7 Ways USAID is supporting local and urban governance to build safer, climate resilient, and more sustainable cities
The majority of the world lives in cities. When USAID was founded in 1961, roughly 34% of the world’s population lived in urban areas. By 2030, that figure will rise to over 60% as cities and towns become home to more than 1.4 billion additional people.
This rapid urbanization has strained service delivery across the globe — especially in countries that are unable to meet basic human needs. To improve livelihoods and foster greater sustainability and good governance, USAID is working with local and urban governments to improve living conditions of urban residents.
In commemoration of World Cities Day, read on to learn about seven ways USAID is supporting cities and urban settlements.
1. Supporting Democratic Governance
USAID’s Democracy Delivers Initiative is mobilizing efforts from across the U.S. government, multilateral and regional institutions, the private sector, philanthropies, and beyond in support of democracies delivering tangible benefits for their citizens and governments advancing democratic reform. USAID knows that democracies deliver public goods at higher rates than non-democracies, and they do so more equitably. For example, USAID is supporting democratic openings through capacity building based on local governments and mayors identifying their needs to deliver services, increase public trust, and advance democratic governance.
2. Supporting Mayors
Cities are on the front lines of the fight to preserve liberal democracy and defend against attacks on free expression. They are also becoming more influential in global dialogues and policy forums. This includes mayors, who recognize their role in advancing democracy through their leadership and decision making.
USAID works with partners as well as multilateral groups to promote this dynamic through the Global Declaration of Mayors for Democracy. Endorsed by more than 200 mayors from five continents, the Declaration reaffirmed the mayors’ unwavering commitment to rebuilding and reinforcing democracy, standing up for free and fair elections at home and abroad, defending the rule of law at all levels of government, and addressing urban challenges through the lens of democracy and democratic values.
USAID’s programs work to improve urban governance by creating more effective local institutions, increasing democratic participation, providing for a more equitable distribution of a national budget, and improving local service delivery across sectors. These efforts are coordinated with the State Department’s Unit on Subnational Diplomacy and its Cities Forward program, which is providing peer-to-peer exchange, capacity building, and diplomatic engagement, all focused on implementing projects that solve critical urban challenges around sustainability, inclusivity, and resiliency.
3. Giving Voice to Urban Populations
One in four urban dwellers lives in a slum or informal settlement, which amounts to nearly 1 billion people worldwide. Many of these slums do not have access to water, sanitation, or electricity. USAID is working to ensure the human rights of these marginalized populations are incorporated into urban planning.
Through our membership with the Cities Alliance, we are lifting up the urban poor through supporting national and local governments with strategic city planning and facilitating the input of women in both the design and use of urban centers such as the Femmedina activity in Tunisia. According to Cities Alliance “the involvement of the local community and women in the process of urban renewal is necessary to create spaces that reflect the stories and needs of people who live there.”
4. Upholding the Social Contract
Accountability and public trust are keys to upholding each country’s social contract — the agreement between government and the public that results in the provision of government services in exchange for payment of taxes and assessed fees. In many communities, corruption and questionable public policies lead to an erosion of trust and reluctance by the citizens to pay taxes.
With the goal of addressing the challenges and opportunities presented by the unprecedented pace of urbanization around the world, USAID, through the Making Cities Work and Active Communities, Effective States mechanisms, is delivering nearly $750 million in activities and programs aimed at improving local and urban governance through technical services, training, and capacity building in areas related to improving urban and local governance.
5. Delivering Climate Budget Tools
This year, cities sweltered through the hottest summer on record, with deadly heat waves, fires, and flooding — and experts predict this extreme climate activity will only become worse. This reality requires city governments to think differently about how they manage assets, provide services, and create communities that are sustainable for generations.
USAID has developed a climate budget toolkit to enable local governments to play a critical role in strengthening the institutional and fiscal levers needed for effective climate mitigation and adaptation, especially in the context of cities — which includes built and natural environments. We are assisting cities to integrate climate change into the strategic, institutional, governance, public financial management, and domestic revenue mobilization systems.
6. Implementing Sustainable Development Goal #11
Making cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable so they are ready for rapid urbanization is the aim of Sustainable Development Goal #11. And USAID is supporting these efforts through local governance programming. We believe the recently released Urban Resilience Technical Guidance, as well as integrating gender, youth, and private-sector engagement into Mission-focused initiatives, will provide the tools to achieve SGD #11 and meet local development needs — including prioritizing access to basic services, affordable housing, efficient transportation, and green spaces for all.
7. Advancing Global Partnerships
Addressing rapid urbanization and its impacts requires a global approach for implementing proven solutions. USAID works with global partners like the United Nations (UN), including UN Habitat and UN Office for Project Services, and other external partners, donors, and multilateral organizations to align and leverage investments related to service delivery, climate change, migration, municipal strengthening, and localization, among other themes.
With our knowledge and investments in partnerships and programming, USAID is well positioned to advance urban outcomes which will improve livelihoods and create better opportunities for democratic governance and prosperity.
About the Authors
Kevin Nelson is the Lead Community Planner in the Office of Governance with the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance (DRG), with Jessica Benton Cooney, DRG’s Senior Communications and Outreach Specialist.
This blog was originally published by USAID Medium.