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Towards a More Equal City: Framing the Challenges and Opportunities

With the world’s urban population expected to increase by about 60 percent by 2050, there is an opportunity to build cities where everyone can live, move, and thrive.

Many urban observers associate the quality of urban governance with the way in which administrative and political decentralization policies are implemented. But, for administrative decentralization to work, city governments must be able to coordinate complex bureaucratic functions and possess strong technical capacity. The reality is that many cities have overly complex bureaucracies, and large cities are often divided into competing political entities, spanning multiple geographic jurisdictions. In response to these challenges, the provision of infrastructure and core urban services often becomes the responsibility of special-purpose bodies. These bodies contribute to territorial and functional fragmentation, which in turn increases the difficulty of coordination among agencies. 

Another important element is planning and management capacity. They are crucial to dealing with growing urban pollution, water and sanitation problems, congestion, and increasing inequality in access to urban services in many cities. Urban planning and management require real technical capacity at the local level to analyze, assess, and implement “interventions that close the gap between the private and social calculus” such that cities can regulate and enforce policies and planning instruments that limit these problems. 

Finally, there is a strong positive correlation between municipal budgets per capita and service delivery, although financial resources are not the only factor. If fiscal decentralization has the potential to improve accountability, transparency, and service delivery, it is far from a panacea. Greater fiscal autonomy must be accompanied by fiscal capacity, otherwise it can lead to a lack of transparency and accountability.
 

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