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Citizen participation is vital for urban progress in Istanbul

October 20, 2010

Hector Mendoza, MPA is very cool, very smart, and very accommodating in letting us post his work. He runs a website where he posts some of his academic writings that you should probably check out.

I had a massive computer failure and all of my notes to write from have been destroyed. Sad face. So my posting will be light and in lieu of it, I’ll post some things Hector has written. And we’d also like to start emphasizing the academic face of our blog, so if you have something you’d like to contribute, please e-mail us at contact [at] istanbulalti.com

For cities to prosper and make a serious impact in resolving urban dilemmas, democratic elements such as citizen participation, government transparency, and network partnerships are the key ingredients for urban governance.  Urban governance is a

“Perspective on urban politics directs the observer to look beyond the institutions of the local state and to search for processes and mechanisms through which significant and resource-full actors coordinate their actions and resources in the pursuit of collectively defined objectives.  Obviously, urban governance for the most part displays a significant degree of centrality for political institutions in these processes…Urban governance makes no prejudgment about the cast of actors involved in shaping the urban political agenda, nor does it make any assumptions about the normative direction and objectives of the ‘governing coalition’ “ (Pierre, 2005, p. 452).

Unfortunately, cities such as Istanbul, San Salvador, Port-au-Prince, and Mexico City, do not have strong framework of urban governance, and with my experience living abroad, I can understand why.  Living in Istanbul and comparing it to New York City, the laws of the city, which is a reflection of the national government, are not based on civil rights.  Turkey is filled with internal conflict such as the government not recognizing the Kurdish population, the on-going struggle in resolving the issues facing gecekondu population, and the conflict between Islam and secularism.  Instead of cooperating in developing dialogue between stakeholders, Istanbul is heavily polarized between ethnicity, class, and religious belief.
In New York City, there are strong visible elements of urban governance.  An example is the city community outreach board, which represents the city’s local districts at each borough, which is part of the city council.  What make these boards unique is the composition of individuals from all sectors of society that is involved within the democratic process of representation and participation.  Furthermore, what makes the NYC frame work a great example of urban governance is the history of the civil rights movement and the Federal government’s dedication in implementing civil rights laws.  For a city like Istanbul, it is important that the city government create strong city alliances to truly be the 2010 European Capital of Culture.  By improving the urban organization framework by letting all interested parties to define priorities, Istanbul’s new urban paradigm should focus on “1) facilitate dialogue between local authorities and all urban stakeholders; 2) foster partnerships between the private and the public sectors, and between associations and civil society; and 3) jump-starting an action plan to be implemented jointly by those in charge and the community” (Pleyan and Bolay, 2004, p. 2).  In implementing this paradigm, government becomes open and available to all sectors of society, thus creating trust between all stakeholders.    Furthermore, with the government caring for their “neighbor”, it also enhances the “well-being of the citizenry” in meeting to answer their concerns.
For Urban Governance to work efficiently, the role of government is still a critical factor in coordinating all involved stakeholders to work together.  The urban network needs to “organize vertically and to work horizontally…if government officials [and other stakeholders] fight over the baton instead of finding an effective orchestra conductor, Americans [or the concern population] will needlessly suffer in any wicked problem” (Kettl, 2006, p. 279).  Furthermore, stability is critical for all public networks, “but it is particularly appropriate for service implementation networks that serve vulnerable populations of adults and children for whom disruption of service is particularly harmful” (Milward and Provan, 2006, p. 12).  Hence, the 3Cs (which are cooperation, coordination, and collaboration) are important for a network to be stable.  Coordination, which involves “strategies that require information sharing as well as joint planning, decision-making and action between organizations” (Brown and Keast, 2003, p. 116), is what makes a network operate, but commitment is the most important element.  Commitment ensures that relations “are not based solely on the personal ties of a single individual in each network organization, but that, instead, participating organizations commit resources and personnel to the relationship in ways that go beyond a single individual” (Milward and Provan, 2006, p. 24).  The sad reality is that not all stakeholders within a network will put the same level of commitment when it comes to participation.  To eliminate free-riders, it is important for the network manager to discuss the importance of their full participation to the network or risk facing harm to the involved organization’s reputation within the community.  In addition, the same goes for the government to be committed to social policies rather economic ones.  Social goals “can easily be given up to meet economic expectations and the original project aims can be subject to retransformation with external effects of renewal in time” (Dundar, 2001, p. 400).  If the government goes off course to its commitment, it will further strain relations with their constituencies, which will take a long time to repair.
In having partnerships between stakeholders, it can avoid neglecting the different stakeholders within the urban network.  Without developing communication, it creates a hostile environment within the city.  An example is the Paris riots of 2006 where certain sectors of the minority population vented violently due to the neglect they received from the rest of society and the local government.  With government being open and committed, the city can prosper greatly similar to New York City.  For Istanbul, the issue of the gecekondus and the integration of the Kurdish population can be resolved in establishing a communication and a partnership.

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