The Challenges of the Mediterranean Urban Agenda

4 August 2021 | Paper | English


slideshow image


Senén Florensa, Executive President, European Institute of the Mediterranean, IEMed

In a moment of deep-rooted socioeconomic and political change in the Mediterranean, the need to strengthen cooperation, promote knowledge and inspire new actions and ideas has never been greater.

In this difficult context several relevant Mediterranean think tanks and finance institutions have decided to establish a new organisation to help the region grow better by growing together. This organisation is called the MED Confederation, and its main objective is to develop projects that induce and strengthen cooperation and economic integration, social progress and cultural exchange between the countries of the Mediterranean.

The MED Confederation’s founding members are the European Institute of the Mediterranean (IEMed, Spain), La Caixa Foundation (Spain), the World Savings and Retail Banking Institute (WSBI, Brussels), the Institut de Prospective Économique du Monde Méditerranéen (IPEMED, France), the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations (Tunis), the Caisse de Dépôt et de Gestion (Morocco), Al Barid Bank (Morocco) and the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV, Turkey).

In the framework of the projects established under the umbrella of the MED Confederation, the IEMed leads the conception and organisation of several high-level working groups to promote value-added analysis of the most relevant challenges the region faces today. Based on the topic of study in each of these working groups, the IEMed puts together a group of the most relevant international experts, individuals, think tanks, institutions, businesspeople or multilateral organisations, to exchange their points of view and experiences. The result of these meetings are policy-oriented documents prepared by several of the participating experts that contain the main ideas analysed in order to inspire policies that could improve the performance and impact of the fields debated.

This document is the result of the high-level working group on the challenges of the urban agenda in the Mediterranean, which was held on the 15th and 16th December 2014 at Foment del Treball Nacional (Barcelona). On this occasion, more than 30 international experts discussed proposals that could contribute to the improvement of the urban development policies and social inclusion in the cities of the Mediterranean region.

During the working group, it was mentioned that more than 80% of global wealth is generated in the cities. It was agreed that in order to finance infrastructure and services it is important that the private sector commits to cooperate with the public administration. The importance of optimising the public transport network from an energy efficiency point of view because cities consume two thirds of the world energy was also noted. Finally, it was highlighted that the creation of urban spaces for interaction and support for young entrepreneurs and platforms that allow knowledge sharing are critical to promote social integration and jobs.

This event had the support of Barcelona City Council, the Istanbul International Center for Private Sector in Development, the UNDP and MedCités. Experts in urban planning, former ministers, representatives of public administration and the private sector, national and local governments, research centres and foundations related to sustainable urban development took part in this working group.

Urban Agenda: A Multifaceted Challenge for the Mediterranean

Jaloul Ayed, President, MED CONFEDERATION

We live in a world of convergence. Irresistible forces are pushing humanity towards “One World” where an ever-increasing number of global linkages are established in just about every field of human endeavour. Cities the world over represent the nodes through which such linkages are established. No wonder then that they attract an ever-increasing number of people looking for better opportunities in life. The urban population in the world has grown from 750 million in 1950 to 4 billion in 2014, representing 54% of the global population. This trend is expected to continue in the future, particularly in the emerging economies of Africa and Asia. Half the predicted population of Africa in 2040, or about one billion people, is expected to live in the urban areas. In the southern Mediterranean the combined effect of population growth and climate change are being particularly felt in the cities and must be tackled in earnest if we are to vigorously address the momentous challenges that such development will likely produce. Any visitor to Cairo will quickly realise the extent of the challenges being faced by the authorities there in addressing the complex issues of migration flows, spatial planning, urban infrastructure development, and environmental threats.

Urban planning combines both art and science. Art, because we aim to live in cities that are clean, green, convenient, secure and provide the conditions for a collective well-being and a vibrant cultural environment. Science, because we want our cities to be smart, environmentally friendly, endowed with adequate health services and good schools for our children, efficient transportation systems and technologically advanced. Examples of successful cities in the northern Mediterranean, such as Barcelona, provide us with useful models revealing how that can be achieved.

However, most cities in the southern Mediterranean are not so lucky. Whilst some cities, such as Casablanca in Morocco, are making notable strides in fostering urban infrastructure and improved city planning, others are muddling through swallowing ghettos and deficient critical infrastructure. City authorities are all too often embroiled in day-to-day city management quagmires that leave them little time for spatial planning or setting forth the right conditions for sustainable urban development.

That said, there seems to be an increasing awareness that the urban agenda must take centre stage in any sustainable and socially inclusive development programmes. There are a minimum of four pillars that a holistic urban strategy must rely on: strengthening capacity building for urban governance, efficient climate change management, social inclusiveness, and effective physical infrastructure.

Strong and independent governance at the local level is a prerequisite for successful urban planning and management. Whilst city authorities may have little choice but to rely, at least to some extent, on central government support, they must develop their own capabilities particularly in terms of self-generating financial capacity. In particular, they must reinforce their capabilities to ensure optimal collections of local taxes and other sources of revenues. They should also assess the possibilities of accessing other sources of funding, such as municipal bonds where such markets exist. Furthermore, solutions involving Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), as well as Social PPPs, are increasingly being used by cities the world over in structuring financial schemes specifically tailored to urban projects.

Efficient climate management is of paramount importance, particularly in those countries vulnerable to climate change. Cities must encourage the use of low-carbon renewable energies. Adaptation of green infrastructure will provide the ingredients for tackling climatic challenges by building with nature, hence fostering urban resilience to climate change. Encouraging, among other actions, the construction of smart energy efficient buildings will further reduce energy consumption, thus ensuring optimal utilisation of energy resources.

Urban planning must take full consideration of the social dimension if it is to ensure social inclusiveness, without which all other urban objectives will be put at risk. Key priorities must include the upgrade of underprivileged neighbourhoods, and provide access to safe and affordable housing.

