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The principles of good urban governance are the campaign's intellectual and operational foundation: they define the nature of the challenge and shed light on some of the potential solutions. The Campaign is promoting an international debate to define a set of urban governance principles relevant for any city in the world. The principles are not intended to be a check-list. Rather, they provide a common vocabulary for a discussion on the key issues affecting the quality of life in cities. If there is sufficient global consensus on the principles, the Campaign will prepare a "Declaration on the Norms of Good Urban Governance" for adoption by the United Nations General Assembly.

These pages provide an overview of the Campaign's understanding of governance and good urban governance. Several potential sources of interntional norms are also listed. The proposed principles are presented as well as a brief description of the proposed process of normative debate that may culminate in the adoption of a "Declaration on the Norms of Good Urban Governance." Please click on any of the highlighted links above to go directly to your area of interest.

What is governance?

The concept of governance is complex and controversial. There are some common points of departure, however. First, governance is not government. Governance as a concept recognizes that power exists inside and outside the formal authority and institutions of government. Many definitions of governance include three principle groups of actors: government, the private sector and civil society. Second, governance emphasizes ‘process’. It recognizes that decisions are made based on complex relationships between many actors with different priorities. It is the reconciliation of these competing priorities that is at the heart of the concept of governance.

UN-HABITAT is proposing the following definition of governance:

Urban governance is 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.
What is good governance?

Once the adjective “good” is added, a normative debate begins. The campaign is promoting an international debate on the norms or ‘desired standards of practice` of urban governance. Adding such a value judgement to “governance” increases the controversy exponentially. Different people, organisations, governments and city authorities will define “good governance” according to their own experience and interest.

UN-HABITAT's own understanding of good urban governance is based on its operational experience and the Habitat Agenda. UN-HABITAT's operational experience confirms that it is not just money, or technology, or even expertise, but also good governance that means the difference between a well-managed and Inclusive City and one that is poorly managed and exclusive. Moreover, it is UN-HABITAT's experience that inclusive strategic planning and decision-making processes are the key to good governance and sustainable cities.

UN-HABITAT is promoting the following definition of good urban governance:

Urban governance is inextricably linked to the welfare of the citizenry. Good urban governance must enable women and men to access the benefits of urban citizenship. Good urban governance, based on the principle of urban citizenship, affirms that no man, woman or child can be denied access to the necessities of urban life, including adequate shelter, security of tenure, safe water, sanitation, a clean environment, health, education and nutrition, employment and public safety and mobility. Through good urban governance, citizens are provided with the platform which will allow them to use their talents to the full to improve their social and economic conditions
Sources of Internationally Relevant Norms

To be truly normative, the a debate on the principles of good urban governance must be grounded in three potential sources of universal norms: international legal instruments; commitments made by governments at major United Nations conferences; and operational experience in cities.

International Legal Instruments

Major international legal instruments relevant to a discussion on the norms of good urban governance include: the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (1948), the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (1979); the Declaration on the Right to Development (1986); and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990). Among the promising areas drawn from these documents for connecting good urban governance to human rights are the following:

  • Legitimacy and accountability of government
  • Freedom of association and participation
  • Empowering women as a key poverty eradication strategy
  • Fair and legal frameworks for a predictable and secure living environment for citizens
  • Availability and validity of information
  • Efficient public sector management
  • Enabling the participation of children in decision-making processes

Commitments at Major UN Conferences

Another source of potential norms are the commitments made by Governments at major United Nations conferences, particularly those of the 1990s. Among the major commitments that must be operationalized to realize the Inclusive City are the following:

  • Address the special needs of children in especially difficult circumstances, including street children (Commitment 7, Declaration on Children)
  • Ensure sustainable management of all urban settlements in order to improve the living conditions of residents, particularly the poor (Chapter 7, Agenda 21)
  • Equal participation of men and women in decision-making (Beijing)
  • Eradicating poverty as an ethical, social, political imperative of humankind (Commitment 2, Copenhagen Declaration)
  • Decentralizing authority and resources to the level most effective in addressing the needs of people in their settlements (Habitat Agenda, paragraph 45.c)
  • Generate a sense of citizenship, cooperation and dialogue for the common good, and a spirit of volunteerism where all people are encouraged and have an equal opportunity to participate in decision-making and development (Habitat Agenda, paragraph 32)
  • Promote “transparent, responsible accountable, just, effective and efficient” governance (Habitat Agenda, paragraph 45.a)

Operational experience in cities

UN-HABITAT's 20 years of experience working with cities is also an important source of potential norms. Its global programmes, working systematically through common rationales designed to facilitate the sharing of lessons of experience, represent an important window onto the global normative debate. UN-HABITAT is working to synthesize the lessons learned from promoting inclusive urban planning and management processes through such programmes as the Sustainable Cities Programme, the Urban Management Programme, Localizing Agenda 21 Programme, Safer Cities Programme, Community Development Programme and the Disaster Management Programme. Building on the experience of partners, the Governance Campaign will develop and test good governance norms through UN-HABITAT's and other partners’ operational activities.

