— Article by Julia Kozlova

Multiple studies have already predicted the 21st Century to be an urban century. As a part of social evolution, modern society tries to fit to such a new vision of living as globalisation. The whole matter of life is changing under the weight of globalisation impact. However, globalisation is also urbanisation. Modern people tend to incorporate. Therefore, cities are growing widely. Rapid urbanization processes indicate massive people relocation to the cites. In 10 years, 70 % of the global population is expected to live in urban areas. However, even if cities are the main engine of the global economy, they are also the most significant source of unsustainability. This is a yet undiscovered problem for NGOs and the main challenge of traditional models of development. The United Nations got also involved in the fast urbanization process by establishing Habitat III and the New Urban Agenda to shape urban policy. It also set a special sustainable development goal dedicated to urban development – SDG 11, which is in a strong correlation with all other SDGs and affects them directly.

According to Bob Jessop[1], every state is composed by state apparatus, permanent and stable population and territory within state population lives and which is under control of a state. In other words, urban areas are one of the crucial elements of any political power. Moreover, Jessop insists that the conquest of territory and the rise of towns and cities are the main factors that facilitate state development. However, who are the main actors that influence and participate in urban policy?

Palonen Kari[2] established main pillars of any political structure: polity (a form of politics),  policy (the content of politics) and politics (political process). Hereafter is an analysis of urban policy regarding these perspectives for the empirical examination of the political process.

Polity aspect regarding urban issues is usually related to its primary providers – urban agencies: state government and local authorities (mayors). There is a vital importance of co-operation among them and delegation of power to the local authorities. Mayors at their places have a powerful authority similar to that of presidents. But mayoral activity is difficult to conduct because of lack of the control. That’s why, according to authors[3], there is a thrilling necessity of pluralizing urban actors that could be achieved in forms of coalitions of public and private actors. Following the world course of democratization, an urban policy should be open for active citizens participation. Urban policy decisions nowadays in many modern countries are designed in collaboration of local authority planners, councillors and residents.

For any political organism, the key value is power, as it was first established by Marxian political economy, and it is always the base for any urban policy. Importance of power for state governance was also described by Jessop[4], where he stated the importance of the territorial state to secure frontiers and create conditions for peace within the national territory. More populated and more urbanized states have more power. In this case, governments rely more on systematic power and tend to cooperate with only those bodies  who has resources to achieve its policy goals[5].

In a more idealistic way, urban politics is about to supply citizens of urban communities with conditions providing them well-being. In reality, as far as urban politics relies on different polity formations with policy agenda, its focus is beyond only city government and representative politics. Political public officials and institutions combine their resources into such an alliance type as a regime. There is no formal basis and structure of command, but its access to institutional resources and the local land-based business community support gives them an essential role in making governing decisions.

Thus, the diffusion of powers in urban policymaking is widespread: beyond the formal institutions as federal, state, and other local governments but also political participation of non-governmental actors. However, also, following the main globalization trend the accent now is moved to the global scale, which works not even with the global cities anymore but with the world prosperity instead.

The diversity of global urban initiatives is aimed only to set a vector for tuning the regional policy on urban development. In this chapter, I explore the regional level of urban governance. To answer a question ‘how the state could provide effective urban policy on a regional level’ I introduce the national urban policy relating on the definition provided by UN-Habitat and implementing main UN direction I discuss the subject of urban governance on concrete cases regarding city expansion.

According to the World Bank definition[6], governance is how power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources for development. In relevance to UN Habitat definitions[7] regional governance considered as citizen and state assent with the institutions that conduct economic and social interplays among them through the double process of making and implementing decisions.

Applying political economics’ theory, I could define different political regimes regarding urban policy:

– Anarchy (nobody controls urban policy);

– Monarchy (only state body exercise urban policy, citizen involvement is excluded);

– Oligarchy (urban policy serves only to an authoritative group of people);

– Democracy (all concerned groups are allowed to build an urban policy).

In other words, if an urban policy is led by citizens only it is anarchy when it is concerned of the only state body, it is a monarchy.

Democracy is seen as the most desirable political structure nowadays. It is the main pillar of the UN values: “the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government” [8].

Exploring the origins of UN vision of national urban policies, it could be said that it’s based on the theory of “Right to the city”. The idea of the “right to the city” was first proposed by Henri Lefebvre[9] assuming city as a co-created space with an active citizens’ involvement.

Indeed, in times of changing society, political networking plays a crucial role. In this case, citizen groups, communities and NGOs are getting more critical, and they should be a centre of political attention since governments would in the future be enablers more than providers.

According to the Report UN Economic and Social Council[10] National Urban Policies (NUPs) are policy strategies that specifically respond to modern urbanization challenges.

The design and implementing of a national urban policy is the crucial step for sustainable development of a society and urban tackling with the most common urban problems related to rapid urban development.

“In a world that R. Koolhas symbolically describes as ¥€$, the UN summits and reports raised awareness that the  global challenges of sustainability and equity must be addressed simultaneously and the policies should spur progress towards equitable globalization.” [11]

Undesirable urban expansion, most of the times, is provoked by poor land management and lack of sound regulatory control over peri-urban areas. Defectively managed urbanization usually translates low density of urban pattern, disconnection of land uses, inadequate infrastructure provision, public space and street networks in residential areas. It leads to diminishing the potential of leveraging economies of scale and agglomeration.

The UN provides support to national and local governments on implementing sustainable urban policy in the form of:

  1. advice on setting up of national processes and stakeholder participation;
    1. documentation of good practices to support national processes;
    2. analysis of urban planning policies and instruments;
    3. facilitation of local-national dialogue on reforms;
    4. dissemination and capacity development on the urban policy across the full range of actors.

