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Exploring the linkages between Local Agenda 21, good urban governance and urban poverty reduction: lessons from UN-HABITAT’s experience over the past decade

Rafael Tuts

A/g Coordinator, Urban Governance Section, UN-HABITAT


This paper reviews the experience of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) in promoting Local Agenda 21 processes. The paper first positions the Local Agenda 21 movement within the broader concern of urban poverty reduction through good urban governance. The paper then explains the different phases that form a common framework for participatory urban planning and management. It further develops important lessons learned in formulating and implementing environmental planning and management initiatives in 40 cities world-wide.

Key issues discussed include the importance of information sharing as a prerequisite for participatory decision-making; the contribution of city consultations to city-wide ownership and firm commitments; the strategic value of demonstration projects; the role of investments as a result of the LA21 process; the need for flexibility in implementation and for systematic project monitoring; the importance of working in parallel on vision, action and communication; the need for building capacity, particularly in medium-sized cities; the linkages with municipal politics; the importance of getting the time-scale right; the need to develop and adapt tools and related training mechanisms; and the importance of tailor-made replication strategies with key role for national organisations.

The paper then looks at LA21 initiatives through the lens of good urban governance and assesses the contribution of these initiatives to enhancing different forms of capital for the urban poor, pointing out the challenges of inter-dependent principles and impact measurement. The paper finally explores some promising mechanisms to enhance the relevance of Local Agenda 21 initiatives for urban poverty reduction.

Urban governance is key to urban poverty reduction


Poverty, a phenomenon that has for long been associated with rural areas, has increasingly become urbanised. In 1992, the Earth Summit put the emphasis on linking environmental issues with social and economic development. The Copenhagen Declaration, which resulted from the World Summit on Social Development in 1995, was the first of its kind to make specific reference to the urban dimension of poverty. In 1996, the ‘Habitat Agenda’, adopted in Istanbul at the Habitat II Conference (The City Summit) made the eradication of poverty a priority issue. This document established a clear connection between promoting equitable, socially viable and sustainable human settlements and the need to reduce poverty.

By now it is generally accepted that cities can serve as international, national and regional engines of economic growth and centres of technological and cultural creativity and human development. Cities promote social progress, improve the general state of health by a greater access to social services. As the Habitat Agenda states ‘Urban settlements, properly planned and managed, hold the promise for human development and the protection of the world’s natural resources through their ability to support large numbers of people while limiting their impact on the natural environment’.1 Moreover, in a globalising world, cities play a key role by ensuring a new connectivity among economic actors and activities throughout the planet. Cities have an enormous influence on the global economy and a great potential to contribute to the development of their surrounding regions.

But in contrast to their promise, many cities — especially in the developing world — represent today the most alarming concentrations of poverty. It is estimated that some 750 million urban dwellers live in life-threatening conditions of deprivation and environmental degradation. This number is expected to double by 2025. Thus, the global trend in urbanisation implies nothing less than the ‘urbanisation of poverty and deprivation’. Unemployment with weak social services, lack of adequate shelter and basic infrastructure combined with increasing disparities are resulting in a high degree of social exclusion — the principle cause of social dysfunction, crime and violence.

In view of these enormous problems, studies and proposals to address the issue of urban poverty are rich in ideas, but most of them fail in their implementation. Some good results obtained so far are promising and clearly indicate that poverty reduction starts with listening to the poor, fostering their initiatives and giving them a chance.

UN-HABITAT’s mandate

In the last years, UN-HABITAT has been in the forefront of raising awareness of urban poverty in all its dimensions and to intensify the policy debate on poverty eradication in urban areas. Activities of the Agency place the poor at the centre of concern for sustainable urban development. UN-HABITAT’s experience confirms the need to establish an inclusive, modern and democratic governance that will make viable a collective fighting against poverty.

Most of the Programmes supported by UN-HABITAT over the last decade took place at the city level, aiming at reinforcing capacities of local authorities and their partners to formulate and implement local action plans for poverty reduction. These plans integrate organically different components such as sustainable access to land; housing and basic infrastructure and services; income generating activities and the development of a sound economic environment, social integration and urban safety.

UN-HABITAT’s experience demonstrates that ownership is possible only if it is shared with representative segments of the population while commitment will result from the active participation of stakeholders. Both require a wide dissemination of information and discussion with domestic constituencies. UN-HABITAT seeks to institutionalise a participatory approach to sustainable human settlements development and management, based on a continuing dialogue among all actors involved in urban development (the public sector, the private sector and communities, especially women).

Achieving sustainable urban development and poverty eradication requires improved integration of economic, social and political objectives into a consistent overall framework, with a view to strengthening the positive ties between economic growth, social progress and democratic reforms. UN-HABITAT’s tools supporting participatory decision-making help to formalise collective visions and agreements, which are needed to formulate these integrated policies and strategy implementation. Participatory tools, in this sense, open up formal resource allocation processes to a greater array of political actors.

