Local, regional and national government leadership
Who can enable and implement this change towards sustainable urban development?
- Discuss other networks and organisations that you know of, in which local governments have come together to learn from each other and advocate for a common goal.
I am Edgardo Bilsky, I am in the headquarters of the UCLG. UCLG is United Cities and Local Governments- local organization of local authorities, we are a global, federal organizations, with sectioned in each region of the world – seven regions and we are represented in 130 countries.
So principally local governments, national local government associations and city members. Sustainable Development Goals Post-2015 agenda- most of its targets, goal and targets should be implemented at local level – that means that local authorities, cities will have particularly role, an important role in implementation of this agenda.
For that we need first of all to create awareness between, in local authorities within our membership and to try to mobilize them to be part of this discussion of the Post-2015 agenda and later to participate actively in implementation to improve the access to basic services, to create jobs, to support local development, to improve the environment and sustainability and all the things that in which local authority’s seats particularly are very much involved.
And then also to get support to daily activities, to promote inclusion, to promote sustainability, to promote development. That is why we consider that an urban SDG will be critical to recognize the role, to mobilize our membership and to mobilize resources and support to the daily work.
If you address a developing, emergent or less developing countries or even developed countries because the capacity of cities, big cities, middle cities, middle-sized cities or little local governments are not the same. In developing countries, as you know in Africa or Russia where most of urban development will take place in the coming 20 years, many local authorities need to not only have the resources and even the capacity to ensure the daily responsibilities. And if there is not a clear support to them we will be confronting in the next decades two very critical situations – development of slums, problem of environment, a jobless and young problems to integrate them in the society.
Then is critical that the international community, national government will be aware that local governments need to be supported and transferring responsibilities to local levels is not so much the case in India where you still have a very centralised system. We need to make a critical effort to support this process, if we want to have a real implementation of the sustainable development agenda.
We need to look to different situations- you have in developed countries the role of local authorities are very much of knowledge, they participate in their daily support, to deliver services, to promote inclusion, to promote local economic development.
In emerging countries there was a big change if you take the example of Brazil, where there was a partnership, a really collaboration between national government and local governments, you can see all the indicators in general – public services, improved access to water, to sanitation, of a better education then I think there is a possibility if local governments are enforced, if they are really participating in the process to improve the capacity of our society, to deliver and to integrate people and particularly the young people, then that is a one of the critical issues.
And we can multiply a lot of examples well of cities participating, even leading some of the solutions to deliver Sustainable Development on Climate Change, local climate action plans, improving transport, improving gas- carbon gas emissions. If there is a visionary leader and you have the resources to do it, they can make the change.
First of all, is for us as global organization of global authorities is a good opportunity to share with different stakeholders, academics, UN agencies, the debate on what are the next step, what are the strategy related to the urban SDGs and all the debate on Sustainable Development Goals. Working with UN-SDSN, UN-Habitat and many of the stakeholders are there on the table, we achieve a big step forward that we need to ensure that the Goal 11 will be approved.
Now, we need to move forward on the implementation. So I guess let’s get going on the question of Melbourne. Melbourne is a remarkable city. It’s one of the most livable cities in the world, it’s been on the rankings for a long time and it’s a wonderful place to walk around, travel by public transport. How did it make its way here?
It wasn’t like that 30-40 years ago. It certainly wasn’t and Melbourne was fairly and staid and somewhat boring place 30 years ago. Hardly anyone lived in the inner city. It was a place that was known to be dead after 6 pm at night.
What changed, I think, was a few factors. The first was migration. That we had people from all around the world coming to live in Melbourne. And I think diversity is absolutely fundamental for cities. It’s getting people from all around the world, different cultures, different skills, that’swhat makes the city that’s changed totally.
That was the first thing. I think the second thing was the community together with the local councils decided that we needed a different sort of Melbourne. One that was probably, more jobs, more opportunities and we know that most of the GDP comes out of the cities.
Well, it comes out of cities because businesses choose to live there and the government at the time, this is going back 20 years or so, saw attracting businesses and people to the city was going to help with that.
The service industries now dominate so in Melbourne – now, Education, finance, tourism are the big industries and that’s I think inevitable; but what’s interesting is that people in businesses are choosing to agglomerate in that Central Business District.
The other thing that’s critical, I think, is livability and it’s really been very much about making up a place where people want to live and critical to that is culture and it’s not just big art centers it’s also buzz and everyday street life. You go around Melbourne now, you see graffiti that’s fantastic; makes the street alive. You see little bars, little coffee shops that are run by entrepreneurs. And it’s safe and open till late at night? Absolutely.