The ultimate objective of city planners is to design an urban architecture that will provide for the basic services that are required to ensure good living conditions for the urban population. These include smart transportation systems, clean water and energy distribution, efficient waste management, and adequate access to health, education and telecommunication facilities.

Technological advances make it presently possible to design efficient green and grey infrastructures. In particular, the use of renewable energy sources will alleviate the threat of climate change and will ensure sustainability.

At the MED Confederation and the IEMED we consider the Mediterranean urban agenda to be an item that must be placed high on the priority list of scholars, policy-makers, think tanks, financial institutions and regional organisations alike. For our own sake, and that of generations to come, we must do our utmost to ensure that the Mediterranean region remains clean, green, and prosperous for the benefit of all Mediterraneans.

Urban Development Challenges in the Mediterranean: an Overview

Oriol Barba, Project manager, MEDCITIES

The Mediterranean region is no exception to the global trend of rising urban population started in the mid-20th century. According to UN figures, in 2014 54% of the world population lived in cities and it is estimated that by 2050 2.5 billion people will be added to this figure [United Nations, 2014]. In the Mediterranean, 80% of the population is expected to live in cities by 2020 [Hoornweg, 2013]. Due to the characteristics of the region, urban development in the Mediterranean poses several challenges that distinguish it from other areas of the planet.

Cities have historically been the motor of change and progress in the region. It is not possible to understand the wave of change started in 2011, both in its causes and development, without taking into account its urban dimension. Similarly, it seems reasonable to argue that it is not possible to think about the future of the region without considering urbanisation as a driving force.

Needless to say, each country of the region has its own specific characteristics regarding urban development, because of their heterogeneity. However, common patterns can be identified in order to carry out a global analysis, always being careful when it comes to generalising from one country to another.

A good way of focusing on the challenges of urban development is to observe the challenges faced by Mediterranean cities in the years to come. Paradoxical as it may seem, it is important to underline that urban development is not only a city question, but also the result of actors interacting at different levels and subjected to national, regional and even global dynamics. Nevertheless, focusing on cities and how their actors are related to this ensemble of dynamics helps to frame the debate. Unfortunately, urban development has usually been misunderstood, becoming a hotchpotch of numerous sectoral aspects somehow linked, no matter how remote the links might be, with cities and their actors. As a consequence of this, urban issues have practically vanished from the agenda of EU programmes in the Mediterranean, being considered as “cross-cutting” issues. Very far from this “transversality”, urban development places the city, its actors and the relations between them right at the heart of planning and development. And for that reason the analysis of challenges of urban development can only be conducted taking into account the challenges of Mediterranean cities. These challenges have been gathered into five large groups: financial, management, governance, social and environmental. In total, twelve challenges have been identified, distributed in the following four dimensions.

Economic Challenges

Local authorities’ lack of resources is one of the great handicaps for the improvement of local governance. Increasing the financial capacity of municipalities is, therefore, one of the biggest challenges confronted by urban development in the region. Without public authorities with the adequate resources to manage what happens in the cities no balanced and sustainable development seems possible.

Therefore, one of the main challenges lies in the increase of municipalities’ incomes. Considering the present situation, this can be done in four different ways:

Increasing transfers from central governments: Closely tied to political decentralisation processes is a need to match the allocation of resources to the new competences of the municipalities. Although some countries have started such processes – or reflections on how to tackle them – these will not be completed until the necessary transfer of resources accompanying every decentralisation process is completed.

On average, and in need of more accurate estimations, southern Mediterranean local authorities’ expenditure is estimated to be below 5% of all public expenditure in their countries, whereas this rises to 24% in their northern neighbours (A. T. Kearney, 2012). Without the necessary expenditure capacity, municipalities are unable to respond to the growing demands of their populations.

Increasing indebtedness capacity of municipalities: A second aspect related to the financing of city councils is the increase of their financial capacity and indebtedness capacity. This is non-existent in most countries, thus preventing the possibility of carrying out both mid- and long-term processes. Indebtedness is a basic tool for the development of Mediterranean cities and for attempting transformation processes that, in many cases, involve the construction and renovation of infrastructure and service networks, quite hard to do without financial support.

Increasing the capacity of the municipalities to collect taxes: The need to increase the collecting capacity of municipalities is not only a challenge for southern Mediterranean countries but for regions and states too. This entails a modernisation and redefinition of the tax system and an increase in the capacity to enforce the existing regulations. For example, 60% of tax collection in Tunisia in 2014 was income tax applied to public workers. Without higher contributions from the private sector to the tax system, the development of southern Mediterranean countries – and cities – seems rather difficult.

However, at a local level, this aspect has a peculiarity of its own. On the one hand, it requires normative reforms, such as the possibility of taking hold of part of the capital gain accompanying land requalification processes. It is true that in other areas of the region this phenomenon has brought a disordered, unsustainable development of the territory and cities. Moreover, these processes often facilitate the extent of corruption at a municipal level, as has been proved in other parts of the region. Nevertheless, with the establishment of appropriate control mechanisms, territorial reorganisation and the right taxation can become a significant source of increased local resources.

Secondly, the improvement of information systems of the municipalities may give room for more accurate and effective tax collection. The spread of geographic information systems (GIS) and the integration of these systems within the municipalities remains an unresolved matter for most of them. Data exchange of this information will reduce tax avoidance and allow better control that would lead to a significant increase in tax collection. In fact, in recent years some cities have successfully implemented initiatives of this kind.

Improving efficiency: The last challenge that will determine the improvement of the economic capacity of Mediterranean municipalities is the implementation of measures that lead to an improvement in efficiency in their own management (noted in the previous section). In this case, there is a wide margin for improving efficiency.

In addition, energy is a core sector as many Mediterranean municipalities spend their scarce budget on paying for electricity bill and waste collection.

