UNIC Seminar: Layers of (good) urban governance

On February 3, 2022 from 16:00-17:30 CET, the UNIC Alliance hosts a seminar on "Layers of (good) urban governance: From sub-municipal councils to metropolitan authorities."

Date: 3.02.2022; 16:00-17:30 CET

Registration: send an email to pbanicev@unizg.hr

Good urban governance is a concept that systemizes contemporary views and agendas on how cities should be governed and is being strongly advocated by international associations, academic community and other relevant stakeholders. It is founded on a mixture of political, economic and social values which include: participation, responsiveness, legitimacy, transparency, accountability, fairness, cooperation, effectiveness, efficiency as well as quality, accessibility and affordability of local public services. In order to meet these demands, cities have diversified and adapted their politico-administrative structures. Territorial rescaling through the creation (or re-invention) of new governance layers, above and below the city itself, is one of the most common structural adjustments. Besides being embedded in complex inter-governmental networks, cities create their own vertical governance arrangements as more and more of their competences are being transferred to inter-, supra- or sub-municipal entities that enjoy some degree of autonomy. The need for additional governance layers is especially emphasized in more populous and spatially dispersed urban areas, but it is not negligible elsewhere as well.

Sub-municipal government is a result of cities’ internal decentralization while inter-municipal cooperative arrangements are a consequence of the existing interdependencies in administratively fragmented functional urban areas. Both groups of institutions have evolved in last decades: sub-municipal councils from their mostly consultative character to representative and decision-making one, and inter-municipal institutions from being service-delivery agents of the partnering municipalities to becoming organizationally and functionally integrated authorities in their own right. Sub-municipal councils often have direct democratic foundation and legitimacy. Their creation is usually a result of political considerations as they try to stimulate citizens’ participation and to protect their territorially defined interests. However, they are usually functionally marginalized, directly performing only minor functions, if any. On the contrary; inter- and supra-municipal institutions, that are predominantly based in economic values, perform numerous local services or regulatory functions, while seeking coordination, quality, efficiency and effectiveness in wider areas. At the same time, their direct democratic legitimacy is very weak and their accountability highly questionable. The establishment of sound sub-, inter- and supra- municipal institutions does not happen spontaneously nor do they contribute to good urban governance by their mere existence – they have to be carefully created and continuously nurtured and maintained in order to perform well and produce the desired public value. One of the main challenges of this multi-layered system of urban governance is to balance and reconcile political and functionasl/technical aspects on each level, i.e. to provide a clear functional role for sub-municipal institutions while maintaining and improving their democratic foundations, and to assure that inter-municipal authorities are open, transparent and accountable to the citizens as directly as possible.

What are the functions that are appropriate to be transferred either downwards – to sub-municipal government, or upwards – to inter- and supra-municipal authorities? How to coordinate activities and decisions of various layers and preserve a harmonized approach to solving urban problems? Why in many cases sub-municipal governments or inter-municipal authorities are underperforming? This seminar discusses developments, their causes, effects and comparative trends. It offers insights into the issues of territorial rescaling in urban governance by focusing on the relationships of these additional levels with the middle layer – the city administration itself. A special attention is dedicated to the examples of good practices.


Mihovil Škarica, is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Zagreb, Croatia where he teaches public administration and local government. His work is mostly related to the political, institutional, organizational and developmental issues of local government including decentralization, multi-level governance, intermunicipal cooperation, modernization of local public services and local democracy.

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