Thanks to the SydSoc enewsletter, yesterday evening I went to a talk on The Renaissance of Bogotà organised by Practical Action SE London
Professor Alan Gilbert discusses the struggle for good governance in Colombia’s capital city at this open meeting of SE London Practical Action. ... More details from: 020 8693 6774 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The story - although this was a proper academic talking, so giving an assessment rather than a comforting, easy to digest narrative - was of a developing world city which in 1992 was pretty awful, with stratospheric murder rates, getting to the point now where large numbers of its citizens feel proud to live there, and having a credit rating rather better than much of Western Europe.
Four points stood out for me, because they relate to various posts I have made on this Forum recently.
1. A single, powerful city wide mayor
Bogotà is much the same size as London, but there are no lower level political structures than the city government such as we have with our London Boroughs - and nobody much wants them other than political parties and their potential clients. As in London, most people aren't that interested in politics, they just want good services. Compare to this post of mine on the 'Campaigning for Ken' thread.
2. Regular, independent assessments of the quality of public services
There is an independent private sector organisation which does regular credible surveys of satisfaction with different public services, and their reports are major stories in the local media. Council officers care very much about who well they are seen to be doing. Compare to this post of mine on the 'Campaigning for Ken' thread.
3. Fiscal discipline
In 2011 it is Western Europe and the US which have borrowed up to the point where lenders don't feel like lending them any more, and we are learning how this takes away our freedom to act as a society. It's a lesson most of the developing world has learned the hard way over the last 20 years. And a good credit rating does help when it comes to raising money for new infrastructure.
4. No effective planning controls on the construction of new houses and lettings
There are some planning controls on where you can build houses, but they don't get enforced, and in any case, they don't apply in outer areas. So people just build their own homes, starting off looking like archetypical shanty towns, but being improved over time, with extra storeys added, perhaps for tenants just moved into the city. So the young and less well off do not get priced out of housing. See reference to US economist Ed Glaeser to OP on the Campaigning for Ken thread - although I should add Prof Gilbert doesn't have too high an opinion of this author - or, I think, Prof Tony Travers, who I first heard mention this book at another meeting - on localism - that I went to earlier this year.
Contrast this with our situation in London, where central government is intensely suspicious of city wide government in London. Mrs Thatcher went so far as to abolish the GLC, and David Cameron reportedly sees Boris' power base here as a long term threat to him. Meanwhile, in Whitehall the DCLG channels out money via the structures of London Boroughs, which few other than councillors, some local activists and local government policy wonks are interested in. And their solution to perceived weaknesses? Localism - hoping that somehow even smaller organisations will magic into existence to provide the sorts of effective public services people want.