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Federal systems don’t preclude national urban policies | Citiscope

Both in the lead-up to and following on the heels of October’s Habitat III conference on sustainable cities, there has been a renewed interest around the world in promoting national urban policies.

This interest stems from an increasing recognition of the importance of such policies for multiple purposes at multiple levels of government. These include, for instance, long-term strategic planning by central governments and their role in financing infrastructure. But they also include attempts to fight poverty, inequality and climate change, as well as to facilitate policy coordination among ministries or agencies.

As OECD Secretary-General Ángel Gurría put it during a Habitat III side event, national urban policy “provides a framework so governments and other stakeholders can ‘get cities right.’”

Article: Federal systems don’t preclude national urban policies by ABIGAIL FRIENDLY MAY 8, 2017

Still, what exactly constitutes that framework remains open. The United Nations’ lead agency on urban issues defines a national urban policy as “a coherent set of decisions derived through a deliberate government-led process of coordinating and rallying various actors for a common vision and goal that will promote more transformative, productive, inclusive and resilient urban development for the long term.”

But beyond this neat definition is a recognition of the diversity of national institutional arrangements and the challenge of figuring out how to actually implement a national urban policy without offering a one-size-fits-all approach — something that proponents have clearly been keen to steer around.

[See: Since Habitat III, an uptick in interest around national urban policies]

As momentum picks up for the elaboration and implementation of national urban policies in various countries, the question is increasingly arising: Can federal systems, too, adopt such a framework?

Certainly a federal system could make formulating a national urban policy more complex, simply because such policies often involve three or more levels of government. Likewise, well-established state, provincial or municipal capabilities could complicate the formulation of a national urban policy even further.

So is a national urban policy possible under a federal system? As it turns out, such policies and federalism are, in fact, compatible. But formulating these policies successfully within such a context depends on the view of federalism followed in any particular country.

Key examples

Despite the apparent challenges to a federal role in cities within specific national contexts, multiple examples show that a federal system doesn’t preclude a national urban policy.

“Despite the apparent challenges to a federal role in cities within specific national contexts, multiple examples show that a federal system doesn’t preclude a national urban policy.”

In Australia, for instance, national urban policy seems to have succeeded under a federal system. Within a country that is demographically 90 percent urban, few policies are not de facto urban policies. So with the appointment of a federal minister for cities and the built environment in 2015, commentators asked: Does the federal government finally ‘get’ cities?

[See: Six months after Habitat III, is the New Urban Agenda gaining political traction?]

The question had a long backstory. Following a failed 2011 attempt to institute a national urban policy and years of federal disengagement in cities, the Australian government inaugurated a Smart Cities Plan in 2016, formulated around investment, policy and technology.

The policy is based on metropolitan strategic planning, infrastructure funding and on the British “City Deals” approach, bringing together all levels of government to “deliver better outcomes through a coordinated investment plan for our cities”. In the City Deals approach, introduced in the United Kingdom in 2012, the national government works directly with large cities through individual arrangements, reflecting the unique needs of each city by devolving powers and financial tools, and strengthening local governance.

While the Australian approach is interesting, it is just over a year old. For now, the test — and lesson for other countries — is whether it will survive a change in government.

Brazil, on the other hand, is a decentralized federal system that is unusual in its recognition of the importance of cities. In 2001, a law known as the Statute of the City (Estatuto da Cidade) was approved, setting out the rights and obligations of cities in the Brazilian federation. The government also created the Ministry of Cities, a federal institution to deal with matters related to urban development and a long-standing demand by the urban reform movements. Since 2003, the ministry has helped Brazil’s numerous municipalities implement the Statute’s directives and acted as a national voice for cities.

Another example is Belgium, which is also highly urbanized. Dating from 1999, the country’s national urban policy — the Big City Policy (Politique des Grandes Villes) — supports Belgian cities most affected by deprived neighbourhoods through contracts between the central government and individual cities. These contracts include horizontal coordination between federal sectors and vertical coordination between other stakeholders (at the European, national, regional, local and neighbourhood level). In 2001, the Belgian authorities created the Urban Policy Service to implement the national urban policy. Belgium’s regions also have their own regional urban policies.

[See: Can the New Urban Agenda heal India’s urban-rural divide?]

Other examples of federal countries with national urban policies include Germany, Mexico and Switzerland.

Contentious proposition

Despite these positive examples, scepticism continues to flourish over the prospect of a national urban policy being instituted in a federal system. One of the major arguments against this idea rests on a conceptual view of federalism that imagines a constitutional impediment to such policies. Another barrier could be simply that while federal urban policy is possible, it’s unnecessary.

“A federal government can play a substantial role in urban policy if it is prepared to mobilize the fiscal and policy levers at its disposal, in addition to the political consequences of doing so.”

An alternative viewpoint, however, comes from a more pragmatic approach. This stance makes the case that a federal government can play a substantial role in urban policy if it is prepared to mobilize the fiscal and policy levers at its disposal, in addition to the political consequences of doing so. This pragmatic approach — in contrast to a more theoretical position — was raised in the 1970s by urban scholar Patrick Troy (in reference to the Australian case).

[See: Joan Clos: New Urban Agenda ideas ‘are now trickling down’]

Here, Canada provides an instructive example. In the 1970s, then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau created the Ministry of State for Urban Affairs, establishing a federal urban policy. But that move came about only after a change of mind from the Trudeau, who initially took a more cautious approach to federalism: At first, the prime minister saw any deviation from the constitutional roles of the provinces as a possible cause of friction and instability.

This interest in Canada began in earnest in the 1960s, considered a watershed in federal-municipal relations. But in fact, discussion over national urban policy in Canada has come up time and again. Multiple federal governments have attempted to institute such a policy, although each initiative eventually has fizzled away.

Over the years, one argument often cited in this perennial discussion has to do with Canada’s unique federal system. As “creatures of the provinces”, Canada’s cities can be formed, dissolved, amalgamated or otherwise altered and their power expanded or restricted only by provincial governments. As a result, Ottawa cannot stoke provincial resentment — particularly from Quebec — about jurisdictional intrusions.