Towards Principles of Good Urban Governance

From the outset, the Campaign aims to develop universally relevant norms that can be operationalised - that is, translated from principle to practice. The Campaign proposes that good urban governance is characterized by sustainability, subsidiarity, equity, efficiency, transparency and accountability, civic engagement and citizenship, and security, and that these norms are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. These proposed norms are introduced below and include a range of illustrative practical measures for their implementation.

Sustainability in all dimensions of urban development

Cities must balance the social, economic and environmental needs of present and future generations. This should include a clear commitment to urban poverty reduction. Leaders of all sections of urban society must have a long-term, strategic vision of sustainable human development and the ability to reconcile divergent interests for the common good.

Practical means of realizing this principle include, inter alia,

  • Undertaking consultations with stakeholders within communities to agree on a broad-based, mission-statement and long-term strategic vision for the city, using tools such as city development strategies;
  • Engaging in consultative processes such as environmental planning and management (EPM) or Local Agenda 21s, that are geared to reach agreement on acceptable levels of resource use, applying the precautionary principle in situations where human activity may adversely affect the well-being of present and/or future generations;
  • Integrating urban poverty reduction strategies into local development planning;
  • Increase green cover and preserve historical and cultural heritage;
  • Ensuring financial viability by promoting economic activity through the participation of all citizens in the economic life of the city;
  • Promote the transfer of appropriate technologies.

Subsidiarity of authority and resources to the closest appropriate level

Responsibility for service provision should be allocated on the basis of the principle of subsidiarity, that is, at the closest appropriate level consistent with efficient and cost-effective delivery of services. This will maximize the potential for inclusion of the citizenry in the process of urban governance. Decentralization and local democracy should improve the responsiveness of policies and initiatives to the priorities and needs of citizens. Cities should be empowered with sufficient resources and autonomy to meet their responsibilities.

Practical means of realizing this principle include, inter alia,

  • In consultation with local authorities, develop clear constitutional frameworks for assigning and delegating responsibilities and commensurate powers and resources from the national to the city level and/or from the city level to the neighbourhood level;
  • Adopt local legislation to translate constitutional amendments in support of subsidiarity into practical means to empower civil society to participate effectively in city affairs and which promote the responsiveness of local authorities to their communities;
  • Creating transparent and predictable intergovernmental fiscal transfers and central government support for the development of administrative, technical and managerial capacities at the city level;
  • Protecting financially weaker local authorities through systems of vertical and horizontal financial equalisation agreed to in full consultation with local authorities and all stakeholders;
  • Promoting decentralized cooperation and peer-to-peer learning.

Equity of access to decision-making processes and the basic necessities of urban life

The sharing of power leads to equity in the access to and use of resources. Women and men must participate as equals in all urban decision-making, priority-setting and resource allocation processes. Inclusive cities provide everyone – be it the poor, the young or older persons, religious or ethnic minorities or the handicapped -- with equitable access to nutrition, education, employment and livelihood, health care, shelter, safe drinking water, sanitation and other basic services.

Practical means of realizing this principle include, inter alia,

  • Ensuring that women and men have equal access to decision-making processes, resources and basic services and that this access is measured through gender disaggregated data;
  • Establish quotas for women representatives in local authorities and encourage their promotion to higher management positions within municipalities;
  • Ensure bye-laws and economic development policies support the informal sector;
  • Promote equal inheritance rights for land and property;
  • Establishing equitable principles for prioritizing infrastructure development and pricing urban services;
  • Removing unnecessary barriers to secure tenure and to the supply of finance;
  • Creating fair and predictable regulatory frameworks.

Efficiency in the delivery of public services and in promoting local economic development

Cities must be financially sound and cost-effective in their management of revenue sources and expenditures, the administration and delivery of services, and in the enablement, based on comparative advantage, of government, the private sector and communities to contribute formally or informally to the urban economy. A key element in achieving efficiency is to recognize and enable the specific contribution of women to the urban economy.

Practical means of realizing this principle include, inter alia,

  • Delivery and regulation of public services through partnerships with the private and civil society sectors;
  • Promote equitable user-pay principles for municipal services and infrastructure
  • Encourage municipal departments to find innovative means of delivering public goods and services through management contracts;
  • Promote integrated, inter-sectoral planning and management;
  • Improving the effectiveness and efficiency of local revenue collection;
  • Removing unnecessary barriers to secure tenure and to the supply of finance;
  • Developing and implementing fair and predictable legal and regulatory frameworks that encourage commerce and investment, minimize transaction costs, and legitimize the informal sector;
  • Adopting clear objectives and targets for the provision of public services, which maximise the contributions all sectors of society can make to urban economic development; encourage volunteerism.

Transparency and Accountability of decision-makers and all stakeholders

The accountability of local authorities to their citizens is a fundamental tenet of good governance. Similarly, there should be no place for corruption in cities. Corruption can undermine local government credibility and can deepen urban poverty. Transparency and accountability are essential to stakeholder understanding of local government and to who is benefiting from decisions and actions. Access to information is fundamental to this understanding and to good governance. Laws and public policies should be applied in a transparent and predictable manner. Elected and appointed officials and other civil servant leaders need to set an example of high standards of professional and personal integrity. Citizen participation is a key element in promoting transparency and accountability.

