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Post-socialist Cities in a Globalizing World - Summary

Associate Professor in International Development University of Calgary, Faculty of Environmental Design

by Sasha Tsenkova

At the beginning of the 21st century cities are at the front line of the development campaign1. The transition from a centrally-planned to a market-based economy has offered significant opportunities to increase economic prosperity and to improve the well being of urban residents. Urban policy is perceived to be an important facilitator of sustained economic and social improvement as well as more democratic governance (WB, 1999). Postsocialist cities have gained political influence since recent political and fiscal decentralisation has shifted power to local governments. In this context, municipal policies affecting urban areas -- planning, housing, transportation and delivery of urban services -- have major ramifications for the efficient operation of businesses and the social well being of households. A decade later, cities of transition economies have remained the centres of economic growth, service expansion, technological innovation and cultural diversity. However, they have also experienced rapid social polarization, poverty and environmental degradation.
This research will focus on the process of urban change in post-socialist cities. The urban context in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) will be analysed with a reference to economic and social change. The politics of urban governance will be discussed as they relate to the provision of urban services. In addition, trends and major processes of spatial change in the urban setting will be identified. Recognizing the need for effective policy solutions to these urban challenges, the analysis will explore the opportunity to influence change through urban/city development strategies.
Drawing on the experience of Budapest, Riga, Prague, Vilnius, Sofia and Warsaw with City Development Strategies, the research will highlight the responsiveness of the model to transition imperatives and its ability to influence the national policy dialogue on sustainable growth and poverty reduction. It is argued that the model can be instrumental in defining contextually appropriate multi-dimensional urban policy agenda for post-socialist cities.(2)

(1) The centrality of urban issues to national and global sustainable development agenda has been acknowledged in the international arena. The Habitat Agenda, adopted by 171 governments at the 1996 City Summit in Istanbul, marked a turning point in promoting socially and environmentally sustainable cities. It also sent an important message that good urban governance is a prerequisite for sustainable development. These commitments have changed significantly the agenda of major donor institutions responding to challenges of the urbanising world (WB, 1999, UNCHS, 2001a).
(2) City Development Strategies are the new urban initiative launched by the World Bank and Habitat, sponsored through the Cities Alliance (Cities Alliance, 2002). Some of the other cities have undertaken strategic planning efforts independently or with some donor assistance.