Urban legislation has proven to be far from perfect. The experience of several countries shows that it often suffers from misguided assumptions or overambitious expectations, inadequate appraisal of costs and consequences, unrealistic expectations and severe gaps between legislation and reality. For example, planning laws are often outdated, irrelevant and inappropriate for the contexts within which they operate. Laws that fail to make land available in pace with rapid urbanization, result in insufficient land supply, increases in land prices and slum formation. Laws that are not in line with the needs of the people and local socio−economic realities such as urban poverty and informality result in high degrees of non−compliance and in a loss of credibility for the planning system, not to mention their selective application in favour or specific groups or elites. Other common problems include regulatory barriers that limit opportunities in formal land markets, exacerbate inequality and discourage investments, laws with high compliance costs and laws that are not enforced and implemented.
The objective of the Essential Law Programme is to promote a better formulated and more transparent legal framework for urban development. The emphasis lies on the establishment of a basic system of regulations and rules that provide a solid and predictable long-term framework for urban development that can be built upon, and that is adequate to real needs, real capacity and available resources. The different areas of urban law that the Programme has covered are: urban planning and design, public space, land, slum upgrading and housing, climate change, and basic services. In these areas, the programme has developed knowledge products and tailored legal assessment tools to identify and analyse the strengths and weaknesses of legislation in a structured, objective and systematic way to support legal reforms.