Good urban governance to combat urban poverty

UN-HABITAT’s strategic focus on urban poverty reduction, developed following the Habitat II Conference, resulted in the identification of two specific entry points: good urban governance and secure tenure. The two Global Campaigns share a common goal ‘Inclusive Cities without Slums’. They pursue this goal through complementary strategic entry points. The Urban Governance Campaign promotes participatory mechanisms (strategies, forums, tools), women’s political representation and participation in decision-making, gender budgeting, public auditing, and other mechanism ensuring greater accountability and transparency. The Global Campaign for Secure Tenure is basically an advocacy undertaking designed to promote secure form of tenure for the poorest population, especially those living in informal settlements and slums.

The substantive foundation of city based sustainable development programmes is increasingly oriented towards the principles of the Global Campaign on Urban Governance. This is based on an increasing international consensus that practical measures reflecting good urban governance are key contributors to urban poverty reduction. UN-HABITAT proposes a range of 7 principles which can distinguish good from poor urban governance. 2

1. Sustainability in all dimensions of urban development

2. Subsidiarity of authority and resources to the lowest appropriate level

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

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

5. Transparency and Accountability of decision making and all stakeholders

6. Civic Engagement and urban citizenship

7. Security of individuals and their living environment

Each of these mutually reinforcing principles can be applied at the local level through a range of context specific practical measures.

Local authorities in the driving seat

The main conduit for applying these practical measures are the urban local authorities. Urban local authorities have the political, legal and fiscal mandate at the local level, which enables them to promote sustainable urban development and urban poverty reduction. Therefore, as described in the main evaluation report, capacity building of local authorities has been the main entry point for Localising Agenda 21 to achieve the general development objective of combating urban poverty. There are a number of key areas where local authorities can have an impact on urban poverty reduction, including the following.3,4

• planning and management of land resources, because access, cost and location of land have significant impacts on livehoods;

• facilitate access to infrastructure and basic services, because of the obvious linkages with health costs and benefits through safe water and solid waste management.

• stimulate local economic development, because this determines the resources available for capital investment in land and infrastructure.

• develop local economic policies that support informal sector and small-scale enterprises.

• improve access to justice and law enforcement, because this can reduce corruption in public office and enhance personal safety in informal settlements.

• enhance the ability of poor to influence local decision making, through local strategic planning and involvement of the poor in priority setting and budgeting.

These areas are revealing clear linkages between strategic planning, environmental management, inclusive urban governance and urban poverty reduction.

The Local Agenda 21 movement

How can we position the Local Agenda 21 movement in the above scenario? Agenda 21, the Programme of Action agreed to by 179 states at the Earth Summit (UNCED)5 in Rio in 1992, reflects a global consensus towards integrated policy-making concerning environment and development. In Chapter 28 of Agenda 21, local authorities in each country are called upon to undertake consultative processes with their populations in order to achieve a consensus on a ‘Local Agenda 21’ for and with their communities. Key partners in Local Agenda 21 processes include different layers of government as well as civic society and the private sector, with the local authority in the driving seat. In the Habitat Agenda6 the Local Agenda 21 framework has been reconfirmed as a valuable approach to harmonise urban development and the environment.

Ten years after the Earth Summit, it is clear that much progress has been made through initiatives by municipalities. Indeed, local authorities a strategic entry point for initiatives aimed at resolving conflicts between urban development and the natural environment, and their participation is a primary determining factor in fulfilling Agenda 21 activities at the local level. Since 1992, more than 6000 local authorities in over 100 countries have established Local Agenda 21 planning processes 7,8. Local Agenda 21 has become a world-wide movement, and an impressive amount of experience in specific strategies, working methods, support systems, intensity of activity, speed of progress and level of results.

Reviewing progress achieved in implementing local sustainable development, particularly the social development aspects, Local Governments report improvements on some fronts, notably in community empowerment and the recognition of women’s issues, but progress related to the alleviation of poverty and inequity lags behind.9 ICLEI and the WSSD Secretariat further reckon that the biggest challenge in the years to come will be to maintain the momentum that was generated immediately after the Earth Summit and to support local governments as they implement their sustainable development plans.

Urban environment activities supported by UN-HABITAT

UN-HABITAT has since the early 1990s been in the forefront in promoting sustainable urban development through environmental planning and management and Local Agenda 21 processes. The principal UN-HABITAT programmes promoting such initiatives are the Sustainable Cities Programme (SCP) and the Localising Agenda 21 Programme (LA21), which constitute UN-HABITAT’s Urban Environment Section. The joint work of both programmes includes more than 40 cities (see figure 1).