Although interesting test projects have been developed in the sphere of energy improvement in public buildings [AViTEM, 2014], the extension of these successful experiences and, above all, implementation of measures for improving efficiency for the entire electric network could lead to significant savings for the municipalities, allowing an increase in the resources spent on other areas.

In the water network, often far removed from municipal competences, there is also a wide margin for improvement. The solutions presented framed in the model of “smart cities” developed so far are still far from responding to the needs of Mediterranean cities. Further dialogue and a closer relationship between the private sector and local and regional authorities is needed in order to use the smart city model in a smart way.

Governance Challenges

The second big group of challenges for urban development in the southern Mediterranean is linked to governance. The main axis of this group is the decentralisation process countries should confront in the years to come. It is not political decentralisation that restrains development in Mediterranean cities but administrative decentralisation and the consequent paralysis of governance systems in the Mediterranean countries, drowned by state bureaucracy that leads to a stagnation of projects and policies and the capacity of city councils to act. The main challenge of decentralisation is not only normative but mostly one of confidence between different levels of government between countries. Despite emerging initiatives started in some countries, there is a need for a greater complicity between municipalities and ministries towards the articulation of multi-level policies for the benefit of the citizens. It is not about the need to decentralise “from top to bottom” or building the state from the cities. It is about knowing how to articulate the build-up and implementation of policies at different levels, constructing models of multi-level governance, guaranteeing efficiency and proximity in service provision.

Connected with this very issue is the question of competences. Mediterranean cities must work on issues affecting their everyday life even if they lack the competences to do so. This implies new challenges linked to concertation, governance, relational governance and the capacity to articulate actors, both public and private, for the development of cities. Urban sustainable development strategies have been a useful tool in order to renew the urban governance model and to articulate actors. Moreover, it allows joint steps on topics to be identified, regardless of who has the competences.

Local governance is far from being a matter of what institution holds what competences but of the right articulation of actors in favour of improving the services of the city. Local governance is more and more about relations and articulation of actions and less about unilateral and one-direction decisions.

Within the sphere of governance we must highlight the challenge of creating solid associations of cities to serve municipalities. Once again, the question of trust and confidence is a key element. Federations of cities have been regarded traditionally as an extension of the departments of the interior and general directorates of local authorities. Transition processes towards better local governance will inexorably imply professionalisation of federations of cities that will have to gradually assume the role of encouraging a relationship and apprenticeship between local authorities, a role often played in the past by international organisations and global forums. At the same time, reinforcement of federations should permit a better dialogue with local governments that would help to manage the administrative decentralisation processes. Finally, it is important for the management of metropolitan areas and unions of municipalities to maintain its local nature, separate from national government direction.

Management Challenges

The third group of challenges for the Mediterranean cities is related to their capacity to manage their problems. Firstly, there is a very significant lack of human resources in municipalities, especially with relevant skills. The number of civil servants working for local authorities in the Mediterranean with respect to the population is clearly insufficient. To that we have to add diffuse hierarchical dependency, with the participation of local and state officers without a functional relationship but strongly influenced by status and rank, regardless of the workload assumed.

Quantitative shortage is not the only problem affecting municipal personnel throughout the Mediterranean. In many cases there are also severe deficits in expertise of public workers. This problem has two sides. On the one hand, there is a lack of appeal of the public service for most youngsters or at least for those with a university education. Lack of perspectives of progress within the public service means that even those workers with a genuine vocation would often quit when realising that other sectors offer better opportunities for professional fulfilment and higher salaries. On the other hand, many workers with remarkable technical training lack the skills linked to public service. Professionals that would embark on promising professional careers in the private sector feel unable to accomplish their job in the public service for the lack of specific training in public affairs.

This is connected to the personnel skills reinforcement in the municipalities. Who needs to learn what in the sphere of the public affairs has been largely discussed, becoming one of the big issues for the forthcoming conference Habitat III [Campbell, 2012]. In the Mediterranean context, a combination of strategic approach by the elected local leaders and technical and relational training by the technicians could be a solution. This will demand support from supra-municipal structures, particularly from national public administration schools in cooperation with federations of municipalities and universities. To those we have to add numerous international organisations that began working within the sphere of the reinforcement of the capacities of public workers and the growing number of Mediterranean youngsters attending top American and European universities who, when returning home, find quite a complex context to apply what they have learned, at least in the public domain.

The insufficient management capacity of the Mediterranean staff has an immediate aftermath when it comes to controlling the processes being developed in the cities. This is evidenced in the weak dialogue capacity of municipalities compared with big private investment processes. The scarce capacity of municipalities to define the management structures of new investments (maîtrise d’ouvrage) or use part of the capital gain from these growth processes in improving the city as a whole are a consequence of management deficits. In most cases, municipalities have to manage the city integration of accelerated and partial growths once those processes have finished, due to unsustainable investments or development projects. Therefore, resilience to constant changes that occurred in Mediterranean cities remains a significant challenge. In that respect, public-private partnership can contribute but requires a better balance between public and private actors, especially in cities.

This difficulty is manifested in the position of weakness of municipalities confronted with developers – national and international – that leads to an unbalanced growth and, in many cases, to a lack of compactness and equity of public urban spaces of the Mediterranean cities. To reverse this trend it is necessary to create municipal teams able to follow up the developments in the city, avoiding bureaucratic models that restrain dynamism and allow the concertation of services with no harm to public interest.

Social Challenges

Urban sprawl and demographic pressure have raised enormous social challenges for Mediterranean cities, which bring enormous challenges in the social domain. Informal neighbourhoods and demographic pressure are the general patterns in most Mediterranean cities.

Under these circumstances, social cohesion and equity are far from being achieved. The high rates of unemployment and the incapacity to generate jobs are pressing challenges that need to be achieved urgently to avoid further marginalisation of vulnerable populations.

