We are focused on advancing a number of critical areas for cities that correlate with improving human rights, labour, the environment and good governance and anti-corruption and the new Sustainable Development Goals.

We encourage action, projects, collaboration and sharing of knowledge and practice in these focus areas.

Focus Area
Governance and Participation

Given the breadth of governance frameworks and approaches across the globe and the many and diverse geo-soci0-cultural-political influences that shape them, we have presented our positioning statement on Governance and Participation from two different authors representing two regions, the Asia Pacific and Brazil.

Michael Young draws on his many years experience in development programs in the Asia Pacific region and writes on issues and approaches to urban governance in that region. Cezar Busatto, through his role of Secretary for Local Governance,  draws on his knowledge and experience of participatory democratic systems in Porto Alegre, Brazil to inform new approaches to governance that include and engage citizens in a meaningful, systematic and sustained manner.

Urban Governance – a perspective on Asia Pacific by Michael Young

Michael-Young-2016

Michael Young, Global Advisor, UN Global Compact – Cities Programme

Closing the Gaps

Urban managers in the Asia and Pacific region face the daunting task of balancing two linked but contradictory facets of urbanisation. On the one hand, cities contribute to the prosperity of countries and their people, while, on the other, cities are home to concentrated poverty, growing inequality, social exclusion and inequitable service provision. Cities are also areas of concentrated environmental pollution and significant contributors to climate change. The urban governance challenge therefore is to concurrently create conditions which continue to attract economic activity, maintain competitiveness and ensure equitable access to opportunities to a better life for all urban citizens while balancing this with reduced negative impacts on the environment. While future prospects of Asian and Pacific cities are often discussed in terms of the three dimensions of sustainability, governance is a critical fourth dimension.

While Asian and Pacific cities have undergone substantial social, economic and physical transformation over recent decades, urban management and financial capacities have mostly not followed suit. The political and policy contexts of public governance have significantly changed with economic deregulation, privatisation of state assets, democratisation and the evolution of the role of the state from ‘provider’ to ‘facilitator and regulator’. Today’s conditions are, therefore, very different from the basis on which the laws, regulations, procedures and institutions for managing cities (i.e., the governance modalities) had been designed in most countries. In other words, many Asian and Pacific cities are managed with tools, laws, regulatory frameworks and institutions that are unsuitable for their current, let alone future challenges.

As many cities in the region are unable to deal with the multitude of existing and new challenges, their managers have turned to laissez-faire approaches. Where public authority and resources fall short, markets – formal or informal – have been tacitly allowed to fill the governance voids. Although this has generated short term advantages and gains, it has also largely ignored cities’ longer-term strategic planning, fiscal viability, sustainability and societal equity.

The private sector in Asia and the Pacific has increasingly been allowed, and in some case encouraged, to assume roles that are normally considered functions of public governance. The private sector has thus emerged as a powerful force in delivering large-scale land development and infrastructure by providing the resources and investments required. While this has been beneficial to many cash-strapped cities, privatisation has generally led to the weakening of public regulation and in this manner contributed to urban fragmentation and mounting inequality – notably in the access to urban land and basic services.

Consequently, there is now an urgency to return to more effective roles for the public sector, both through direct intervention and regulation, as well as through strategic partnerships which re-adjust roles for the private sector and civil society. New and renewed public sector governance practices are now needed to redirect urban policies and make room for more balanced and inclusive urban development.

City managers need to be more responsive to the voices of their communities and civil society groups. They need to engage in more participatory urban governance by involving those likely to be effected by changes in policy or planning. In recent years, several Asian and Pacific cities have seen and continue to experience outbreaks of public protest; some sustained over extended periods. These protests may have different causes, but they all represent expressions of societal disagreement with ‘business as usual’ and seek to address the increasing social fragmentation and exclusion from the political, economic and social benefits associated with economic growth and increasing urbanisation

Cities are natural locations of political innovation, transformation and social change. But cities can also be localities of mass protest and incubators of social unrest, as recent experience in the region has shown. City managers or central authorities who fail to correctly interpret calls for societal change and greater space will invite further social discontent and potentially greater discord.

