In 2008, a historic milestone was achieved when the global population living in cities and towns reached the 50% mark thus making urban centers the dominant habitat of mankind. Urbanization is taking place at a fast pace especially in developing countries where already 70% of the world’s urban population currently lives, and is today one of the most important global trends of the 21st century.
When viewed as a tool for development, urbanization and urban centers can be used to drive economic growth, create wealth, and spur development and prosperity. However, if cities are to play their role as engines of national economic and social development, a number of challenges associated with rapid urbanization have to be addressed effectively. These challenges include:
- Demographic challenges including increasing demand for basic urban services,
- Environmental challenges that can lead to urban sprawl and unplanned peri-urbanization,
- Socio-spatial challenges such as urban poverty and social inequalities,
- Economic challenges like uncertain growth and informality, and
- Institutional challenges related to governance and the changing roles of local government.
The Liberia Urban Context
Liberia’s urban population in 2008 comprised 47% of the total population of 3.5 million with an annual urban population growth rate of 4.7%. Forecasts now suggest that out of a total population of approximately 4 million, more than half of the population (2.1 million) resides in urban areas.
Monrovia, the capital city of Liberia, has felt the greatest impact of urbanization in Liberia. The civil strife of the 1990s expanded the population of the city to more than 1 million by 2010. More than 40% of Liberia’s urban population now lives in the Greater Monrovia area. Unplanned urbanization resulted in the proliferation of slums, with an estimated 70% of Monrovia’s population currently living in slum conditions.
In Monrovia as well as the other secondary cities in Liberia, poor or non-existent enforcement of building and planning codes has resulted in haphazard development and environmental degradation, with the attendant consequences on human health and safety. Congestion and uncontrolled development has also led to the lack of basic urban services for more than half of urban residents.
Urban governance in Liberia has not been given much policy and legal priority in the past. Municipal authorities across the country are still largely unable to respond to urbanization challenges effectively or plan for future urban growth due to low capacity and poor resources. City councils do not have development plans, and where they do, they do not have sufficient technical and financial resources to implement them. This has resulted in low productivity, low investment and little physical development in most of the secondary cities.
The government has in recent years addressed a number of urban governance issues through legislation and policy. Since 2012, the government has also embarked on the implementation of a National Policy on Decentralization and Local Governance. The policy seeks to ultimately bring planning and decision making closer to the people by devolving political, administrative and fiscal authority to local governments.
The Local Government Bill (2013) is part of the implementation plan for decentralization and provides for an inclusive and participatory system of governance through the decentralization of political, administrative and fiscal governance to elected local government bodies including municipal authorities.
The National Housing Policy (2014) recognizes rapid urbanization and poor urban infrastructure as the major causes of the housing deficit and recommends incremental basic services infrastructure and slum upgrading and prevention strategies among other initiatives to improve the housing situation in urban areas.
Background: National Urban Conference 2010
A National Urban Conference in Liberia was held at the SKD Sports Complex, Paynesville on 6 – 8 October 2010. It was sponsored by the Land Commission, Ministry of Internal Affairs, UN-Habitat and the Carter Center, and was conceived as a precursor for the local implementation of the two UN-Habitat global campaigns, good urban governance and security of tenure.
The conference provided a platform for urban stakeholders and residents to identify, discuss, and recommend actions to improve urban land administration and management, urban governance, urban planning and urban basic services delivery. The conference recommended measures that could help to address the imbalances in the country’s urbanization trends.
One of the resolutions of the conference was to hold a National Urban Forum annually to coincide with the annual observance of World Habitat Day. However, no National Urban Forum has been held since 2010 mainly due to lack of funding.
National Urban Forum 2015
A national urban forum has been chosen to take the agenda for sustainable urbanization in Liberia forward. This first National Urban Forum is now scheduled to be held in June 2015. The Forum is funded by Cities Alliance and UN-Habitat and will be hosted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Monrovia City Corporation and the Land Commission.
The Forum will facilitate the sharing of knowledge and experiences among national stakeholders including decision makers, technicians, urban managers and ordinary citizens, as well as international partners. The Forum will also endeavor to produce tangible outputs that will support the urban agenda beyond the Forum. The key issues to be addressed by the Forum are:
- National urban policy: The main aim of the Forum is to establish a road map for the formulation of a national urban policy. A national urban policy is central to sustainable urbanization as it coordinates the work of different sectors and tiers of government, establishes the incentives for more sustainable practices and allocates resources accordingly. The forum will develop a road map for a National Urban Policy formulation process.
- Urban governance: The actions necessary to address the challenges of urbanization and to take advantage of the opportunities offered by cities can only be implemented at the local level. Accordingly, the Forum will emphasize the role of local government, particularly municipal authorities, as key players in sustainable urbanization.
- Urban legislation: Strengthening urban legislation and governance including municipal finance shapes organizational structures that underpin the process of urbanization and achieves the right balance between different levels of government. The Forum will discuss certain aspects of the Local Government Bill that is currently before the Legislature.
- Liberia National Habitat Report: A National Habitat Committee was established in 2014 to prepare a national report on the issues and challenges for a new urban agenda for the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III). The report will be validated at a validation workshop in April 2015 and will be presented at the Forum for endorsement.
- Monrovia City Program: Cities Alliance will support the Monrovia City Corporation through the Monrovia City Program for social and economic recovery from the effects of the EVD outbreak. The program has a long term goal of improving the living and working conditions of urban slum dwellers. The program details will be presented at the Forum in an effort to foster consensus among stakeholders and city residents.
- National Housing Policy: Following a national housing profiling exercise conducted in 2013, the National Housing Authority completed a draft National Housing Policy in 2014. The main features of the draft policy will be presented at the Forum for endorsement.
In addition, the Forum will showcase innovative tools in urban data gathering, settlement profiling and slum upgrading from project experiences in the region.
The objectives of the Forum are:
- To strengthen partnerships and forge a common agenda between state and non-state actors in the development of a national urban policy
- To discuss of the place of secondary cities in Liberia’s urban settlement hierarchy and the role of municipal authorities (city corporations) in the local governance system in the context of the decentralization policy and the Local Government Bill
- To induct the National Habitat Steering Committee and endorse the National Habitat Report
- To present the Monrovia City Program, and build consensus on the city’s development strategy
- To share knowledge, international experiences and lessons in the conduct of participatory urban data collection, settlement profiling and slum upgrading processes
- Present the key features of the draft National Housing Policy
The expected outputs of the Forum are:
- A road map for the development of a National Urban Policy
- Recommendations for better municipal governance under the Local Government Act and in support of the decentralization policy
- Endorsement of the National Habitat Report for Liberia
- Validation of the Monrovia City Program
- A final report of the National Urban Forum