Unpacking Urban Governance

    • By,
      Lekhani Hamen Raja – Student, Kautilya

Developing grassroots democracy in cities through Democratic Empowerment and Accountability of City Governments is essential in bridging the disparities for achieving sustainable urban development, which simply means living smartly and wisely, creating a better world for the upcoming generations. Cities aspire for sustainability i.e. the ability to maintain the level of needs, but social and economic disparities prevent them from achieving it. Grassroots democracy holds the key, where powerful communities choose their own future essentially through citizen involvement and devolution of authority. Imagine locals creating accessible green areas, repairing playgrounds, and determining budgets. Government transparency is required for this shift, and public forums such as participatory budgeting in Mumbai, Citizen Advisory Boards in Indonesia, and Development Councils in the Philippines. Not only are current demands satisfied when local voices direct urban development, but also long-term environmental, social, and economic effects are also taken into account. Aare Forest Case in Mumbai and Green Warriors in Delhi are a few excellent examples.

The state governments were initially given the responsibility for urban development. After that, the 74th Constitutional Amendment of 1992 formally gave the duty to urban local bodies as the third tier of government and charged the state government to transfer a set of 18 functions under the 12th schedule to local governments. This would include giving the urban local bodies the power and means to deal with the difficulties and roadblocks, so empowering them to undertake the required action. Current urban models are structured but not adaptable. Decentralized governance may strengthen frontline participants, foster local creativity, and inspire civic engagement. Local governance institutions require long-term considerations in addition to survival. These groups must grow into autonomous entities capable of recognizing and meeting the needs of their surrounding communities. This change calls for a comprehensive strategy that includes structural and legislative changes, encouraging local government entities to adopt an innovative, accountable, and responsive culture. It’s essential to empower the local bodies and the mayor to achieve a balanced and inclusive urban governance structure in the city. This should not merely be done as a formality but with the vision to build a strategic, robust, and citizen-centric governance system. To highlight a few examples of such efforts would be the Community Land Trusts in the United States, Village Governance In India, or the model of Decentralised Governance, which is in Barcelona, Spain.

Although India has experimented with many forms of governance, a national plan is currently required. This reform will institutionalize and deepen the major advances already taking place, ensuring a more unified and significant future for our cities. A comparative examination of international best practices, as demonstrated by mayors’ considerable powers in cities like Jakarta, Singapore, London, and New York, offers important insights toward attaining a comprehensive and empowered viewpoint in local administration. For example, decentralized governance in Singapore empowers town councils: community-led urban management boosts resident engagement, drives hyperlocal solutions, and nurtures vibrant neighbourhoods.

Beyond symbolic representation, the mayor’s function in these cities establishes them as proactive leaders attending to the many needs of their people. One prominent example is the Mayor of New York, who is comparable to a chief executive and has the authority to make choices that significantly affect the entire city. Mayors can be proactive leaders by using their degree of authority to address the many needs of their communities in a methodical and all-encompassing way.eg- Seoul, South Korea.

The inability of the Urban Local Body level to plan and carry out developmental initiatives is a significant disadvantage that was even summarized by the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Goal (JNNURM) , a national goal for urban renewal and rejuvenation. One of the reports published by the Praja Foundation also gave a detailed overview of our country’s urban governance. It attempted to map out the status of the transfer of the eighteen functions to the urban local authorities designated by the constitution to analyze and comprehend the condition of governance in various states. Examining the outcomes of the urban governance index was fascinating and enlightening, as improvements in urban efficiency tend to conceal enduring obstacles such as disparities in sanitation and uneven urbanization. To create inclusive, sustainable cities, ideal development requires targeted solutions.

Financial Autonomy will also help empower the cities to foster the pace of work and development. Special departmental setup can help accelerate the goal of development and ensure better coordination and alignment of work. Empowering the mayor with significant power in India like in Shanghai, New York, Paris, London, and even Paris, can take over the public’s attention.

The first page of newspapers now frequently has stories on urban issues, a far more regular observation. That being said, crisis management is typically prioritized over long-term fixes in policy responses. A fascinating example of this could be the Air Quality Management in Asia, an opportunity for development by the Asian Development Bank. Positive improvements in the cities’ growth will be seen shortly with the establishment of strong political leadership and the granting of the necessary authority and power to the City Government. Accountability and openness will be established due to the general public’s collective pressure to develop and implement an online data portal. Such as that of the World Bank’s Open Data Website or the UN’s e-Government Center.

A comprehensive strategy is needed to envision a local government system that is prepared for the future. This strategy should include structural and legislative changes and the development of an innovative, responsive, and accountable culture within local governing organizations. Urban centers require municipal governance institutions to change with them. To empower local voices, governance must align with democratic ideals. Citizen initiatives like co-creation projects are examples of bridging the gap and driving inclusive progress. As a result of this change, city government becomes more powerful and directs urban growth toward resilience and sustainability.

*The Kautilya School of Public Policy (KSPP) takes no institutional positions. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views or positions of KSPP.