Opportunities for change lie in tapping into the prosperity of cities and in decentralisation that embraces the formal and informal sectors, but especially in mobilising citizens in the governance of cities. The key processes of new and reformed governance frameworks should be driven by long-term visions of sustainability that guide short- and medium-term development interventions based on collaboration, coordination and negotiation between multiple stakeholders.

Reform is needed, because the recent focus on Asian and Pacific cities as the ‘engines of globalisation and growth’ had somewhat shifted debate away from urban diversity and the significantly unmet needs of many urban communities. Promoting economic growth has received far more attention than equity and sustainability, or the plight of less-prosperous cities, small towns and economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods within cities.

Urban governance approaches once more need to take account of urban diversity and foster perspectives of broad popular access to better living conditions and economic opportunities – not just economic growth (ADB, 2013).

Shifting Powers

Over the years, various methods of managing cities have emerged in Asia and the Pacific with the national, provincial and local levels all playing distinctive roles within the logic of prevailing political ideologies and governance systems. The 1990s, for instance, saw greater recognition of the role of cities as drivers of national development. Consequently, attention was directed to the need for better management to deliver on promises of growth and prosperity. Under the decentralisation trend, the local level became entrusted with the prime responsibility for urban management. Since multi-level division of governance responsibilities, powers and resources already existed to some extent in the region, decentralisation also became and a matter of political and economic opportunity – as and when it presented itself – in the search for strategies to better manage urban development.

What is Governance?

Governance consists of the traditions and institutions by which authority in a country is exercised. This includes:

  1. a) the process by which governments are selected, monitored and replaced;
  2. b) the capacity of the government to effectively formulate and implement sound policies;
  3. c) the respect of citizens and the state for the institutions that govern economic and social interactions among them.

Decentralisation in Asia and the Pacific has close links with the shift to market-led systems and liberal democracy. These two facets are not necessarily divergent but striking the right balance remains a key governance challenge and opportunity. What is increasingly urgent today is assessment of the effectiveness of power shifts and the new balances of control and responsibility that have emerged. Not all change has shown to be effective and greater attention needs to be given to understanding which governance arrangements are most likely to be successful in managing the region’s current and future urban dynamism. There is no single model to follow and even the most effective institutional arrangements may need to change over time

More decentralisation or less?

Decentralisation across much of Asia and the Pacific over the past two decades has seen mixed results, partly because it was often driven by competing interests and voices, including overburdened national governments, disenfranchised local governments and marginalised social groups. Nevertheless, regardless of whether a country had a multi-party democratic, socialist or military regime, almost all have made significant strides towards establishing a framework for decentralisation in their national constitution and national and state laws and statutes India, Indonesia, Nepal and the Philippines provide good examples of such reforms. The Philippines’ decentralisation process has been described as one of the most far-reaching in the developing world as it allowed local governments to retain many of the revenues generated within their jurisdiction. It also granted relatively high levels of autonomy over local development agendas and they increased local expenditure as a result of improved capacity among urban institutions to deliver responsive local change (World Bank and ADB, 2005). In Indonesia, extensive decentralisation emerged in 1999 with local governments benefitting from regional autonomy legislation that devolved most powers and resources directly to sub-national administrations (Miller, 2013).

In India, although democratic decentralisation reform since the early 1990s has produced flourishing participatory discourse and civil society engagement in development programmes, only negligible funding and policy authority have been devolved below the state level. That has severely curtailed the ability of local governments to independently address the needs of their communities (Rao and Singh, 2003; Fraschini, 2006) and most Indian municipalities therefore remain fiscally weak and incapable of delivering upon the newly devolved responsibilities.

Bangladesh, Pakistan and Thailand have experienced cyclical movements between periods of decentralisation and re-centralisation. The region’s member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea) have also been committed to decentralisation reform with priority put on improving services (Campbell, 2008). China and Viet Nam have adopted decentralised strategies within the context of strong centralised political systems and economic restructuring. Yet, whereas the Chinese model has worked effectively in raising the productivity level of major cities, the Vietnamese system still has to result in generating significant urban autonomy and wealth.

