning for London still remains, as spatial planning in the UK is managed by the national government, under its Town and Country planning legislation.
India’s planning framework has been largely derived from an outdated 1950s UK imagination and legislative frame as part of its colonial legacy. Mumbai, attempted a series of radical planning experiments starting with an expansion into New Bombay in the 1970s, and the initiation of a Metropolitan Development Plan. But it’s still struggling in it’s integration and sustainability.
8) Provide conditions of peace and public order that permit ordinary citizens to work, live their lives and enjoy the freedom of the city. In Mumbai, the responsibility for law and order lies with the Mumbai police, headed by a commissioner and its part of the Maharashtra state government. London’s Metropolitan Police service, is one of the largest, best-known police services in the world, but unlike India, is responsible to the Mayor of London.
9) Organise financing of public systems and services, the regulation of markets and ensuring that the economic and financial processes of a city function efficiently and are resilient to shocks:
Both London and Mumbai are key financial centres; host to the Bank of England and the Reserve Bank of India, financial and stock markets; market regulators and a wide range of banking and financial institutions. All of these institutions are governed by national institutions with little or no say of the city government in the key economic driver of both these metropolitan cities. London’s public finances are largely supported by the government of the United Kingdom with less than 10% of the revenues coming from local taxes.
In Mumbai’s case, the state government of Maharashtra is a primary source of its finances, even though the city has a relatively strong revenue base from user charges, rents and services. The Government of India is a primary provider of capital expenditure to Mumbai via the State government for infrastructure, housing and other urban programs. The process of slow devolution of fiscal and financial powers and institutional capacities has been initiated, under a Constitutional amendment but has met considerable local, political and bureaucratic resistance.
10) Manage Institutions and political processes that help express the democratic will of the cities’ citizens: The Mumbai Municipal Corporation is run by a Municipal Commissioner who is a bureaucrat and exercises executive powers.The Corporation’s legislature or Council is made up of elected corporators, who then elect a Mayor, but have no real power.
The primary functions of the Corporation are public health, welfare and safety, infrastructure and development activities and of course regulation. But the effective powers of urban governance all sit with the State government of Maharashtra.
In contrast, London is governed by the Greater London Authority or the GLA, which consists of an elected London Assembly and a directly elected Executive Mayor. The main functions of the GLA are strategic planning, including producing the London Plan, economic development, housing, transport, fire and emergency services and policing.
The remaining local government functions are exercised by elected London Borough Councils which include housing, social services, education, waste management and revenue collection as their responsibilities.
We have used the example of two large metropolitan regions to explore the challenges of governance. The real opportunity though is in small and mid-size cities in most countries, that host much of the people (and of course the poverty), but also opportunities for employment generation, quicker transformation of land use and basic services, becoming energy positive, carbon neutral and meeting the SDGs in general.
The challenge is that these small urban areas are often the weakest in terms of institutional capacity, financial resources and political power. A core challenge of implementing the SDGs, will be to build a national and regional frame of governance that empowers urban local government, communities and citizens to achieve what national governments have already agreed to accomplish by 2030.
So, what did we learn from this tale of two cities? Cities are systems of systems that are among the most complex created by humankind. They are notoriously difficult to govern, but if managed inclusively, effectively and holistically, could be one of our most important passports to a sustainable future. Sustainable cities have been able to self-regulate, anticipate change, prepare for and respond effectively to changes in their environment; learn, adapt and when needed – sometimes, transform themselves.
Older systems of governance that were based on the management of agrarian, land based economies and small towns are no longer fit-for-purpose to address the operational challenges of contemporary cities.
Ten themes need to be governed adequately in the early 21st century city: the rural-urban continuum, sustainable land-use, ecological systems and regional resources, the development of critical infrastructure, housing and buildings, economic development and livelihood creation, planning processes, law and order, financing of public systems and services, institutions and political processes that manage the city.
A core challenge of implementing the SDGs, will be to build a national and regional frame of governance that closes this critical gap and empowers urban local government, communities and citizens to achieve what national governments have already agreed to accomplish by 2030