A Sharing Economy for Governance: 3 Ingredients for Sustainable Cities

Cities and national governments should collaborate to create policies that best fulfill urban needs. (Photo: Benoit Colin/ EMBARQ)

The future of global development will overwhelmingly play out on the city stage.

Recognizing this, the global development agenda has begun to identify cities as engines for improving human well-being, addressing climate change, and transitioning to more sustainable growth. Indeed, Sustainable Development Goal 11 is explicitly geared toward cities and communities, with the multi-faceted target to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”

To highlight this and illustrate that national agendas benefit from engagement with cities, the UN has declared today World Cities Day. However, for cities to reach their full potential, national governments must create forums that encourage collaboration between multiple levels of government, business, and civil society—giving cities a seat at the policy making table.

Creating a “Sharing Economy for Governance”

In short, urbanization is best managed when national governments recognize the transformative power of local communities. When governments consult cities in the development of national policies and openly work with them to localize legislation, it creates a sharing economy for governance. The first step in this process is the creation of a forum that allows national and municipal leaders to interface with one another, and with multiple levels of civil society. National-local collaboration will necessarily form the backbone of policy as urban growth dominates human development. Furthermore, governments can test policy solutions on the innovating lines of the urban frontier to see how legislation adapts to local contexts.

National governments can establish this local-national exchange through the creation of formal programs or forums that put city stakeholders and government officials in dialogue. These forums make policy making a multilateral, collaborative process, and each program should be oriented toward achieving a specific goal, such as sustainable growth. The formation of an initiative, however, requires appropriate structuring. A national-local forum should incorporate productive competition between subnational actors, routes for financing policy initiatives, and the inclusion of expertise on policy making. These three ingredients function to create a collaborative forum for the crafting of individualized, effective solutions vetted by relevant stakeholders.

 1.  “Coopetition” Schemes

A “coopetition” is a challenge issued by national governments to cities, calling on them to collectively work toward a common goal. By fostering a challenge to cities to innovate and create meaningful change, urban areas are incentivized to create new policies and learn from one another. Moreover, “coopetitions” are opportunities for the national government to get feedback on how they can best help cities achieve their goals.

Consider, for example, India’s Smart Cities Challenge, which called on cities to submit proposals for national support on sustainable urban growth. In the Challenge, cities competed to be one of the hundred selected to receive funding and assistance, submitting proposals on projects for retrofitting, redevelopment, or greenfield development initiatives. By creating a program that encouraged cities to develop diverse, localized solutions urban sustainability problems, the Smart Cities Challenge was a success for everyone involved. Indeed, the national government was placed in direct dialogue with and learned from cities, winning urban areas received support, and rejected proposals gave cities concrete policy plans for moving forward.

2. Pathways to Finance

Integrating the voices of cities into policy making does little, however, if cities aren’t given the financial means to turn policies into action. National governments can start by creating routes for cities to access credit, or change legal frameworks that encourage public-private partnerships on projects like improved mobility schemes. For example, Linha 4, an underground metro line in Brazil, was funded through a public-private partnership encouraged by the national government.

National governments can also lump urban sustainability solutions into large scale projects, allowing local initiatives to be funded by large institutions. For example, Cuenca, Ecuador has used a partnership with the World Bank to implement its Urban Risk Reduction Program, which includes an improved mobility scheme and a bike sharing program. Facilitating routes for funding, whether through national-level incentivization of public-private partnerships, or through international agencies, ensures that projects can be implemented at the local level.

3. Invest in Knowledge and Know-How

Finally, national-local forums require the appropriate expertise to create effective policies and achieve sustainable outcomes.  The most effective route is to have local stakeholders work with global experts to produce solutions and introduce best practices. For example, the Rickshaw Rising Challenge in India drew on international best practices to utilize existing infrastructure and adapt it to more current innovations to solve local congestion.

The Smart Cities Program in India is another example wherein local decision makers worked with international experts to effect change. Providing strategic and technical expertise, Bloomberg Philanthropies assisted in the formulation and implementation of proposals created through the Smart Cities Program. The WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities also operates in this collaborative arena, acting as an innovating partner through deep engagement in urban areas in countries like India.

These three elements are essential for creating forums that connect national governments and cities to achieve sustainable goals, and allow the necessary stakeholders to have their voices heard. The success of these initiatives will drive urban growth and development, and using this roadmap will ensure a shared approach to urban governance in an age of rapid growth.

The authors work for the producer of this blog, WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. The Center is the sustainable cities program of World Resources Institute that helps cities make big ideas happen.

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