The Sustainable Cities Programme is a joint UNEP/UN-HABITAT programme for the development of a sustainable urban environment, founded on broad-based and meaningful public participation. The Programme was established in the early 1990s. Today, the programme is active in more than forty cities around the world. Activities concentrate on building capacities in urban planning and management at the local, national and regional levels, and city partners follow a carefully designed, step-by-step process. This process utilises city Environmental Profiles, City Consultations, and Working Groups to address priority environmental issues in a participatory way. The SCP experiences described in this paper are drawn largely from a recent evaluation of six African SCP cities. 10

The Localising Agenda 21 Programme (LA21) offers a multi-year support system for selected medium-sized cities in Cuba, Kenya, Morocco and Vietnam to develop their Local Agenda 21. These cities are typically provincial headquarters with between 50,000 and 500,000 inhabitants. Within this framework, LA21 supports the development and implementation of broad-based environmental action plans that focus on context-specific aspects of municipal planning and management. The Programme enhances the capability of local authorities to integrate these action plans into a strategic structure plan, stimulate inter-sectoral synergy, draw attention to cross-cutting issues, and fulfil the local authority’s pivotal role between all public and private local development actors. The Programme’s incidence on urban poverty reduction was recently evaluated.11

The Programme works together with partners at the local level towards a long-term shared vision on the desirable development and structure of the city. The focus is on daily action formulation and implementation, and on removing obstacles which hinder progress towards the above vision. Throughout the process, actors at every level are involved in the planning and decision-making process, and disputes are resolved between different levels of civic society.

Multi-disciplinary Local Teams based at the municipal councils serve as focal point for information, exchange, studies and projects concerned with local sustainable development. Advisory Boards represent a wider group of stakeholders involved in or affected by the project’s action plans. An increasing number of local, national and international actors are re-orienting and integrating their activities into these Local Agenda 21 process. Core funding for the Localising Agenda 21 Programme is provided by the Belgian Administration for International Co-operation and supported by a consortium of Belgian universities, municipalities and NGOs, providing support to Programme activities.

Figure 1 UN-HABITAT activities in localising Agenda 21 — LA21 and SCP cities

A common process

An analysis of the SCP and LA21 approaches reveals a common four phase process (see figure 2). These phases are (1) Preparatory, (2) the City Consultation, (3) Strategy Formulation and Implementation, and (4) Follow-up and Consolidation. What follows is an overview of items relevant to SCP/LA21 for each phase, integrating examples from the programme cities.12

Figure 2 UNCHS activities in localising Agenda 21 — a common framework



Phase 1: Preparatory Phase

Outcome: Framework agreement with partners, base line information and consensus on key issues


  • Identifying key partners
  • Building common understanding
  • Planning and designing of the process

Situation Analysis

  • Involving stakeholders
  • Collecting information
  • Exploring problems and potentials

Phase 2: City Consultation

Outcome: formal political commitment, strategy outlines, modalities for the way forward and next steps

City Consultation

  • Preparing
  • Conducting
  • Reporting

Phase 3: Strategy Formulation and Implementation

Outcome: agreed strategy framework, demonstration projects, strategies for up-scaling and replication

Developing Strategy framework

  • Clarifying and Evaluating options
  • Negotiating and formulating strategies

Implementing Demonstration Projects

  • Identifying
  • Mobilising partners
  • Designing
  • Initiating implementation

Strategy Review City Consultation

  • Preparing
  • Conducting
  • Reporting

Phase 4: Follow-up and Consolidation

Outcome: process and product monitoring and evaluation , feedback and adjustment

Up-scaling and Replication

  • Follow-up on results of demo projects
  • Follow-up on implementation of up-scaling and replication strategies

Monitoring and evaluation

  • Institutionalisation of the process
  • Institutionalisation of achievements gained in specific areas

Preparatory phase

During the preparatory stage of UNCHS activities in localising Agenda 21, key partners are identified, a common understanding is developed, and the process itself is planned and designed. A situation analysis is performed, which serves the purpose of identifying stakeholders, collecting information, and exploring problems and potentials. It is expected that the outcome of this phase will yield a framework agreement with partners, baseline information, and consensus on the key issues to be addressed.

In a SCP city, the situation analysis takes the form of an ‘Environmental Profile’ which facilitates the identification of priority issues. Key stakeholders from the different sectors — private, public and community — are involved through a consultative process in the preparation of the profile and in identifying the priority issues facing the city. The Environmental Profile has two purposes: it provides base line data and information on activity sectors, the environment setting and management arrangements; and it highlights the interactions prevailing between development and the environment and between the different activity sectors. These interactions are triggered through the competing uses of natural resources or which manifest themselves via the primary and secondary effects of environmental hazards resulting from sectoral activities.

In the case of LA21 projects, the Communication track of the programme comes into play, ensuring that good quality information on urban development is available. The programme focuses on ensuring that existing information flows within the local authority are efficient and unimpeded, and tries to ensure that information from different sectors is quickly and easily available to managers and decision-makers.

The city consultation

Both LA21 and SCP projects follow the preparatory phase of activities at city level with a City Consultation. Here, stakeholders from all levels of government and relevant sectors come together to deliberate and agree on the priority issues confronting their city. Outcomes from this phase are expected to include formal political commitment, strategy outlines, modalities for the way forward, and a clear agreement on the next steps to be taken.

A City Consultation, in the SCP context, aims to identify, review and expand upon urban environmental issues of priority concern which affect the sustainable growth and development of the city. It brings together key actors from the public, private and popular sectors in order that they may commit themselves to agree and jointly develop an improved city management process. The City Consultation also serves the purpose of actually demonstrating the process of defining concerns at different levels and key actors, and the methodology for a cross-sectoral working approach. Lastly, the City Consultation agrees on an appropriate institutional structure integrated with and linked to existing structures. This demonstrates what resources are already available, and how they can be brought together to address the issues.