This is not an intrinsically urban question, however, as cities face the consequences of unbalanced growth and will continue to do so in the coming years unless severe measures are undertaken to mitigate it.

The reinforcement of civil society, both as a driving force for social cohesion in neighbourhoods and as a democratic tool to assure citizen participation in the functioning of cities is a need that most Mediterranean cities will have to face. This is part of a local governance component that will require deepening participatory instruments in city planning and decision-making, as well as increasing turnout in local elections.

Environmental Challenges

Environmental challenges are the fifth dimension included in this analysis. This is far from being only an urban question but it certainly affects urban development. The impact of climate change is affecting Mediterranean cities at different levels. One of them is related to greenhouse gas emissions. When dealing with urban development, this usually turns into pollution associated with unsustainable mobility practices. The development of a sustainable mobility model is essential, increasing the role of public transport and the reduction of private vehicles. Needless to say, mobility constraints not only have an environmental dimension but also become a handicap for economic development. Despite certain advancements like the Mediterranean Strategy for Sustainable Development, currently under revision, a sustainable, low-carbon and resilient mobility model for Mediterranean cities remains limited.

The second environmental challenge is linked to integrated coastal zone management (ICZM). Again, IZCM transcends the urban sphere but it is in cities that it acquires more relevance. The multiplicity of actors intervening in coastal management usually makes this issue particularly complex. The challenge is to understand IZCM from a multi-dimensional perspective as the environmental problems caused by mismanagement have a human, cultural and economic side besides the biological one.

Third, most Mediterranean cities share the challenge to improve waste management. This challenge has several dimensions, such as improving public-private partnership for collections, ending of uncontrolled dumpsites, increasing awareness campaigns to population and higher investments and coordination with national actors, among others. Contrary to other policies, waste collection is generally a competence of local authorities in most Mediterranean countries. The room for improvement using technologies associated with smart city models is great, although there is a threat to try to use technology to solve political and managerial deficiencies.

Finally, better urban energy models need to be developed. The inefficiency of networks and buildings is common to most Mediterranean cities. The demand is expected to grow four times until 2030 in southern and eastern Mediterranean cities [Ben Jannet Allal, 2009]. Buildings account for almost 40% of energy consumption in the region. There seems to be a wide scope for efficiency improvement in Mediterranean cities to decrease this percentage in the coming decades.

The Regional Dimension of Urban Development in the Mediterranean

Urban development in the Mediterranean also faces several regional challenges. The region has the particularity of an unbalanced distribution of cities, most of them concentrated in coastal areas. Coastal cities are generally open to trade and have a tradition of cultural and economic exchanges. Most of the capital cities of Mediterranean countries are beside the sea. This has the effect of a dramatic imbalance of territorial development between coastal and interior cities. The capacity to generate opportunities for citizens in interior cities remains very low, usually being marginalised from tourism and the main economic activities. The challenge to develop policies to correct this imbalance is severe in order to stabilise interior-to-coastal migrations. States should focus on implementing measures to counterbalance the natural inertia that makes interior cities poles of unemployment and often marginalisation.

Parallel to the previous challenge, the region is characterised by the growing number of intermediary cities. These have significantly increased in recent decades due to the rural-to-urban migration. Most urban growth of the coming decades will take place in intermediary cities. These cities are unable to assume this growth, and face development in a reactive way. Further planning instruments are needed, promoting urban sustainable strategies for these cities that help to implement an integrated vision of urban development. The example of Sidi Bouzid, where the Tunisian revolution started, is paradigmatic: an interior intermediary city unable to offer paths for development to the population, essentially youth. Until now, the fact that bigger cities were normally capitals made a special relation between central governments and local government of the capital a shortcut for the development of the metropolis. However, if other metropolises rather than capital cities emerge, decentralisation will be even more needed in order to manage urban sprawl in a sustainable way.

From the international point of view, higher coordination between international actors is needed in order to obtain better results from aid programmes and cooperation frameworks. Improvement in policy integration and coordination is desirable. The revision of the European Neighbourhood Policy in progress should integrate the urban dimension into its priorities. Moreover, coordination space based on tangible projects like the Union for the Mediterranean should continue the path initiated in the few last years and play the role of articulation of actors, including international institutions, cooperation agencies and NGOs.

Moreover, regional instability also affects urban development in the region. Far from being an urban challenge, this is a region-wide or even an international challenge to face. However, linking the development of cities to a catch-all political solution for the region seems a utopia that Mediterranean cities cannot attend.


The urban question remains one of the main challenges in the region. This cannot be blurred due to misleading approaches to urban development, considering it as a catch-all concept including anything taking place in urban spaces. Local governments and stakeholders need to be put at the core of urban policies, and this should be considered a top priority for all coordinated international actions in the region. After free elections and the guarantee of rule of law, decentralisation has to be considered the third pillar of the successful transition for the Mediterranean region towards a peaceful sustainable and equitable region.

Innovation and Urban Development in the Mediterranean

Farouk Tebbal, International Consultant, Former Minister of Housing, Algeria

Confronting experiences that have been carried out both in the northern and the southern and eastern Mediterranean sheds light on the differences and commonalities. From the outset, it is obvious that while there is a very large chronological discrepancy between these two regions – cities in the north having generally engaged in bold and far reaching urban development strategies a few decades before their neighbours in the south – both experiences have demonstrated a wealth of teachings and results worth being discussed and studied.

In order to understand the future of urban areas in the region, it is necessary to reflect on a number of issues that underscore the particularities and the efficient resources of the models of urbanisation in the Mediterranean region. In addition, the attitude and actions adopted to deal with urban growth, climate change, transportation and distribution networks, among others, are also relevant.

It is important to consider the concept of City Development Strategies (CDS) and how this practice is progressively becoming an efficient tool to anticipate future, comprehensive and sustainable development of the cities but also an approach whereby citizens are becoming increasingly central actors and decision-makers concerning the city they live in.