The Central Asian countries Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have opted for a more centralised model, although the countries Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have cautiously started on a path of greater decentralisation (CER, 2013). The Pacific Island States, particularly PNG, Fiji and Solomon Islands, have, over the last decade, initiated reforms to strengthen local governments. Their main challenge remains the balancing of modern government structures and customary institutions (ADB, 2012; UN-Habitat, 2012, 2012a).

The principle of subsidiarity is implicit in decentralisation and has gained new importance in Asia and the Pacific in debates about the division of power between different levels of government, as well as in the relationships between state and non-state actors. Subsidiarity entails that lower level government agencies should be given more responsibility and resources to perform their tasks.

However, in the Asia and Pacific context, decentralisation has often meant transferring responsibilities to local level institutions, but rarely facilitating the creation of new institutions or the devolution of the fiscal autonomy required for responding to the new and additional responsibilities As in the past, many urban governments still depend to a very large extent on (usually insufficient and unpredictable) fiscal transfers from higher government levels, affecting their budgeting and investment planning capabilities. Consequently, after two decades of decentralisation, the capacity of many local level institutions to perform their mandated tasks has not always been significantly enhanced (Yap, 2010).

This is important, since a large proportion of the Asian and Pacific urban population lives in small and medium-sized towns which, collectively, are growing faster than larger cities. Despite their growth and increasing significance, most do not have the human, financial and organisational resources to make decentralisation work for them. In the case of some Pacific Island States, there may be no more than a handful of trained urban planners, and even those may be working in other areas of the bureaucracy, while central government and higher tiers of local government often shed responsibilities to lower governmental levels without decentralising the required funds or fund-raising authority. In Central Asian countries, the resources previously transferred to cities by higher levels of government are now no longer being provided, leading to deteriorating infrastructure and housing conditions (CER, 2012). Under this model of decentralisation, local government units lack power and remain mostly dependent on the centre for resources, which may or may not be available (Laquian 2008). In an effort to address these challenges, local authorities in the region are now looking to share experiences and knowledge, as well as gaining opportunities through collective voice.

China’s urban development clearly shows the relationships between economic development and decentralisation. To pursue their economic objectives, local governments in China rely heavily on the main resource available to them: public land. Since all land belongs to the state, central government has passed laws and regulations relaxing its control over land to enable tapping land values as a productive asset. Land was offered on long-term leases to private enterprises as part of the contribution of the state to public-private joint ventures towards building massive additions to the housing stock and setting up enterprises.

The question of how to decentralise and to what extent is country specific and depends greatly on national demographic, social, economic, political and environmental characteristics, as well as political priorities. Increasingly, urban governance across the region takes place in multi-level and multi-sectoral frameworks and involves complex processes of negotiation over power, authority and resources. Actual decentralisation may ebb and flow over time, whereby the following areas have emerged as key challenges: (i) attracting investments while at the same time promoting equity and inclusion; (ii) opening institutions to wider civic participation; and (iii) increasing public trust in (local) government.

Governing beyond the city boundary

Rapid urban population growth has resulted in the territorial expansion of cities of all sizes. In the Asia and Pacific region such expansion is often led by public investment in roads or special economic zones, providing opportunities for formal and informal private investments in land development. But such settlement and economic activities frequently transcend urban administrative boundaries and the authority of a single jurisdiction. This means that urbanisation is often occurring beyond the reach of a city’s governance, service provision and planning mandate, including land use planning. Peri-urban human settlement and land access have therefore emerged as highly-contested aspects of urban management, often comprising some of the most degraded environments and highest levels of poverty and informality.

