Cover Image
close this bookPromoting Sustainable Human Development in Cities of the South: A Southeast Asian Perspective (UNRISD, 2000, 56 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAcronyms
Open this folder and view contentsSummary/Résumé/Resumen
View the documentI. Introduction
Open this folder and view contentsII. Interpreting ''Sustainable Development''
Open this folder and view contentsIII. The Structural Context
Open this folder and view contentsIV. Focus on Southeast Asia
View the documentV. Conclusions
View the documentBibliography

V. Conclusions

There are many lessons that can be learned from the three cases presented above. While the general social, economic and political circumstances of the three countries vary significantly, they also share various common features. The most obvious of these relate back to the structural context discussed earlier in the paper. However, there are significant factors that emerge from the detailed analysis. The reality is that "sustainable development" remains a rather distant goal of the political process in the face of local realities and the dominance of more immediate economic goals. However, the changing structure of the societies in question - and in particular the rise of a significant urban middle class with aspirations to create more "modern" political and physical conditions - is a factor that needs to be further explored.

It is clear that in all the countries analysed above, some progress is being made in the development of more participatory approaches to urban planning and management, with a focus on the needs of the poor. Less certain is whether this can in any way be seen as pursuing a consistent - or meaningful - path to sustainability.

What is clearly in evidence is a strong desire among the "modern", urban - based middle classes of all three countries - including strong student movements - to create new political systems at the municipal level. The patronage relations of the past, with their corrupt practices, cronyism and nepotism, are deemed unacceptable. The struggle is to detach the "big men" and "big families" from their clientele among the poor and ignorant and to push the military out of politics and back into the barracks. There is a strong self - image among this class - whether justified or not - of their individual worth in successful business and professional abilities, and - in the case of students - of their responsibility to create a new society. They feel that they and their fellow new middle class citizens understand and can deal with the modern world, are not corrupt in their practices and so have a greater right to govern. There is a clear throw - back to the rise of the middle class and the sense of modern citizenry in Europe in past centuries.

Where this remained repressed under the previous authoritarian regimes, it is now strongly visible, discussed in the media and evident in the organization of political parties, business, professional and "civic" associations, and politically oriented NGOs. Economic growth in these countries in the recent past has created these classes and the international context, promoting democratization and decentralization, is now favouring their rise to power. The process of their taking this power and deciding how it should be channelled and used has, however, only just begun and the final outcome is by no means clear.

At the same time, however, the very factors of economic globalization that created this class through the economic development of East Asia have both depended on a reserve of economically active poor and, as is so well illustrated by the 1997 economic collapse of the region, continue to maintain and even extend this sea of poverty.

Participatory urban planning and management processes (we will not at this stage mention "sustainable development"), as developed up to now and to the extent that they have achieved some successes, have two different focuses and constituencies. On the one hand, community development initiatives are favoured by many constituencies in so far as they focus predominantly on self - help initiatives among the poor. Recognition that the poor also have some rights has progressed matters from a situation where their settlements were actively destroyed, via a less aggressive policy of "benign neglect", to a point where they are on the whole given basic recognition and basic services. This does not yet amount to a recognition of full citizens' rights (access by the middle classes to power and resources is of a different order). But the poor have received some benefits at little cost to the middle classes.

On the other hand, the middle classes are becoming more aware (as did the middle classes in Europe and North America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries) of the need to be active in creating cities that are liveable. The activities of civic groups, while of less interest to the development co-operation agencies with their strong focus on poverty alleviation, are nevertheless aiming at the same general goal of creating more participatory forms of urban planning and management - that is accountable and that creates more liveable cities. Indeed, if more coherent initiatives are to appear in the pursuit of "sustainable development", then it is these groups that one can expect to be the carriers: there is really very little that can be done among poor communities to pursue "primary sustainability" as they already live extremely frugal lives and have little or no power to determine wider policies and programmes of urban development.

This points to a two - pronged conundrum. The first is how can the two sets of urban participatory planning and management initiatives be forged into a single system that looks after the interests of all urban citizens? In Europe we know how there came to be more egalitarian societies. This happened in part through the self - organization of the poor (in the form particularly of labour unions and, in some countries also tenants associations within the ideological framework of socialism) and in part through the emergence of social democracies that realized that societies work better when there is less inequality, where education and a reasonable standard of living for all become a basis for greater efficiency and less social tension and eventually a greater capacity for co-operation.

Neither of the main bases of the organization of the European poor exist to any great extent in Southeast Asia: industrialization is not employing a very large percentage of the poor and most live in informal conditions where mass tenancy is not an issue.12 So a more concerted effort will be necessary on the part of the new middle classes as they consolidate their hold on political power to realize the need for more unified societies and to help to create the bases for these. Local participatory approaches to urban planning and management provide a milieu in which relevant ideas and aspirations could be developed, but it will also take more coherent and assertive civic movements before very much will be achieved. Impetus could be given to this through greater commitment to sustainable development where the middle classes will have to rethink their own lifestyle quite radically. In the process, they will need to collaborate more closely with the poor - who will also need more resources - if they are to develop coherent, truly sustainable, alternatives with which all citizens are prepared to co-operate.

