This is an old version of our website and it is no longer updated. For more updated information, please check our new website


Governance high resolution

Governance is the enabling environment that requires adequate legal frameworks, efficient political, managerial and administrative processes to enable the local government response to the needs of citizens.It can be defined as the many ways that institutions and individuals organize the day-to-day management of a city, and the processes used for effectively realizing the short term and long-term agenda of a city’s development. Urban governance is the software that enables the urban hardware to function. Effective urban governance is characterized as democratic and inclusive; long-term and integrated; multi-scale and multilevel; territorial; proficient and conscious of the digital age.

Local governments are instrumental in urban governance

Strong and capable local governments are the key levers to ensure inclusive and sustainable urban development, accountable and transparent city management, and a dynamic multi‐stakeholder engagement.They have the proximity and legitimacy, in most countries of the world, to effectively, manage, govern and lead the development ofthe city.

UN-Habitat works at empowering local governments as pivotal actors of urban governance, by improvingtheir capacities related tourban planning, local finances and budgeting, public asset management, e-governance and open government, data gathering and fostering other stakeholders’ participation. In doing so, our work is oriented towards the strengthening of institutional capacities and local leadership skills.

Effective multilevel governance is the overarching prerequisite for urban governance,which should be characterized by well-defined spheres of government (national, regional and local) and based on appropriate decentralization policies.It calls for a balanced distribution of resources and responsibilities between the different spheres of government, enabled by legal and financial instruments that take into account the key principle of subsidiarity. UN-Habitat work focuses on the establishment of permanent structures of dialogue between the local and central governments on one side, and the public and private sectors, on the other.

Institutionally and financially sustainable local governments

Urban governance mostly rests at the hands of local governments who have the responsibility to provide affordable, reliable and quality basic services and to ensure equitable urban citizenship. To be able to “do their job”, local government need good public financial management systems to ensure that public services reach all, including the urban poor. As presented in the, local governments should work along with national governments and public, private and the informal sector in order to achieve these objectives. Effective provision of services needs also to be coupled with national urban and territorial policy that promotes a strong system of cities and balanced territorial development.

Legal and institutional framework at the metropolitan level is also the enabling condition that leads to a dynamic, sustainable and equitable urban future. Metropolitan governance arrangements require adjusting the distribution of power and resources to match the reality of where people live and work (functional urban areas), while helping to address externalities and spillover issues and creating synergies to boost metropolitan development.

Sustainability of local public action relies also on the integration of different spheres of government and a wide range of participating actors—formally or informally—in policy formulation and implementation.Local governments are key facilitators of participation processes, responsible for creating an enabling environment for all actors. Urban governance is inextricably linked to the welfare of the citizenry: it must enable women and men, youth,ethnic minorities, the urban poor and other disadvantaged groups to access the benefits of urban citizenship.As such, local governments are bound to facilitate and promote inclusiveness, civic engagement and effective participation of the civil society in city management.


Transparent and accountable local governments

With the devolution of powers, responsibilities and budgets, local governments are playing a greater role in designing policies and delivering key public services often within a context of weak institutional and governance structures. As a result, some sectors and services are prone to corruption and misappropriation, and thus to inefficient and mismanaged administration. Consequently, there is a tangible effect on the quality of services, eroding public trust in the accountability and merits of government. Transparency and accountability are essential for cities today as the essential means to create the necessary trust with the citizens.

As governing without the citizen has become an almost impossible alternative, local governments need to communicate better and to understand the needs of their constituency. On the other end, citizens across the world are also requesting better instruments to control that public administration is efficient and accountable.

Opportunities for a more regular and direct way for citizens to participate in the development, control and monitoring of the formulation, spending and performance of public policies are higher at local level. In that way, local governments should facilitate and promote such scenarios and thus take advantage of the enormous potential of SMART technologies. UN-Habitat encourages innovative, transparent and accountable interfaces between governments, civil society and the private sector (Uraia network) to make public interest and municipal innovation the driving force behind the deployment of information technologies.


Local governments in global agendas

UN-Habitat is the focal point in the UN system for local and territorial governments. We work with local governments and their associations, to reinforce their capacities and to raise awareness at the global level about their important role to achieve sustainable development. We support UNACLA, the United Nations Advisory Committee of Local Authorities, as a representational body of the main local government networks with a purpose of bringing their voice and perspectives to the UN System.

With the Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments, which gathers all main local government networks and its partners, we aim together at advocating for an increased recognition of the pivotal role of local governments in sustainable development. We support the ‘localization’processes, to contribute to the definition implementation and monitoring of the main global agendas in their local dimension (2030 Agenda for Sustainable development, Addis Ababa Action Agenda, Paris Agreement on Climate Change, New Urban Agenda).


To read more about Governance – Issue paper Urban Governance and Policy paper Urban Governance, Capacity and Institutional Development of Habitat III process.

 Learn about UN-Habitat’s National Urban Policies Initiative


Main Menu