Practical means of realizing this principle include, inter alia,

  • Regular, organized and open consultations of citizens on city financial matters and other important issues, through such mechanisms as the participatory budget; transparent tendering and procurement procedures and the use of integrity pacts and monitoring mechanisms in the process; internal independent audit capacity and annual external audit reports that are publicly disseminated and debated;
  • Regular, independently executed programmes to test public officials integrity response;
  • Removing administrative and procedural incentives for corruption, including simplifying local taxation systems and the reduction of administrative discretion in permit processing;
  • Promoting an ethic of service to the public among officials while putting into place adequate remuneration for public servants;
  • Establishing codes of conduct and provision for regular disclosure of assets of public officials and elected representatives;
  • Developing practically enforceable standards of accountability and service delivery, such as ISO, that will transcend the terms of public office holders;
  • Creating public feedback mechanisms such as an ombudsman, hotlines, complaint offices and procedures, citizen report cards and procedures for public petitioning and/or public interest litigation;
  • Promoting the public’s right of access to city information;
  • Providing access to city information to create a level playing field for potential investors.

Civic Engagement and Citizenship

People are the principal wealth of cities; they are both the object and the means of sustainable human development. Civic engagement implies that living together is not a passive exercise: in cities, people must actively contribute to the common good. Citizens, especially women, must be empowered to participate effectively in decision-making processes. The civic capital of the poor must be recognized and supported.

Practical means of realizing this principle include, inter alia,

  • Promoting strong local democracies through free and fair municipal elections and participatory decision-making processes;
  • Establishing the legal authority for civil society to participate effectively through such mechanisms as development councils and neighbourhood advisory committees;
  • Promoting an ethic of civic responsibility among citizens through such mechanisms as “City Watch” groups;
  • Making use of mechanisms such as public hearings and surveys, town hall meetings, citizen’s forums, city consultations and participatory strategy development, including issue-specific working groups;
  • Undertaking city referenda concerning important urban development options.

Security of individuals and their living environment

Every individual has the inalienable right to life, liberty and the security of person. Insecurity has a disproportionate impact in further marginalising poor communities. Cities must strive to avoid human conflicts and natural disasters by involving all stakeholders in crime and conflict prevention and disaster preparedness. Security also implies freedom from persecution, forced evictions and provides for security of tenure. Cities should also work with social mediation and conflict reduction agencies and encourage the cooperation between enforcement agencies and other social service providers (health, education and housing).

Practical means of realizing this principle include, inter alia,

  • Creating a culture of peace and encouraging tolerance of diversity, through public awareness campaigns;
  • Promoting security of tenure, recognizing a variety of forms of legal tenure and providing counseling and mediation for people at risk of forced evictions;
  • Promoting security of livelihoods, particularly for the urban poor, through appropriate legislation and access to employment, credit, education and training;
  • Implementing environmental planning and management methodologies based on stakeholder involvement
  • Creating safety and security through consultative processes based on rule of law, solidarity and prevention, and supporting appropriate indigenous institutions that promote security;
  • Address the specific needs of vulnerable groups such as women and youth through women’s safety audits and youth training programmes;
  • Developing metropolitan-wide systems of policing as a means of realizing more inclusive cities;
  • Raising awareness about the risk of disasters and formulating local emergency management plans, based on reduction of risk, readiness, response and recovery, for natural and human-made disasters and, where necessary, relocating residents of disaster-prone areas;
  • Integrating emergency management among municipal departments and with national plans;
  • Formulating strategies and action plans addressing all forms of abuse against the person, especially abuse against women, children and the family.

The Process of Normative Debate

The campaign has initiated a global debate on the principles of good urban governance. To be universally relevant, the debate must be firmly rooted in the experience of cities. It must be sensitive to different regional and national contexts. And it must ensure that no one is excluded from the process of debate. Accordingly, the campaign has developed a five-track strategy for promoting normative debate, via the following avenues:

  • Local Authority: working with international associations of local authorities to develop and adopt a Declaration on the principles of good urban governance. Significant progress has been made in this regard by the International Union of Local Authorities (IULA). Most recently, in May 2001, the IULA/UTO Unity Congress Declaration included a set of principles on cooperation between local authorities and civil society.
  • Grassroots: engaging non-governmental and community-based organisations (NGOs and CBOs) in the identification and promotion of the norms of good urban governance. This strategy is being pursued through national campaigns and through global partners such as the Huairou Commission.
  • Global Steering Group: reaching a consensus on the principles within global and regional steering groups. The norms have been debated during the first two meetings of the Global Steering Group and at regional meetings in Africa, Asia and Pacific and in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • UN Agencies: holding consultations with key partners, such as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), UNDP, UNICEF, WHO, UNESCO, and the World Bank. The first such meeting was held in New York on 11 June 2001 and produced a draft set of five principles to be used by all UN agencies when promoting good urban governance. .
  • General Assembly: presenting a draft Declaration on the Principles of Good Urban Governance to the UN-HABITAT Governing Council. If approved, the Declaration would then be forwarded to the General Assembly for debate and approval.
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