City Development Strategies (CDS) in the Eastern and Southern Mediterranean Are Increasingly Adopted by Urban Actors

During the last decades, cities in the Mediterranean region have experienced a number of challenging issues that the traditional urban planning instruments did not seem to be able to stem. Cities in the south and east of the region are particularly concerned with a very rapid growth of their population, frequent social crises (which sometimes prompted the so-called Arab Spring), over-centralised decision-making power that is still in the hands of central government for major issues, lack of adequately trained human resources to grapple with emerging challenges, and so on.

Cities in the south started developing CDSs early in the last decade at a time when many cities in the north already had many decades of experience with successes as famous as Barcelona, Marseilles and Bilbao, which laid the ground for a more participatory approach based on good governance and partnership among stakeholders including the private sector. Today, a few decades later, these cities boast very successful urban settings which have been able to overcome many of the issues they were confronting.

Since the turn of the century a few (but rapidly increasing) number of cities in the south have decided to adopt city development strategies based on a more comprehensive, forward looking approach, more participation of different local stakeholders, primarily elected local authorities but also population representatives, public and private entrepreneurial and business sectors, craftsmen and trade corporations, youth, women, private foundations, and so on.

Three “Generations” of CDSs

A first generation of cities comprising Alexandria, Sfax I, Tétouan 1 and Tunis developed their city strategy at the dawn of the decade, the initiative being often suggested and driven by one or several international institutions (World Bank, UN-Habitat, etc.), as the concept was still widely unknown or understood locally and representatives of central government, such as governors, had taken the lead rather than local authorities. While the analytical process leading to the development of the CDS in general encompasses the components of spatial planning, infrastructure development, local economy, improvement of social services, and the rehabilitation of substandard neighbourhoods, they largely overlook the core issues of local finance, climate change and gender.

The second generation of CDSs, benefiting for the first experiences, started near the end of the decade and involved a few more cities in the southern and eastern countries. In fact some cities that had already developed a CDS, such as Sfax, decided to start a second phase. These CDSs show an evolution both in term of leadership and content and nature of the process. CDSs are increasingly requested and driven by national partners, municipalities are more visible and at the forefront of the process, populations are involved throughout the process and become knowledgeable partners in the decision-making process and the identification and selection of projects.

The third generation started around the end of the decade, and the number of cities in the region has rapidly increased. This is an indication that the planning schemes being adopted by countries in the region is evolving from the traditional master plan – generally limited to the projection of spatial urban growth – to a more comprehensive and strategic vision of planning going beyond the mere definition of the future spatial organisation of the city. It includes other important dimensions of city components needed to plan sustainable development of urban life, offering a big place and role to the social, economic and environmental functions of the city. In a few countries, the CDS process has been institutionalised and became a mandatory planning tool, such as in Turkey and Morocco.

As expected, this new planning approach has resulted in several innovations, one of which is the participatory process that gives voice to stakeholders, including citizens, in a region where decisions were usually taken at central level, sometimes ignoring prerogatives of local authorities. Innovations are found in the identification of problems that have long plagued the lives of citizens of Mediterranean cities in the south and east, such as: i) dwindling local economy, ii) weak local finance, iii) poverty and lack of job opportunities, iv) obsolete relationship between authorities and citizens, v) inadequate availability of infrastructures, vi) exclusiveness, vii) severe environmental situations, etc. These issues are in the process of being dealt with, bringing new solutions to the benefit of the cities, as exemplified by the case of the city of Saida, the CDS of which was supported by Medcities. Championed powerfully by the head of the Hariri foundation and the municipal team, the process mobilised a large spectrum of stakeholders and was successful in dealing with very acute local problems, such as: i) the removal of a huge solid waste dump, a pollution source for the city and beyond, ii) directly addressing all interested parties on the issue of Palestinian camps, iii) engaging an ambitious number of activities to regenerate the economic life of the city, including its old historical neighbourhoods, iv) innovatively reorganising the old railroad line, etc.

Another example of the virtue of the CDS experience is offered by Moroccan cities. Urban policies of Morocco are increasingly inspired by the principles of City Development Strategies.

The role and importance of the city in the development of the country is currently regaining a core position in political debates in Morocco, which has engaged large urban development programmes, such as the creation of new cities, upgrading of poor neighbourhoods and slums, development of new urban areas and production of large social housing programmes. In line with the principles of CDSs, new paradigms have emerged such as public private partnership, participatory approach in designing urban projects, consideration of climate change, energy saving and efficiency, risk management, as well as training of local human resources.

In a country where cities contribute to over 75% of GDP, this approach has positively responded to citizens’ expectations although a number of shortcomings are still to be solved including urban sprawl, social exclusion, change of social behaviours, interference of administrative and institutional roles, and so on.

In conjunction with this evolution, and possibly as a result of urban dynamics, Morocco is experiencing new urban issues, including over consumption of farming land, increased demand for drinking water and, importantly, conspicuous signs announcing effects of climate change (temperature increase, droughts, floods), which has led political authorities to engage in new thinking, including generalisation of CDSs in all Moroccan cities along with other major political actions, such as the City Policy, the National Land Use Scheme, Urban Use Act, and so on.

This has resulted in positive structural changes, such as the adoption and implementation of a new decentralisation scheme that gives greater power to different institutional levels.

The actions and innovations currently witnessed in Morocco as a result of the adoption of strategic planning systems are also increasingly shared by other cities in the south, such as Sfax, which is undergoing a huge urban and economic change, Alexandria, which is reshaping and retrofitting large stretches of its urban space, and Tétouan, which is redesigning vast environment programmes.

While these results (some still in progress) have been achieved after relatively short time laps, what have cities in the north, which engaged in structural and policy changes for decades, achieved?

