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July 1, 2015

City governance obsolete, research says

City governance obsolete, research says

At the first Seismic Forum (April 2015), representatives of civil society organisations and urban practitioners discussed the role of social innovation in relation to emerging megatrends in urban governance.

In the UK, a new research project is tackling the same topic. "New Urban Governance: Urban complexity and institutional capacities of cities" is a two-year research and engagement effort co-funded by LSE Cities and the McArthur Foundation.

The project responds to the increasing academic interest in urban governance and addresses the lack of empirical research in the field. In doing so, LSE Cities in partnership with UN Habitat and United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) are developing the Urban Governance Survey, which will gather data for a study into areas such as political power, budget and financing, multi-level governance, participation and accountability, and continuity and strategic planning.

This data will inform a number of papers. One in particular analyses one of the latest megatrends in European urban governance. In the short commentary “Urban Governance in Europe: Competition, Self-reliance and Innovation” (2015), Jon Pierre describes the changing hierarchical relations between central and local government. This process, also recognised as a neo-liberal ‘turn’ in policies, has required city administrations to take over urban development responsibilities once shouldered by the state.

As a result, Pierre argues, urban governance in European cities is increasingly characterised by multi-level institutional arrangements and complexities, which gives rise to three specific phenomena, namely: competition, self-reliance and innovation.

The first, competition, is the result of the increasing decentralisation of urban politics and governance, favouring competition among cities, which are now responsible for providing services, regulating urban development and responding to international competition arising from globalisation.

The second, self-reliance, is linked to the increasing financial responsibilities devolved to cities and to widening economic disparities between cities. To compete, cities are developing partnerships at international and regional levels and seeking to attract resources from international institutions such as the EU.

Last but not least, innovation in the design and delivery of public services is becoming essential, given cities' greater responsibilities and competitive pressure. Innovation in public services may inevitably lead to a transformation of the governance structures that provide oversight.