How National Urban Policies Can Help Implement the New Urban Agenda

At a recent OECD conference, Cities Alliance member and partner countries suggested that collaborative governance processes towards the formulation and implementation of a national urban policy framework may be much more important than the content of the framework itself.
How National Urban Policies Can Help Implement the New Urban Agenda


By Rene Peter Hohmann and Marie-Alexandra Kurth, Sr. Urban Specialists

“National urban policies can build bridges between national and local governments.”

With these words Ms. Lamia Kamal-Chaoui, Director of the OECD Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Local Development and Tourism (CFE), welcomed ministers and mayors to the second International Conference on National Urban Policy: Implementing the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda.
Held at OECD headquarters in Paris 15-18 May, the conference was organised by the OECD and UN-Habitat with support from the Cities Alliance, and attended by some 350 participants. It was an opportunity following the Habitat III Conference in Quito to discuss the role of national urban policies in the global urban agenda on an international platform with a wide range of stakeholders in attendance.
The conference also highlighted various aspects that should be considered when national governments create a national enabling environment for sustainable urbanisation and cities, as well as the rewarding but sometimes difficult steps many countries face on the path towards a national urban policy framework.

It was a particular pleasure to see Cities Alliance member and partner countries such as Chile, Ghana, Liberia, Paraguay, Mozambique, and Tunisia stressing the importance of coordinating platforms and fora for inter-ministerial cooperation and the need for partnerships between tiers of government, academia and NGOs.

These recommendations are part and parcel of the Cities Alliance approach to development in cities, and a realistic account from policy practitioners that collaborative governance processes towards the formulation and implementation of a national urban policy framework may be much more important than the content of the framework itself.

Decentralisation and national urban policies

The Hon. Paulina Saball, Chile’s Minister of Housing and Urban Planning, called for using national urban policies as part of an overall reform process for decentralization. She pointed out that in highly centralised government systems, planning frameworks are not synchronised between the national and local level, rendering planning less effective and more difficult to implement.  

Ms. Saball also shared how the country’s National Urban Development Council has become an effective way to coordinate national stakeholders and build up a robust consensus of development priorities, overcoming sectoral silos between ministers in the process.

Chile’s message on decentralisation was echoed by Edgardo Bilsky, Director of Research of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), who suggested that striving for subsidiarity may need to be a “guiding principle to inform national urban policies.”

Even in highly decentralised systems, however, the collaboration between different tiers of government does not come automatically. In federal government systems, such as Germany, a national urban policy framework may be more of a coordinating mechanism between different tiers of government, noted Dr. Susanne Lottermoser, Deputy Director-General at the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB).  Germany’s national urban development policy, which has existed for ten years, only started to fully develop its potential when consensus and cost sharing between the three tiers of governments were established and applied.

The importance of multi-stakeholder platforms

While national urban policies were praised for building a coordinating framework for national governments, there were also words of caution, especially during the dedicated stakeholder plenary session of the conference.

Panellists and members of the Cities Alliance Joint Work Programme on Post Habitat III participated in the session, including the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Ford Foundation, United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), Habitat for Humanity International and the Institute for Housing (IHS).

They highlighted the need to build trust at the national level by creating an institutional architecture with a clear aim to engage new constituencies in multi-stakeholder platforms, such as national urban fora.
Once established, these platforms can evolve into decisive permanent institutional companions and fora to prepare for international negotiations on sustainable cities, such as the Habitat III process, but also for localising the global agendas for cities, such as Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement. Soledad Nunez, Minister of Housing for Paraguay, highlighted the National Habitat Committees established in preparation for the Habitat process as an effective example of such a platform.

A good example of a national urban forum was presented by the Hon. Hajia Alima Mahama, Ghanaian Minister for Local Government and Rural Development and Cities Alliance Board Member. Ms. Mahama showcased the work of the Ghanaian National Urban Forum, which has convened annually since 2010 to build a solid partnership base for formulating and implementing the country’s National Urban Policy.

By bringing together national actors such as ministries with local authorities, civil society, universities and the media, the forum has created the space for all stakeholders to actively engage in shaping Ghana’s cities.  It has also helped build the necessary awareness and commitment to collaborative planning approaches, which the stakeholders now plan to replicate at the local level to implement the national urban policy.

The National Urban Policies Programme

The conference also provided an opportunity to present the National Urban Policies Programme, which was launched by Cities Alliance, OECD and UN-Habitat at Habitat III in Quito. The programme is a joint commitment to support the development and implementation of national urban policies globally as an essential component in building an enabling governance framework. The three organisations hosted a working session with key partners in Paris to present the programme’s five main pillars – advocacy, knowledge, capacity, country support and monitoring – as well as planned activities for 2017 and potential areas of engagement.