From Local Initiatives to City Projects: Changing Scale to Achieve Consultative Management of the Urban Environment

The Habitat and Environment Committee (HEC) and the Popular Urban Environmental Economy Programme (PRECEUP) organized a meeting in Bamako on the 23rd-27th of June 1998 on the theme ‘From Local Initiatives to City Projects : Changing Scale to Achieve Consultative Management of the Urban Environment’.

While agreeing on the goals of Agenda 21 or the Habitat Program advocating the right of populations to access basic services such as water, sanitation, health, and employment; the meeting was called to find concrete and practical means of accessing them. Facing rapid urban growth, the State and its municipal services have the heavy responsibility of equipping -with limited resources- their cities which, despite this uncontrolled growth , continue to be managed in a conventional fashion. Their inability to meet the increasing demands of populations has stimulated the emergence of grass root initiatives from new civil society actors in the urban arena (NGOs, CBOs, communal enterprises, groups, associations, etc). In fact, the underprivileged populations and their soul partners (who may be in the community/associative sectors, or in local authorities/public sector etc.) have shown through some of their activities that civil society -notably the poorest of the poor- is capable of doing the impossible. But taking these initiatives to the expression of their full potential, entails expanding their activities beyond the micro level.

A scale change relies on the premise that we can no longer content ourselves with laboratory style activities, regardless of their success. This does not mean suppressing every initiative at a district level, but obtaining the wherewithal to surpass this stage and work for and with the majority of society. Changing scale therefore also requires a constructive dialogue between civil society and local authorities.

It was clearly recognized at the outset, that the creative energies of people can be found in the myriad of local initiatives around the world. These initiatives resulted in lessons and solutions for many problems that the State was unable to address. However, deliberate efforts are needed to widen the applicability of these lessons, so that they result in policy initiatives at a city level. There are steps and processes to be followed in order to facilitate such a transformation and the workshop sought to hold brainstorming sessions for a better understanding of these processes.

The objectives of the workshop were :

a) To demystify the ‘scale change’ concept and identify the scale changes needed for a coordinated management of the urban environment,

b) To look at the possible types of partnerships to be forged between various town management actors and help engender sustainable synergy between all city actors,

c) To try and highlight a number of urban management tools, used in different areas of the world, generally based on talents developed by local actors,

d) To focus on what these tools could operate, which could be carried out as part of a global partnership and finally,

e) To focus on the definition, formation and functioning of ‘habitat/urban watches’ in terms of both concept and implementation.

The Bamako Meeting

The workshop had participants from around the world and there was an emphasis on discussions related to practical experiences. The meeting focused specifically on water, sanitation and waste issues as a starting point for tackling the problems of urban poverty. There were field visits organized to places where such efforts were underway and four regional analyses were presented, based on case studies on drinking water supply and domestic waste management.

During the workshop, there was a general understanding that across the world, local governments were unable to meet the civic needs of rapidly increasing urban populations. Those who suffered most were settlements of the poor, and amongst them, women had to carry the greatest burden. It was also understood that the problem was not merely one of a constraint on funds, but that often many of the potential actors were not involved. Also, the enormous scope for drawing on creative local initiatives was perhaps theoretically understood, but was not put into practice. Lessons were drawn from the case studies presented from different regions of the world. The limitations inherent in the top down and mega-scale nature of urban planning became even clearer after these studies were presented. The experiences were “rich, creative, and participatory” and showed how small local initiatives could not only provide the most effective local solutions, but could also present alternatives which could make the management of today’s’ urban settlements and environment far more sustainable. There was a need for change in how urban management is perceived, in order to give local initiatives enough space to influence city planning. A cross analysis of the case studies points out some common lessons and some specific concerns. This paper will present these lessons for debate and discussion. It will also attempt to draw the links between the case studies and the conclusions of the Bamako meeting.

The conclusions of the Bamako meeting were presented in a declaration on 26th June 1998. The recommendations and conclusions were as follow :

Conclusions and Recommendations of the Bamako Declaration

The debates helped to widen the understanding of issues related to partnership between urban development actors and the problem of scale-changing, in a context of social and environmental change in Southern towns. Participants closely examined the difficulties inherent in implementing these objectives and particularly those related to integrated waste management and supply of drinking water; equal access to information -so that all actors can reach the same level with new relationships-, genuine innovative interaction between all actors; mutual recognition and access to basic services for the majority.

