Improving urban governance

  • Implementing a participatory approach to sustainable urban development


Providing an efficient and effective response to urban problems by democratically elected and accountable local governments working in partnership with civil society.


There is a growing body of evidence that the economies, cultures and reosurces of the world's cities are a powerful and responsive force for improving everyone's quality of life. However, despite the widely accepted benefits of urbanization, in many cities poor governance, and wrong policies have led to sever environmental degradation, increased poverty, low economic growth and social exclusion, particularly of women. There is no doubt that cities have the potential to be safe and healthy for all their residents. but in an increasingly urbanized world, sustainable urban development depends largely on improved management of cities. Experience tells us that improved management critically depends on the active participation of public and private partners in urban affairs.

This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities. Agenda 21 recommends institutionalization of a participatory approach to sustainable urban development, based on a continuous dialogue between the actors involved – public sector, private sector and communities – especially women and indigenous people.

Learning processes are of fundamental importance to sustainable development on the local level. It is necessary to identify key factors of success on how to involve citizens and local organizations in the process of sustainable development. Dialogues have to be started, and have to result in concrete actions.

The Habitat Agenda, adopted by the world's governments in Istanbul in 1996, also affirmed that policies and programmes for the development of human settlements require strong, open and accountable local government institutions working in partnership with all interested parties. The benefits of good urban governance can include economic efficiency, increased social equity, overall sustainability and improved living conditions.


Democratic debate and participatory decision-making have already transformed the ways in which some local authorities plan and manage urban areas. In Porto Alegre, Brazil, for example, approximately 25 per cent of the city's budget is managed by residents of the city, who not only set priorities, but also decide how the money should be spent. The United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) has a global campaign on Urban Governance to promote good urban governance through clusters which link operational and normative activities, notably focusing on urban management, urban environment and urban safety. The campaign supports city consensus-building processes between local governments and civil society to establish priorities for social development and urban finance strategies. It also actively promotes the initiation of international legal frameworks, policy reforms and enabling legislation which are required to ensure good urban governance. Other activities include support to partners for the systematic collection, analysis and dissemination of urban indicators, statistics, best practices and good policies for sustainable urban development.


  1. Urban governance is greatly improved when it is based on multi-stakeholder strategic planning, participatory urban management and the promotion of civic values. local authorities have a key role to play in ensuring that these processes are put in place.

  2. Urban managers are relying less on top-down processes based on blueprints and master plans and more on interactive, dynamic processes built on partnership. It is only through such processes that cities of the future can truly become cities for all.


  3. The political and economic potentials of urban authorities and citizen's groups remain untapped because their systems of governance are still highly centralized or because national politicians see cities as a threat.

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