The Cities Alliance Assembly as an Opportunity for Learning

At each Assembly, Cities Alliance explores key topics that impact our work programme. For 2019, the topics chosen were city resilience, informal economies, and the global agendas for cities.
Photo: Charlotte Hallqvist, Cities Alliance
Photo: Charlotte Hallqvist, Cities Alliance

One of the aspects of the Cities Alliance Assembly that members value most is the opportunity for learning and knowledge exchange. Each year, the partnership selects several key topics that impact the Cities Alliance work programme for in-depth exploration at the Assembly. 

These workshops are enriched by first-hand local experiences with the potential for greater impact and help inform Cities Alliance activities moving forward. For 2019, the topics chosen were city resilience, informal economies, and the global agendas for cities – all important issues the Liberia Country Programme is addressing.
 

Increasing city resilience through city-community partnerships 

A session on “Confronting Risks in Cities: Towards more Resilient and Sustainable Cities and Communities” reviewed how local governments and communities in rapidly urbanising cities are confronting the multiplicity of risks, shocks and stresses posed by climate change, socio-economic transformations and emergencies. 

Moderated by Julian Baskin of the Cities Alliance Secretariat, panellists from Liberia and members of the Cities Alliance jointly reflected upon local experiences in Liberia and global initiatives to formulate recommendations for the Cities Alliance in advocating for an integrated, community-based approach to resilience in cities at global, national and local level. 

For instance, Ms. Daoda Socrates Carlon from the Liberian Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) described how her agency makes sure that wetlands are not compromised while engaging with local communities and residents, noting that a specialised community unit was created for the purpose. 

The idea that resilience involves a two-way relationship was underscored by Mr. George Gleh-Data, Federation of Liberia Urban Poor Savers (FOLUPS) and Mr. Jack Mackau, Slum Dwellers International. Both organisations are already combining slum profiling and monitoring schemes with the identification of key risks and hazards felt by the communities in informal settlements. Ms. Bindu Brewer Tay, chief resilience officer at the Paynesville City Corporation, noted that one of those key risks is the issue of public infrastructure maintenance; without proper maintenance, the vulnerability of residents increases. 

All the issues found in Liberia resonate well with the experiences from other regions. Ms. Lucy Slack, Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF), pinpointed a changing mindset towards cities; not as entities, but as partnerships between local governments with communities and central governments.

Responding to climate change effects across a city requires including these considerations in strategic urban planning mechanisms, such as city development strategies, noted Ms. Carley Pennink of the International Housing Institute (University of Rotterdam). Alessandro Galimberti from the AVSI Foundation added that this integration requires a holistic approach to community resilience and partnerships between development partners to overcome the single-sector silos of many development partners. 


Looking at informal economies in a different way

It is commonplace to understand local economies in African cities as divided into formal and informal sectors. At least three quarters of urban employment in Africa is informal; in Liberia, more than half of employment outside of agriculture was informal in 2010. 

This distinction obscures the interconnectedness and fluidity of the formal and the informal that is characteristic of Africa’s growing city economies. It also risks limiting the scope for a more holistic approach to equitable economic growth and the development of appropriate policies that may have a transformative impact in cities. 

The session “Beyond Formalising the Informal: The Transformative Power and Realities of Hybrid Economies in Cities” discussed concrete approaches to improve the enabling environment for formal and informal businesses in ‘hybrid’ economies in cities. What can be done to protect and improve informal livelihoods while supporting formal job creation and business growth? What are the key constraints and pathways to trigger transformational, equitable, change in hybrid economies – in Liberia and elsewhere? 

Ms. Comfort Doryen, Chair, Federation of Petty Traders & Informal Workers Union of Liberia (FEPTIWUL, shared a successful intermediation between local street vendors in the Red-Light Market with the local police in the Paynesville City Area. This partnership has even a wider significance, according to Maxwell Grigsby, Revenue Director from the Monrovia City Corporation. There is a concerted collaboration between the petty traders and the local government to think together how to sustain services and generate revenues for the city to invest in its marketplaces.

This case of local intermediation between a local government and street vendors is illustrative of how to regulate access to public space and ensure inclusivity, highlighted Mike Bird from WIEGO. Global experiences indicate that while there is no single model of intermediation, there are some key principles to address injustice: getting street vendors involved and acknowledging their representatives to identify different ways of shaping local economies. 

For Amy Regas, Director at Omidyar Network, it is the search for innovative practices that trigger a multiplying effect of opportunities for small entrepreneurs, which requires more attention. For example, without the formal recognition and protection of their property, people are unable to have ownership of goods, start and run a business, or be protected when buying, selling, and trading, as in the case of street vendors. 

In addition, Roman Windisch of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SECO) reminded that access to financing , knowledge, skills and education are key factors that influence the productivity of small businesses. To establish an enabling environment, national government agencies will need to be brought into the dialogue as early as possible. 
 

Localising the global agendas

Over the past four years, the global community has adopted several landmark decisions that are relevant for cities and their international development partners. From Agenda 2030 and the Paris Climate Agreement to the New Urban Agenda, the global policy environment and recommendations for cities have never been richer. However, the excitement surrounding the development of global agendas needs to transform into more aligned, concrete actions in cities. 

The session “Overcoming Silo Approaches: Outlook for the Promotion and Localisation of the Global Agendas for Cities” looked at the status quo on the localisation of the various global agendas for cities, upcoming milestones, and what the Cities Alliance as a partnership can offer to facilitate and strengthen shared advocacy.

According to Emilia Saiz, Secretary General of United Cities and Local Government (UCLG), international surveys indicate that the localisation of Agenda 2030 has not yet fully reached our target audiences. The Cities Alliance partnership should use its diverse membership to promote and strengthen the localisation of international processes. It is in this context that the Cities Alliance membership is invited to join and proactively contribute to the UCLG World Congress, which will take place in Durban from 11-15 November 2019. 

Dyfed Aubrey, Inter-Regional Advisor at UN-Habitat, reminded that the New Urban Agenda is a common, internationally agreed reference for development partners to promote the localisation of Agenda 2030. He highlighted the role of a stronger advocacy around innovative approaches – for example to reduce spatial inequality or strengthen local climate action – that could help accelerate the New Urban Agenda. 

Rene Hohmann, Head of Global Programmes at the Cities Alliance Secretariat, complemented that the work through Cities Alliance’s various Joint Work Programmes has significantly contributed to a stronger joined advocacy in the partnership. A recent member survey on  these global programmes suggested that Cities Alliance should further these advocacy collaborations to promote the New Urban Agenda while ensuring that all members retain the same access to information and implementation processes.

 

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