Partnerships for livable cities

Book by Ank Michels (Utrecht University) and Cor van Montfort (VU, Tilburg)

Boek cover Partnerships for Livable Cities

What makes cities livable? And how can partnerships of governing bodies, the private sector and societal parties contribute to this? For the book Partnerships for Livable Cities, edited by Ank Michels (Utrecht University) and Cor van Montfort (VU University Amsterdam and Tilburg University), scientists in various disciplines from all over the world examined the various forms that public-private partnerships can take.

From Cape Town to Rio de Janeiro, from Sydney to Singapore, from Nairobi to Tilburg, and beyond. They focused on greenery in the city, safety and affordable housing. With a toolbox, the researchers also provide policy makers with concrete tools. ‘When we talk about livability, it's about what affects people directly,' says public governance expert Ank Michels, 'and all cities in the world are currently very concerned with livability.’

Nairobi, de wijk Parklands
Nairobi, de wijk Parklands

The livability of our cities is becoming increasingly relevant and urgent. The world’s cities are becoming congested and polluted, putting pressure on the quality of the environment, affordable housing and causing safety to become a major problem. Urban governments are unable to address these major challenges on their own, and thus they seek cooperation with other governments, companies, civil society organisations, and citizens in the form of partnerships.

By focusing on examples such as greenery in the city, affordable housing, safety, neighbourhood revitalization, and ‘learning by doing’ in urban living labs, the researchers in Partnerships for Livable Cities ask two important questions. How do partnerships between public and private actors contribute to the livability of cities? Under what conditions are partnerships successful, and when do they fail to yield the desired results?

Adapt to dynamic developments

‘What we see very clearly,' says Ank Michels, 'is the dynamic character of partnerships. There has been a lot of experimentation with  formal forms of public-private partnerships. But this sometimes created a situation that what was laid down in  those contracts, no longer suited the situation. It didn't work everywhere. We show that many other forms of partnerships can succeed precisely because they are more informal and better suited to fit the situation. A more flexible character, being able to move with the given circumstances is very important.

Sometimes there can also be tensions between what makes a city more livable. You can build parks and people will feel happy. At the same time, this can also have an effect on feelings of unsafety. And: a greener and nicer city can lead to higher prices for housing and thus to less affordable housing for lower- income groups (resulting in gentrification).’

You can create parks and that create a sense of wellbeing. At the same time, people can also feel less safe there.

Wide variety in partnerships

The researchers analysed partnerships in Cape Town, Nairobi, Sao Paolo, Toronto, Tilburg, Seoul, Eindhoven, Fukushima, Turin and Dublin and describe a wide range of types in Partnerships for Livable Cities.

Partnerships can vary from informal to very formal (including agreements, contracts, etc.). Sometimes the distinction between public and private organisations is not so clear at all. ‘In the beginning we made a nice triangle model with civil society, government and private businesses as the key actors,' says Michels, 'but in China, for example, private parties are in fact  public parties, where the state is the owner.

Sao Paolo, Brazilië, district Parque Grajau
Sao Paolo, Brazilië, district Parque Grajáu

Partnerships are not static and change over time,' she continues. What seems to work well at one moment, can fail at the next. There are, for example, many citizens' initiatives that collaborate with civil society organisations. If these no longer function well over time, the government often joins forces to keep the partnerships alive, to regulate them and sometimes formalise them. ‘Form follows function’ is what we’ve named it.

If you make the partnership entirely dependent on citizens and societal parties, you’re making a great appeal to society. Sometimes money is needed. Agreements have to be made between organisations, they cannot do that on their own. Partnerships may also rely too much on the deployment of volunteers. Sometimes citizens no longer find the time or the motivation to participate and then the initiative has to be organised in a different way, in order to endure. You see this development everywhere.’

Important role for governing bodies

What are the key elements in the contribution of public-private partnerships to a more livable urban environment?

  • A clear commitment of all parties to the same goal
  • The importance of the (institutional) context
  • The important role of governments

‘When we talk about ‘greenery’ or ‘climate’ it does of course matter which city we are talking about,’ says Michels. ‘There are cities where drought is very important, while in the Netherlands we sometimes have to react to heavy rains. The same applies to the economic situation. There is poverty and corruption in South Africa – a very different situation from that in a prosperous country where the government is more reliable.

Straat in Seoel, Zuid-Korea
Straat in Seoel, Zuid-Korea

The institutional context can also vary widely. In Asia, when people talk about citizens’ participation, it has a different meaning. By definition, this does not go as far as in Western countries. In the West, this is being discussed  in a very normative way, as if what we see in South Korea, for example, hardly has significance. But it does mean something there. That also makes the comparison complicated. If you’re wondering how partnerships contribute to a more livable environment, you should always take the sensitivity to the institutional context into account.

Worldwide, however, everywhere governments  play an important role. Facilitating, regulating or financing. If a partnership is to be successful, government always plays one role or another. This can take very different shapes,’ explains Michels. ‘For example, both Sydney and Singapore are very livable cities, while Singapore is an authoritarian state where everything is determined from above and Sydney is much more democratic in that respect. In the given situation you have to find the right combination’.

The state can play a role in very different ways. For example, both Sydney and Singapore are considered highly liveable cities, while Singapore is quite an authoritarian state and Sydney is more democratic.

Not one answer but a set of questions

The researchers concluded that there is not just one ideal way to achieve a successful public-private partnership. That is why they put together a toolbox for those involved in such partnerships. This toolbox does not contain ‘the’ answer but a set of evaluation or design questions that you can ask afterwards, and at the same time also contains elements that you can go over if you want to get started.’

Meer informatie

Boek cover Partnerships for Livable Cities

Partnerships for Livable cities is out now at Palgrave Macmillan
Hardcover, also available as e-book

Van Montfort, Cor, Michels, Ank (Eds.)
ISBN 978-3-030-40060-6

Do you have any questions about this book? Please contact Ank Michels. Ank Michels.