12 Many informal settlements are the subject of quite high levels of tenancy, but this involves small landlords of relatively makeshift housing quite distinct from the large-scale construction in early twentieth century European cities that were vulnerable to the pressure of mass movements.

The second point concerns the context of economic globalization and, more specifically, the promotion and spread of neo - liberal ideology and practice. It seems strange that, in spite of increasing evidence that liberalization worsens the situation for the poor and the local environment in the countries of the South, it continues to be widely adhered to (Forrester, 1999). It may be in the interest of certain sectors of business to promote liberalization, but it seems clear that many social groups, including some in the business community, are not benefiting from liberalization. On the contrary, all indications are that the economies of the South - and not only post - July 1997 Asia - are continuing to deteriorate, with the incidence of poverty spreading (Shutt, 1998; UNRISD, 1995).

It should be perfectly clear that local programmes - including the plethora of emergency programmes in Indonesia discussed above - are not going to solve the problems of the poor on their own. There are no meaningful indications that these can be solved without addressing the problems arising from the continued application of liberalization. Some protection measures at national, regional and local level are necessary. Some appropriate economic mechanisms are required to add to the social and environmental concerns of participatory urban planning and management initiatives.

Finally, concerning the question of sustainable development, this concept potentially provides a vehicle with which to rethink the development process in the context of the new, participatory forms of local decision making. Perhaps this is what is needed in order to provide a new direction against the destructive tendencies of liberalization. Certainly, there are big questions regarding sustainability to be asked about current trends in urban development in the countries discussed in this paper.

Indeed, with the emergence of megacities, dependent on massive throughputs of resources that at some stage could become curtailed, the sudden precipitation of a much deeper privation than is currently suffered by the poor cannot be ruled out (Atkinson, 1993). Perhaps this should be taken as a major task of development agencies in the coming years: to raise the level of debate concerning the sustainability of urban developments in the context of local participatory planning and management initiatives and to devise programmes to turn things around.

This brings us to the question of what role development agencies might play to promote the development of participatory urban sustainable development planning and management initiatives. In the first instance it is useful to summarize some of the main conclusions from the three case studies analysed above.

Decentralization is coming into its own, at least as a term and in terms of countries passing legislation concerned with decentralization. In practice, this is an extremely complex issue (Cheema and Rondinelli, 1983) that cannot be discussed here in any detail. It does, however, need to be flagged in so far as it is an important background condition that must be got right if local sustainable development initiatives are to make genuine progress. Essentially, improvement in urban management that is more than marginal requires that local authorities have the resources and capacities to co-ordinate and enable actions to take place at the level of an overall development framework - including overall planning and implementation of main social and technical infrastructure. Neither central governments nor local communities can do this and decentralization must provide both powers and resources that enable local governments to perform these functions effectively.

Whether locally initiated or externally assisted, community development projects that pay inadequate attention to the machinery of interacting with local government (which is unfortunately all too common at present) run the risk of pushing local government into various bad practices. These include internal corruption due to the domination of local mafiosi and/or inadequate scrutiny on the part of local communities that are overly concerned with solving their own problems in their own way (and paying inadequate attention to making local authorities genuinely accountable). They also include programmes that are poorly designed and executed due to inadequate consultation. Urban programmes need to function simultaneously on all levels of decision making in order to become effective - namely to encourage genuine decentralization (powers and resources), encourage open local government and facilitate effective community involvement in local development.

Participation is also in fashion but can easily be construed and constructed in ways that do not empower those excluded by previous, unparticipatory, forms of decision making and praxis. It has often been noted that genuine participation is easier to achieve in rural than in urban areas. There is good reason for this where social capital in rural areas is made up of networks of family and other community allegiances - in practice usually strongly patriarchal and hierarchical - that either predated new participatory initiatives or are otherwise structurally embedded in the local culture. In urban areas most neighbourhoods are made up of families and individuals who have come from various places and have no previous allegiance to one another and often little long - term commitment to the local community, possibly made up of different ethnic, religious and even language groups. Forging common decision - making processes and eventually consensus over development initiatives is inevitably more difficult.

It is not impossible, however, requiring sensitivity and time to create a sense of common needs and destiny before any very substantial work can be done. A marginal local project - such as a health programme or greening the neighbourhood - may help to build local confidence in the usefulness of working together, and the depth of initiatives - in terms of cost and change to the local environment and living conditions - can be increased from there. The efficacy of this approach is shown from relevant project results. However, the impatience of externally financed projects in particular, often designed to run just one or two years, to see immediate results can lead to very counter - productive reactions.