UN Habitat designed the practical guide[12] for states, according to which a national government should consider first following subjects:

– Lead agency (responsible agency/department/ministry to facilitate the formulation and implementation of national urban policy);

– Quality of data and information (feasibility and diagnostic phase data collection, urban observatories);

– Stakeholder, public participation and engagement (urban fora, regional consultation workshops, thematic working groups, task teams, online platforms, debates in order to ensure key stakeholder participation, consultation and inclusion);

– Availability of resources;

– Coordination and institutional feasibility (urban development authorities should have legal and institutional mandates and provide effective coordination across ministries as well as vertically between all levels of government);

– Local relevance (national urban policy should address local needs and issues).

As it was mentioned above, in the urban discourse, there three conflicting each other aspects: the social, economic and environmental. However, according to practice, the social and economic aspects are prioritized over environment issues, first of all, because an urban policy is built on short-term economic gain. In this case, it should be mentioned that national urban policy implementation depends not only on public actions but more widely on the methods of urban governance used in each country.

With cities growing beyond their jurisdictional and physical boundaries in terms of population settlement and spatial sprawl, in forms of rearrangement of functional areas of cities (i.e. extensive labour, real estate, industrial, agricultural, financial and service markets), the question complex development of interconnected urban areas and reinventing new mechanisms of governance has arisen.

The Urban sprawl could even be caused artificially by inappropriate political actions: maximum density restrictions, specific zoning regulations, restrictions on height, setback, shade planes, heritage, view shafts, minimum car parking requirements, tax systems that are asymmetrical with the social cost of low-density development, the massive investment in road infrastructure and others.

According to USEAct project[13] which is led by the city of Naples and involves eight other partners from different parts of Europe, reuse of underutilized, vacant or abandoned land in existing settlements, both in historical districts and in more recently built areas is highly significant to keep the urban policy updated. The main focus of the Use-Act work is around the “reuse” of urban areas through refitting and regenerating inhabited areas and management, partnerships, funding of this process.

As far as urbanization, as it was stated previously, still has a positive influence on the social and economic structure of a city (even in a row with its adverse outcomes), the gains of urbanization should not be restrained to huge global cities only, but made obtainable to small and medium towns too.

The main problem of growing cities is poverty and impropriate services in the peripheries that usually led to an increase of slums. Abandoned houses and vacant land crops is usually a perfect basis for illegal land appropriation.

Few strategies are dealing with this problem as, for instance, “right-sizing” paradigm (that was adopted by municipality of Detroit) which based on “the stabilization of a dysfunctional markets and distressed neighbourhoods through a close alignment of the built environment within a city with the needs of existing and future populations through the adjustment the amount of land available for development” [14]. This idea takes its origins from Plato’s concept and deals with abandoned buildings and large vacant lots in these less populated areas reserving them for future green infrastructure.

Another strategy to deal with abandoned territories and the land surplus is land banks, that push local governments to resale and to discourage speculative buying of those kinds of territories through selling, demolishing and rehabilitating large numbers of abandoned and tax-delinquent properties. The main instrument is foreclosure after the proof misuse of territory or property for an extended period.

Both strategies could help to revitalize shrinking cities through the redevelopment of lands and property. Redevelopment of abandonment lands and buildings could be counted as an opportunity for isolated communities to engage in the improvement of vacant lots, increase land values and tax revenues for further innovation of cities.

However, this requires responsive urban planning to optimize land-use by adopting relevant laws and regulations, and city leaders should provide smart growth through rejuvenating inner-city areas and older suburbs, remediating territories where new suburbs are developing, designing them to be town centred and fragmented.

Thus, one of the most significant urban development direction nowadays is a coordinated approach on policymaking or design of well-organized national urban policy, because urbanization provides opportunities for achieving progress on sustainable development. Moving towards sustainable cities is the best way to reducing poverty worldwide.


[1] See B. Jessop, The State, Oxford, Wiley, 2015

[2] See K. Palonen, Four Times of Politics: Policy, Polity, Politicking, and Politicization, in  Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, 28 (2), pp. 171-186, 2003

[3] See S. Oosterlynck, L. Beeckmans, D. Bassens, B. Derudder, B. Segaert and L. Braeckmans, The city as a global political actor, Routledge, 2019.

[4] See B. Jessop, The State, Oxford, Wiley, 2015

[5] See G. Stoker, Theory and Urban Politics, in Revue internationale de science politique, 19 (2), 1998, pp. 119-129

[6] See “Governance and development”,The World Bank, 1992, <http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/604951468739447676/Governance-and-development&gt;

[7] See “Urbanization And Development: Emerging Futures,World City Report, UN HABITAT, 2016, <https://unhabitat.org/sites/default/files/download-manager-files/WCR-2016-WEB.pdf.&gt;

[8] See article 21 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations, 1948

[9] See H. Lefebvre, Le Droit À La Ville, Paris, Anthropos, 1968.

[10] See “Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals”, report of the Secretary-General of the UN Economic and Social Council, 2019 session

[11] See V. Mega, Quintessential Cities, Accountable To The Future. New York, Springer, 2013

[12] See “How To Formulate A National Urban Policy: A Practical Guide”, UN HABITAT, 2019 <https://unhabitat.org/sites/default/files/documents/2019-05/how_to_formulate_a_nup.pdf&gt;.

[13] See ” Urban Sustainable Environmental Actions”, URBACT, 2019,  <https://urbact.eu/useact-urban-sustainable-environmental-actions&gt;.

[14] See Schilling J. and Logan J., Greening the Rust Belt: A Green Infrastructure Model for Right Sizing America’s Shrinking Cities, in Journal of the American Planning Association, 74 (4), 2008, p. 451-466

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