In many cities, the City Consultation has been acknowledged as a unique event which for the first time brings together a large and diverse group of people, provides broader exposure and awareness and inspires a new sharing of responsibilities and pulling together of resources to resolve issues of common concern.

The commitments made during the City Consultation are, in the case of LA21, formalised through ‘Urban Pacts’, which are dynamic, result-oriented negotiated agreements between all responsible parties, integrated into the institutional framework of the local authority. These Pacts form a guideline for monitoring the progress of the implementation of Local Agenda 21 activities in the city. In the case of SCP, City Consultations are followed by a City Declaration in which the stakeholders commit themselves to participate fully in the project.

Strategy formulation and implementation

The phase which follows the City Consultation is key to the localising Agenda 21 process. It is during this stage that strategies for action are developed, demonstration projects are implemented, and a review is undertaken. After the City Consultation phase, negotiations on issue-specific strategies resume through Working Groups which include stakeholders in the respective issues. The most active individuals who have shown interest in the discussion groups during the City Consultation will naturally form the core of the Working Groups. Acting as cross-sectoral platforms for negotiation, Working Groups bring on board the relevant stakeholders who are affected by the issue, and who possess the required authority, expertise and information and therefore have the competence and capacity to contribute to addressing the issues. Working Groups are the primary vehicle of the process, and make cross-sectoral participatory planning and decision-making possible.

Follow-up and consolidation

During the fourth phase of activities, both LA21 and SCP concentrate on monitoring and evaluating the process so far. In the case of the SCP, this phase also sees a significant emphasis on up-scaling and replication. Here the intention is to follow-up on the results of demonstration projects, and on the implementation of up-scaling and replication strategies. For both programmes, throughout all activities and phases, building the process into a routine ‘way of doing business’ continues to engage cities long after the demonstration projects have been completed. Although localising Agenda 21 activities are described in a logical sequence of phases and stages, as if one feeds into the other, in reality they rather represent a complex, multi-track process.

Lessons learned

In preparation for the Rio+10 Summit, several organisations are looking at lessons learned in promoting local sustainable development. ICLEI and the WSSD Secretariat have, for instance, assessed barriers that prevent more rapid adoption of sustainable development principles at the local level.13 Complementing these efforts, the following lessons learned are based on the review of in-depth and multi-year UN-HABITAT experience in 40 cities world-wide. At the end of each lesson linkages are made with the application of good urban governance norm and the impact on different forms of capital of the poor, as applicable.

Information sharing is a prerequisite for participatory decision-making

The availability of good quality baseline information on various aspects of urban development is essential to start a Local Agenda 21 process. The environmental profile offers a good framework for compiling such an information baseline. In this regard, it is important to streamline existing information management practices within the local authority. Too often, there is a lack of communication between municipal departments and state companies, as in Vinh City, while information is used as a power tool within the organisation, or between different public institutions. Information on issues such as industrial or residential investments, land subdivisions, infrastructure development and related budgets is often hidden within one department of the local authority. Ensuring that information on different sectors is routinely available to the top management is a prerequisite for a more integrated way of planning and managing urban development initiatives. Such an internal free flow of information is also essential for a credible strategy of involving external partners in environmental planning and management. This lesson supports the application of the good urban governance norm of transparency and equity.

City consultations contribute to city-wide ownership and lead to firm commitments

The City Consultation raises awareness of key environmental issues, mobilises stakeholders, builds popular and political support, and provides the foundations on which the project proceeds. It should be noted that the extent to which civic society and private sector representatives can be involved in strategy development and priority setting during the City Consultation depends to a great extent on the existing planning traditions, institutional set-up and cultural context. It is very important to have for baseline indicators each city on the participation of stakeholders in planning, against which progress in broad-based consultation can be measured. City consultations tend to generate long lists of actions, which need to be prioritised. Criteria for prioritisation include, amongst others, urgency, strategic value, political feasibility, impact on poverty, economic viability, and neighbourhood versus city-wide impact. The LA21 programme has shown that ‘Urban Pacts’ are a useful instrument to keep direction and avoid deviation from the initially agreed list of priorities. When political, economic and environmental conditions change, these Pacts should be renewed and updated to reflect new conditions, while keeping in mind a long term vision of the development of the city. In the original SCP project design, there is only one City Consultation, after which the other activities follow in a linear fashion. It is usually appropriate to stage a second full-scale City Consultation, perhaps two or three years after the first one. This provides an important opportunity to revitalise broader community interest in the project, to mobilise additional stakeholders, to agree on additional priority issues, to bring donors and potential funding sources into the process, and to consolidate popular and political support. This lesson supports the application of the good urban governance norm of civic engagement and equity and impacts on the social capital of the poor.