Some new local initiatives, like the establishment of a Planning and Urban Management Agency in Samoa to holistically deal with urban and peri-urban issues, represent a significant step forward in integrated urban governance. By focusing on environmental and climate change, this agency addresses erosion, land use, land degradation, bio diversity and solid waste and drinking water supply for both urban and peri-urban areas and, even more significantly, includes both formal and informal (village leaders) representatives. By involving the local population in identifying problems and solutions it provides a path for forging new partnerships among municipal authorities and village leaders. This helps lift peri-urban communities out of the margins of political, economic and social life (PUMA, 2013).

Although decentralisation policies in India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand note the need for coordination with neighbouring areas, provisions are mostly informal, if any. The extension of administrative boundaries to legally capture the urban catchment area beyond the city limits is a time-consuming procedure and most often contested by the territorial unit whose land is being infringed upon. Lack of data on rapidly expanding developments in peri-urban areas makes any kind of intervention even more difficult. Under conditions of rapid growth, the demographic and functional boundaries of metropolitan regions become increasingly fluid and make holistic governance a constant challenge (Sellers, 2008). Existing institutions may cover only part of the metropolitan territory, such as the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, for example, which covers only 67 per cent of Metro- Mumbai’s 18 million population.

Coordination of integrated policy setting, planning implementation and services provision is therefore a major challenge for many Asian and Pacific cities. Furthermore, institutional roles are typically highly fragmented over governmental departments providing for limited coordination. This governance fragmentation is as true for cities in the region’s advanced economies – such as Brisbane, Australia – as it is for cities in the emerging economies, like Semarang, Indonesia (Minnery et.al, 2012). Attempts to provide more coordinated and holistic urban management and governance across administrative boundaries has, as of recently, become more common, albeit with varying success.

Within the city, outside the system

For cities it is important how local government sees the various urban features within its jurisdiction, especially slums and other informal settlements. One of the main obstacles to the urban poor obtaining basic services, for instance, is that many city governments do not recognise informal settlements and fail to meet their needs effectively. Not only is information about them typically inadequate, cities often also face legal constraints, either because this population segment does not pay taxes or because informal settlements have limited or no legal status.

Impractical and out dated regulations about minimum plot size and housing standards can prevent legal redevelopment, regularisation or provision of services and infrastructure in informal settlements. As a result, municipalities often adopt an attitude of benign neglect, but may forcibly clear such settlements once opportunities to develop the land (and raise revenue) arise. The experience of Indian cities is somewhat different where, under local democracy, it is possible for poor groups to make demands for infrastructure improvement and regularisation through elected councillors. The latter either represent these demands in the council or exert pressure on administration and planning institutions to recognise the local realities. The poor lose this political advantage however when para-statal or private providers assume control of municipal service delivery and land development functions, since neither are mandated, and may be reluctant, to intervene in areas where residents have no verifiable legal tenure (HRDC, 2002).

Urban Planning and Urban Realities

It is often said that planners design cities, while people build them. Urban planning is an important prerequisite for guiding the development of cities and fostering prosperity and inclusion. But there is a growing gap between planning and the business of city development.

Most of Asia and Pacific follows the practice of preparing a Master Plan as the statutory basis for development. Often, these plans are neither accompanied by infrastructure and land development plans nor supported by budgets and longer-term financial plans. Furthermore, by the time master plans are formally approved, many are already out-dated given the ever-fluid urban developments on the ground. In addition, the exclusionary nature of planning has all too often exacerbated uneven development outcomes and in many cases furthered the marginalisation of entire population strata from the decision-making process.

Cities are critical to the implementation of the broader sustainable development agenda. But at the implementation level, significant institutional and capacity shortfalls exist. Changing the way Asian and Pacific cities function will require new forms of planning and urban governance (ESCAP, 2014).

Even though recent reforms may have brought about improvements in planning practices, major weaknesses such as lack of implementation strategies and long term financing remain. Serious bottlenecks also persist in fragmented institutional structures that make it difficult to agree upon responsibilities, address local governments’ low capacity to implement plans, and their limited political will to plan cities for a distant future (UN-Habitat, 2010a).

