National urban policies: Thriving on strengthened partnerships

Mariam Lady Yunusa Yunusa Infrastructure & Energy News & Analysis

“Local is global and global is local; the road to sustainability runs through the world’s towns and cities. By building sustainable towns and cities, you will build global sustainability.” – UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, 2012

“A National Urban Policy is a coherent set of decisions derived through a deliberate government-led process of coordinating and rallying various actors for a common vision and goal that will promote more transformative, productive, inclusive and resilient urban development for the long term. As such, development of a national urban policy is often an interactive process.” – Dr. Joan Clos, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN-Habitat

Africa’s fast-approaching urban future

Africa today, though the least urbanized, has the world’s fastest rate of urbanization at an average of 4.5% per year. With this trend, it is projected that 60% of Africans will be living in cities by 2020. Africa’s urbanization has often been characterized as chaotic and unsustainable, being generally accompanied by traffic and residential congestion, broken infrastructures, shortage of basic services and proliferation of slums on marginal lands not serviced by municipal services, and pollution and environmental hazards. Despite these challenges, African countries have recorded a consistent rise in their economies by an average of 5% over the last decade. Cities and human settlements have contributed 65% of this growth.

African governments need to reorient themselves to understand the urbanization phenomenon as not necessarily an unwanted and problematic factor; rather, they should take the view that well-planned urbanization is in fact the driver of growth. It is thus high time that Africa embraced urbanization as a positive force for the structural transformation of its economies, including management of its extractive and agriculture-based industries.

Many African countries are beginning to invest in proper planning and well-managed urban development, which is leading to progressive and sustainable functional cities that currently contribute to the continent’s economic growth. While the growing commodity trade and increase in extractive industries may have led to a boost in provision of trunk infrastructure, the youth bulge and rising crime and terror rates are all manifested for the main part in cities and are signals that urban centres must receive urgent attention from leaders and decision makers.

The pressures and problems caused by large-scale urbanization are the most important in many countries2. As many developing countries search for appropriate mechanisms to deal with the opportunities and challenges presented by rapid urbanization, the need for a coordinated approach at national and global levels to ensure sustainable urbanization and human settlements development has become very apparent. To begin with, urbanization is a multi-disciplinary field involving citizens, communities, state and non-state actors including civil society, the private sector, academia, etc. It is thus imperative for governments to commit to the formulation of an integrated policy mechanism which would facilitate the growth of cities and incubate the conditions that are required for a productive and prosperous urban growth.

Need for National Urban Policies (NUPs)

An NUP is a coordinated approach to urban issues, and to the opportunities offered and challenges faced by different sectors of the economy as all are subject to the forces of agglomeration and competition in spatial expressions. It is a powerful tool available to policy makers who seek to manage and guide rapid urbanization and to harness its positive effects (while confronting its negativities). It empowers government and non-state actors to engage productively with all the forces of production in urbanization, leading to more environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive cities, which in turn ultimately enhances global competitiveness at city, national and global levels.

An NUP should address the general spatial implications of a country’s development and growth aspirations, and document the progress made towards improving the economic and social wellbeing of the population. It should foster development of a continuum of human settlements and a network of cities that are more compact, socially inclusive, integrated and connected. It should provide an enabling environment for all sectors of the economy and their spatial expressions in an integrated and systematic manner. It should foresee and forecast the growth and expansion needs of cities and towns, and lay out the linkages between metropolises and municipalities. An NUP puts urban planning and balanced territorial development, supported by appropriate urban legislation and economic policies, at the centre of national development. An integrated policy must thus be formulated hand-in-hand with a land policy reform in order to free up land for the economy’s spatial needs in a systematic manner.

The principal objective of any NUP is to promote the core values of inclusivity and collaboration as it develops from its inception stage to implementation, monitoring and evaluation. It is supposed to connect the dots from the neighborhood level up to the global level. A good policy should also include projected growth beyond current boundaries through regional infrastructure to promote regional specialization and competitiveness.

Through the consultative formulation of the NUP, policy makers and stakeholders can demonstrate their appreciation of urban issues and its multi-sectoral demands and avoid pitfalls that often arise from fragmentation and isolated policy approaches. Such approaches can create inertia in the system and could lead to frustrations, translating into a range of negative social expressions, often attended by loss of momentum and valuable resources.

An integrated policy thrives on strengthened partnerships

Urbanization is a complex process. It is a multi-disciplinary field with a wide variety of stakeholders. At the government level, several departments just beyond the line of ministry have a stake in creating livable, productive, socially and environmentally inclusive and productive cities, towns and human settlements. They include: housing, land, urban development, water, sanitation, health, education, local government, devolution and decentralization, environment, energy, transport and works, telecommunication, finance, home affairs and internal security, trade, tourism and sports, art and culture. The situation at the global level is no different given the number of regional and international actors who have growing interest in the phenomenon of urbanization and who are interested in supporting Member States to contain its negative impacts on different aspects of life. Non-state actors who go about their diverse engagements are also concerned with the consequences of urbanization. They include slum dwellers, the building and construction industry, home owners, entrepreneurs and law enforcement agencies.

