Policy and Governance
We need to fully understand not only the best use of policy in the implementation of well-engineered design solutions, but the extent to which policy itself will need to be re-engineered if it is to be fit for purpose in the context of future city liveability. Many of the structures and accepted norms within policy-making are based on an outdated understanding of cities and the way they work.
Within the sphere of policy-making and city governance, each decision made will be the result of a unique mix of imperatives (including timescales and deadlines), motivations, values, targets and stakeholders. It would be naïve to assume that it is possible to draw all the policies affecting a city into one coherent integrated policy set. A more pragmatic approach is to tease out the underlying values, trajectories and drivers for policy decisions, and use the common ground between them to create a holistic framework on which each policy can be hung, demonstrating synthesis whilst allowing for difference and flexibility.
It is therefore less important to ensure that all activities are aligned in terms of timescale, milestones, boundaries and parameters and more useful to ensure that the majority of activities are contributing to an overarching long-term vision. The quality of this vision – and in particular, the values underlying it – is the primary tool in joined-up policy-making.
Along with such clear motivations for re-engineering the machinery of policy-making, it is necessary too to reflect on how individual cities can re-animate their own decision-making machines. With the pre-requisite of a strong and long-term underlying vision, it is obvious that principles, values and beliefs are of crucial importance. These will be intrinsic to a community and are in part a reflection of the character of that community. In more diverse cities, there may be more difference than common ground, so working together will require strong leadership and a high level of investment in communication.
Among these, the most pressing challenges include: climate change – valuable assets are potentially vulnerable to threats from climate change but they also play a central role in actively combating and adapting to climate change impacts; demographic imbalance – often dramatic and diverse in different countries and continents, from sharp growth prevailing in many emerging economies, to aging and declining populations in several of the richer economies; finally, the current economic turbulence – this is likely to have long-lasting impacts, particularly on the ways we finance urban investment requirements, and determine and evolve policy contexts.
Against this background, we suggest that a comprehensive yet focused strategy is needed if local and central governments, including investors and stakeholders, aim to be effective in their responses to these challenges. The present financial crisis has produced a significant global tightening of credit which has made it more difficult for investors to leverage debt in order to finance sustainable urban investments. As a consequence, high cost considerations may ultimately discourage decision-makers and private investors from investing in innovative systems as the better alternative for urban infrastructure provision.
We need therefore a holistic vision in the analysis of economic, financial and policy challenges and in the design of ways to address these complex challenges. The key element is the necessity to understand that the urban capital assets, including the natural capital assets, are integrated and interdependent elements in the urban context, and therefore we propose the concept of effective management of assets as key for devising a focused response, where “assets” encompass both the material and the immaterial sphere, and “management” refers to both investment to renew and adapt assets and also to the sustainable operation and use of existing resources.
From this perspective, economic viability is a vital contributing factor to creating sustainable, low-carbon, resource secure, liveable environments. However, fully understanding the interactions of these elements eludes us. What is required is a re-envisioning of city financial models that are not constricted by current urban investment silos (e.g., waste, energy, health, education, transport) and that maximise urban capital assets (e.g., human capital, natural capital and fixed capital). Such an urban green portfolio approach goes beyond the simple (and limited) urban returns of investment. Cities must be globally competitive and we need to unlock investment via innovative financial and business models.