A person zipping up a jacket with rural-urban pattern

Regional integration makes cities stronger


Sustainable and just cities have strong, circular and equitable links with one another in the context of a wider region, supporting both urban and rural areas. They support decentralized and collaborative economic and planning approaches, in which individual responsibility is balanced with the well-being of the region as a whole. These cities are attuned to the interconnected natural and human systems in their region: infrastructure, resource and waste flows, as well as cultural and social behaviours. With growing translocal challenges, cities can reorient goods and services to their nearby surroundings, decreasing environmental impacts and increasing resilience to crises.

Related keys: #Participation  #Knowledge  #Nature 

Enhancing the mutually beneficial development of cities and their regions for the broader purposes of sustainability and justice can be activated by three groups of approaches and goals. The first is to enable dialogue and mutual learning between civil society, the scientific community and policy makers, paying close attention to the inclusion of diverse voices and of knowledge coming from experience. This can take place via Co-learning and knowledge brokerage, Multi-stakeholder partnership - policy, Data Collection, Pathways and scenarios. The second is to support and strengthen innovative governance processes that allow for effective and empowered participation by all stakeholders, for instance via Democratic innovation through recognition, Governance and participation processes or Participatory budgeting. Finally, the third is to ensure that the initiatives and policies that are shaping the territory and people’s mindsets and behaviours can engender learning in a systemic and integral way from interventions, namely in terms of their design, implementation, monitoring, evaluation and adaptation. Some concrete approaches are Community gardens and food, Social food movements, Sustainable food supply chains, Nature-based solutions, Governance for urban climate mitigation and adaptation, and Regeneration of disused urban land

Developing a comprehensive vision of change that can include and integrate aspirations from the regional level down to the local and community level is crucial for achieving greater sustainability and justice. Such a vision needs to go beyond words and actually shape policies, urban planning and small-scale interventions. As such, its implementation needs to come along with capacity- and relationship-building processes to empower it. Building bridges between separate stakeholder groups and Committing to a meaningful participation process are two such governance arrangements. They enable communication and broker information between different stakeholders and within institutions (effectively breaking silos), building up trust, as well as furthering inclusive and decentralised democratic participation.

Seeing cities as interdependent and integrated members of a region addresses the lack of coordinated policy and effective decision-making by urban governance institutions at different scales (Unfit institutional structures (#6)). It also addresses the insufficient, ineffective and limited participation in urban development: Lack of effective knowledge brokerage and stewardship opportunities (#8) and Limited citizen participation in urban planning (#7)). Regional thinking can bring a deeper capacity to listening, planning, intervening and learning in a way that breaks the status quo in terms of both sustainability and justice, especially in regard to decision making for investments and the distribution of resource flows (Uneven and exclusionary urban intensification and regeneration (#4)).

  • https://wiki.sustainablejustcities.eu/Limited_citizen_participation_in_urban_planning"Cities have a role to put inhabitants in direct contact with natural processes to foster care for nature and for each other (e.g. river, agroforestry, food production)"
  • "Cities translate broad strategies (global, European, regional) into reality, yet these strategies are frequently decoupled from local realities and capacities."
  • "Local voices are frequently excluded when it comes to making decisions on regional structures (such as managing natural resources or infrastructure) that influence life in their neighbourhoods."
  • "Most people living in cities have a daily life that is somewhat separated from a direct and conscious experience of big issues like climate change, loss of biodiversity or hunger."  

Inspirational example

Access to natural landscapes, Cascais

The municipality of Cascais, Portugal, took the lead to enable a regional governance scheme for a national park and erode the usual separation of urban and natural areas when it comes to having access to high-value natural and cultural landscapes.

One-third of Cascais’ territory is classified as the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. It is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site for its outstanding natural and cultural landscape value and is managed by national authorities. With more than 14.500 hectares, the reality is that there are many stakeholders for the park -- public and private -- affecting its use and conditions. This complex governance situation usually results in untapped potential in terms of the social fulfilment and well-being of the population in the region, as well as for enhancement of ecosystem services.

Cascais had the political vision and will to initiate a collaborative and proactive governance scheme for the park’s management. It facilitated partnerships between stakeholders to restore its biodiversity and landscapes and to promote responsible and sustainable uses, like recreation. One such example is the Pisão Farm, owned by a social NGO, in which 360 hectares have been restored to merge the natural and cultural values of sustainable forest and agriculture management with landscape and ecosystem restoration. The farm is now a valuable tourism and leisure centre visited by thousands each year.

Sunset at Cascais

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!

Marilyn Hamilton


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