GOVERNANCE

Cities are critical engines of prosperity

Attaining SDGs is inextricably bound with how we build and manage our urban spaces.

In Summary
  • It is estimated that two-thirds of all humanity will live in cities by 2050. Hence, the future of humankind is urban. Hence, how cities are governed matters.
  • Fitness of the institutions and the quality of city leadership are critical if cities are to fulfil their roles as engines of well-being and prosperity.
Nairobi city.
Nairobi city.
Image: FILE

In a spirited treatise, former Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emmanuel argues that we need to shift focus from the hegemony of national elites to places where it matters. In his new book, The Nation City, Emmanuel makes an impassioned case for strong local governance.

Emmanuel argues that in the age of governance dysfunction cities can deliver a firm foundation for prosperity through investments in public transit, housing, public spaces, early childhood education, vocational education and supporting business to create durable, well-paying jobs.

Emmanuel holds up Copenhagen, which is a model for how healthy and inclusive cities might be created across the world.  It is estimated that about 62 per cent of those who live in Copenhagen cycle to work every day.

 

Other examples of model city governance include Bogota. In 1999 Enrique Penalosa, the mayor of Bogota, proposed a plan for a Bus Rapid Transit System, the TransMileneo. The transit system dramatically improved safety, expanded transport services to the poor, reduced air pollution and provided the basis for urban planning and development.

In the age of dangerous climate change and bristling natural resource scarcity, especially land and water, cities provide an ideal environment for innovation because they offer proximity, density and diversity. Cities are the hotbed of creativity, a place where diverse groups – corporations, individuals, communities, civil society, private sector and public agencies – engage in product, process or service innovation to create value and meet societal needs.

Cities are the hotbed of creativity, a place where diverse groups – corporations, individuals, communities, civil society, private sector and public agencies – engage in product, process or service innovation to create value and meet societal needs.

It is estimated that two-thirds of all humanity will live in cities by 2050. Hence, the future of humankind is urban. Hence, how cities are governed matters. Moreover, attaining sustainable development goals is inextricably bound with how we build and manage our urban spaces.

It, therefore, follows that the fitness of the institutions and the quality of city leadership are critical if cities are to fulfil their roles as engines of well-being and prosperity.

Last week President Kenyatta witnessed the transfer of health services, planning and development, transport and public works from Nairobi county to the national government. As expected, public opinion on the transfer of functions is divided. However, the status of the city of Nairobi as a county has been contentious.

In 2016 then Senate Deputy Speaker Kembi Gitura published a bill to remove Nairobi from the list of counties.

The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) task force recommends that Nairobi be accorded a special status under the national government, without eroding the rights of representation of Nairobians at the ward and parliamentary levels.

The inexorable decline in the quality of public services; education, security, water and sewerage, housing and public transportation is untenable, and amounts to a violation of the fundamental rights of citizenship. The absence of these services exacerbates, intolerably, the gulf of inequality among the residents of Nairobi.

The transfer of four functions from Nairobi county to the national government must be the beginning of a concerted, sustained and commonsensical debate on the broader governance architecture of Kenya’s capital city and other cities such as Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru and Eldoret.