Réseaux de villes : exprimer ses besoins, renforcer ses compétences

Date: 2010

Les villes sont en première ligne en matière de cohésion sociale, de protection de l'environnement et de développement économique de leur territoire. Si les politiques de décentralisation qui se sont généralisées au Nord comme au Sud témoignent d'une reconnaissance accrue de cet échelon, les autorités locales n'ont pas toujours les moyens matériels et humains d'assurer les fonctions qui leur sont dévolues. La constitution de réseaux internationaux de villes répond ainsi à leur besoin de renforcer leurs compétences et de prendre leur part dans l'élaboration des politiques urbaines nationales et internationales.

Seventeen years after the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, what is the definition of a "sustainable urban development policy?"

Following the Rio Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 1994 Aalborg Charter of European Cities and Towns Towards Sustainability, we [United Cities and Local Governments] expressed the following goals at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg:

To develop a new, deeper culture of sustainability in our cities and our municipalities that encompasses: a commitment to socially and environmentally sound purchasing policies and ways of consuming goods and services; sustainable planning; investments in resource management; promotion of public health and new sources of clean energy.

To simplify, I would say this means having a broad policy that is both organized and planned, and that affects all levers of action: economic development, social constructs and cohesion, and culture, as well as a will to take care of the environment. It is a policy that is founded first and foremost on solidarity: solidarity between different neighbourhoods, different territories, between "the North" [the most developed countries] and "the South" [developing and emerging countries].

What is at stake for cities in developed countries? What is at stake for emerging cities and cities in the least developed countries?

If we do not all do something, it will be as if no one has done anything. We are currently experiencing, and will continue to experience, immense and unprecedented urban growth. Today more than half of the world's people live in cities, and by 2030 - that is to say, tomorrow - the urban population will include two billion more. That will require cities and regions, as well as nations and the international community, to adopt policies for sustainable urbanisation. Without such policies, how many slums will there be tomorrow? How many uneducated children? How many neighbourhoods without water or sanitation? How many people living in exclusion and violence? Without such policies, it is obvious that it will be impossible to achieve our collective Millennium Development Goals, as defined by the United Nations.

What sustainability objectives can cities set for the future?

Cities have already set very ambitious objectives with regard to sustainability. Take the City of Paris for example: its Municipal Council adopted a Climate Plan in 2007 whose objective is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% between now and 2020, and to increase the share of renewable energy it consumes by 25% over the same period. Naturally, cities from the most developed countries (and doubtless, those in emerging market countries) are often better equipped institutionally and financially than developing countries to take effective long-term action in domains as varied as planning, education, water, waste management, energy production, transportation and mobility, and so forth.

What leads cities to implement sustainable urban development policies?

We are no longer at the stage of thinking about the pertinence of such policies: the stakes are known and the facts are agreed upon. The city of tomorrow will be neither prosperous nor stable unless it constructs an urban environment that is sustainable and socially cohesive.

Changes made in OECD cities over the last two decades seem rather modest. Isn't there a gap between talk and reality?

On the contrary, it seems to me that a number of cities have put sustainable urban development plans in place. Since the Rio Summit, thousands of cities worldwide have adopted Agenda 21, i.e. local action plans for sustainable development. I can cite several concrete examples just from OECD cities. In addition to Paris, which I mentioned earlier, there is Istanbul in Turkey, which has implemented a high-performance mass transit system: the "Metrobus" reduced travel times by 75% and thereby inspired several hundred thousand people to use it daily. Since 2004, Stuttgart in Germany has developed the concept of a green and compact city, and in 2006 implemented a powerful and ambitious "Integrated Transportation Management Centre." Tübingen, also in Germany, is one of the first cities to halt its spatial expansion. It has also added sustainability criteria in all its contracts with private sector companies. The Spanish cities of Bilbao and Barcelona have renovated their old city centres in order to attract new residents. To protect its water quality, since 1997 New York City in the United States has purchased undeveloped lands around its water sources, instead of investing in expensive filters. The Swedish city of Växjö decided in 1996 to become a fossil fuel-free city: ten years later, more than half of its energy demand is supplied by renewable energy.

Outside of OECD countries, there are many other examples. The city of Canton in China has a goal of becoming a "garden-city" by 2015. It has a multi-faceted action plan that ranges from managing water and waste to developing eco-industries. Since 2001, Johannesburg in South Africa has made significant investments in water and the renovation of its water distribution infrastructure. In March 2009, Johannesburg launched a communications campaign featuring "water warriors," who raise awareness about the importance of conserving water. Rosario, Argentina, has developed large-scale urban agriculture by using land along its roads and rivers. Nelson Mandela Bay in South Africa, and the city of Goteborg, Sweden, started working together in 2000 on a decentralized waste recycling aid project. In the urban residential district of Villa el Salvador on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, wastewater is recycled to clean public spaces. I could continue this litany of examples indefinitely.