Innovation in the City: the Case of Barcelona Metropolitan Area

Today, the Barcelona Metropolitan Area is acknowledged as a success far beyond the Mediterranean region. The huge changes that the area has undergone make this city a reference, especially in relation to innovations that serve the quality of life of its citizens within an urban model that reflects its society. The key innovation areas are: i) urban growth, ii) transportation, iii) facilities and parks, and iv) technology.

• Urban growth in Barcelona combines a compact growth model with, in some areas, a sprawl model, the latter being abandoned in the eighties. Future growth will be dealt with intra muros within the city boundary.

• Transportation has experienced dramatic changes as cars and trucks have replaced animal traction carriages. The innovation in urban transportation in the Barcelona region involves reducing car use within the city as well as introducing measures to facilitate pedestrians and bicycle use.

• Innovation in facilities and parks will seek to encourage continuity of leisure areas throughout the city as well as continuity from the city to the periphery and neighbouring countryside.

• Technology is a useful tool to properly manage the organisation of the city, traffic, energy supply, waste water, security, and so on. However, this implies that adequate human capacities are available to correctly manage the technology.

After the progress made in governance, public participation and local economy development, among other fields, addressing these innovation avenues will take cities several steps forward to the benefit of their population.

The debate focused on the crucial issue of adequate and positive definition of terminologies used when defining innovation in urban areas. As such, it is relevant to ask:

• Who benefits from innovations?

• Are city strategies benefiting the unprivileged populations?

• What type of sustainability will, therefore, be sought after?

A number of challenges prevent innovation and sustainability from achieving positive results and need to be addressed, as exemplified by those facing Egypt. These include inequitable distribution of burdens and revenues among the different strata of population, as well as urban inequalities (such as unbalanced allocation of public investments favouring new urban communities against poor unplanned areas), inadequate urban governance structures, cities in flux and marginalisation dynamics, and so on.

It is therefore recommended that distribution of economic growth should be improved even among the city population and marginalisation of the most vulnerable groups be prevented. It is equally crucial that innovation stems from people themselves as they are the ones who make the city. This implies that the CDS process is based on good governance, that it recognises the right of the citizens to the city, and that adequate knowledge management and learning tools are made available.

Promotion of Social Integration at an Urban Level in the Mediterranean Region

Rubina Abu Zeinab, Executive Director, Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development

Urbanisation will be the defining trend over the next few decades as the world is becoming increasingly urban. Whether for economic, cultural or climatic reasons, more and more people are heading to cities. By 2020, almost 80% of the world’s population will live in cities in poor and emerging nations. This urban pressure results in informal urbanisation revealing the structural fragility of urban systems.

We will be on the brink of a major breakthrough with a UN goal focusing on the global urban future – a goal that is explicitly related to cities. Eventually, if the city goal stating “make cities and human settlement inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” makes it through to final ratification in September 2015, it will mark the UN’s strongest expression ever of the critical role of cities in the world’s future.

On the one hand, cities are engines of growth and the driving force of national economic development where roughly 75% of global economic activity is urban. They provide good jobs and other major opportunities, and attract talents and skilled labour.

On the other hand, cities are home to extreme deprivation and environmental degradation with one billion people living in slums; and cities represent high levels of inequality, concentrations of poverty, high levels of crime, abuse, unemployment and social exclusion. Poverty in many cities is growing rapidly. One looks at international development goals — to end poverty and hunger, provide quality education, provide water and sanitation for all, build resilient infrastructure, provide economic growth and more — and then asks: where will all that take place? It may be the case that all these goals can be achieved at the city level across the world and spread in rural areas. There is a need to rebuild a positive image for our cities and regain citizens’ confidence in them. However, without knowing its rightful place and role, there is nowhere the city could go other than to perpetuate its underachievement with an increasing number of people that it could not properly provide with good jobs, housing and other basic services.

The key to defining the rightful place and role of a city is through setting its vision, mission, and action plan within a long-term sustainable urban development strategy that draws its development process. Such strategies will be based on inclusive planning and community participation to guarantee the inclusiveness of the people and their ownership to the role of the city.

A socially inclusive society is one where all individuals — irrespective of their background — have the opportunity and capability for active participation in policy-making and sustainable development process. There are different forms of participation where it can evolve from listening and observing to consulting on, collaboration with and influencing of decisions. The engagement of citizens will be wider and deeper. People will be regularly and meaningfully engaged in the monitoring and accountability processes and mechanisms. In this way, citizens will not be considered beneficiaries of public policies but as active participants and implementing partners who are fully consulted and informed.

In such a complicated and challenging context that we are suffering from in the Mediterranean region, we need long-term coherent local strategies at the level of the cities and national policies that set priorities and shared visions in order to ensure the sustainable development of our cities and states. This will also lead to transparency and accountability mechanisms and culture that we unfortunately sometimes lack in our societies. Any strategy will be based on a participative approach where citizens can experience how their demands are being taken into consideration.

The experiences recommended related to establishing an urban sustainable development strategy are based on a participative approach, the role of education and job creation in empowering and engaging youth as the main stakeholders in community development, as well as utilisation and promotion of public spaces as amenities for civic engagement. One of the recommended policies involves establishing inclusive development strategies in urban areas, which could also promote a public-private partnership model in urban development.

Concepts of urban policy, effective community participation, and social accountability have been gradually evolving and locally accepted. The strategy in all its phases needs to be based on active participation of all the stakeholders in the city through various means, such as a steering committee, working groups, focus groups, town hall meetings, technical workshops and awareness campaigns.