Almost all Asian and Pacific cities have outgrown their original municipal jurisdiction and today’s city planning and service management systems typically neither cover the full urbanised area nor the resource and economic hinterland of the city. Consequently, different level plans may overlook or contradict each other. But strategic plans to define cities’ investments for addressing social, economic, and environmental issues in an integrated manner are critically important.

Most cities in the region also do not have the mechanisms in place to analyse current trends, to develop strategies, or to plan, structure and finance investments to operationalise these strategies. Compounding the situation is the fact that many cities approach their problems with little sense of urgency because urban managers are overwhelmed and the city appears “ungovernable”. This cannot continue. Failure to act now risks economic, social, and environmental disruption on a significant scale in the longer term (ESCAP, 2014).

It is therefore a matter of urgency for governments at all levels to foster governance and urban planning reforms to facilitate:

  1. a) coordination mechanisms (both multi-stakeholder and cross-border) for better strategic planning and holistic management of city regions that are integrated across jurisdictions and sectors;
  2. b) enhanced financial structures to upgrade the fiscal viability of city region authorities and improve mechanisms for financing infrastructure and services;
  3. c) capacity-building across administrative and jurisdictional boundaries; and
  4. d) greater community and private sector participation in urban decision-making.

Integrated planning models are currently being applied in many countries in the region. However, exemplars of good practice and systems used in Singapore and Japan, for example, are not always altogether appropriate for much of Asia and the Pacific. A better approach – comprehensively addressing the flexibility, responsiveness and resources issues – would be to mandate a combination of high-level ‘strategic sustainability planning’ and effective investment planning. The high-level plan does not set out detailed land use zoning but rather provides the overall directions and principles on which development approvals will be given while prioritising the infrastructure that underpins these strategic planning directions. The city development plans undertaken for the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) in India, for instance, constitute an example of such investment plans.

The focus on institutions and systems can at times overshadow the purpose of these organisations or whom they are intended to serve. New ways and means should be elaborated that create additional space for participation by civil society in key decisions on urban infrastructure investments. If more accessible relevant information and appropriate incentives are given, citizens will typically not only support the initiatives but often become able to support local-level actions through sweat and other equity.

Land lies at the heart of all planning processes. Land is a deeply contested resource because of the high demand for ever-expanding urban activities and for accumulating wealth and power. Therefore, poverty, patronage, as well as political and financial power often determine land development choices rather than the technical guidance of master plans. Weak enforcement structures and limited negotiation options by the urban poor underlie the large scale of informal settlements in Asian and Pacific cities, like those of, for instance, Melanesian states, Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia, Dhaka in Bangladesh and of many small towns in India. Paradoxically, the same applies to indifference towards planning regulations by the wealthy, some of whom accumulate urban land for speculation and whose exclusive condominiums and gated townships are often realised by influencing or ignoring zoning regulations.

In Mumbai, India, high land values are used to advantage for slum redevelopment, applying the urban planning instrument known as Transferable Development Rights as an incentive for private developers (Banerjee, 2014). These rights programmes seek to preserve land asset value by moving the right to build from a location where development is prohibited or discouraged (sending areas) to a location where development is encouraged (receiving areas). The key is to transfer part of the purchase price for land in a location where development is encouraged to a landowner in a place where development is prohibited.

One of the dangers of “entrepreneurial planning” is that it neither considers long-term planning horizons nor holistic visions of how cities should develop. Although private sector-realised, it depends on the public sector for the development of city- or region-wide transport networks and trunk infrastructure because these matters remain in the domain of conventional planning, along with public parks, preservation of environmentally sensitive areas, as well as protection against pollution and natural hazards.

This approach is basically a collective of short-term strategies and decisions with potentially deleterious effects on long-term planning and good management.

Who is Ultimately Responsible for Cities? Closing the governance gaps

Cities are increasingly engaged in competitive wealth production facilitated by globalisation. At the same time, cities are becoming more fragmented – economically, politically, physically and socially. One of the main challenges of urban management in the Asia and Pacific region is to move towards more socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable cites while, at the same time, ensuring that they remain competitive and create opportunity. There is ample evidence to show that this will neither happen automatically nor as an outcome of market forces alone.

