A person shaking a piggy bank

We need new ways of funding


Sustainable and just cities take a critical and values-led approach to the accumulation, use and distribution of capital. Individuals and local governments reorient their consumption to value positive social and environmental outcomes. Governments at all levels play a significant role in funding sustainable and just institutions, while divesting from the ones that do not match their values. Ethical procurement and accurate certification (e.g. fair trade, organic) is promoted.

Alternative financial practices and instruments respond to the need for and the wish to build regenerative, equitable and democratic economies. One innovative approach to new ways of funding is participatory budgeting, a democratic process in which community members decide how to spend part of a public budget. The approach gives people real power over real money. It creates opportunities for citizens to directly participate and engage in policy debates and funding, promotes transparency and provides historically excluded citizens access to important decision-making venues. Other approaches that activate this key are Crowdsourcing, Beyond GDP indicators, Right to Housing, and Sharing and Cooperatives for Urban Commons

The governance arrangement that best enables this key is “developing resilient and self-sufficient financial arrangements,” which puts initiatives less at risk of failure or severe hardship when funding sources disappear. For example, many communities’ initiatives heavily rely on public funding which, as we saw with the Covid-19 pandemic, could become less stable in times of austerity or shifting of political priorities. More resilient financial arrangements involve considering and mitigating these risks where possible. However, these finance sources should be aligned with the values of the initiative, alongside its environmental and social goals.

This key challenges the driver of injustice “neoliberal growth and austerity urbanism,” in that it acts against privatization, commercialization, budget cuts and state withdrawal from various sectors. It also works to overcome the ideology of unfettered economic growth, which often aligns with austerity policies. This key also directly addresses the driver of injustice “material and livelihood inequalities” as urban sustainability efforts reflect the distribution of economic resources, and can therefore reinforce or work to address unjust outcomes. This key also addresses limited citizen participation in urban planning, in which residents have little say in how public money is spent, and unfit institutional structures, which manifests when public offices and administrations stand in the way of developing fitting financial schemes that truly enable sustainable and just cities.    

  • We need to explore more ways of public funding for the urban commons.
  • Residents need to have a say in how public money is spent.
  • There should be more financial opportunities for communities and residents who want to engage in making their neighbourhoods more just and sustainable.

Inspirational example

Inclusive waste management, Rzgow

In 2017, the Municipality of Rzgow (Poland) launched a procurement tender, which aimed at coupling their sustainability waste management plan with social inclusion.

The City announced a reserved tender procedure which would award marginalized groups with a contract for waste management. In this tender, marginalized groups were persons falling in one (or more) out of several categories: Unemployed persons, persons deprived of liberty of released from prisons, persons with mental disorders, homeless persons, persons granted refugee status or persons belonging to disadvantaged minorities. The tender also included environmental requirements, such as standards for recycling, recovery and reuse in line with the local sustainability plan. The tender was won by Komunalka Rzgów, a local social cooperative employing long-term unemployed people and people with disabilities. The main activity of the cooperative was to be responsible for the collection and sorting of waste. This example shows how cities can take ownership of their funding and re-channel money towards initiatives that centre environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive activities. 

You can read more about this inspirational example here (p. 174).

Refuse collectors at work

Avenues for action

You might be wondering, what everyday actions can I take to put all this theory into practice? Take a look at the avenues for action, below, for some practical guidance.

Get inspired!

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