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close this bookPromoting Sustainable Human Development in Cities of the South: A Southeast Asian Perspective (UNRISD, 2000, 56 p.)
close this folderII. Interpreting ''Sustainable Development''
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe emergence of the concept of ''sustainable development''
View the documentWhat is the meaning of ''sustainable development''?
View the documentMethods and application of sustainable urban development

Methods and application of sustainable urban development

It is now necessary to provide a little explanation regarding the general characteristics of those local exercises in sustainable urban development that have been attempted - involving the application of various planning and management methodologies. First it is useful to set down the ideal that is described in various guidelines (GTZ, 1993; Bartone et al., 1994; ICLEI, 1996; UNCHS/UNEP (Vol. 1), 1997). Then a preliminary assessment can be made of the degree to which the initiatives generally match up to the ideal.

· A consensus is reached across the community and/or municipality between all key stakeholders to undertake a sustainable development planning and management process (this could take the form of one or more workshops or the establishment of a more permanent forum or committee); the first task is to establish aims ("vision" and "mission") for the sustainable development planning and management process.

· An investigation (using participatory methods) is carried out into the main (economic, social, environmental) problems faced by the community; these are then prioritized by consensus with a view to addressing them in order of importance.

· Alternative solutions to the priority issues are worked out, possibly through working groups of experts and interested stakeholder representatives.

· Tasks are allocated between the local authority and other stakeholders who can provide resources or take on specific responsibilities.

· Action is taken, monitored by working groups or the forum; where action is inadequate to solve the problem, new initiatives are organized.

· Following the solution to the initial problems, new ones are identified and plans made to solve these.

There are variations on this procedure, but the main points - that the planning process be participatory throughout and that responsibility be shared between public, private and community interests - are supposed to be adhered to.

By now there has been considerable documentation of "best practice" initiatives in these procedures and so some evaluation should be possible (Gilbert et al., 1996; ICLEI, 1996; UNCHS/UNEP (Vol.2), 1997). Here are some preliminary remarks on the discrepancy between theory and practice:

· Nowhere has a consistent procedure been devised for ensuring the representativeness of the participatory processes. At the community level it is easier to ensure that the voices of the poor and of minorities discriminated against by local communities are heard as long as effort goes into incorporating them. However, in most cases the better - off citizens and interest groups continue to dominate the process with relatively little attention being paid to the concerns of the underprivileged. There is a danger that participation will become institutionalized in forms that continue to favour the powerful and fail in the ostensible aim of empowering the "silent voices" of the poor and otherwise disadvantaged.

· In Southern cities the priorities have been almost entirely concerned with the immediate local environment such as improving water supply and solid waste management. While these are prima facie rather serious problems in many cities, the problematic of "sustainable development", which requires an altogether broader perspective on development - although often and increasingly contained in the rhetoric - is not actually seriously addressed.

· In few if any cases have these exercises been allowed to modify in any major way the routine exercise of local government and the formal private sector. In fact, as discussed below, local government in the poorer countries has hardly been in a position to plan or control the development of cities and so inadequate responses to LA21 processes are simply one more case of a more general inability to respond adequately to local developments. On the other hand, businesses keep their eye on what is, or promises to be, profitable, and are generally only interested in LA21 processes to the extent that these promote business.

In fact all these problems can be related back to the broad structural context that has not generally been considered by those who have been promoting participatory sustainable development planning and management initiatives. This context is, however, crucial to the chances of success of these initiatives and will become more so if and as sustainable development is addressed in a more serious manner. The next section of the paper therefore provides an overview of salient aspects of the structural context that should be considered and effectively addressed by anyone concerned with developing new LA21 and similar initiatives.