Panel Two: Urban Management, Planning, Managing Performance, and Community Engagement

The presenters Roxanne Qualls, former mayor of Cincinnati, and Jerry Newfarmer, CEO of urban planning consultancy Management Partners, based their presentation on extensive experience in urban planning and management in the United States of America. Since an appreciation of the specific context is crucial for giving advice, their aim was to highlight key historical and institutional arrangements that underlie urbanisation in the US.

The presentation was structure as follows:

US context

Power sharing and local government

Managing performance for effective implementation of vision, strategies and goals

Local master planning for urbanisation

Engaging people and communities

The focus on local government in the United States is to provide services for the citizenry. There are a variety of taxes that provide the resources for these services and locally financed infrastructure, including income tax, property tax, sales tax and various user fees and charges. Where necessary, grants and loans complement that income and debt can be used for infrastructure development. Sharing of resources mainly occurs between state and local level rather than with the federal government. To enhance the economic development potential, business promotion and public-private partnerships – both in housing construction and redevelopment – are employed.

There is no central performance evaluation of local government. In view of the multitude of institutional arrangements that have developed in the country, best practice sharing and benchmarking are the major vehicles of policy dissemination across the country, with effective policies quickly adapted in localities across local and state borders. The comparative perspective with other local government bodies is often complemented by user surveys that gauge citizens’ opinions of the quality and scope of services provided in order to identify areas for reform and improvement.

The master plan of Kigali already had forerunners in the US as early as 1791 for Washington D.C., 1811 for Manhattan and 1871 for Chicago following that city’s great fire. Despite the difference in time horizon, the challenges faced by early American urban centres are similar to those of present-day low-income cities: mass migration, lack of infrastructure and public health problems that resulted in regular epidemics.

A key issue in US urban history that offers valuable lessons for developing cities is urban sprawl. A lack of public transport infrastructure and the incentive of municipalities near urban centres to develop land for residential construction in order to raise municipal revenues has resulted in unbalanced land use. The result is extensive building that leads to high infrastructure construction and maintenance cost as well as long transport times to work places in city centres. At the same time, the neglect of urban regeneration has led to the declining city centres attractiveness for residential use and an inefficient pattern of land use. However, new approaches of mixed residential-commercial land use, more emphasis on public transport and the limitation of land for development have borne fruit, for example in the case of Portland, Oregon.