Thinking the city strategically

Thinking the city strategically

After decades in which city planning was equivalent to spatial urban planning, cities strategic thinking has evolved towards a holistic approach in which citizens' participation and multidisciplinary analysis are intrinsic elements when thinking the future of a city.

The production of master plans which extended over several years and were rarely implemented due to the large gap between theoretical thinking a day-to-day life left room for the new approach of urban sustainable development strategies.

Today, the way we think and act on urban issues is the cumulative result of some three decades of assessments, studies and practices, rights and wrongs.

Three elements are crucial when thinking a city strategically:

  • Local authorities are central to the design and concrete realization of the urban development process.
  • The participation of local actors (elected officials, associations, citizens, administrations, etc.) is a sine qua non to the success of the urban development project.
  • Public-Private Partnerships at national and international levels are seen as key elements for the implementation of action plans resulting from urban development projects.

As defined by the Asian Development Bank, a City Development Strategy is "as action plan for equitable growth in a city, developed and sustained through public participation to improve the quality of life for all citizens. The goals include a collective city vision and an action plan to improve governance and management, increasing investments to expand employment and services, and systematic and sustained programs to reduce poverty. A city is expected to drive the process and local ownership is essential. […] A CDS is focused on the process of change. […] A CDS is focused on a city as the unit of analysis… A CDS helps a city to make the most of its strengths and opportunities, […] improve its competitive position and thus contribute more to national development".


A CDS is thus:

  1. A leadership instrument that enables local decision-makers to have a clear vision of the development of their city and to mobilize public and private actors to build ownership to this vision.
  2. A participatory tool that offers the possibility of involving all urban actors who will contribute one way or another to the development of their city.
  3. A broad-spectrum multi-sectoral development tool that may be used to address all urban issues: economic, political, social, environmental, etc.
  4. More than a social and economic plan. It is inherently local and linked very closely to urban planning. Through its long-term perspectives, it complements legal spatial planning tools.
  5. A strategic planning tool. It allows implementing short-term actions as part of a long-term strategy.


Urban Sustainable Development in the Mediterranean region

The Mediterranean region has several specificities that need to be taken into account when developing urban sustainable development strategies. Some of the most relevant are:

  • Rich and centuries-old urban development.
  • Growing urbanization and inadequate provision of basic infrastructure.
  • Strong urban development in coastal areas.
  • Substantial proportion of slums and informal settlements related to serious land management problems
  • Delayed implementation of reforms for improved local governance and democracy and marginal role of civil society.
  • Environmental issues not properly addressed.
  • Social dynamics challenging current practices.

Several cities have already developed promising city development strategies during the last years. This allow to extract lessons to be learnt by other cities willing to develop their strategies as well as to improve the implementation of the existing strategies through concrete projects and best practices.