2.3 | Local Government

Local governments are essential actors in built interventions co-designed with children. They are instrumental in delivering basic urban services such as water, sanitation, transport, employment opportunities, protection of the environment, access to public space and its linkage to urban safety.

Local governments have the legitimacy, in most cases, of being elected by the citizens and are the closest sphere of government for attending to people’s primary needs. Local governments play a fundamental role in addressing urban safety, particularly through proper urban planning, genuine human rights and local democracy.

Local governments are even more important in the context of displacement as they often have the mandate to provide many services to displaced populations, and often are the level of government with whom displaced people have most interaction. Therefore, local government must seek the participation of the displaced persons themselves to find local solutions. In particular, this handbook calls for local governments to listen to children in their cities and implement their proposals for improvements. These are often related to issues within the powers and functions of local governments, such as improving schools, public spaces, parks and playgrounds. These calls to local government build upon the excellent ways in which cities across the world are already working for the inclusion of migrants and refugees. Useful guidance, examples and recommendations are provided in the new multi-agency publication: Local inclusion of migrants and refugees. A gateway of existing ideas, resources and capacities for cities across the world (CMI et al., 2020). The publication’s focus on multi-level governance, urban and territorial planning, and local economic development are relevant to this handbook.

There are also significant political issues and perceived costs of accepting and integrating displaced populations. Many cities receiving large numbers of displaced people are in developing countries already experiencing conflict or political tensions, and host communities may already endure poor living conditions. Sometimes, this constrains the political will regarding providing support to displaced communities. This handbook will show how, by involving both host and displaced communities, co-designed built interventions can help diffuse some intercommunal tensions.

Finally, while local governments are a key actor, it is difficult to generalise their role because of their diversity, which is linked to:

  • Legal frameworks, giving them different powers; 
  • Organisational structures and fiscal autonomy; 
  • Financial and economic resources;
  • Expertise and capacity;
  • Receptiveness and political will;
  • Size of the city: in a small town there may be direct interaction with the mayor, while in larger cities these types of initiatives are often led by other elected officials/municipality staff;
  • Staff personality and interests;
  • The location of the site chosen for interventions also matters. For example, the site might receive less interest from the mayor or governor if it is an area where most of people are opposition party supporters.

It is essential to acknowledge the varying degrees of commitment (if any) from local or national governments towards displaced populations. When hosting countries or cities have no intention to support the development of interventions for displaced populations, co-designed built interventions with children may still be possible. However, a different approach will be required as community and other humanitarian or development partners must find ways of working, in spite of the limited political will.

Download the handbook by clicking on the button below. Arabic and Spanish versions will be available soon.