The strategic value of demonstration projects

Experience indicates the potential usefulness of small-scale ‘demonstration’ projects which can be swiftly implemented during the first few years of a Local Agenda 21 project. Properly done, such demonstration projects have three potential benefits. They can give visible evidence of ‘something happening’ — which can be extremely valuable for generating community and political support. They can help test and refine methodologies, particularly the participatory, bottom-up approach as operated through the Working Groups. Lastly, they can give a welcome boost to the morale of those involved in the project and especially its Working Groups. In several of the SCP cities (Ibadan, Accra, and to some degree Dakar) the project staff and partners considered it a major handicap that they were unable to implement some strategic small-scale projects identified through the project process. In contrast, the ability in Dar es Salaam and Essaouira and, to a lesser degree Ismailia, to actually implement projects fairly early in the process was seen locally as an important factor in mobilising popular and political support. For this reason, it has been suggested that Local Agenda 21 projects should have, as an integral part of their project design, a process (with activities and resources) through which the Working Groups can generate ‘fast-track’ community-based demonstration projects, organising their implementation in a participatory but expeditious way. When the process matures, demonstration project funds should be increasingly matched by local funds, as tying in local support for further interventions is likely to be more sustainable and replicable. This lesson supports the application of the good urban governance norms of efficiency and accountability and impacts on the physical capital of the poor.

Investment projects: output or outcome of the Local Agenda 21 process?

In most cases the SCP and LA21 programmes have been able to act as a catalyst to leverage investment funding. Apart from the municipal councils themselves, additional resources are coming from international organisations, bilateral development aid agencies, National Ministries, international and local NGOs, community based organisations and municipalities from the North. This leveraging of resources to implement action plans is made possible by virtue of the catalytic multiplier effect of the core funding which enabled local teams to formulate well-prepared action plans. However, several project documents placed too much emphasis on ‘bankable’ projects as a key output. This has had a number of unfortunate consequences, the most important of which has been to mislead people into thinking of the project as a source of capital funding, either out of its own budget or through some special access to other external funding. It should be made quite clear that investment proposals are outcomes of the Local Agenda 21 process, not outputs. Moreover, it should be strongly emphasised that priority projects being developed through the Working Groups must be adopted by the relevant local government authorities, who should be encouraged to participate in their financing as a precondition for seeking external resources. This lesson supports the application of the good urban governance norm of efficiency and impacts on the physical capital of the poor.

The need for flexibility in implementation and for systematic project monitoring

A Local Agenda 21 process should be considered as a general framework — not a straight-jacket. For a capacity-building project emphasising a Local Agenda 21 approach and dealing with a complex social-political environment, it is simply impossible to predict several years in advance how things will actually turn out. Allowing phases of implementation, geared to the natural progression of the SCP and LA21 processes described above enhances this flexibility, and offers opportunities to re-assess and re-direct particular projects on their best individual course. Alongside a flexible implementation pattern, it is essential to have a effective system of monitoring and assessment of progress in implementing Local Agenda 21 goals. The experience in the project cities has shown that the development of monitoring systems still leaves a lot to be desired. Attention is usually given to the establishment of Environment Management Information Systems (EMIS) for the cities, but this is quite separate from the need for internal monitoring systems as an integral element of project management. Proper progress measurement systems should be developed at the start of the project and it should be ensured that necessary baseline data are collected. This lesson supports the application of the good urban governance norm of transparency and accountability.

The importance of working in parallel on vision, action and communication

While implementing Local Agenda 21 processes, it is important to pay equal attention to vision building, implementing concrete actions and promoting communication between stakeholders. A good mix of these three ingredients is likely to yield a successful Local Agenda 21 process. However, prevailing planning and management practices in diverse institutional contexts show that there is often a lack of balance between these three components.14 Vision without action does not produce immediate tangible results. Action without vision does not address strategic long-term conditions, which ensure that essential resources for a qualitative urban life are available for future generations. Vision and action without communication is deemed to fail as it does not take into consideration the aspirations of civic society as a whole. The different institutional, economic and political contexts of, for instance, Kenya, Morocco and Viet Nam result in Local Agenda 21 processes which tend to overemphasise or downplay one of these key components. Capacity-building efforts should be primarily geared to restore the balance between vision, action and communication. This lesson supports the application of the good urban governance norm of sustainability and civic engagement and impacts on the natural, physical and social capital of the poor.

The need for building capacity, particularly in medium-sized cities

Several cities engaged in Local Agenda 21 processes are faced with limited local human resource capacities for urban planning and management. This is particularly true for medium-sized cities. However, as urban environment problems in these cities are often in their early stages, much can still be accomplished in terms of prevention through choosing pathways of sustainable development. In addition, in medium-sized cities there are less external factors interfering with urban development as compared to larger cities and it is therefore easier to isolate causes and effects related to improved environmental planning and management and the quality of the living environment. Experience has shown that Local Agenda 21 processes in committed medium-sized cities are more likely to achieve sustainable impact than in larger cities. To this effect, the city leadership needs to be sensitised about the benefits to attract motivated and open-minded planning professionals, expose staff to innovative planning methods and to encourage them to enter into partnership with national Government or University departments to fill certain capacity gaps. However, while encouraging such steps, one needs to continuously assess whether these measures can be sustained by the city’s own resources. This lesson supports the application of the good urban governance norm of subsidiarity and equity and impacts on the human capital of the poor.