Instead, the federal government must seek to enhance federal policy capacity and visibility in Canada’s cities, the country’s key locales of economic, social and cultural interaction. Given significant pressure from the opposition, Trudeau’s move created the most successful foray into national urban policy in Canada thus far. However, such efforts collapsed among intergovernmental tensions — thus highlighting the need for consensus among the collective stakeholders involved in crafting national urban policies in federations.

[See: After Habitat III, we need to institutionalize our urban policy dialogues]

A similar discussion has taken place in Australia, also a highly federalized country. Despite Australia being a truly urban nation, politicians, scholars and jurists have argued that the federal government has no authority to intervene in urban affairs. As in Canada, several short-lived advances over the years — such as key urban and housing development initiatives in 1972, when both the Labour and left-wing parties agreed to create a cities portfolio within the Commonwealth ministry — have made the case for a federal presence in urban issues.

In the United States, there is no national urban policy per se, although there certainly has been interest in the issue. Nonetheless, the federal government had been largely removed from national urban policy since the 1960s. That said, easing the approach to federalism actually has allowed for some steps toward an urban policy.

Following years of disengagement in urban affairs, President Barack Obama renewed a federal role in city life, driven by an approach that officials called a “new wave of federalism”. In 2009, the White House launched an Office of Urban Affairs to mobilize federal resources in a coordinated fashion toward cities and to collaborate with local communities through sustainable investments.

[See: Why are U. S. mayors missing Habitat III?]

While the Obama-era programmes did not amount to a national urban policy, the change in orientation was unquestionable — although it now appears that the Trump administration is dismantling these advances.

Flexibility and consensus-building

Despite the uncertain situation of the United States, interest in national urban policy is clearly rising. Importantly, this growing attention is being accompanied by a strengthening body of international guidance on the issue.

Before Habitat III, for instance, UN-Habitat and Cities Alliance published a global overview of national urban policies, while the OECD published a compendium detailing European efforts toward such policies. Both studies highlighted the diversity of national experiences, including those with federal systems. The policy paper on national urban policy prepared for Habitat III likewise recommends flexibility in the institutional form of such policies.

[See: Habitat III struggled to deliver — but nonetheless, a new global urban agenda is upon us]

By the same token, considering how consensus can be forged around the need for a national urban policy would greatly facilitate this process. Germany’s national urban policy, launched in 2007, is a notable example of such consensus-building. There, prior consensus-building allowed the national urban policy to more easily fit within the complex federal context and to encourage power-sharing among members of the federation.

How did Germany approach this process? To build consensus and support for the policy through engagement of a broad range of stakeholders, Germany authorities created a National Urban Development policy board. This body included representatives of a broad range of stakeholders including all levels of government, architects, planners, engineers, chambers of commerce, property owners, tenants, craft associations, the construction industry, retailers, civil society groups and academics. This example is instructive for other countries heading down a similar path.

There is also a global initiative already underway that deserves attention: the National Urban Policy Programme of the OECD, UN-Habitat and Cities Alliance. This is a global knowledge-sharing platform on national urban policies and best practices aimed at supporting capacity development. Given the buzz over national urban policy since Habitat III, the time is ripe to demystify the advent of these policies in the context of federal systems.

Article: Federal systems don’t preclude national urban policies by ABIGAIL FRIENDLY MAY 8, 2017

For Federal Climate Change Research, Visit City of Chicago’s Website | Next City

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel had a swift response to President Donald Trump’s administration pulling climate change information from federal websites: The city has posted the deleted content on its own domain, and called on other mayors to do the same.

“The Trump administration can attempt to erase decades of work from scientists and federal employees on the reality of climate change, but burying your head in the sand doesn’t erase the problem,” Emanuel said in a statement. “We are going to ensure Chicago’s residents remain well informed about the effects of climate change.”

The city of Chicago launched the new online section ​— dubbed in a press release “Climate Change is Real” — over the weekend. It includes information from decades of EPA research and background on the basic science behind climate change, the different ways in which weather is impacted by increased greenhouse gas emissions and actions the federal government has taken to reduce the impact.

“While this information may not be readily available on the agency’s webpage right now, here in Chicago we know climate change is real and we will continue to take action to fight it,” the site’s banner states.

Article: For Federal Climate Change Research, Visit City of Chicago’s Website BY KELSEY E. THOMAS | MAY 8, 2017

Since the EPA scrapped its climate change website last week, that particular federal URL has carried a banner that says the “page is being updated” and a note reading: “We are currently updating our website to reflect EPA’s priorities under the leadership of President Trump and Administrator [Scott] Pruitt.” (On Friday, Pruitt dismissed several science advisers.)

Last month, amid rumors that the EPA might close its Chicago office (which an agency rep denied), an ex-EPA official in the region wrote an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune about what the EPA had accomplished locally with regards to pollution and public health threats.

Chicago’s website addition builds on several climate efforts Emanuel has announced in recent months, including a plan to power all of Chicago’s buildings with renewable energy by 2025 and the city’s recently implemented 7-cent tax on disposable carry-out bags, which, according to the city, is already having an impact.

In the absence of any federal strategy or leadership, many U.S. mayors are growing more vocal about the need for climate change mitigation and resiliency efforts. Mayors have banded together to release two open letters urging Trump to uphold a U.S. commitment to the Paris climate agreement and to keep Obama-era environmental regulations.

“As mayors, we work with our constituents face-to-face, every day, and they demand that we act on climate to improve quality of life and create economic growth,” the second letter read.

Article: For Federal Climate Change Research, Visit City of Chicago’s Website BY KELSEY E. THOMAS | MAY 8, 2017

Amid Divestment Protests, More Cities Explore Public Banks | Next City

Philadelphia City Council Member Cindy Bass was already thinking about how to cut the city’s ties with Wells Fargo when bank CEO John Stumpf testified last September before the U.S. Senate. Questioning Stumpf about the bank’s fraudulent accounts scandal, Senator Elizabeth Warren said, “So you haven’t resigned, you haven’t returned a single nickel of your personal earnings, you haven’t fired a single senior executive. Instead, your definition of accountable is to push the blame to your low-level employees who don’t have the money for a fancy PR firm to defend themselves.”

Search the U.S. Department of Justice website for “Wells Fargo” and “settlement” and you’ll get a litany of results: a $25 billion settlement for foreclosure abuse (a record), $1.2 billion for improper mortgage lending practices, and $184.3 million in compensation for steering black and Latino borrowers into predatory subprime mortgages. The 2016 hearing was the moment when the wheels fell off the stagecoach.

Stumpf finally stepped down, about a month later, but he never returned a nickel of his pay. In fact, he left with a $133.1 million severance package.

Article: Amid Divestment Protests, More Cities Explore Public Banks BY OSCAR PERRY ABELLO | MAY 10, 2017

“Their lackluster responses, it was so outrageous, they just didn’t get it,” says Bass. “As a city, how could we be in bed with this company? As the City of Brotherly Love, we stand for more, we should have an expectation for more.”

On September 29, 2016, Bass co-introduced, and city council unanimously passed, a resolution directing the council’s finance committee to hold hearings on the impact of the Wells Fargo scandal and the feasibility of removing the bank as a city depository.

Earlier this month, Philadelphia took another step toward that goal, authorizing a new bank for the city’s payroll services effective July 1. The city’s $1.6 billion payroll includes roughly 29,800 full-time, part-time and seasonal employees, around 3,700 of whom choose to receive their pay by check. Those checks and pay stubs will no longer say Wells Fargo.

Despite the momentousness of the occasion — CNBC characterized it as serving Wells Fargo its “walking papers” — it was a surprisingly quiet vote, with little fanfare or any more than the usual audience, according to Bass. “We did not get our advocacy community rallied up for this particular vote,” she says. They’re saving that moment for when the city pulls all of its deposits out of Wells Fargo.

“This work will continue,” adds Bass.

Part of that work includes exploring the possibility of setting up a public bank for the city of Philadelphia, which could take over payroll functions and city deposits permanently, among other functions. At-large Council Member Derek Green initiated that exploration by passing a resolution in January 2016 authorizing the council’s Committee on Commerce and Economic Development to hold hearings regarding public banking. The first hearing took place in February 2016.

The universe seems to have conspired to put the right person at the right time in the right elected office. Green spent several years in banking in Philadelphia and then, while working for former City Council Member Marian Tasco, drafted one of the first municipal anti-predatory lending laws in the U.S. With deep experience in both banking and government, Green was mulling over a public bank even before he was sworn in last January alongside new Mayor Jim Kenney. The public banking resolution was his first solo act as a legislator.

“When they took direct lending out of branches,” Green said last year to open up the first public banking hearing, “that’s one of the reasons why I left banking, because at that point, I no longer could be the banker that I wanted to be … .”

Green hopes that a public bank can restore banking to be the community-driven, character-based lending that he was able to do successfully in his early days, particularly when it comes to small business lending. Most banks these days don’t have branch-based loan officers, as Green pointed out. That makes it pretty much impossible to maintain the relationships that are especially essential for small business lending.

A public bank can change the local or regional economics of banking. The Bank of North Dakota is the last remaining public bank in the country. The state legislature established it in 1919. It opened its doors on July 28 of that year, with $2 million in capital ($28 million in today’s dollars accounting for inflation). With $7.2 billion in assets today, it functions largely as a “banker’s bank,” mostly making low-interest loans alongside or directly to community banks and credit unions around the state. With such a reliable, affordable and local source of capital, North Dakota community banking is stronger than in other parts of the country. It’s a big reason why North Dakota has more banks and credit unions per capita than any other state.

In the wake of the financial crisis and continued fallout from foreclosure abuse and fraud like happened at Wells Fargo, other states and cities have been more seriously considering adapting North Dakota’s public bank model. Legislators and agencies in Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond, San Francisco and other municipalities around the Bay Area are moving forward and at various stages with considering public banks. Back in 2011, California joined 11 other states whose legislators had introduced bills exploring the possibility of new public banks, Yes Magazine reported.

Opponents of public banks argue that it can be risky for the government to be making loans, given there’s no guarantee it will have the most competent banking staff in place. Some say the debacles of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, quasi-public institutions that operate somewhat like highly specialized banks, are a warning. Politicians may also take advantage of a public bank to make loans based on political favors rather than economics.

So far, the leader in the race for new public banks appears to be Santa Fe, New Mexico, where legislators unanimously voted on April 27 to launch a task force to formally consider setting up a public bank. The task force’s work will build on a feasibility study the city completed in 2016.

Back in Philly, Green has been working with Public Banking Pennsylvania, a statewide advocacy group, to marshal resources for a public banking feasibility study for the city. They’ve been reaching out to local universities to see if graduate business and policy students might be able to chip in. At the hearing last year, Emma Chappell, founder of United Bank, Philadelphia’s only black-owned bank, also offered to share further advice on her experience with state banking regulators.

Green also requested and received information from the Office of the City Treasurer and the Department of Finance regarding all the city’s deposit accounts. Per its latest comprehensive annual financial report, the city has $621.3 million in deposits, but also another $1.8 billion in various investments. According to Green, there are also various “rainy day funds” that departments keep, including the water, fire and police departments. He also requested more details on the various local and state laws that may determine what accounts might be possible to move into a new, public bank.

With all that information, Green continues courting partners for a feasibility study. He hopes to convene more hearings on a public bank after this year’s city budget negotiations conclude at the end of June.

Article: Amid Divestment Protests, More Cities Explore Public Banks BY OSCAR PERRY ABELLO | MAY 10, 2017

Chile’s Government Innovation Lab: Citizen-Centered Design in Action | Ash Center

The Chilean government’s innovation lab Laboratorio de Gobierno [link in Spanish], or “LabGob” for short was formally established in 2015. Since then, it has worked with thousands of civil servants and citizens in Chile, using an iterative, human-centered design approach to tackle problems in health care, energy, and more. Emily Middleton spoke to its founding Executive Director, Juan Felipe López Egaña, about LabGob’s mission, and about how to drive innovation in the public sector. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Article: Chile’s Government Innovation Lab: Citizen-Centered Design in Action By Emily Middleton MAY 15, 2017 

Why was LabGob founded?

President Michelle Bachelet first announced the idea of a government innovation lab to the Chilean Congress in May 2014. Before that, the focus in governments had been on how to increase innovation in the private sector: in firms, and through encouraging entrepreneurship. But there hadn’t been a dedicated agency responsible for encouraging innovation within the public sector. President Bachelet recognized that, and seized on the opportunity to create one.

The Chilean government made a call for proposals for the initial conceptual design of the lab. Together with Nicolás Rebolledo, I put together a design for the lab to address three main problems the Chilean government was facing at the time — and which many other governments also face:

  1. How to learn to understand and manage complex problems
  2. How to improve productivity and deliver better public services with lower cost
  3. How to create a better relationship between citizens and government based on enhanced trust

Those three aims became the political mandate for LabGob.

When LabGob was founded, what decisions were made about its organizational design? How have these contributed to its success?

First, an interministerial governance model was created to ensure the representation of, and real input by, key stakeholders, both from within and outside government. The board of directors was designed to provide strategic direction for LabGob, and includes members from five ministries: those of the Economy, Interior, Treasury, General Secretariat, and Social Development. It includes representatives from within the civil service and from civil society. This model of governance has been critical in realizing the presidential mandate we received in 2014.

Second, we decided to do an open call to recruit the founding LabGob team. We received an overwhelming response, and were inundated with more than 2,700 applicants from a wide range of professional backgrounds. Attracting and retaining a strong, multidisciplinary team has been a key part of our strategy since the beginning.

What are LabGob’s main priorities and projects?

The LabGob has two overarching strands. The first is “Train and Mobilize”: to train and mobilize both government employees and citizens in innovation approaches. An important program under this strand is Innovadores publicos, which trains public servants in skills necessary for innovation. The aim is to build social capital within the public sector. We also help the National Civil Service Directorate to run Funciona — the title is a Spanish word that’s a pun both on “it works” and “civil servant.” It’s a prize that recognizes civil servants that have innovated within their ministry.

The second strand is “Explore and Solve,” which helps government to better understand and solve public problems. It’s primarily concerned with project service delivery [link in Spanish] within government as well as open calls for public challenges. We have in-house, multidisciplinary teams that undertake innovation project briefs in collaboration with government ministries to tackle a particular problem or policy.

One example is a recent collaboration between LabGob, the Ministry of Energy, and the Chilean consumer protection agency. The project was to redesign the domestic electricity bill to better enable citizens to understand their energy usage and reduce costs. The bill was co-created with a diverse group of citizens, and is now received by every household in Chile.

How do LabGob’s values and ways of working differ from the rest of the civil service?

LabGob primarily uses methods from human-centered design, open innovation, and ethnographic research. Our process is adapted from the “Double Diamond” model articulated by the UK Design Council. We have a strong focus on people and understanding the user or citizen. We believe in co-creation and experimentation, and in taking a systemic approach to problem-solving.

Our main goal is to integrate approaches and principles from design into the way governments work. Governments won’t change their management pillars: hierarchies, teams, budgets, timeframes, and rules. Our challenge is how we can communicate our approaches in the language of the public sector. We want people to understand that we are proposing a cultural change that is possible and feasible, and that is not a threat to the traditional way civil service works.

Ultimately if we want to be tackle complex problems, and if we want to reshape the government’s relationship with citizens, will a traditional, linear approach work? No. So let’s use principles from design to shift from a linear policymaking process to a more open, complex, user-based approach. That’s how we will be able to deliver better and more sustainable public services.

How do you manage the cultural change element of your mission? Isn’t it difficult to change culture within the civil service?

It might sound counterintuitive to say, but the Chilean public sector is extremely innovative. However, public servants often don’t have the opportunities or the support to foster their own initiatives. And budgets, timelines, rules, and leadership typically do not often align with the innovation process.

From my perspective, we need to work with public-sector managers to get them on board, and create an environment accepting of innovation. It’s not only about giving civil servants tools and methods.

That’s why we work on three dimensions: improving opportunities inside public-sector institutions, developing skills among public servants, and fostering motivations across people both inside and outside government.

How does LabGob engage citizens?

One of our main tools is open innovation challenges, where we invite members of the public to propose solutions to a public problem.

For our first “demo” challenge, we chose access to primary health care. This is a big problem in Chile — people often queue very early from 5 or 6 am just to get a primary care appointment. We received 208 solutions, 70–80 percent from Chile. We then held a boot camp for the best 20 to prototype their solutions in a municipality. There were four eventual winners. Of those, one is now in the market, and two are being absorbed by the municipal government as part of their service delivery.

For us, it was very promising to see what happens when you open public problems to the public. The results can be exciting. For instance, Levanta Tu Casa (Lift your House) was a project led by a group of architecture students. It won AULAB Natural Disasters in 2016 [AULAB is an innovation competition for university students, run by LabGob]. The students designed a new system for emergency housing that now has become the new standard of emergency shelters for ONEMI, Chile’s National Emergency Office.

For our next open innovation challenge — in public safety — we want to involve as many people as possible in terms of demographic diversity and geographic area. We want to encourage families and local neighborhood groups to come up with solutions to their local problems.

LabGob has been especially active within the design and innovation for government movement globally. What’s your take on the outlook for this movement? And what advice would you offer to other countries wanting to replicate LabGob’s success?

LabGob has conducted research with the OECD on the capabilities needed to innovate inside government. This had an important milestone in 2016 with the Future State event, which aimed to explore the common opportunities and challenges of innovating in the public sector. With the event, we also wanted to connect with public-sector innovators from other countries, and help build that community. A synthesis of the discussion is available here [link in Spanish]. We believe that a global movement for public-sector innovation is not only important — it is imperative for driving government transformation.

In Latin America, we have been sharing our experience with other countries. One of my main messages is that it’s not really about design, labs, and methods… those are just tools. It’s really all about how government works, how it understands, and how it addresses new problems. We should talk about public management rather than design. Otherwise it becomes a very selfish conversation, only suitable for an elite trained in specific methods. The government innovation labs around the world that failed were in love with design tools. They didn’t take the time to convince and persuade their clients, and to speak their language. If we want to have a successful international movement, we need to speak in the language of the public sector — not in the language of design.

What are your plans for LabGob in 2017 and beyond?

Our short-term goal is to consolidate our work. In 2017, we need to demonstrate beyond doubt that our work is vital and urgent. The LabGob was established by the current President, and we have a presidential election at the end of this year. We need to ensure continuity of LabGob, no matter what the outcome.

In the longer term, LabGob should be widely recognized as a frontline agency that can help public institutions test new approaches and services. That’s it. If that happens, I can die happy!

Article: Chile’s Government Innovation Lab: Citizen-Centered Design in Action By Emily Middleton MAY 15, 2017 

32 Cities Improve Energy Score Per New Rankings | Next City

ACEEE is a nonprofit focused on research, policy and advocacy around energy efficiency in the public and private sectors. The scorecard ranks the 51 largest U.S. cities based on five criteria: local government operations, community-wide initiatives, building policies, energy and water utilities, and transportation policies.

During the Wednesday launch of the new scorecard, ACEEE staff and city mayors emphasized the critical role cities must play in advancing environmental sustainability, both because of their outsized impact and the shifting political climate.

“We’ve found that cities need the information, but are also motivated by the scorecard to improve their energy efficiency,” said ACEEE Executive Director Steve Nadel, explaining why they publish the document every other year. “In general cities are doing much better on energy efficiency. Thirty-two cities improved this year compared to 2015’s scorecard.”

Article: 32 Cities Improve Energy Score Per New Rankings BY JOSH COHEN | MAY 11, 2017

Boston slotted into first with a score of 84.5 out of a possible 100 points. The city scored high for the efficiency of their city operations, for their enforcement of the Massachusetts Stretch Energy Code, a stricter energy standard adopted by the state in 2009, and their Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure ordinance. The city also earned a perfect score for having energy-efficient public utilities and for the Renew Boston program, which helps residents and businesses implement energy-saving measures.

New York and Seattle rounded out the top three with Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon, tied for fourth. New York and Seattle both scored high for transportation and building energy codes and benchmarking requirements. The scorecard weights the five categories by potential energy savings. For example, transportation gets the most points because it often accounts for a city’s greatest energy consumption. In a sample of 20 large cities, the ACEEE found that transportation-related energy use accounted for 36 percent of citywide energy consumption.

On the other end of the scorecard, Detroit, Oklahoma City and Birmingham, Alabama, were least energy efficient among their peers. Oklahoma City and Birmingham scored just 8 and 7 points respectively out of the possible 100.


ACEEE is concerned with city energy consumption precisely because cities consume so much energy. Though urban areas are environmentally friendly because their population density reduces per-capita energy consumption, a study found that cities around the globe account for two-thirds of the global energy demand and 70 percent of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.

Pointing to the fact that the highest-scoring city was still 16 points from a perfect score, with a majority scoring less than 40 points total, David Riberio, ACEEE senior researcher and lead report author, said, “Much can still be done. Cities should use their recent progress as a springboard for even more energy savings.”

Officials who participated in the scorecard process say it will be up to cities to take the lead on sustainability and energy consumption.

“Now more than ever I think cities are going to lead the way on climate change,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said at the launch.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said, “It is mayors taking on the role and responsibility of pushing sustainability in our country.”

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said that, from his experience leading a blue city in a red state, state legislatures have become a barrier to action. “When Phoenix tries to pass strong progressive policy on climate change, we do so in an environment where our state legislature tries to preempt us,” he said.

Phoenix wanted to institute an energy benchmarking ordinance to require businesses to report on energy use. Republican State Representative Warren Petersen introduced a bill to ban local municipalities from doing so. (The bill also bars municipalities from instituting a plastic bag ban.)

Despite that, Phoenix has set lofty sustainability goals to accomplish by 2050, part of the reason the city was among the most improved from the 2015 ranking. The city’s sustainability plan sets a goal of zero carbon emissions and zero waste by 2050 and a 40 percent greenhouse gas reduction by 2025. To get there, Phoenix is doing things such as converting streetlights to LED, retrofitting government facilities to get a 25 percent reduction in energy consumption by 2020, and investing in transportation infrastructure.

Article: 32 Cities Improve Energy Score Per New Rankings BY JOSH COHEN | MAY 11, 2017

Why the ‘Power of Cities Deserves to be Explored’

Cities must prepare for a greater political role, but without retreating into isolation. This is the opinion of Arthur De Grave, veteran member of the OuiShare Collective, who will be tackling the question of cities as self-contained polities at the OuiShare Fest 2017.

Founded in 2012 to decrypt and approach the dynamics of the collaborative economy, the OuiShare collective has since continued to broaden its range of concerns. For the 5th edition of the OuiShare Fest (July 5-7, 2017), which will bring to Paris experts and entrepreneurs from the world over, OuiShare explores the question of urban polities.

De Grave explains how ever-more powerful cities contain the necessary solutions but also threats.

Continue Reading at the Source: Why the ‘Power of Cities Deserves to be Explored’

Local governments are crucial for the implementation of the global development agendas

Representatives from local and regional government networks gathered in Istanbul on 24 April for the meeting of the United Nations Advisory Committee of Local Authorities (UNACLA), under the theme “The global development agendas, implications for local governments”, upon the invitation of Kadir Topbaş, Mayor of Istanbul and Chair of UNACLA.

UNACLA is the fruition of the work of the organized constituency of local authorities’ plea for a growing partnership between local authorities and the UN system, in particular UN-Habitat. The existence of UNACLA emanates from the Istanbul Declaration. United Cities and Local Governments and its founding organizations have played a crucial role both in the setup of the Committee and in the mobilization of its members.

Source: Local governments are crucial for the implementation of the global development agendas

Following the Habitat III Conference in October 2016, the meeting aimed to address the implementation of the New Urban Agenda, the progress made in the localization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the crucial role local and regional governments are called upon to play in these intertwined agendas. The session further addressed the role of UNACLA in facilitating the dialogue between local and central governments to implement the global agendas at local level.

The meeting included the participation of Fatma Şahin, Vice-President of UCLG for the Middle East and West Asia region, Mayor of Gaziantep and President of UCLG-MEWA; Aysen Nikolaev, Mayor of Yakutsk and Vice-President of UCLG for the Eurasia region; and Carlos Martínez, Mayor of Soria, Vice-President of UCLG for Europe and Vice-President of CEMR. Mayors and local elected representatives from the Philippines, Benin and Botswana also attended the event and shared their experiences, along with Secretaries General and representatives from UCLG Sections, and partners such as the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF) and Citynet.

Kadir Topbaş recalled the work undertaken for the adoption of SDG 11 and stressed that localizing also entails explaining the importance of global agendas to local governments.

Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN-Habitat, emphasized how Habitat III brought about a crucial shift in paradigm by clearly recognizing the importance of urbanization as tool for development.

Josep Roig, Secretary General of UCLG, highlighted the importance of going beyond sectoral approaches and leveraging the interdependency that local governments face in their daily work. He further advocated to recall the values of the 100-year international municipal movement and embrace diversity. In this call, he stressed the importance of local democracy, capacity building and adequate financial resources to cope with the current trend of urbanization.

Lastly, in recalling the importance of UNACLA to strengthen the links between local governments and UN-Habitat, the session addressed the preparation of the 26th Governing Council of UN-Habitat, taking place in Nairobi on 8-12 May this year.

Source: Local governments are crucial for the implementation of the global development agendas


Two northern Italian regions to hold referendums on autonomy this year – The Local

Two of Italy’s wealthiest regions, Lombardy and Veneto, have announced plans for referendums aimed at obtaining greater independence.

The referendums will take place on October 22nd, the regions announced on Friday – and although the results of the vote will not be legally binding, they could have major implications for Italy’s general election next year.

At the heart of the issue is money: Grimoldi said the regions were fed up with “giving 80 billion euros [each year] to the state coffers”.

“At this point the only path to get a response to the ‘Lombardy question’ and the ‘Veneto question’ is through a referendum,” said Paolo Grimoldi, a key figure in the far-right Northern League said in a statement. “The time for answers from Rome has run out, as has the patience of citizens.”

Lombardy and Veneto are responsible for producing respectively around 20 and ten percent of Italy’s total GDP. They both pay several times more money in taxes to Rome than they receive in investment and services.

Source: Two northern Italian regions to hold referendums on autonomy this year – The Local

Veneto’s Northern League president Luca Zaia has been a leading voice in the calls for greater regional autonomy.

Zaia had initially called for a referendum asking Venetians if they wanted to secede from Italy, or control the tax revenue collected in the northern region, but Italy’s Constitutional Court blocked the plan.

Instead, Venetians will be asked if they want the region to receive “further forms and particular conditions of autonomy”. The question which will be posed to Lombardy residents has not yet been decided.

The status of the regions of Italy – which only became a unified country in 1861 – is complicated. The peninsula is home to the microstate of San Marino, and the independent city-state of Vatican City, and of the 20 regions, five currently enjoy special status.

The regional councils of Sardinia, Sicily, Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, Aosta Valley and Veneto’s neighbour Friuli-Venezia Giulia have been granted special powers by the Italian government over their legislation and administration. It is this sort of privilege that Lombardy and Veneto are fighting for, with greater financial control the biggest issue.

But if the results won’t be legally binding, what effect will they have on Italy?

According to Franco Pavoncello, a political science professor and president of Rome’s John Cabot University, a strong vote in favour of autonomy would give a huge boost to the politicians fighting for a bigger share of tax income, and bring the issue of regional powers to the forefront of political debate.

“It’s all about the money. [Lombardy’s regional president, Roberto] Maroni said that if the state gives them more funds, he won’t hold the referendum,” Pavoncello told The Local.

“They aren’t asking for ‘independence’ but administrative authority,” he explained. “First they’ll vote, then in the event of a ‘yes’, the state will need to decide how to react. There are two main ways the issue could be settled: a reform of the entire country toward a federal system, or the possibility of particular regions being given special status.”

The Northern League party has long backed independence for Veneto, Lombardy, and Piedmont, supporting independence bids from other European regions such as Scotland and Catalonia.

However, a win in the October referendums could cause headaches for the party in its efforts to expand its appeal across the centre and south of the country. Party leader Matteo Salvini has officially given his support to the regional councillors in their quest for autonomy, but hasn’t spoken publicly about the referendums, instead using his social media platforms to voice support for French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.

But Pavoncello doesn’t think the party will be too worried about losing some votes in the central or southern regions. “Their aim is to reinforce the two regions are the most important for their political party, and are losing votes to the Five Star Movement, for example,” he explained.

Previous polls in the regions show strong support for independence.

In December, Veneto’s Northern League council approved a bill defining Venetians as a “minority”, allowing locals to define their nationality as Venetian and to teach the local language in school. At the time, Italian daily Repubblica dubbed the vote ‘Venexit’ and local councillor Riccardo Barbisan labelled it “an important step towards giving greater strength to the Veneto’s request for autonomy”.

In 2014, an unofficial online poll organized by the Indipendenza Veneta party – which campaigns for total secession from Italy, arguing that this is legal under international law – showed that 89 percent of Venetians favoured total independence. Two further opinion polls the same year estimated support for independence at between 51 and 54 percent.


How to move from creating to implementing a national urban policy | Citiscope

If the world’s cities are truly going to embark on a more sustainable path, they’re going to need a lot of advice. That’s where the Coalition for Urban Transitions comes in.

A new think tank jointly managed by the World Resources Institute and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, the coalition will draw on academic, NGO and private sector expertise to provide evidence-based guidance on how urban growth can benefit both people and the planet. The coalition is a subset of the New Climate Economy, a similar effort aimed at providing research for countries transitioning into more climate-friendly economies.

Article: How to move from creating to implementing a national urban policy By Gregory Scruggs May 16, 2017

While the coalition will work on sustainable urbanization, its target will not be cities themselves. Rather, the effort will focus on national-level decision-makers whose policies affect cities, from heads of state to ministers. That will include work on national urban policies, the focus of a key meeting this week in Paris.

[See: Since Habitat III, an uptick in interest around national urban policies]

Citiscope’s Gregory Scruggs recently spoke with economist Nick Godfrey, the New Climate Economy’s head of policy and urban development. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Gregory Scruggs: What is the Coalition for Urban Transitions?

Nick Godfrey: The Coalition for Urban Transitions is a new international collaboration that will help make the economic case for better urbanization. It brings together leading thinkers across the public, private and third sector on sustainable urbanization from all around the world. What’s pretty distinctive about the coalition is that its focus is not at the city level: Its focus is on working with key national decision-makers. The reason for this is that many of the powers and levers that impact the performance of cities are in the hands of national leaders — so heads of state, finance ministers, energy, transport and urban development ministers.

Nick Godfrey

This is really about implementing the New Urban Agenda. It’s also about implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and it’s about implementing the national climate commitments. Because ultimately, to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals, national leaders will have to rely on cities to do a lot of the pulling. It’s the same with the [New Urban] Agenda — it’s absolutely going to have cities at the front and centre. And when it comes to the Paris climate commitments, to actually execute on any of those national commitments, cities are going to have to play a really important part. This is about equipping national leaders with the tools to enable and support cities to deliver on the SDGs and climate agenda.

Q: What do you see as the primary barriers for cities to help their national governments deliver on these commitments?

A: There’s a whole bunch, and they vary markedly by geography. C40 just did some analysis on this, and they basically asked the question, “What levers do cities have to deliver on their ambitious climate action plans?” And it turns out that cities have made all of these very ambitious climate commitments, but they only unilaterally have the powers to deliver on 5 percent of that commitment.

[See: Initiative aims to make more green infrastructure projects ‘bankable’]

For example, finance is a huge barrier. Many cities have very narrow domestic revenue bases. Only 4 percent of the 500 largest cities in the world are creditworthy in international finance markets. That makes it very difficult for them to leverage and raise financing for sustainable urban infrastructure, which would enable them to deliver on their climate commitments, for example.

Q: How can national governments help their cities become creditworthy?

A: National governments can do a hell of a lot. There are national governments that are really considering how do they help not just one city but multiple cities across a country. The Indian government is looking at this very seriously: As part of their 100 Smart Cities programme, they’re basically saying, “How do we take our 20 largest cities and most important cities, and make sure that they are able to graduate to investment grade status within a period of time?”

“Even those countries that have a national urban policy, most of them have very limited ability and capacity to actually implement it. And even fewer have actually embedded a national urban policy right at the heart of their economic development strategy.”

Part of this is technical assistance. There are cities like Kampala, for example, in Uganda — a relatively poor city which received technical assistance and effectively doubled its domestic revenue base in the space of a year by making some very modest changes related to tightening loopholes related to tax collection, etc. With some very modest technical assistance, it was able to very quickly achieve a credit rating and start to mobilize capital for investment in sustainable urban infrastructure. Technical assistance to support cities to better manage their finances is really critical.

A second key thing has got to be about providing cities, where appropriate, with some of the powers that they need to start to grow their domestic revenue bases. Clearly this needs to be done very carefully and with the right judiciary oversight and safeguards, but it is important for national governments to work hand in hand with cities to make that happen.

[See: Make no mistake, momentum is growing to ‘localize’ climate finance]

A third element to this, which national governments can help with, is facilitating international finance institutions’ money to support those processes. There are big facilities like PPIAF — a big technical assistance program that, for example, helped Lima improve its credit rating recently, essentially allowing it to access capital markets, to invest in a [bus rapid transit] system. There are lots of examples where national governments can help facilitate a relationship with international financing institutions and help improve that.

I think empowering cities to experiment with things like municipal green bonds is important. Johannesburg had a very successful bond issuance relatively recently, and that was supported by national government.

Often things that national governments can do is embedding in legislation the ability for cities to start to develop development-based “land value capture” mechanisms, which enable cities to effectively levy the increased value of land when they invest in sustainable urban infrastructure such as transport systems. London’s done this with Crossrail, and there’s a whole bunch of other examples in many other cities. That was enabled by primary legislation through national governments.

[See: How São Paulo uses “value capture” to raise billions for infrastructure]

Q: Do you hear a common concern from national governments that, “Well, ultimately the buck stops with us”?

A: There is absolutely that concern. This is why it’s so important that national governments and cities work so closely together, and that any level of increased devolution of fiscal and other powers to cities has to be done very carefully and in a very sequenced way, and in line with building the capability and capacity of cities to prudently manage their finances. There are plenty of examples of cities all around the world that have done this very successfully, so there is a lot of best practice that can be drawn on.

Q: Are you generally bullish on the prospects of more robust municipal bond issuances and other such actions?

A: Municipal bond issuances are just one mechanism, and there are lots of ways the national government can support cities. It really depends on the level of financial maturity, nationally and in the cities themselves.

“If you have a national urban policy, the first thing that any country should do is think about putting in place a vision for your urban future. How do you want to manage your urbanization process over a multi-decade period? And then, put in place a national urban planning policy framework to help guide land-use decisions.”

We’ve started to develop a framework so that cities and national governments that are in a relatively early stage of financial maturity — in terms of the depth of their financial markets and some of the fiduciary oversights and safeguards they have in place — can start with some of the really basic things. For instance, about how do you start to grow your domestic revenue base, start to think about the interface between national and local taxation, etc. Then once some of the basics are in place, cities can, with the national government, start to think about more sophisticated ways of raising capital for investing in sustainable urban infrastructure.

[See: How Dakar (almost) got its first municipal bond to market]

We’ve started to lay out a framework where no matter where you are on the spectrum of financial maturity, as a country and as a city, you can start to think about some of the mechanisms that are most appropriate for your level of development. There’s a whole range of mechanisms which national urban development ministers and other ministers typically hold related to national urban planning policy. You know, a lot of countries don’t have a national urban planning policy, and at a higher level, only a third of countries have any form of explicit national urban policy.

Q: On national urban policies, is there even a clear understanding among governments what that is and why they should do it?

A: Only around a third of countries have national urban policies. If you look at the most rapidly urbanizing region in the world, Africa, less than a quarter have. But that isn’t even the most worrying thing: Even those countries that have a national urban policy, most of them have very limited ability and capacity to actually implement it. And even fewer have actually embedded a national urban policy right at the heart of their economic development strategy.

For example, there are very few countries that have a policy toward cities embedded and well understood by a Ministry of Finance, which often holds a lot of the infrastructure capital to implement it. A great objective would be to get half of all countries by 2025 to have a national urban policy, but it’s equally important to make sure that they have also have the capacity to implement it. And lastly, it’s critical that that national urban policy also helps to support well-planned urban growth which supports economic, social and environmental outcomes concurrently, so that its urbanization supports current and future generations.

[See: Federal systems don’t preclude national urban policies]

We’ve spent a lot of time looking at what are the economic, social and environmental benefits of getting urbanization right. “Business as usual” on a global basis is characterized by growth in urban sprawl and conventional private vehicle travel, and that creates a whole range of economic, social and environmental consequences in cities — air pollution, congestion, vast reductions in urban productivity, significant increases in urban infrastructure capital costs, as well as massive and accelerating rises in carbon emissions.

So it’s really important that any national policy put in place also is in line with what we call “Three C’s” principles. The first C is that it’s appropriately compact, so efficient land use. That it’s connected — i. e. that you’re investing in decent urban mobility and public transport systems. And, three, that it’s coordinated, so that all of the key line ministries at a national level are coordinating across the urban sphere, and that that national policy coordination is also coordinated with local policy formulation in cities themselves.

We would be supportive of the general intent and thrust of that on a global basis, but it’s also important to focus on implementation and the right kind of policy.

Q: What’s something that an official at a Finance Ministry might do differently if they were to have a national urban policy lens that they were taking seriously?

A: One thing that we would advocate all national governments do, national urban policy or not, is to start to think about phasing out fossil fuel subsidies. Half a trillion dollars is still going into fossil fuel subsidies, and a lot of that remains in the transport sector — a significant increase and encouraging fossil-fuel-based private vehicle travel. That’s a profound impact on urban areas, economically, socially, environmentally and all sorts of ways.

[See: How do we get urban transport to deliver on global climate targets?]

If you have a national urban policy, the first thing that any country should do is think about putting in place a vision for your urban future. How do you want to manage your urbanization process over a multi-decade period? And then, put in place a national urban planning policy framework to help guide land-use decisions.

That is the most important thing — efficient land use is so important economically, socially and environmentally. Urban sprawl, for example, has a significant detrimental impact on urban productivity. For example, poorly planned, sprawled urban development in India could cost in the region of 6 percent of gross domestic product by mid-century — around USD 1.8 trillion.

Q: Which countries have started to understand this in recent years and are starting to make some important changes?

A: I would start with perhaps a surprising example. China’s doing an awful lot on national urban policy. In 2013 they released a major new national urban policy and embedded within it an intention to encourage better-planned urban growth, more low-carbon development. They have identified a whole range of pilot cities, basically as low-carbon pilots, and are providing significant resources to help municipal authorities and mayors and leaders there to help make that a reality. There’s a lot more that China can do in implementing that policy, which is where the implementation challenge comes. But I think the Chinese government really does understand the importance of getting urbanization right.

There’s a number of driving factors for this. One is municipal finances in certain Chinese cities are a bit of a mess. And this has been primarily related to cities having to rely on a very narrow domestic resource base — selling landholdings, primarily, which has promoted urban sprawl. So tackling that issue is really important economically for the Chinese government. Air quality is a major issue, as well, partially related to the vast growth in fossil-fuel-based vehicle travel. And socially, urban sprawl in China has started to encourage inequality within cities and between cities, and so China is really demonstrating some level of leadership.

[See: Between Habitat II and III, China changed everything]

The other example is India. They’re at an earlier stage, but with its 100 Smart Cities programme, we’re starting to see quite a lot of leadership from the Indian government.

Across Africa there’s a whole bunch of countries where this agenda is really starting to be important to them. We’re doing some initial work in Tanzania, which has just developed a new five-year plan, and getting urbanization right is one of four major priorities. There’s a number of countries like that across Africa which are demonstrating leadership.

So I have some level of optimism that there is momentum there. A third of countries do have a national urban policy, and it’s important that we build on that.

This story is tagged under: GovernanceClimate FinanceGreen BondsMunicipal BondsNational Urban Policies

Article: How to move from creating to implementing a national urban policy By Gregory Scruggs May 16, 2017

Citiscope is a nonprofit news outlet that covers innovations in cities around the world. More at Citiscope. org.”