A process of social inclusion has to set out a vision, mission, and an action plan through a structured dialogue with the public. It is necessary to support municipalities in adopting this approach as an institutionalised system in planning and implementing urban development projects in cities. In any local or national strategy, two interrelated global issues can no longer be neglected: education and job creation. According to the World Bank, more than 1 billion young people are expected to enter the global workforce by 2030, which means the world economy will need to create approximately 5 million jobs every month to meet demand. This proves the need to deal with youth unemployment in a holistic manner, taking into consideration all the factors. Thus, youth must acquire the needed knowledge, skills, and competences for employment, inclusion, active citizenship and personal fulfilment. There is an essential need for establishing holistic strategies that can lead to major structural reform and investment in our education systems, entrepreneurial ecosystem, technology infrastructure and health care.

In the meantime, municipalities need to seek more efficient and, at the same time, more inclusive and equitable education systems, which give access to high quality education for all. Education systems should not only build more exceptional talents but develop the abilities of all children and young people. In this way, urban areas can achieve social inclusion by raising a skilled and educated generation.

As for public spaces (including squares, markets, waterfronts, street markets, shopping areas, community centres, parks, playgrounds and town centres), they play an important role in the social life of communities. They serve as a “self-organising public service,” a shared resource in which experiences and values are created. Public spaces offer many benefits: the “feel-good” buzz from being part of a busy street scene; places where people can display their culture and identities and learn awareness of diversity and difference. The success of a particular public space relies on people adopting, using and managing the space – people make places more than places make people. The beginnings of Urban Anthropology in the 1970s, the influence of public spaces on the social structure of cities, has constituted a focal point of research as a vital means of promoting social integration.

Public spaces in cities can be associated with anonymity, diversity, quality of life and well-being. They offer a platform for the development and change of social practices. They are indispensable as they offer space for social interaction, or what is referred to as an informal web of civic relations that characterise our “life between buildings.” Public space, especially town centres, can act as a “social glue” for stratified communities. Its social value lies in the contribution it makes to people’s attachment to their locality and opportunities for mixing with others, and in people’s memory of places. Squares are a form of public space with a highly symbolic character and as such play a great role in the constitution of a city’s identity. Their meaning for a city’s population lies in providing opportunities for social interaction, social mixing and social inclusion, as well as development of community ties.

In order to convert the city centres into the vibrant heart of the country, it is necessary to provide renovated infrastructure and community spaces for social fusion and civil peace to promote the flow of socioeconomic relations, and to be a centre of humanitarian and national interaction. Public spaces are a vital ingredient of successful cities as they help build a sense of community, civic identity and culture. The public spaces of a city must become the vessels carrying positive communal meanings and defining the character of the city. Public spaces need to be perceived as places of tolerance and reconciliation, places that allow for creating civic bonds and social integration of communal fragments where disparities could be safely resolved.

It is of the utmost importance to empower people, especially youths, to actively participate as key stakeholders in the decision-making of the community. It is also critical to promote open and public spaces as essential amenity spaces. This requires putting all our collective efforts into establishing local development strategies that are more inclusively focused, strategic and realistic. Strategies will be developed and sustained taking into consideration people’s participation to improve the socioeconomic conditions and quality of life for all citizens.

Food Security and Health: the Need for Better Inclusive Planning

Javier Albarracín, Director of Socioeconomic Development, IEMed

Roser de la Torre, Assistant, Socioeconomic Development, IEMed

Within a context of increasing demand for food as a result of the major population growth and migration fluxes in the Mediterranean region, two factors arise as essential to continue to promote social inclusiveness in the future: food security and health.

The issue of food security in the Mediterranean will necessarily become a major priority in the regional agenda over the next decades due to the need to fulfil the food demand of the population. In this respect, one of the challenges is to guarantee food at affordable prices so that everyone has access to it regardless of their economic or social status. In addition, ensuring people’s right to health services should be at the core of government policies. Improving and widening health coverage is a challenge that should be addressed to ensure that vulnerable populations can receive medical treatment.

Both food security and health are complex and entangled issues that are influenced by a number of factors, including population growth, state revenues, armed conflicts and climate change, among others, which must be taken into consideration as they have a direct effect on human development. The design of new strategies and policies to deal with present and future challenges in these fields requires adjustment to a continuous changing reality.

Food Security

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations(FAO),”food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food, that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” Considering this definition, food security is a multi-dimensional concept as it involves different aspects that define its framework.

In the Mediterranean region, the limited natural resources, in particular water and arable land, cannot fulfil the food demand of the population. The reliance on food imports puts the region in a fragile situation due to food price volatility and unstable international markets. Another aspect to consider is climate change, which especially in the Mediterranean has an impact on the deterioration of ecosystems and natural resources, including water availability. If the ecosystems continue to deteriorate, along with a decrease in water resources and farming land available, it will pose a threat to local production, which is directly related to 25 million jobs in the region.

Taking into account this context, a few issues that influence food security especially in the cities of the Mediterranean region are highlighted:

Population growth

The rapid population growth and the consequent increase of food demand in the Mediterranean region are aspects that should be taken into consideration in the food security context.

The population of the Mediterranean region progressively increased from 276 million in 1970 to 466 million in 2010, and it is predicted to reach 529 million by 2025. More than half of this population lives in countries in the southern Mediterranean, and this proportion is expected to significantly grow by 2025. For instances, the total population in Turkey was 28.2 million in 1960 and increased up to 77.7 million in 2014, increasing 175% over the last 50 years. A similar case is Egypt, where the total population was 27.9 million in 1960 and increased to 82.1 million in 2013, which indicates an increase of 94% over the last 50 years.

There has also been a very rapid urban development in the Mediterranean region. Approximately 163 million people out of the 190 million that were added to the population in the region between 1970 and 2010 live in towns of more than 10,000 inhabitants. During this period the urban population increased 1.9% per year, from 152 million to 315 million, and it is estimated that about 385 million people will live in towns in the region by 2025. In addition, almost three quarters of this growth is expected to take place in the south and east of the Mediterranean. In the period 1970-2010, the urban growth in this area averaged 3.1% per year, and about 4% in Libya, Syria and Turkey.