Integration with Local Government and influence of municipal politics

There is no standard specification, in the general Local Agenda 21 design, for the institutional location and relationships of the project. This is always a question which hinges on the specifics of the local situation. However, it is clear from the experience that the physical and organisational relationships of the project to the relevant local government are critical in determining whether the local government develops a sense of ‘ownership’ and thus takes up, supports and sustains the Project concepts and activities. The project design should therefore provide more guidance as to the underlying principles which might help to avoid the difficulties which have been encountered. In some cases, such as in Nakuru, institutional changes are being implemented to structure the relationships between the local authority and other actors, including neighbourhood groups. Political change undoubtedly induces some delays in implementing activities, as in Morocco and Kenya, where local elections brought political change after two years in the project cycle. It should be recognised from the outset that the political factor is an integral part of formulating and implementing Local Agenda 21 processes at the municipal level. This factor can be handled in a constructive way by putting emphasis on familiarising new elected officials with the long term vision and actions already achieved under the previous Council, while at the same time leaving enough room for priorities of the new Council. This lesson supports the application of the good urban governance norm of subsidiarity and impacts on the social capital of the poor.

Getting the time-scale right: Local Agenda 21 is bound to be a long haul process

Local Agenda 21 initiatives should be set up with a sensible time-frame from the outset. External initiatives can be catalytic to put Local Agenda 21 processes in place, but patience is needed to see results come through. In almost all contexts, the supporting programmes were faced with reactionary forces which threaten achievements and slow down the pace of implementation. Considerable time flexibility is needed to allow for local actors to fully back politically or socially sensitive components of action plans. Capacity-building initiatives of this nature, the purpose of which is to fundamentally change attitudes about and approaches to urban management, must necessarily take a long time and cannot be rushed. Unfortunately, most of the projects begin with a wholly unrealistic two year time-frame. Such a very short time-scale is often chosen not with any view to the dynamics and operational needs of the project process, but simply to fit the administrative requirements of a funding agency. A process of five to six years seems to be more appropriate, with decreasing intensity of external inputs and with effective review procedures built in so that progress is checked at key points in the over-all process. This lesson supports the application of the good urban governance norm of sustainability and impacts on the social capital of the poor.

Developing and adapting tools and related training mechanisms

The development and use of tools is a prerequisite for the efficient replication of Local Agenda 21 initiatives. UN-HABITAT has placed considerable emphasis on producing a series of process tools, (such as consultation and strategy development), thematic tools15 (such as gender responsiveness, EMIS, air quality management), and leadership development tools16 (such as communication tools for elected leaders and conflict resolution tools). It is important to be very clear about the specific target group for which the tools are developed. For instance, the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to identify policy options for environmental technologies are very different depending whether the target group consists of elected leaders, municipal technicians or external support agency staff. There are advantages in terms of consistency and economy of scale in producing tools with generic nature. However, it should be recognised that, when applying the tools, many efforts are required downstream to adapt tools for use at the regional, national and local levels to reflect cultural, socio-economic and institutional diversity. These adaptations are often successfully developed by regional or national training institutions and provide valuable feed-back in terms of lessons or experience and case studies. Tool development is thus a two-way learning process iterating between methodological principles and their local applications. This lesson supports the application of the good urban governance norm of efficiency.

Tailor-made replication strategies with key role for national organisations

In response to requests for replicating city experiences, different mechanisms have been deployed to further SCP and LA21 principles. These include links with Ministries of Local Authorities, Associations of Local Government Authorities and university departments. In some cases, new units are set up to spearhead the replication process. National replication strategies are continuously being refined, matching the needs of the cities with the mandates, capacities and commitments of national partners. While peer learning is very valuable, experience has shown that decentralised dissemination has its limitations as the pilot city does not always have the necessary commitment, nor does it have the appropriate capacity to transfer knowledge and skills to other cities. It is recommended that potential national replication agents need to be involved from the start in the city projects. As the power and revenue base of local authorities is often too weak to fully champion a Local Agenda 21 process, national governments have a critical role to play to create a climate in which a Local Agenda 21 can flourish. They can enable Associations of Local Government Authorities to take up their role. They can run nation-wide programmes for environmental awareness, which can go a long way in complementing initiatives of individual cities. They can address environmental concerns that transcend municipal boundaries. They can organise national post-election training programmes for municipal elected officials. Above all, they can remove legal and administrative barriers that hinder effective implementation of municipal Local Agenda 21 initiatives. This lesson supports the application of the good urban governance norm of subsidiarity and efficiency and impacts on the social capital of the poor.

LA21 as an urban governance tool to combat urban poverty

The above lessons look at the extent to which sustainable urban development initiatives in a wide range of countries have been successful in achieving the objective of formulating and implementing Local Agenda 21 processes. This section will address two complementary questions.

• To what extent do these initiatives contribute to promoting good urban governance?

• Through which mechanisms are these initiatives impacting on urban poverty reduction?

This analysis is at this point limited to three countries where a recent evaluation on poverty incidence of LA21 initiatives was conducted. The Localising Agenda 21 Programme has, initially implicitly but gradually more explicitly promoted a wide range of practical measures to promote poverty reduction through good urban governance in its operations at city and national levels.