What are citizens expected or allowed to do? Do politicians ensure that their citizens participate in determining the direction of urban development?

The policies adopted at the local level by local governments often reflect their nearness to the people affected: they show an understanding of people's real needs. Often, policies are created through citizen consultation and participation. Of course, it is hard to generalize because there are many different legal frameworks in effect. However, the debates I have attended within United Cities and Local Governments have shown great sensitivity on the part of our members (mayors and other local politicians) to citizen participation and the realities of implementing participatory processes.

Twenty years after the widespread use of decentralization policies, do cities really have the means they need to take action?

The Global Report on Local Democracy and Decentralization , or the GOLD For more information on the GOLD report, see www.cities-localgovernments.org/gold/gold_report.asp report published by UCLG, is the first worldwide report on decentralisation and local autonomy. It shows that, overall, decentralization has made significant progress throughout the world in the last few decades. However, it also highlights how much remains yet to do, particularly in developing countries where resources are inadequate. With regard to the means for both political and financial action in particular, it is no longer possible to think simply in terms of rich or poor cities, even if these are obviously pertinent criteria. There are cities in both the most developed countries and the least developed and emerging ones that lack such capacity, both legal and institutional.

Certain troubling trends have arisen in our present period: in some cases, long-established local governments in developed countries are seeing their responsibilities increase while their means do not, as occurs in France, for example. In developing countries, one can cite newer cities, or those that have undergone profound reforms over the last twenty years, where the balance between finances and competencies remains precarious or sometimes blocked: several such instances have arisen in South America. Furthermore, there are countries where local governments are still under construction: they often have ill-defined responsibilities and their means are insufficient or even totally lacking, as is the case in many African countries. Finally, there are cases, as in many countries in the Middle East, or in other fragile nations mired in armed conflicts, where local democracies still need to be created. These trends do not lead to sustainable development.

Power in the urban arena seems to be moving toward private companies, such as businesses, real estate developers, banks and others. Isn't there a contradiction between capacity-building in cities and the decline of the local governments' power over the local economy?

This is, without doubt, a pertinent debate, especially when heads of state create private sector agreements without prior consultation with local governments, or where local governments do not have sufficient capacity to supervise the quality and sustainability of investments. Nevertheless, I believe in the progressive spread of a model currently winning over more of our members: public-private partnerships (PPPs). Without taking sides, I believe PPPs are a pragmatic approach for effective public action, as long as the public interest can be preserved - and local democratic governments can and must serve as guarantors in this area.

What difficulties are cities going to have to face? What do cities not yet committed to sustainable development policies most need?

I believe that local politicians have woken up and that their commitment to sustainable development grows stronger daily, even though much remains to do. I also believe that awareness is growing among city dwellers. National governments and international institutions have left no room for doubt about their convictions, even if they sometimes hesitate to set firm objectives and targets for fear of curbing development. Solidarity between cities cannot take care of everything: there must be more vigorous action at both the national and international level.

Does implementing sustainable development mean a return to planning?

Yes, I believe it does. This is what the UCLG's Committee on Urban Planning is working to achieve, through its actions and its forthcoming definition of a policy position.

What kind of coordination needs to occur between governments, private parties, civil society, and so forth, for a sustainable development policy?

If local governments show leadership when it comes to taking action on a local scale, and if truly inclusive schemes are in place- in particular regarding low-income people, women and marginal groups - we can imagine a multitude of configurations: partnerships, consultations, referendums, etc. Doubtless, the chief need is to remain pragmatic and to ground actions in a number of shared values, especially transparency.

Cities are trying to make their presence felt at the international level, in worldwide urban forums and climate change negotiations. What is their goal? What role can they play next to that of nation-states?

Local and regional governments see themselves being left out of major international agreements on essential subjects, such as finance, climate change, the wars on poverty and pandemics - agreements that affect the daily lives and future of their citizens, and which define policies that the cities themselves will have to implement. Local governments' first goal is to make their voices heard. Their second is to make sure the essential values of their daily work - for peaceful social solidarity and cultural diversity - are integrated at the international level.

What is the role of city-networks?

Their role is to make the voice of local governments more coherent and stronger. When they are extensive and representative enough, such networks can, at a minimum, take their place at the policy definition table. This is the case for UCLG with regard to UN-Habitat, OECD's development aid effectiveness, and the UN's Development Cooperation Forum. When city-networks unite their forces, they can obtain small victories and take small steps forward. This is how UCLG and its partner networks were able to insert more than one hundred mentions of local governance into the text now under negotiation for the December 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change conference. This presence does not guarantee anything, but it does demonstrate that we are being heard more and more.