So, what drove it – the businesses, or you know the residential redevelopment; how did that play itself out in practice?
That’s a good question. It’s hard to know which came first, but look I think it’s both. Businesses want to be around other businesses. People do a lot of business after work. Now people going and meeting up and having a drink, or going for a walk or a run or a sport, that’s creating the networks, the links that drives – especially the service industry.
The service industry is all about contacts and networks and skills and shared capacity. So that’s all feeding on itself.
The other thing I started with migration. What we’re seeing now, of course is many more people from Asia – from India, from China, from Indonesia come to study in Australia, but also to work. They’re buying property, they’re buying apartments, their families are coming here, that’s a key driver for Melbourne’s economy. But are they living in the center of the city or are they living sort of somewhere outside – because you have a lot of peripheral development, a fair amount of sprawl also.
That’s the downside of Melbourne. So traditionally, it’s a very sprawling city. It’s a city where most of the new housing was on the fringe, totally unsustainable. That’s what had led to Melbourne being largely a car-based city.
So we’ve got these two processes. In the inner city we’re seeing a great deal of development – more residential development, which is much more sustainable. We’re still seeing too much sprawl at the fringe.
The challenge actually is to get the same level of compact type of city that we’re seeing in the inner city [overlapping chatter] in the middle.
And the challenge there has largely been political; so people living there have often objected to more high-density living and I think that’s really a matter of habit. People just aren’t used to the new types of living. But, as we get more density in some of those middle suburbs, I’m sure you’ll see businesses follow. The transport business requires density, and the cities that have that are the cities that are going to be more successful in the future.
And the other challenge we have in Melbourne is inequality across the city. So, in some areas we have got most of the jobs, very good services, parks, good environment; in other areas we have got far less services and far less jobs and so for Melbourne the big challenge is how do we share the incredible livability we have got, the wealth we have got more equally. Because if we don’t, then that’s a recipe in the long term for conflict and the sort of thing.
So who would address that kind of question? City government? Communities? How do you address the question of inequality in a first-world city in some senses?
Well, it’s few things. First you have got to ensure the services are good and here I think you can say that about our health services. Our health services are pretty equal and they are very good all around the city. But education I think is in our country and in Melbourne, not as fair as it should be.
So we have a very private education bias and frankly, people in the wealthier suburbs get a better education usually than people in the poor suburbs. But then, if you look at things like parks.
You know I was a standard, I was astounded to fly over Melbourne as minister responsible for parks, and just be shocked by how many parks there are in the wealthy areas and there were almost none, in the poorer areas, which happens in many parts of the world. We have a quite a high rate of obesity, we have got a high rate of chronic illness. And, one of the factors that drives that is lack of access for, in some areas, to sporting opportunities.
So what you need to do is that you need to ensure that everyone has access to that. And, you know, at times it might seem expensive but – the cost of obesity, the cost of chronic illness is going to be extraordinary. Our health system here just will not be able to manage that cost in future years.
What about housing? Australia has had historically a fairly progressive policy on social housing and you know integrating communities near where their places of work are. How is that doing in Melbourne at the moment?
Australia and Melbourne has traditionally had a very high rate of home ownership. What we’re seeing now is that it is declining. One of the reasons for that is just the level of housing affordability because houses are getting more and more expensive. There’s certainly social housing and that’s a mix of state government and there are some federal supports for that, but really it’s largely a matter of taxation policy.
And that’s probably the biggest factor so we have a number of taxation incentives for wealthier people essentially to buy property and that’s driving up the price. But state and local government can play a role by ensuring that their planning systems are very efficient, that we don’t have delays which can lead to higher charges. In many cases I think we could be doing more to reduce the massive windfall gains that are made when the land is rezoned. So that you capture some of that, whereas now developers can make huge, huge gains which ends up going on the price of the house.
How do you build resilience into water supply and urban systems? I mean – you have worked on this question?
Water is one of our biggest challenges. We are the driest continent. We’re a place that’s going to be hit harder by Climate Change than most places.
First, we have done it through water conservation – so here in Melbourne we reduced our water use by over 40% per head in a decade. And when I was minister I lead that, the campaign to reduce water use that involved media, social marketing, and behavior change.
Behavior change is a really big part of that process, yeah. Huge part. The key thing there was social norms. I was always amazed that businesses actually saved as much as families and people asked me why was that. Essentially it was the social norm; because if families were saving water, as a business you couldn’t just get away with not saving water.
