Participation and inclusion

Ensuring municipal governments leverage economic growth to address inequality and foster inclusion is a multidimensional challenge. A central facet of urban governance is negotiating the relationships among stakeholders. This can be facilitated by governance frameworks that encourage policy coordination at local and regional levels but also include the voices and participation of the poor.

Given the growth of urban poverty, it is clear that the poor have both an interest and a central role to play in governing urban areas (UN-Habitat, 2013b). The urban poor have, however, largely been excluded from participating in the governance of urban areas, with their interests ignored or only partially addressed in exchange for political support. Large gaps exist between poor and better-off urban residents in terms of access to social, economic and political opportunities (particularly decision-making) and more broadly, their ability to participate in, and leverage, the benefits associated with urban living. This inequity influences a range of issues including gender equality, reductions in child mortality and improvements in reproductive health, education, income, housing and security. Much of this discrepancy has to do with the interrelationship of discrimination, uneven capacity to draw on patronage networks, and urban management and governance.

Fostering inclusive urban governance may contribute to poverty reduction through the development of a stable, cohesive society characterised by high levels of trust and participation. However, the notion of inclusion and the means of achieving it require interrogation (Vinson, 2009):

  • Socially inclusive societies engender increased participation and social cohesion.
  • Political inclusion, through power-sharing agreements, correlates with the consolidation of peace. Conversely, political exclusion may play a decisive role in the recurrence of conflict.
  • Inclusive economic institutions have a significant effect on per capita income.

An underlying narrative assumes social inclusion is inherently good and desirable. Yet the terms of inclusion can be problematic, disempowering or inequitable. Certain groups, such as indigenous peoples, women, children and residents of informal settlements, may find the rhetoric of inclusion and participation often translates into further exclusion (Combaz & Mcloughlin, 2014).