The larger Asian and Pacific cities that have emerged as the factories, offices and tourist destinations of the world are still grappling with the impacts of their rapid growth, social fragmentation, poverty and informality, environmental degradation, as well as climate change problems. Almost all small and medium-sized Asian and Pacific towns struggle with high rates of poverty, infrastructure deficiency and low or unrealised economic potential. This has shown that the trend of cities ever more plugging into the global economy requires different incentives beyond mere production of goods and services.

Despite some recent failures of public policies and initiatives, and despite the view that governance encompasses important non-governmental actors, national and local governments must remain the central elements in driving, managing and regulating processes of urban change. Mismanagement of cities and urbanisation in the Asian and Pacific region exists as much because of the vacuums created by less, rather than more government intervention. This certainly does not mean governments should try to do everything. Rather, governments should play an active and strategic role in orchestrating and regulating urban development to realise social, environmental and economic sustainability. This multiple role can neither be performed by the profit seeking private sector nor by civil society.

While local governments have key responsibilities in managing the needs of the citizens, national government remains a critical facilitator for effective urban management. It is only through national urban policy frameworks that inter-city and regional development dilemmas can be resolved, like the development of small and medium towns or further promoting mega cities. Asian and Pacific national governments should therefore focus on enhanced policy coherence between national economic and urban development policies.

One important role of the state is one of creating the frameworks that facilitate the markets to perform, rather than direct intervention. But the enabling role of the state extends beyond simply handing decisions over to the markets. It must provide mediation between different actors towards social and environmental sustainability and create the conditions for equitable inclusion of vulnerable groups or people in the development processes. Especially where markets fail to provide for all, there is a need for central government interventions towards finding the right power-sharing modalities to address the gaps that have emerged. Strengthening and reforming governmental urban planning through national level support could make interventions more responsive to both the current and future needs of cities.

Far more coherent national guidance and policies are also required to ensure effective management of local government capacity building. If the region’s urban future is to be prosperous, sustainable and inclusive, there needs to be greater collaboration amongst all stakeholders. Closing rapidly emerging governance gaps is also required to manage the trans-boundary nature of urban growth.

Development of national urban policies which recognise the critical role of all urban stakeholders is an important step towards these goals. In sum: the cities in Asia and the Pacific require more dynamic, transparent and proactive public governance, not less.

Participatory Governance Systems of Porto Alegre, Brazil by Cezar Busatto

Cezar-Bussato

Cezar Bussatto, Minister for Local Governance, City of Porto Alegre, Brazil and Global Advisor, UN Global Compact – Cities Programme

Porto Alegre is the capital of Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state of Brazil. The city is renowned as the birthplace of the World Social Forum, which is a global gathering, held for the first time in 2001, that provides 1`space for actors to construct local and international democratic projects in different contexts. It is also well known for its democratic public management model and was the first city in the world to successfully implement participatory budgeting, which has been in operation in Porto Alegre since 1989. In 2005, Porto Alegre launched an innovative political experiment called Local Solidarity Governance (LSG), which created space for a new mode of municipal governance to emerge.

Participatory Budgeting

Pursuing active and participatory governance Over the past 25 years, the Porto Alegre’s municipal government and local legislative council – whose members are elected every four years by free, universal and direct vote – have coexisted with participatory democratic institutions such as the Participatory Budget and the Sectoral Council for Public Policies. Participatory budgeting is an approach to municipal administration that aims to reverse public policy priorities in favour of the poor and working class. This reversal is made possible through public participation in the prioritisation of urban issues and subsequent allocation of municipal funding. Participatory budgeting is centred on the promotion of a redistributive politics. It creates formats for public decision-making that promote citizen engagement in policy-making, enhanced accountability and the curtailment of corruption and arbitrary allocation of public resources.

