Look before you leap

Effective urban environmental governance in an information-overloaded world: In today’s world, information is abundant and fast changing; sometimes, it is even referred to as ‘information overload’. Finding the right information has, therefore, become an important aspect in a city’s decision-making process.

National and regional regulations provide some direction. For environmental issues, in particular, these regulations offer an important guidance as the issues usually have an effect beyond the scale of the city. From climate change mitigation policy to biodiversity measures or waste collection, the impact of a city’s decisions can be far and wide.

However, selecting the most effective policy measures can still differ per city, due to differences in the nature of the environmental problems, the historical development of a city’s politics or policies, or differences in the available budget. This is where understanding a city’s system and physical characteristics becomes essential. Only those measures that address a city’s true need will be able to gather enough support from both its politicians and citizens to be successful.

5 ways to enhance understanding of a city’s system for more effective decision-making:

1.     Weigh your options

To know where to invest most effectively, it is helpful to know how the performances of policies dealing with a city’s various environmental issues compare. Cities can look to implement sustainable quantification models which include all expected environmental factors and policies to identify where investment is most crucial.

2.     Measure your progress

To be able to prioritize, it is helpful to have insight in a city’s strengths and weaknesses and their historic development. Utilizing available city data or research can be valuable as an objective assessment of a city’s strengths and weaknesses of their environmental performance.

3.     Understand solutions implemented by peers

It is not necessary to re-invent the wheel; learning about policy measures of other cities can help to identify the win-win solutions for a city. Case studies on how other cities deal with issues, such as climate adaptation or mitigation, can help secure the best outcome for a city. 

4.     Know your environmental characteristics

In the case of environmental policy, the geographic characteristics of a city can be key into determining the right course of actions. Analyzing and mapping the technical characteristics and challenges of the existing ecosystem can help cities realize a more sustainable approach to urban development. This can be done through various activities, ranging from undertaking sustainability evaluations of existing masterplans, to a full climate change risk and vulnerability analysis.

5.  Organize your city's data

The best way to get to know your city is to observe what is already happening. Today, this has become easy through all the options that are offered by becoming a smart city. Cities can optimize their potential data generation digitally and integrate sustainable smart city policies in urban development.

Effective governance begins with the selection of the right tools to understand what your city’s needs are and how to prioritize between them. The difficulty is not identifying the possible environmental policies and policy measures; choosing between them is where the challenge lies. An integral understanding of your city can support you in making the right choices and thus realize your city’s most effective environmental strategy.

Charlotte van de Water

Environmental Policy Consultant +32 470 193 473 Ask me a question