An Introduction to Urban Governance

Rationale Behind Urban Growth

Introduction to Urban Governance in India
Introduction to Urban Governance in India

An Introduction to Urban Governance- The world is observing a rapid pace of urbanisation and realising the importance of cities for growth in national economy & development. Rapid urbanisation is considered both as an opportunity as well as a global challenge. Around 54% of the world population today resides in towns or cites and it is estimated that by 2050, the figure will become 66%. However, cities fills up only 0.5% of the total land in the world but approximately accounts for seventy per cent of economic activity, seventy per cent of global waste, sixty per cent of energy consumption, and almost three-fourth of greenhouse gas emissions. As it is estimated that by 2050, 66% of the world population will be living in urban areas, it is expected that the rapid increase of urban growth shall be observed mostly in the low and middle income countries. India, China and Nigeria together are estimated to contribute approximately 37% in the growth of urban population. This demand for an effective and adequate framework for governing the cities with modernised administration mechanisms enhanced transparency and service delivery. It is necessary to adopt new methods and techniques for administering the cities, that are comprehensive and capable of facilitating active & productive participation of stakeholders. Further, it is also evident that prevailing capacities of the urban local bodies are not absolute and requires substantial enhancement. But before we discuss more on urban governance, let us first understand the reason behind urban growth without which there would never been the need for urban governance.

Rationale Behind Urban Growth

Urban growth is believed to arise on account of real & perceived interests of human activities (social and economic) in regions of close proximity. Urban centres facilitate economies of scale in both public investments and productive enterprises. Perceived opportunities like improved services, diverse jobs and potential for geographical and environmental benefits draw populace to urban centres. Moreover these urban centres are nucleus of innovation, social melting pots and social change drivers.

However, the scale and speed of urbanisation is influenced by several significant challenges such as poverty, conflicts, social differentiations and environmental degradation. If the urban growth is not properly planned, it will have negative impact on economic and social well-being, contribute to poor housing, congestion, pollution, health issues and pressurise limited public services.

The bonus of agglomeration are unequally distributed among the people living is urban areas. For instance, though urban areas provides better access to services, people living below the poverty line cannot afford due to high cost or sometimes have to get satisfied with poor quality service. These people are often victims of inferior services and decision making processes. To deal with such issues effective urban governance becomes necessary. So let us now see what is actually meant by urban governance and how much it is important for urban areas.

Meaning & Importance Urban Governance

Urban Governance may be elucidated as “the sum of the many ways individuals and institutions, public and private, plan and manage the common affairs of the city. It is a continuing process through which conflicting or diverse interests may be accommodated and cooperative action can be taken. It includes formal institutions as well as informal arrangements and the social capital of citizens”. To be discursive, it includes goods and services, households, labour market, social relationships and basic infrastructure such as land, services and public safety.

Urban governance plays a vital role in determining the social and physical character of urban areas; dominates the quality and quantity of local services & its efficiency at the time of delivery; regulates proper distribution of resources and cost sharing among different sections of the society; and enables local residents to participate in decision making thus influencing the local government to be accountable and responsible to the demands of citizens.

Additionally, urban governance comprises of a variety of actors and institution whose relationships determine things happening in the city. For effectively administering the urban transformations, it is necessary that governments at levels strategically forge partnerships with and between the key stakeholders. Administering urban growth and cities effectively and efficiently has been one of the critical challenges faced by the developing nations in the 21st century. Effective administration will lead cities to act as drivers to growth & provide better and diverse employment opportunities to the youths along with enhanced healthcare facilities, safety, housing and social development. Consequently, all these with help in raising the country’s GDP and make the nation politically stableas well as will play a crucial part in reconciling post-conflict. Conversely, poorly administered cities become the hub of inequality, poverty and conflict.

Ineffective urban administration has severe impacts on the poor. To be particular, oppressive management of informal enterprises & settlements bring negative impact on the livelihood opportunities. Urban poor’s well-being can be enhanced by providing them the facilities of accessing economic opportunities, social networks and wider access to infrastructure, land and services. However, all these are dependent on the efficacy of urban governance i.e. internal political processes, the leverage of the civil society organisations representing the poor and government’s competence to respond. The outcomes are also dependent on several factors such as the availability of resources, character of local democratic institutions and processes and capability of the poor to coordinate and articulate the demands.

The potentiality of the urban areas can be maximised by institutionalising mechanisms of planning, coordination & accountability among the stakeholders. However, most of the city administrations lack the vision of addressing the urban growth, faces intense capacity constraints and demands for better data or information on poverty, services and the environment. There three key reasons underlining the need of urban governance:-

  • The scale and high density of population in the cities enable social and economic interactions to take place more effectively and frequently. This generates the potentiality for being productive and provides the inhabitants of the cities a superior standard of life.
  • For achieving this potentiality, major issues encompassing land, transport, public finance & regulations must be addressed. To make the city work efficiently, investment is much needed in industrial, commercial and residential sectors backed by a combination of appropriate regulation, effective land markets, efficient public services, sufficient public finance, accountable and transparent political environment in the city.
  • Hard work and smart polices (i.e. effective urban administration) are required to harness urbanisation and thus reverberations are long term.

Components of Effective Urban Governance

There are four key elements of effective urban governance:-

  • The city-national interface – the effectiveness of urban governance is as much dependent on actors and local institutions as is on the interface set up by the government to connect the city with regional border and national development. City level initiatives can only be effective when national policies promote favourable policy ambience.
    The accountability of the local governments varies across cities and countries, with institutions and frameworks being influenced by political, social and historical context. Responsibilities are allocated by the national government to different levels of administration, establishing electoral arrangements, designating territorial jurisdictions, developing proper accountability mechanisms and planning internal management structures.
  • Municipal Capacity – amplifying the capacity of municipal corporations to design, administer and finance the urban growth is a primitive element of effective urban governance. It is crucial that every level of government has adequate capacity for ensuring that socio-economic planning and physical processes are legally enforced, well-coordinated, inclusive & cross-sectoral. However, there are multiple municipalities that lack resources, skill and capacity to meet their obligations.
  • The role of the private sector – for both urban & economic development, the private sector is a crucial stakeholder. It not only generates employment opportunities but also engages in construction, designing and maintenance of infrastructure & in service provisions. However, wherever private sector had left footprints of improvements, most of the times it is at the expense of universal coverage, with areas of low-income being excluded.
  • Political systems and institutions – politics play a vital role in urban governance. It influences the development and operations of political organisations, government capacity to formulate and implement decisions & determines the magnitude to which these decisions acknowledge and reciprocate to the interest of the poor. Often the most valuable are ignored or excluded while making decisions. There are big lacunas between the poor and better-off urban inhabitants’ access to political economic and social opportunities and their capability to take part in and leverage the advantages of living in urban regions.

Additionally, key political economy limitations in urban sectors include the administration framework, urban poor’s political agency, service delivery dynamics, opportunities for collective action, the prevalence of violence & conflict and the involvement of vulnerable groups.

A variety of approaches established to navigate the politicised nature of development are apllicable in the context of urban growth. . These includepolitical economy analysis, drivers of change, problem-driven iterative adaption, adaptive& flexible programming and political settlements investigations. These approaches bring to light the significance of backing locally- defined issues and highlights that reform, programmes and policies are more probable to be effective when communities and actors view them as legitimate.

In this article, we have discussed the basics of urban governance. In our next article we shall discuss about the challenges of urban governance in Indian context.

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