Global forecasts point out that the availability of food in the region, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, is not sufficient to feed its entire population, leading the region to a position of high dependence on food imports. The situation does not seem to improve but to deteriorate over the next decades due to the increasing gap between local production and the food demands of a rising population.

Local food markets

Local food markets in Mediterranean cities can play a major role in promoting neighbourhood inclusiveness as they support job creation and social interaction. The remodelling, modernisation and urban integration of local food markets can also contribute to the inclusive urban socioeconomic development of the cities. This process requires the commitment of all the actors involved, including employees, customers of the markets and neighbourhood representatives as well as the knowledge and commitment to adjust the infrastructure and services of the markets to the needs of customers and to a certain extent the neighbours, while ensuring that they are economically competitive.

The “remodelling model of Barcelona” may serve as an inspirational case of success for other local food markets in Mediterranean cities. This model takes into consideration several aspects, which include the restoration of the architectonic value of old buildings and its artistic elements making it more attractive for eventual tourists, a design oriented towards a commercially sustainable activity and a well-developed market logistics. By doing so with public food markets the accessibility of healthy and fresh food for all residents is better guaranteed. Moreover, this model supports an environmentfriendly recycling activity and the promotion of the markets to attract visitors and customers.

This methodology could be implemented in other Mediterranean cities by adjusting the idea of markets modernisation to the local idiosyncrasy. The main goal of this approach is to promote the modernisation and remodelling of old buildings that serve as local markets in order to facilitate trade of proximity and integrate them as food services for residents.


The insufficient local production and the dependence on food imports in Mediterranean countries increases the chances of undernourishment among the population, which leads to the emergence of diseases that have their origin in a poor and unbalanced diet. For this reason, it is necessary to promote nutrition programmes that help to reduce micronutrient deficiencies, especially in mothers and children under five, among other actions that stress the importance of a healthy diet.

Preventing hunger and food deficits requires the commitment of different actors as well as the adoption of measures and policies that promote human development and the social protection of the most vulnerable. Governments should strengthen the importance of following a balanced diet to avoid nutritional imbalances and diseases. In this regard, the Mediterranean diet includes a wide variety of fresh and quality products as an integral part of the Mediterranean lifestyle and the development in the region. In a context of population growth it may be difficult to guarantee access to health services and medical treatments for the most vulnerable communities. This situation requires a comprehensive and adequate planning of health infrastructures in the Mediterranean countries with a special emphasis in urban areas, where population tends to concentrate.

On the other hand, over recent years events in North Africa and the Middle East have led to a significant increase in migration flows. This fact points to the importance of cross-national political dialogue and the need to identify best practices in the fields of migration and health. It is essential that international organisations work closely with national governments in order to ensure that the health sector is ready to cope with the demand of migrants as well as strengthening the public health resources and services to provide a more accurate response in the current migration context.

Therefore, it is a priority to work with the purpose of associating health with sustainable development. Health equity will only be achieved if all the actors involved are committed to cooperate in order to improve citizen’s well-being in a more sustainable way. The migration phenomenon poses health challenges in both the short and long-term and it is necessary that governments receive the required support in order to strengthen the capacity of their respective health systems.

Steps Forward

It should be a priority for governments to ensure access to food for everybody in order to tackle the problem of poverty and hunger as well as providing adequate health services. The right to food and health is included in the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food.”

Food security and health in the Mediterranean region are key challenges to be addressed in order to move towards a future of sustainability and peace.

Below, some steps forward are suggested that may contribute to better practices:

Multilateral organisations

Multilateral organisations including the World Bank (WB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) are enhancing their awareness and involvement in the region regarding food security and health issues. The WB more than tripled the funds invested in food security between 2011 and 2014, rising from $260 million to $750 million. The multilateral organisations have increased their contribution to both food security and health through the funds invested as well as through the development of inclusive and innovative approaches, such as the involvement of the private sector in their projects. It is crucial for the coming years that this tendency of increasing funds dedicated to both food security and health are reinforced and maintained in time, due to the steady increase of the challenges in these two fields in the region.


Policy-makers should promote programmes to build and maintain infrastructures that ensure a safe food chain and the provision of health services. In addition, they should actively support communication and collaboration between national actors and international organisations with the purpose of promoting integrated national systems for food safety and health.

Institutions and governance

According to the FAO, progress in food security and health services requires the commitment of efficient governments and institutions, which should promote well-designed food security and health policies. Some of the necessary actions include political commitment to food security and the right to food through the promotion of an appropriate framework.


Akkelidou, D., “Food security in the Euro-Mediterranean Area: Main Challenges”, European Institute of the Mediterranean (IEMed), Barcelona, 2010. Available at: Food%20Security%20in%20the%20Euro-Mediterranean%20Area_Main%20Challenges.pdf

FAO, IFAD and WFP, The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014. Strengthening the enabling environment for food security and nutrition, Rome, FAO, 2014. Available at:

Institut de Prospective Économique du Monde Méditerranéen (IPEMED), “Food security and the right to food in the Mediterranean”, Paris, 2010. Available at: PFM_FoodSecurity.pdf

Institut Municipal de Mercats de Barcelona (IMMB), Urban Markets: heart, soul and motor of cities. Making city markets the drivers of sustainable urban development, Barcelona, 2015. Available at:

Jakab, Z., World Health Organisation – Regional Office for Europe, Public Health Aspects of Migration in Europe. Health is on the move: addressing the public health challenges of migration, Copenhagen, 2015. Available at: Migration-Newsletter-4th-Issue_EDITORIAL_220115.pdf?ua=1

UNEP/MAP, “State of the Mediterranean Marine and Coastal Environment”, UNEP/MAP – Barcelona Convention, Athens, 2012. Available at:

UN General Assembly, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 10 December 1948, 217 A (III). Available at: