Influencing local policies

This case study is a snapshot of the results from a set of 50 city governments that took part in the first phase of the survey. A more detailed analysis of the same sample was presented in the Newspaper of the “Governing urban Futures” Urban Age Conference. You can access the Data Section of the Newspaper here and the full document here.

The sample analysed here includes information from five continents and 30 countries, with stronger representation of cities from the Americas and Europe. 25 cities have higher income economies, and 29 cities have populations of over 500,000 people.

The influence of citizens

Citizens have the ability to influence local policies in multiple ways. Voting in elections is the most common and was reported by 44 of the cities in the sample. The vast majority of city governments are governed by an executive mayor who is directly elected versus appointed or indirectly elected mayors. ‘Voting’ is followed by ‘public consultation’, as a further means of influencing policy, and then (with an equal number of mentions) ‘online engagement’ and ‘formal petitions’. Interestingly, a large number of cities also stated that participatory budgeting is one of the processes through which citizens can influence local policies. Some of the cities which have given more detailed replies noted that that youth councils and joint planning processes are integral to how citizens participate in local policies. The survey also found that the larger the city in terms of population, the less capacity citizens have to influence local policies, suggesting that while larger cities may profit from economies of scale and economic resilience, they at the same may offer reduced levels of subsidiarity.


Governing different urban policy sectors

Substantial differences in urban governance across different cities exist with regards to the sectoral distribution of political power. The survey reveals a clear tendency whereby certain policy sectors are exposed to greater political powers at the urban level while others are more centralised at the level of state or national governments. City level governments take greater responsibility for spatial planning, culture, utilities and transport – and are far less involved with other policy sectors, such as health and education. Other sectors that are more greatly influenced from the local level are social services, policing and security. The ability to lead on specific policy sectors also directly relates to questions of budget and revenue streams. Cities which do not have the budget to administer certain policy sectors tend to also lack executive powers in these areas. Some cities have pointed out that they are under additional influence from regional and provincial bodies. The local policies of European cities are also strongly influenced by supranational bodies such as the European Union. Other cities noted the importance of public consultations as well as NGOs and public organisations.


Governing urban transport

Given the particular relevance of urban transport and the governance of transport sub-sectors, the survey illustrates the sector’s substantial exposure to multi-level governance. While city governments tend to lead on small- and medium-scale public infrastructure initiatives – such as public space improvements, cycle paths, footpaths and smaller roads – large-scale infrastructure tends to be controlled by state and national governments, often requiring substantial external investments. Both highway infrastructure and operations and rail-based transport are the most centralised transport sub-sectors, mainly led by national government.