This is reflected in the attached matrix (see figure 3), which analyses the contribution of LA21 initiatives to the development of various dimensions of capital which can be available to the urban poor. Current analytical frameworks for urban poverty include five dimensions:

• physical or man-made capital — infrastructure and equipment;

• natural capital — soil, atmosphere, forests, land, water;

• financial capital — savings and credit;

• human capital — labour, health and skills;

• social capital — rules, norms, reciprocity and trust.

These five dimensions of capital represent the columns of the attached matrix. This matrix is further structured (rows of the matrix) according to the seven principles of good urban governance as discussed earlier in this document. The cells of the matrix, therefore, contain practical measures applied by the Localising Agenda 21 Programme. The codes ‘KEN, MOR, VIE’ indicated between parentheses in the cells of the matrix denote the countries (Kenya, Morocco and Vietnam) where particular measure to promote good urban governance and urban poverty reduction have been applied.

It is clear that not all the cells of the matrix have equally dense coverage. Almost similar information has been repeated in various cells because it is relevant in various categories. Filling certain gaps in the matrix, through widening the programme’s scope or through partnering with complementary programmes, may bring in a different range of measures to complement the urban poverty reduction efforts of the programme.

The articulation of the links between Local Agenda 21, good urban governance and urban poverty reduction is a challenging task. In many instances there is not a direct causal relationship but rather an indirect one. Furthermore, the different governance principles are interdependent and mutually supportive. For instance, when the subsidiarity principle advocates for bringing decisions about land allocation to the municipal level, which would have positive impact on the natural capital accrued to the poor, this needs to be qualified by looking at the sustainability, transparency and equity dimensions of the same issue. And, when it is suggested that, peer learning and networking between cities has positive impact on urban poverty reduction through the development of social capital, it is not always clear to what extent and over which period this impact can be realised. A key question arises concerning which practical measures of good governance have the most significant impact on urban poverty reduction. This calls for the development of more quantifiable measurement indicators and tools, which is one of the current priorities of UN-HABITAT.

Meanwhile, some promising mechanisms to enhance the relevance of Localising Agenda 21 initiatives for urban poverty reduction include the following (examples from the Asia and Pacific region in italics):

• Integration of LA21 initiatives with Pro-poor City Development Strategies (India, the Philippines)

• Full integration of good urban governance principles in urban environmental planning and management processes (Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Vietnam)

• Application of tools to support participatory urban decision making (China, India, the Philippines)

• Capacity building programmes for local government associations (India, Fiji)

• Policy dialogue and coordination though the establishment of a national Urban Forum (Vietnam, the Philippines)

• Applying participatory decision-making processes to the issue of urban safety and security (Papua New Guinea, Vietnam)

UN-HABITAT is currently further exploring and integrating these mechanisms in its new sustainable urban development initiatives.

About the author

Raf Tuts was Coordinator of the Localising Agenda 21 Program from May 1995 to January 2001 and is the current Coordinator of the Urban Governance Unit of UNCHS (Habitat). Raf has facilitated many LA21 projects and has developed progressive approaches based on key lessons learned in Local Agenda 21 over the last decade.

Figure 3 LA21 contribution to good urban governance and urban poverty reduction

Principles of good urban governance

Categories of research

Physical Capital

(Infrastructure and Equipment)

Natural Capital

(Soil, Atmosphere, Forests, Land, Water)

Financial Capital

(Savings and Credit)

Human Capital

(Labour, Health and Skills)

Social Capital

(Rules, Norms, Reciprocity and Trust)

Sustainability in all dimensions of urban development

• Promote the use of appropriate technology for housing and urban infrastructure (KEN, VIE)

• Combine social, economic and environmental issues in integrated urban development projects (KEN, MOR, VIE)

• Providing adequate working conditions and equipment for planning practitioners at city level (KEN, MOR, VIE)

• Strategic Structure Plans (KEN, MOR,VIE)

• Protect natural heritage (including fragile ecosystems) for future generations and further develop natural capital (KEN, MOR, VIE)


• Individual Capacity-building and training of officers and elected official in sustainable development issues (KEN, MOR, VIE)

• Consultative Processes (KEN, MOR, VIE)

• Formation of CBOs (KEN, MOR)

• Protect cultural heritage for future generations (MOR)

• Better understanding of cost and benefit of environmental issues among all stakeholders (KEN, MOR, VIE)

Subsidiarity of authority and resources to the lowest appropriate level


• Bringing decisions about land allocation to the municipal level (KEN)

• Local legal frameworks amended (KEN, MOR)


• Capacity-building and training of planning officers (KEN, MOR, VIE)

• Learning by doing for municipal staff and CBO members (KEN, MOR, VIE)

• National urban planning policies influenced (KEN, MOR)

• Decentralised cooperation (KEN)

• Peer learning and networking between cities (KEN, MOR, VIE)

• Institutionalise participation (KEN, MOR)

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

• Removing barriers to access secure tenure (MOR)


• Participation in planning, strategy development and setting priorities for strategic investment (KEN, MOR, VIE)

