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close this bookLivable Cities for the 21st Century (WB, 1996, 56 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe urban transformation in the coming decades
View the documentForeword
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View the documentConclusion: Looking forward
View the documentSelected list of further readings

Conclusion: Looking forward

Cataloguing the failures of the world's great new cities is all too easy. It is also more than a little misleading. Urban ills in the developing world are grave. Yet they are not so debilitating as to paralyze the transforming energies that cities—and only cities—generate. The challenge of development is to direct those energies in the right channels, toward attainable ends and with enduring commitment. The process only begins with the identification of the problems that the World Bank, for one, believes should be tackled first:

· The provision of basic services to the poor.

· Taking action on the top three threats to human health in cities: lead, dust, and microbial diseases.

· Making municipal finance more businesslike and inclusive.

Just as important and critical to achieving these goals is the building and mobilization of broad partnerships capable of sustained civic action.

Take slum upgrading, for instance. The goal of bringing services to all slum dwellers is achievable. The costs are manageable. We argue for a commitment to action on a large scale now, but involving the community will be an essential ingredient in success. Given the opportunity to join in setting investment priorities for their neighborhoods, poor people move from a passive status to an active sense of ownership, and are far more likely to contribute to the costs. With a stake in their neighborhood's water or sanitation system, they will have an expanded interest in seeing that the system operates well and is properly maintained. Households benefiting from upgrading have made substantial investments on their own once their neighborhoods were improved. Formerly outsiders, slum dwellers can become partners in the city's betterment.

To improve the urban environment today, a few concrete actions should occupy our attention Lead in gasoline should be phased out on an accelerated basis. As mentioned above, bringing basic services, top among them, clean water, to all city dwellers must be done. This measure is affordable. Many investments to reduce emissions of dust, soot, and smoke from industry and power plants have high returns. They should be made. To proceed effectively with these environmental improvements, a process of community participation is needed. Even measures, such as removing lead from gasoline, that are relatively inexpensive still require determined public education efforts to win wide support. City officials who join with environmental action coalitions to mount such awareness campaigns can also work with their allies to keep polluters' feet to the fire. Because there can be painful tradeoffs involved in curtailing pollution, consultations must begin early to achieve community consensus on how to share the costs and what benefits to expect. And consultation that leads to visible progress and concrete results will build the growing public support necessary to maintain or even increase the momentum.

Without a solid financial and administrative system, of course, cities cannot be effective agents of their own salvation. Much remains to be done to achieve this goal in developing country cities. In an era of decentralization, intergovernmental finances need to become more transparent, more closely related to the responsibilities placed on local governments, and more closely linked to local government financial and managerial performance. The resources already at hand in cities must be managed more effectively: by pricing urban services better, building partnerships with the private sector to manage and finance urban infrastructure, and building much stronger local government institutions to operate the nuts and bolts of city management. Obtaining the agreements necessary to establish a sound local financial base will be, above all, a matter of creating working partnerships between public authorities and the many stakeholders in cities. Whether the issue is the user fees for city-supplied water, a permit system for industrial emissions, or a betterment levy for storm drainage improvements, authorities need to have a working understanding with their constituents about the price and purpose of reforms. Reforms in municipal finance amount to major revisions in old social contracts. Unless those changes are widely understood and supported, their effective life may be nasty and short.

The World Bank's long and varied experience in assisting urban development contains many examples of success along with some others that have not worked as well. From that history, a simple lesson emerges: teamwork works. Partnerships in devising and executing programs to counter poverty, pollution, and financial disarray in the great, but greatly troubled, cities of the developing world is the sort of teamwork the Bank hopes to encourage and to join The Bank's resources can help, but the crucial ingredient in this wide-rallying and imperative work of making the human habitat habitable is the difference that ordinary people make when challenged to join in doing extraordinary things.