An integrated national urban development policy should hold key sectors of the economy together by forging and sustaining inter-ministerial and multilevel collaborations which are aimed at defining a vision, guiding principles and a set of linked actions by national governments to realize the benefits and to tackle the challenges arising from urbanization. The movement of populations from farms in rural areas into medium-sized towns in search of better job opportunities; the growth in situ and concentration of people into already overstretched housing facilities; the demand for and pressure on housing and related services; and the high competition for the few available job openings all create a maze of needs which cut across the mandate of a single ministry. It requires partnership, consultation and an integrated approach.

Africa’s economic productivity is growing but in order to harness this growth for an all-round development of its citizens, the spatial planning dimension has to be introduced as an important translation of the GDP into progress. In this regard, lateral, downward and upward partnerships are key. Laterally strong inter-ministerial synergy is essential in creating synergy in the spatial investments of all Ministries. On the down line, the activities of local authorities and sub-national levels of government need to be a manifestation of policies and guidelines at the central level. An effective national urban development policy needs to be a cascade of differentiated actions that are streamlined in a systematic relationship. On the upward linkages, an integrated policy must have in view the policies of regional bodies and in Africa, the technical capacities available in the regional coordination mechanism which is managed by the United Nations Economic Commission cannot be dispensed of. The African Union and its regional chapters as well as the African Development Bank are veritable regional agencies with whom partnerships should be strengthened in the design of an integrated urban development policy. It is important to define the niche which every partner occupies, followed by a consultation process during which all players put their interests together into a single living integrated NUP document. It should be noted that the product is as important as the process of producing it.

The imperative for a strengthened partnership is underpinned by the complex and non-linear nature of the policy-making environment. In reality, an integrated national urban development policy must address more complex issues and incorporate multilevel development plans in a reiterative process of reviews and consultations. If in a democracy, it would take place amidst multiparty interests, and among other geo-political diversities which have potential to cause conflict if not managed well. Such a policy environment would need a broad-based legislative framework which caters for concurrent and exclusive lists.

The Global Exchange Platform on National Urban Policies

The Global Exchange Platform provides the opportunity to map challenges at the local and national levels, to have these reflected in the global agenda, and to enhance information sharing between relevant stakeholders from various countries and cities. By bringing stakeholders such as researchers, the private sector, policy makers, urban think tanks, urban dwellers including the urban poor, women, youth and people with disabilities together, the platform enables the developing world and especially Africa to identify key areas of priority within the context of the desired content and relevant partners at the formulation stages of an NUP. This would advance the content of NUPs and strengthen the implementation process within the region at all levels. Countries that have been unable to effectively implement the NUP owing to a number of challenges ranging from lack of political will, lack of required technical capacity and inadequate funding may borrow from what has worked in other countries, thus enhancing learning and peer review.

African countries may incorporate the following specific themes of urbanization into NUPs for effective and sustainable urban development:

1. Governance: Service delivery is still a challenge in most cities and towns in the world since most countries have not defined accountability structures in the governance of urban centres. It would be best for policy makers to explore governance enhancement options such as devolution and compare how such have worked in different parts of the world’s cities, and have these incorporated into NUP.

2. Social inclusion, cohesion and mobility: The urban population has continued to be segmented in different economies; this is a result of the continued growth of informal settlements and biased government development implemented in well-off regions. Participants at the platform should be able to share practical approaches towards inclusivity, equity and empowerment of the urban poor. The participants would also discuss, as a content of the NUP, urban transport, slum upgrading, urban land use and job creation.

3. Economic: It would be beneficial to countries with the highest rates of rural to urban migration if, at the inception stages of NUP formulation, ways of taking advantage of the rapid increase in population for economic growth were to be identified. Through the global exchange platform, stakeholders from developing countries should be keen to identify ways in which other regions have incorporated the same to maximize the economic advantage of the urban areas.

4. Environmental: With many countries concerned at the level to which urban development affects the environment, countries should explore ways of achieving sustainable development with minimized negative result on the environment.

The Global Exchange Platform will be effective in the implementation of a New Urban Agenda which encourages “development enablers” that offer frameworks for harnessing the multiple, often chaotic, effects of urbanization in a way that would generate an across-the-board growth. The development and implementation of NUPs as one of such enablers is an essential element of this vision for the future.

Written by

Mrs. Mariam Lady Yunusa is the Director of Partners and Inter-Agency Coordination Branch at the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat), in Nairobi, Kenya. She manages the Agency’s global network of Habitat Agenda Partners and supports them to contribute effectively to global development milestones including the Post 2015 Development Agenda and the Habitat III. Mrs. Yunusa is Manager of the Africa Urban Agenda, a programme of the Africa Union which seeks to strengthen partnerships between Member States and their citizens to promote urbanization as a transformative force for structural transformation of Africa and for the attainment of the continent’s people-centred Agenda 2063. Mrs. Yunusa upholds the integrated National Urban Policy, an invaluable tool for national development. -Mariam Lady Yunusa, Director, Partnerships and Inter-Agency Coordination, Addis Ababa Liaison Office, UN-Habitat.