• Removing barriers to access secure finance (MOR)

• Targeted subsidies to benefit the most vulnerable sections of the urban population (MOR, VIE)

• Public works and urban services programmes to build skills and provide employment and income (KEN, MOR, VIE)

• Promotion of participation of women and other excluded groups in strategy development (KEN, MOR, VIE)

• Support to informal sector (KEN)

• Institutionalise participation of civil society in urban decision making (KEN,MOR)

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

• Public-private partnerships in service delivery (KEN, MOR)

• Flexibility in building standards (KEN)

• Review land-use, planning and zoning regulations to allow informal sector to prosper (KEN, MOR, VIE)

• Cost recovery and user-pay systems for urban services (KEN, VIE)

• Transparent and predictable financial resources through rationalisation of municipal revenues (KEN)

• Establishment of a framework for mobilising and coordinating local and external resources (KEN, MOR,VIE)

• Community Information Centres in areas with high concentration of low-income residents (MOR)

• Community managed infrastructure (KEN, MOR, VIE)

Transparency and Accountability of decision making and all stakeholders

• Transparency in housing allocation (KEN, MOR, VIE)

• Access to biodiversity information (KEN, MOR, VIE)

• Transparency in land allocation (KEN, MOR, VIE)

• Access to municipal accounts (KEN)


• Building mutual trust between public sector and civil society (KEN,MOR)

• Urban Pacts (KEN, MOR, VIE)

• Public participation in planning strategies (KEN, MOR, VIE)

Civic Engagement and urban citizenship


• Mechanisms and institutional arrangements for mobilising, empowering and coordinating NGOs and CBOs (KEN, MOR)


• Capacity building for NGOs and CBOs to strengthen their capacity to participate (KEN, MOR, VIE)

• Participatory decision-making processes that complement representative systems (KEN, MOR, VIE)

• Socio-economic surveys (KEN, MOR, VIE)

Security of individuals and their living environment

• Security of tenure (KEN, MOR, VIE)

• Safety audits and pollution release and transfer registers (KEN, VIE)

• Relocation from disaster-prone areas (KEN, MOR, VIE)

• Institutionalising environmental planning and management processes (KEN, MOR, VIE)

• Legislation protecting hazard prone areas (KEN, MOR, VIE)

• Better information of the poor on potential natural risks and how to protect themselves against them (KEN,MOR,VIE)


• Provide access to safe water and ensure safe solid waste disposal to reduce health risks (KEN, MOR, VIE)

• Capacity building to improve access to services and housing (KEN, MOR, VIE)

• Targeting excluded groups (eg. women and youth) for environmental management activities (KEN, MOR)

1 UN-HABITAT, The Habitat Agenda 1996.

2 UN-HABITAT, Global Campaign on Urban Governance. Concept Paper. 2nd Edition. Feb. 2002.

3 Environment and Urbanization, Poverty Reduction and Urban Governance. Vol. 11 No. 2, April 2000.

4 These findings are based on case studies from Ahmedabad (India), Bamako (Mali), Bangalore (India), Cebu (The Philippines), Colombo (Sri Lanka), Guatemala City (Guatemala), Johannesburg (South Africa), Kumasi (Ghana), Maputo (Mozambique), Mombasa (Kenya), Santiago (Chile) and Visakhapatnam (India).

5 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), The Earth Summit (1992), Agenda 21, The United Nations Programme of Action from Rio

6 United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) (1996), The Istanbul Declaration and the Habitat Agenda, United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II)

7 ICLEI (1997), Local Agenda 21 Survey, A study of responses by local authorities and their national and international associations to Agenda 21

8 ICLEI and UN Secretariat for WSSD, Local Agenda 21 Survey (2001)

9 ICLEI (2001), Accelerating Sustainable Development: “Local Action Moves the World”. Local Government Dialogue Paper for The World Summit on Sustainable Development.

10 UNCHS, Evaluation of Urban Environment (SCP) City Projects in Six African Countries. Final Evaluation Report. October 1999.

11 Office of the Special Evaluator for International Cooperation, Evaluation Report on Poverty Reduction Incidences in Belgian Assisted Development Projects. Part II: Urban Poverty Reduction – Localising Agenda 21: Action Planning for Sustainable Urban Development. Final Draft . Feb. 2002.

12 Tuts, R., Cody, E., Habitat’s experience in Local Agenda 21 world-wide over the last ten years: approaches and lessons learned. In: UNEP Industry and Environment, January-June 2000, p12-17.

13 See for instance ICLEI, Model Communities Programme. Programme Summary, 1998.

14 Tuts, R., Localizing Agenda 21 in small cities in Kenya, Morocco and Vietnam. In: Environment and Urbanization, Vol. 10, No. 2, Oct. 1998

15 The SCP Source Book Series, UNCHS/UNEP, 1999 – 2000, and the EPM Source Book Series UNCHS/UNEP 1997 – 2000 (e.g. Integrating Gender Responsiveness in Environmental Planning and Management)

16 The Councillor as Guardian of the Environment, UNCHS, 1997 (part of the Training for Elected Leadership Training Materials Series, UNCHS)

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