For instance in many projects participation is enshrined in brief exercises such as rapid appraisals and so dispensed with in short shrift. This allows the project to then take all the main decisions in an "efficient" manner (albeit probably not answering real local needs or engendering a local sense of ownership in project outputs). Worse still, frustration at the slowness of building effective community decision - making processes leads to an opinion that perhaps we should return to trying to get municipalities to carry out the full range of development programmes. This was, indeed, the way that urban planning and management evolved in Europe following the reform movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The answer to this lies in a better analysis of the circumstances of burgeoning cities in the South. The industrialization process and its social and political effects in European and American cities of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were very different from the urbanization processes and the social and political circumstances surrounding these in the countries of the South today. Essentially, it is necessary for a new politics of cohesion and collaboration to emerge if the problems of urban sustainable development are to be solved effectively.

As noted above, in Europe and North America such a "new urban politics" emerged in the form of various social movements, including middle class civic movements and particularly unionization and tenants' movements among the poor in the framework of the ideology of socialism. Externally assisted projects cannot intervene directly in local politics, but should recognize and, where legitimate, support local movements that promise to yield effective forms of co-operation to solve local urban problems. Hence the importance of promoting decentralization and participation exercises as an essential part of improving urban living conditions.

Returning finally to the problematic of "primary sustainability", it is difficult to provide advice here. Externally assisted projects to produce national Agenda 21 documents have not been effective in the countries of the South (viz the examples provided above), but one cannot genuinely say that they have been effective anywhere. The discourse is still open and certainly it is at the local and subregional levels that at least some practical measures have started to be taken. In the context of local participatory urban planning and management programmes, the advice can only be to continue to attempt to introduce the subject of longer term sustainable development strategies into any initiatives. Hopefully, in time, when the urgencies of immediate problems have been mastered through effective solutions, primary sustainability will become a more important agenda issue.

Part of the problem would seem, prima facie, to be the way in which the liberalization process impacts upon local development. It seems clear that local communities and municipalities can do little or nothing to control what has been termed the "backwash effect" of global development processes (Stand Taylor, 1981). Bilateral and international agencies are more in a position to influence matters in this respect. This speaks for the development of agency policies that will address the impacts of liberalization more effectively, to work with national governments to develop defence mechanisms on behalf of society and the environment (more socially and environmentally sensitive development programmes). It should then be possible to see where these can be used to advantage in developing more effective local projects and programmes.

From the foregoing discussion the following points can be extracted:

· There is still room for assistance in community development projects that bring participatory methods into the generation and execution of activities to improve the local quality of life. However, these should be undertaken as longer term development programmes that can take whatever time is necessary and operate in a flexible manner, so as to be in a position to assist in the development of local cohesion and self - confidence - and not in terms of one - and two - year projects.

· Such initiatives should move beyond self - help and be more conscious of the need to empower poor communities to participate in a more coherent and forceful way in the larger urban political process.

· These initiatives need to be systematized in such a way that all communities are capable of identifying problems, prioritizing them, planning improvements and attracting the necessary commitment from all relevant actors to participate in solving the problems.

· Participatory methods of planning and management are also needed at the municipal level - which means working with municipalities but also with a great variety of stakeholders within civil society. The aim must be to create transparency and accountability within a local government that is oriented to providing a public service rather that the all - too - common case of government providing a platform for abusing power and public resources.

· The opening - up of the municipal planning and management process should not stop at more accountable and/or efficient local government; it also needs to make common cause with community development projects and the plans they generate; these initiatives should champion the needs of the poor as well as seek to improve the workings of the municipality and the state of the city.

· Such initiatives should also focus attention on possible futures of the city, analyse unsustainable aspects to current development and devise a future that works for everyone; this vision and mission need to be carried out as public activities, not only to obtain diverse opinions, but also to gain the commitment of all in a situation that is almost bound to require substantial changes in outlook and lifestyles.

All of these can be assisted by appropriate inputs from development agencies. This might be through country programmes, but would probably be more effective through engagement with individual urban communities and authorities. On the whole development agencies have focused most of their attention on rural development and/or financing sectoral projects.13 As yet there is relatively little experience of integrated urban projects of the kind being suggested here (Atkinson and Allen, 1998). But there are precedents including urban programmes of bilateral agencies such as USAID, Swiss and German technical co-operation (and others), the World Bank Metropolitan Environmental Improvement Programme, the UNCHS Sustainable Cities Programme, and so on. The field is certainly wide open for agencies that are interested in gaining and then disseminating experience in this field.

13 About 6 per cent of spending of the United Nations agency and bilateral donor agency funding goes into urban projects. Of course many other projects, including in health, education and other fields also find their way into urban areas, but not specifically recognizing the urban context. Less than 18 per cent of World Bank funding goes into urban infrastructure (Atkinson and Allen, 1998).