What role for mayors in good city governance?
The last 10 years have brought more attention to the role of mayors in development. Mayors generally head the political and administrative parts of urban governments so what they do and think influences government policies and practices. Many mayors have been important for poverty reduction, as their attitudes towards or relations with low-income groups and their settlements influence the possibilities of these groups getting or building housing, being able to pursue livelihoods and having access to water, sanitation, health care and schools. Successful mayors have balanced the need to attract new investment and support business expansion with good social and environmental policies; many have made government agencies more responsive and accountable to citizens, with particular attention to allowing more voice and influence to low-income groups or other groups that generally have little influence. But many mayors remain hostile to the informal enterprises and settlements that provide the homes and livelihoods for much of their population; indeed they may view these as constraints on development. In many nations, mayors’ capacity to act is severely constrained by higher levels of government and by long-established traditions of clientelism or corrupt practices within local government. In many low-income nations, it is constrained by very inadequate funds available for investment in relation to deficits in infrastructure and service provision. The nations where mayors have had positive roles in development are mostly nations where local government reforms have strengthened the capacities of city and municipal governments while also increasing their transparency and accountability to their citizens.
This Brief is based on the editorial from Environment and Urbanization Vol 21, No 1, April 2009, which was on the theme of City Governance and Citizen Action