Habitat III should bolster city-to-city cooperation and learning

13 June 2016

The New Urban Agenda is an opportunity to recognize and strengthen one of our most efficient and effective tools for institutional learning, write Wouter Boesman, policy adviser, and Patrizio Fiorilli, director of PLATFORMA. 

This commentary was published by Citiscope on 13 June.


“It is in cities that the struggle for a more sustainable world will be won,” U.?N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon prominently noted at the launch of the Habitat III process — thus voicing a conviction that has been longstanding at the local level.
This is why local governments must be encouraged and enabled to make use of their peers’ experiences to improve our towns and cities, and to influence global processes. The Habitat III process, which culminates in October in Quito, is a key opportunity in this regard.
In mid-May in New York, local governments took advantage of this opportunity. The United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) network convened the Second World Assembly of Local and Regional Governments to give the Habitat III process a strong local dimension. In the days following that meeting, the United Nations hosted local and regional governments from all corners of the world to give their views and input to the Habitat III outcome strategy, the New Urban Agenda.
This is a strong example of how action by local governments can contribute to global processes: by bringing local realities from around the world to the multilateral table. For instance, at the New York hearings, PLATFORMA’s representative Andreas Wolter, the deputy mayor of Köln, Germany, shared his city’s experience of cooperation with its partner city, Tunis. Tunisian police officers were invited to Köln to shadow their German peers — not to show the strengths of the German approach but rather to help the Köln police become more culturally sensitive, in order to better reach their citizens.
Cooperation: Not only about financing
The Habitat III documents — the body of work that has been created through this process over the past year — pay significant attention to financing urban development. They emphasize that governments need to get more and better access to funding, including around the mobilization of domestic resources but also through the appropriate engineering of official development assistance.
But development cooperation should go beyond financial flows. It cannot omit the fact that without governance capacities, no one can properly manage funding or implementation. And it cannot ignore that peer learning is one of the most efficient and effective tools for institutional learning.
Local governments often are seen as working only on their capabilities to act and deliver. Likewise, support to local government capacities tends to focus solely on these dimensions of governance capacity — after all, they are visible and can be measured. Yet what local governments need to build a sustainable and inclusive society is much broader and, to a large extent, less visible: These are capacities to engage, to self-renew, to commit.
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