Putting the Citizen at the Centre

Citizen consultation is now becoming an important pillar in the governance architecture of cities everywhere. As urbanization gathers rapid pace and city-dwellers swell in numbers, along with the mounting challenges of meeting their aspirations, the growing population also presents opportunities for consultation and debate with a wide cross-section of stakeholders enabling build more equitable, resilient and sustainable cities

Cities for All’ was an important plank of The Kuala Lumpur Declaration adopted at the Ninth World Urban Forum in the Malaysian Capital early last month. It called for deployment  of all efforts, resources and means to achieve this concept of Cities for All where all inhabitants of the present and future would be able to produce and inhabit safe, healthy, resilient and sustainable cities. The participants at the Forum recognized the pivotal role of the city-dweller in achieving this objective and implementation of the New Urban Agenda.

This thought is well articulated in the measures prescribed including one which calls for strengthening the urban governance systems to ‘ensure continuous dialogue among different levels of government and participation of all actors’ and increasing ‘transparency and accountability’. There are several dimensions which define the characteristics of cities and all can achieve better outcomes through citizen engagement and consultation. Urban local bodies will need to significantly scale up efforts in all areas to achieve desired outcomes.

Equitable/inclusive Cities
Often the city infrastructure is created around the concept of the ‘average citizen’. This cannot be a long-term sustainable option. While one may concede that the city cannot be built to suit every single citizen, it can not also be designed for the ‘average’ one which could end up meeting the needs of no one. Among some categories are women, children and the elderly. Extensive citizen engagement and awareness building will be

called for so that such citizens are able to secure and then enjoy these facilities with dignity. Urban local bodies need to engage with the community, NGOs and civil society working with these classes of citizens to understand their needs and cater to them.

The case of the differently abled is very important too. Regulations require several measures in the built environment to meet the needs of such special persons. Though not all required measures exist yet, regular dialogue and consultation with concerned stakeholders can help identify and address many of these. These processes of involving all groups of citizens can also help secure appropriate behavior of other citizens respecting these provisions in the infrastructure – for example reserved seating in public transport and in public parks.

Sustainable Cities
Sustainability has several aspects which all call for significant and sustained citizen engagement and constant efforts to secure improved citizen responses.

Cities, groaning under the burden of ever-growing populations are already struggling to deliver citizen services such as clean water supply. With a likely harsh summer already upon us in most parts of the country, there is urgent and crying need for all citizens to participate whole-heartedly in water saving programmes. These programmes to save and conserve water through these tough months cannot succeed unless our local bodies engage with citizens. We are aware that several water-saving measures can enable conserve this precious resource to a great extent to see us through the hot months. We must constantly look for more ways to engage with all groups of citizens and scale up the efforts to ensure cooperation of all. School and college students for example, can be very powerful torchbearers of community-wide participation in such matters.

Waste management is possibly the most stubborn of civic problems faced by our local bodies. This is accentuated by unsustainable lifestyle changes and practices which lead to increasing waste. Even elementary requirements like segregation at source which is being espoused for many years, is yet to happen satisfactorily. Measures including per-suasion to mandating fines and penalties have all been unable to yield the desired outcomes. The test of our cities’ abilities can be judged on this parameter alone in the future – their success in achieving effective waste management which includes waste ‘manage-ment’ such as segregation, composting and recycling, as well as waste ‘reduction’ meaning how effective they have been in reducing waste generation in the first place. It is a tough test; which only the best will pass.

Cities & innovation
According to the Kuala Lumpur Declaration, another key enabler which could support implementation frameworks of the New Urban Agenda is ‘Encour-aging sharing of creative solutions and innovative practices which enable a shift in mindset necessary to drive change’. The statement recognizes the important role of innovation and creativity in achieving desired outcomes in our mission towards ‘Cities for All’. Given the increasing complexity of challenges posed by urbanization in several dimensions, there is a need for devising new ways of addressing these challenges; and of effective sharing of these innovative practices among city managers of different cities. As we can already see, there are many new technological advances and tools available to us, in the area of waste management for example. In addition to new technologies, citizens are coming together in communities in a spirit of collaboration, cooperation and innovation. These efforts will have to be scaled up, recorded, documented and shared as widely as possible, enabling leverage notable contributions among larger populations leading to more inclusive and sustainable planning and decision-making approaches.

The World Urban Forum at Kuala Lumpur has enabled bring together minds to debate and deliberate on the approaches to implementation of the New Urban Agenda in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. The important pillars of the mechanism are undoubtedly equity and inclusion, collaboration, creativity and innovation. These all call for extensive engagement with all stakeholders, most importantly, the citizen. This is necessary for cities to achieve lasting and sustainable progress. So let’s put the citizen at the centre.


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