World Cities Summit, 2018: Show Me The Money - City Financing

Heads nod, it is unanimous.

Some one-hundred and twenty Mayors around the table at the Mayoral Forum at the 2018 World Cities Summit, are in stern agreement that the role of the Mayor is “to tell the story of the future" - to set the vision of what the city could be or should be, to inspire, listen and to lead their citizens.

The vision however, simply remains an aspiration of possibilities, a statement of things yet to be achieved or accomplished unless it is acted on. In that light, the Mayors spoke equally as one and all agreed that their role is “to make it real for the community”. This means putting words into actions, to realise the future and allow cities to access capital.

One by one, these city leaders outlined weak fiscal systems that pose a significant challenge to realising the vision for their cities and citizens. While fiscal certainty was a common challenge, these leaders leveraged their city as a platform to capture and share value.

The US City of Pittsburgh, known for its steep history in manufacturing notably steel, takes a traditional fiscal approach using tax incremental financing to capture future city tax revenue from land to leverage private development. The City has also taken the potentially politically bold move to raise property and parking taxes.

This is a steep contrast to the City of Adelaide in South Australia that has frozen rates for four years as an incentive to attract investment. Mayor Martin Haese strikes his own steely chord with the words, “City leaders, know your city assets”. For it has only been by recognising that ownership of light poles across the city were assets, that Adelaide has been able to partner with the private sector to build a city wide 10Gig network. This network is transforming city life. It is driving unpreceded investment in the city by delivering high speed connectivity and highly demanded business certainty.

The use of Public Private Partnerships was a well-worn path for many of these cities, however there was a call to add a fourth ‘P’ to the relationship. These need to be partnerships that were PPP + people. It was recognised that in a world driven by innovation and collaboration, City leaders need to work to gain the trust of the people by putting people at the heart of decision making and focus on co-creating the city.

City leaders must be prepared, co-creating and proactive in order to test new solutions with their citizens. Examples of co-creation included a city generating a system where its citizens received ‘ecopoints’ as energy credits where they dropped off their waste at key city locations. With minimal city investment, there was a large change in citizen behaviour reducing waste and improving local health and safety. In the Philippines improving city life from “womb to tomb” has created a range of initiatives that use sweat equity to give people a stake in their community and in Penang, Malaysia land recycling generates capital to fund key city projects.

City leadership is about telling the story of the future, but as the City of Taipei made clear, it also requires the Mayor to act on the critical three questions – “where to invest?, where to spend?, where to budget?"

Katherine O'Regan

Executive Director - Cities Leadership Institute

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