So I think creating those social norms about valuing water, what I found challenging was that we achieved that and yet we couldn’t achieve that with energy and carbon. I always compared our circumstance with California. Where California had little success in their water saving but, a lot of success in energy. And what drove that was frankly was regulation.
So I think underpinning a lot of these things has to be – smart regulation. In Australia, as in many countries, electricity, utilities are essentially paid for how much energy they produce. Now, obviously, they are going try and get you to use more energy. So, efficiency is never really incentivized. Whereas in the Californian system, they actually embed efficiency in the payment of the utilities. And I guess the conflicts may emerge not only in terms of territorial development but also how the fiscal frame is actually working, where the resources actually flow, who is controlling it.
And you know are there any thoughts about potentially changing that framework or you think the current arrangement works quite well? Look, they could certainly be improved. Changing fiscal frameworks is very, very difficult. Of course, it’s the most difficult thing in politics.
We have tried and every year there is a debate about this. Currently states control hospitals, federal government controls doctor payments. It’s not efficient. We talk about changing it and we don’t resolve it. Similarly, with education. I think, the principle of subsidiarity is important and ensuring that what you actually do is done at the level that is appropriate which in many cases is the lowest level.
The challenge of that though is that the money is not with the local governments. Absolutely it’s at the top and so until you make sure that your revenue rising power matches your actual powers you going to always have these conflicts.
In your experience of working as a politician at the municipal level and then at the state level and then of course engaging internationally with a whole range of things. What do you think there is a need for new politics? Do you think there’s space for it? And what would it look like?
Look I do think that we need to have a new politics that engages the whole community to get community support for the sort of measures we are going to have to take if we are going to be zero carbon, if we are going to not use up resources in the way we are.
So, we have to get community support but I don’t think that’s enough. In some ways, to get to where we need to go, we have to go back to some old politics and one of the key aspects of old politics is regulation. Regulation is a dirty word now, in most western democracies. We’re always looking at ways to cut red tape and certainly we don’t want regulation for the sake of it. But the reality is, many of these sustainability questions – carbon emissions, pollution – are really issues that unless you have clear regulation, the problems are going to get worse.
And I’m afraid my experience as a politician in government was where we had clear regulations, we got action. We got action in the timeframe that was needed. Similarly, in carbon, we’re not going to get there just by holding hands and saying we want a new type of world. We’re going to have to say to some companies that have a vested interest in the current system that they can keep operating the way they are … Now that means you know – a new politics in that I think economic liberalism and what you might say the disenchantment with regulation has to change. I think we have to go back with some clear vision, clear regulation; everyone understands what the rules are. And for a lot of businesses, that’s going to be cheaper if they know the rules they become more efficient, more competitive, it helps them increase their market share, etcetera.
But what do we do about the tough questions? Land, I mean, regulation of land is central to the idea of cities that are you know much more sustainable, have more access to various things that have public transportation and that in some countries is a very difficult thing to try and enable.
Well, it is for historic reasons and of course when we are talking about land, we’re talking about wealth and if of course acess to development. I know from my time working in Timor-Leste probably the biggest impediment to the development was problems of the land system. Where it wasn’t clear who owned the land and therefore you could never develop anything because if you did, people would claim that they owned it.
We have been very fortunate in Australia for well over 100 years to have a very efficient system of title – land title and so, that issue itself isn’t so difficult. But we do have a lot of debate about this through our planning system. What you can do on your land and once again I think at times we’re disinclined to provide the sort of regulation you need to provide a sustainable city.
A sprawling city that just takes up all the [space in] agriculture that is inefficient and unsustainable can’t be where we want to be in this or any other city. But to stop that, we’re going to have to change the planning regulations and not release more and more land on the fringes of the city. Put a real urban boundary around what we do.
The nature of politics is that it is competitive, you’ve got different parties involved. Often the interests of one party maybe, not to reach a solution but to prevent a solution. So one of the first things, I think you have to do is to try to develop a level of bipartisanship about these policies. And one of the best ways to do that is to look to a longer- term vision that everyone can agree with and work back from that.
And in terms of the states – many of the state organisations, utilities that are pretty inefficient – they provide an incentive to the states to sign up providing money if you perform. And, you know I think it is the same on many of the environmental areas – if you provide an incentive, but also you have to meet a target – then your more likely to perform.
So I’m a real believer in targets. I think signing up to long-term agreements are critical. What’s the sort of infrastructure we want? Where do we want to be in 2030? How are we going to get there? So putting in that framework is critical.