The interplay between participatory and representative democracy in Porto Alegre makes for fascinating political observation. On one hand, the allocation of public resources from the municipal budget through participatory budgeting is a collaborative process in which local citizens are welcome to participate. The spread of participatory democracy in Porto Alegre has created greater awareness amongst citizens about local community ownership and shaped a culture of rights that is strongly entrenched in the practice of urban citizenship.

On the other hand, representative democracy, which involves regular competition between political parties to secure electoral votes in order to govern a city, is adversarial in nature. This competitive political system creates an environment of conflict and divisiveness from which winners and losers emerge after each election. The potential for conflict to arise in participatory democratic processes is also a consideration in light of tension between the needs of local communities and the limited budgetary resources of the local government.

Local Solidarity Governance

Porto Alegre’s LSG scheme represents a new democratic political mechanism aimed at dealing with tensions between the municipal government and local citizens. In line with Porto Alegre’s international reputation as a laboratory for political experimentation, the LSG brings two fundamental innovations to Porto Alegre’s political sphere. First, the idea that full citizenship implies not only rights but also responsibilities. Second, the vision that the foundation of harmonious, inclusive and sustainable urban growth depends on relationships between people that are built through horizontal dialogue, trust and cooperation, as opposed to competitive relationships between political parties and other hierarchical and centralised organisations.

The LSG methodology is based on the development of cooperative networks with representatives from different levels of government, communities and companies. Participants range from public servants to community leaders, citizens, socially responsible entrepreneurs and volunteers from not-for-profit organisations who are united in their objective of achieving local development and improvements in poor communities and suburbs.

Dialogue and concensus

These networks are predicated upon horizontal, nonhierarchical relationships. Dialogue is encouraged, as are respecting difference, developing a sense of trust and social responsibility among participants, challenging local leaders to strengthen their advocacy skills and fostering a democratic, cooperative culture in Porto Alegre’s society and in each citizen’s everyday life. Differences in views, opinions and interests are a normal part of life in all societies. In LSG community networks, participants are encouraged to overcome their differences through dialogue, respecting others’ opinions and searching for common goals and consensus in determining objectives and deciding upon agreed actions. Actions that have the potential to create dispute and division – such as voting, where there are always winners and losers – are avoided. Although governance agents from the local government establish the initiatives, these networks are informal, open, plural and flexible to changes in the environment where they have been established and their leadership is shared between public
servants and community leaders.

The experience of LSG community networks in Porto Alegre over the past 10 years has revealed that one of the biggest challenges is dealing with the legacy of the city’s competitive and adversarial political culture. This conditioning stems from the way elected political parties engage with communities. Elected municipal politicians in Porto Alegre select local community leaders as party representatives. At the same time, opposition parties join local communities in challenging the government and its supporters in an effort to enhance their chances of being voted in at election time. In both cases, the behaviour of the political parties results in increasing competition, heightening tension and division amongst community leaders and reinforcing the hierarchical relationship between elected government officials and members of the opposition. These factors make it difficult for the LSG cooperation network to operate.

Sustainability and citizenship networks

Despite obstacles presented by the partisan nature of the relationship between government officials and unelected political parties, the work of sustainability and citizenship networks, based on LSG principles, is making a difference for citizens living in the most vulnerable communities in Porto Alegre. Successful experiences have been reported in the communities of Nova Chocolatão, Vila Santa Terezinha, Vila Santo André and Região das Ilhas. These experiences have been supported by the Global Cities Institute at RMIT University and the Global Compact Cities Programme.

Local government LSG agents are trained to facilitate cooperation networks, form permanent community groups and connect local community leaders with public servants from different government departments at the local, state and federal levels, and with community volunteers, social organizations and socially responsible corporate partners. The overarching aims of these cooperation networks are to enable a range of actors to work together to solve collective problems, implement improvement projects and look for new opportunities to improve quality of life in local communities. The sharing and cooperative nature of these networks has not only brought material benefits to communities, such aspublic works and services and employment and income opportunities, but has also promoted a new political culture. Community members benefit from an improved sense of individual and collective self-esteem, the development of a culture of rights and responsibilities, and interacting with each other and network members in an environment of trust.

