UN-Habitat’s Urban Legislation Unit

BY: Gianluca Crispi, UN Habitat
March 2014

UN-Habitat recognises urban law as one of the foundations of effective urban management and development. Well formulated law based on sound policy supports effective implementation. It creates a stable and predictable framework for both public and private sector action, and can guarantee the inclusion of the interests of vulnerable groups while also providing a catalyst for local and national discourse.

UN-Habitat works with partner countries and local governments to support the improvement of their law making processes as they affect the urban environment. This may involve the reform or development of a particular tool or a broader review of the urban legal framework, as well as sharing information and experiences among countries.

Drawing upon its mandate, UN-Habitat has recently re-stated its view of the Urban Development Paradigm, including that:

  • Robust legislative frameworks must underpin all planning;
  • On-going dialogue between legislation, policy and planning is necessary to ensure relevance, innovation and capacity to meet the future challenges facing cities;
  • Development and planning must be clearly and unequivocally rights-based; and
  • Since local governments provide an exciting entry point for change, they should be encouraged to create enabling regulations.
  • UN-Habitat also believes that ‘rights based’ legislation can help promote participation and the Agency is, therefore, committed to the everyday involvement of urban dwellers in the development decisions and planning outcomes that affect their daily lives.

UN-Habitat’s work on Urban Law operates on several levels:

  1. Developing programmes among UN-Habitat branches and offices, as well as other partners, to deliver integrated packages of assistance for urban development.
  2. The development of innovative approaches, tools and methodologies to particular problems in urban law reform.
  3. The creation and sharing of information about urban law.

In undertaking this work, UN-Habitat places a priority on practical interventions that are tailored to national and local contexts and needs. Of necessity, these priorities depend upon effective partnerships with local authorities, local experts and affected communities.

UN-Habitat aims to support local and national governments and respond to their requirements and aspirations to incrementally improve their urban legal frameworks while also developing innovative solutions to shape future urban development.

Some of the Urban Legislation Unit’s current projects and activities include:

  • Understanding the role of the law in planning and land readjustment and what this means for practical urban development
  • In Kenya, the Unit has recently completed an analysis of the country’s new constitution (2010) and the implications for planning with the City of Kisumu as a specific case study.
  • In Medellin, Colombia, the Unit is working with other sections of UN-Habitat on a global pilot to develop a more sustainable and inclusive land readjustment process and outcome. The Unit has recently completed an analysis of the legal framework for this global pilot outlining the implications of national and municipal laws for undertaking land readjustment that results in a more participatory process and inclusive outcome. The results will influence the development in Medellin and key lessons will be used to inform the global pilot methodology.
  • In Egypt, Rwanda and Mozambique, National and city level analysis of urban laws, particularly for land readjustment have also been completed.
  • How do local governments make laws and what are the implications for urban development? The Unit is currently undertaking a global project focussing on gathering case studies from both developing and developed cities from around the world to understand how local governments made laws and what can be done to improve their capacity and impact on urban development. Case studies are from Ghana, Kenya, Portugal, the United Kingdom and Australia.
  • Promoting urban law as an important component of sustainable and inclusive urban development
  • The Urban Legal Network (ULN) has been launched and a ‘ULN’ website developed. Check out www.gltn/uln.net to get involved in a global discussion on urban law.
  • Ever wondered where you can find a good source of actual urban laws? Keep an eye out for HabLex!!! HabLex is UN-Habitat’s virtual library of urban law that is currently being developed for launch at WUF 2014 in Medellin Colombia. Watch www.unhabitat.org/hablex.

In partnership with the University of London’s Institute of Applied Legal Studies, UN-Habitat will co-host, in March 2014, an ‘Urban Law day’ with post graduate and graduate students to promote an understanding of urban law and its critical role in urban development. IALS has a significant proportion of students from developing countries participating in its graduate and under-graduate program so this event is aimed at getting more legal minds thinking about urban law.

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