The following points were also raised :

  • There is a need to proceed with a systematic capitalization of experiences (experiences which are, in themselves, the basis for a change of scale), to reach an effective social change and a better environmental management.
  • There is a need to support decentralization in order to allow a concerted scale change. Community initiatives should be integrated into new municipal policies. Permanent dialogue should be established between actors promoting these experiences and municipal authorities. Decentralization also offers the opportunity for citizens to extend control over urban environmental management, a control which has previously been the sole domain of technicians, as it is the case in certain Latin American cities. Various solutions can apply to fast growing cities’ problems. The popular sector must link up with the so-called ‘modern’ sector. Various technologies can be chosen and there is a need to integrate initiatives and solutions proposed by these constantly growing habitation sectors.
  • In a context of basic service privatization, social actors must be able to participate. There is a need for coordination between privatization and community initiatives which will arise by setting additional alternative criteria, other than economic profitability. In fact, these new environmental service enterprises are not simply micro-enterprises which are subject to market laws : they constitute decentralized management alternatives which should retain the socio-cultural characteristics which give them their richness.
  • Scale-changing should be accompanied by a process of institutional change, encouraging the participation of other actors. Each actor (town council, NGO, popular actor) should change their relationship with each other. Sustainable development requires social change and therefore, means changing the relationships between actors, adapting institutions, working in a more transparent manner, jointly producing accessible information, exchanging this information, and mutual acknowledgment. Interdisciplinary training which fosters dialogue between actors should strive to integrate the human and cultural dimension into technical and economic issues. Improving the training of inhabitant associations, of NGO/CBO and town council staff, is a priority task for the coming years.
  • A proposal was mooted to create a ‘popular urban watch process’ as a new tool for joint management of the urban environment. As the proposal was interesting, it was decided to conduct a feasibility study on how such a project would be undertaken. A working group will be formed to outline the details of the proposals.
  • The objective will be to develop these popular ‘urban watches’ as reciprocal/bilateral information producing organs (specifically offering a collective structure for popular experiences of coordinated environmental management) and a as a communication framework (between town councils, NGOs and popular movements). The popular urban watches were also created as ‘watchdogs’. These are tools which should result in increasing power for coordinated urban environmental management, or reinforce those already existing. The urban watches are not new institutions, rather, they create the possibility for synergy between all town actors. In particular, NGOs/CBOs sometimes try to do it all rather than share tasks. This, therefore, creates the opportunity to reinforce coordination between existing networks, to continue to produce information, to document innovative experiences, to dialogue and negotiate for change with town councils with the goal of granting inhabitation the resources, management capacity and accessible technology to manage local environmental services. As it was stated before and after the Conference of Istanbul, these experiences create the needed conditions for a social change. It is necessary, however, to continue to develop new approaches and new visions, through which we can change existing institutions, i.e. institutions that currently exclude public participation. It is therefore not always necessary to create new institutions.
  • Conflicts exist. They were discussed about in their cultural, physical and political context. Conflicts are sometimes expressed indirectly and violently, but, in order to bring about significant changes, we must be able to communicate and express these problems. Communication breakdown and frustration are at the root of violence. The frustration of young people and women’s lot hinder sustainable environmental development. We need long term processes (not short term projects/ mechanisms), encouraging work on technical, social, institutional and financial aspects. The hope is that the popular urban watches will take on this role.”


This section will examine each of the regional cross analyses in three parts. The first part will list the salient features of each case study. The second part will examine the cases with reference to the four factors listed below. They are likely to make an important contribution towards the scale change which may be desirable.

1. The degree and nature of community participation,

2. The kinds of partnership which were forged,

3. The kinds of tools used and their replicability,

4. The sustainability of the initiative.

The third part will list some of the common and unique features of the specific case studies.

(The Latin American regional cross analysis, however, was exclusively an analytical synthesis and has therefore only been included in the tabulated format at the end of this document. The lessons presented in the Latin American cross analysis have been included in the general conclusions drawn in this document).

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