Political culture shaped by social demand creates municipal governance that is concerned with the collective interest of citizens. The LSG mechanism ensures that companies, social organizations and citizens are involved in the development and improvement of communities. The municipal government has a larger responsibility when it comes to implementing urban development projects in communities and for this reason its involvement in LSG networks has the potential for divisiveness. However, precluding non-government organizations from the urban development process and only identifying needs where there may also be opportunities has the potential to affect individual and community self-esteem. It is also possible for relationships with community members to become damaged, untrusting and uncooperative and to be replaced by confrontational interactions between municipal government actors and community members in the absence of cross-sectoral, participatory networks. The LSG networks create opportunities for development and independence in the communities in which they
operate.

Co-responsibility and cross-sectoral partnerships

In certain communities in Porto Alegre the relationship between community members and the local government has been soured by the deficient provision of basic services, including water supply, sanitation, cleaning, road maintenance, health services, early childhood and primary education. It can be challenging for LSG community networks to operate effectively in communities neglected by the municipality due to combative local government-community relationships.

In these situations, political party engagement with community members in a divisive way can occur at the expense of the community’s best interests; that is, at the expense of ensuring cooperation when it comes to meeting common goals such as social improvement and local development. In such cases, LSG network agents have, where possible, responded to justified community demands with corresponding government actions.

The LSG model recognises the inherent difficulties for the municipal government in rolling out urban development programs across communities and promotes cross-sectoral partnerships in order to find solutions that empower local communities and make them effective agents for their own development. Community advocacy, which is essential for the continuity of LSG networks, is a valuable asset that is not subject to the volatility of political election calendars.

The idea of co-responsibility and the importance of crosssectoral partnerships evolved in a creative way from discussions about city culture at the 5th City of Porto Alegre Congress in 2011. The city’s ‘I Like It, I Look After It’ campaign originated at this congress and sought to promulgate the notion that it is up to all citizens from
government, communities, the corporate sector and social organizations to look after their city. This practice contributed to aligning local communities and local government through Regional Administrative Centres (RACs) to improve and maintain public services in all 17 administrative regions and 87 suburbs of Porto Alegre.

This collaborative approach to municipal governance was publicly celebrated with the signing of the ‘I Like It, I Look After It Pact’ between the Mayor and local community
leaders. The pact defines both local government and community responsibilities for the establishment and maintenance of agreed improvements. The initiative ensures that local governments improve the public services they are responsible for and that community members care for the resulting revitalized public spaces.

It also fosters horizontal interaction between RACs and communities, increased awareness about rights and responsibilities amongst citizens and a trusting environment that promotes dialogue, which is essential for the operation of LSG cooperation networks.

Reinventing democracy in Porto Alegre

In Porto Alegre, the varied democratic practices established throughout the city’s history coexist and interact with each other. These practices include classic representative democracy, the Participatory Budget, Sectoral Council participatory democracy and, more recently, LSG cooperative democracy.

These institutions comprise Porto Alegre’s democratic administration. Despite contributing to developing a culture of political citizenship that promotes a democratic environment characterized by dialogue, trust, harmonious coexistence and improved quality of life, the LSG networks have experienced difficulties related to hierarchical organizational practices and the way in which conflicts in representative and participatory democracies are dealt with.

Democratic life in the city continues its journey. Informal and creative initiatives such as urban collectives have been initiated at the grassroots level and kindled by social media without being linked to representative or participatory democratic organizations. These new volunteer social networks are organized in a horizontal and non-hierarchical way. They are based on interactive and collaborative partnerships, promote new cooperative experiments in public places, reveal the anachronism of the vertical structure of current political parties and
apply new forms of democracy more aligned with the networked societies in which we live. These are the ways democracy is being reinvented in Porto Alegre. The city is looking for answers to the overwhelming legitimacy crisis in contemporary political practices; practices that were clearly and radically denounced in street demonstrations in June 2013 in Brazil.


We encourage and welcome contribution of your city´s initiatives. List them as a Case study or a Commitment. Include them in your Communication on Engagement.