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Getting Started: Project Context
How does the Project/Program fit into the Broader Development Context?

Larger area issues often affect local issues and vice-versa. Coordination among the levels allows reinforcement, better use of resources, and assures sufficient outside support for upgrading efforts.

Characteristics of a ‘good project’ are reviewed in the context of city development initiatives. A housing policy map shows the shifts in thinking and relation of other development programs. Notes on the more recent City Development Strategy, of the World Bank, are shown as an example of city-level planning in which upgrading is coordinated. A summary and example of the Comprehensive Development Framework of the World Bank suggests a structure at the country level.

What is a “Good” Project?

Earl Kessler, Deputy Director, Urban Programs, USAID Global Environment Center. February 2000. Email:

The following is a set of proposed “good project” elements. A “good project” will:

1. Be a SYSTEM of service delivery managed by and/or for a city. The system will be comprised of different localities, communities, technologies, tariffs, fees and components held together by the management skill of the service provider. The concept of developing a system is different than that of developing a project in that a project is built – it begins and ends. A system evolves as a living organism – it begins and continues – it grows and expands and improves – therefore, requiring continual management attention.

2. Recognize that sustainability begins with affordability. There is no need for a “one-size-fits all” technology if that technology cannot be afforded. Infrastructure can grow as homes do, over time, as need and capacity to pay grows. A system may be comprised of several technologies. What is important is that the service manager determines an appropriate technology according to the capacity of the community to support that technology as part of an overall service delivery plan.

3. Include both formal and informal communities of a city in a system that benefits from its service and pays for what is received. There need not ever be again another “willingness to pay” study to demonstrate that the poor will pay for service provided. Poor families do if it is expected that they do so and they receive more than promises for their money. To exclude 40% - 80% of a city's population that resides in informal communities makes no sense. Since the central governments that control investment and service delivery in cities abdicated their responsibility to provide for new housing and infrastructure demand, squatter and unauthorized settlements have become de facto urban policy. Now is the time to rectify this and not continue to penalize those families who had no alternatives to squatting. However, urban upgrading programs should not be developed out of context. They should not be isolated from the city system of which they should be made a part.

Recognizing informal settlements and addressing their needs will bring these sectors into the formal structure of the city. Steps taken would provide a set of formal community attributes that qualifies a settlement as “formalized” starting with land tenure and the complement of urban infrastructure and health and education services. Formalizing informal settlements does not and will not cause hordes of poor families to advance on cities. It is the perceived economic opportunities that pull them in. If cities provided “reception areas” in a variety of locations to settle families as they arrive, the urban built environment would improve markedly.

4. Have clearly identified the costs of the project, fees, and tariff levels, other revenue required to repay capital, and operate, maintain and expand a service system. The fees and tariffs to make the system work would be known and agreed to by an informed public. Sources of dedicated streams of revenue would be structured and factored into the financial management of the city. A strategy that relies on “cross-subsidies” too heavily and is instituted to justify a technology too costly for the city to support will crush the viability of the system.

5. Be realistic about the timeframe for developing the improvements of old and new system components. “Good project” implementation will take longer than usually anticipated. There, project implementation plans that combine technical construction sequencing with financial flows to keep work progressing are best prepared jointly between the city officials, the engineering firms involved and the financial intermediaries participating in order to sequence the building and the borrowing schedule.

6. Be complimented by short-term activities that build confidence in the capacity of city government to delivery services. Such short-term achievements could be street lighting, urban forestry, street clean-up programs, and waterway improvement efforts. Learning to implement small-scale programs and projects will build the confidence and capacity of the city to manage the more complicated elements of urban infrastructure. Mid-term activities could focus on air quality and historic conservation programs and build experience as well.

Housing Policy Shifts 1950-1900's

In developing countries, the explosion of population and the subsequent rapid migration to urban areas forced governments to confront an ever-growing squatter phenomenon. Their solutions - encouraged and often lead by international development agencies - followed a relatively clear pattern: from initial removal to direct construction of housing, to eventually macro-economic corrections. At each stage as experience was collected and the initial euphoria of success was not met, policy-makers were confronted with two choices: to improve what they are doing now, or to make a conceptual shift and change radically the approach. For example, there was a conceptual shift in the late 60s from direct housing construction by governments to embracing squatters as the solution and shifting to land development schemes.

Note that throughout the years the informal ‘autonomous’ policies’ have overshadowed by far the official ‘formal’ efforts, and it appears that this split is growing in most situations.

(See also: ‘Scaling-Up’ and ‘Preventive Measures’)

Housing Policy Map

View a housing policy map which shows the shifts in
thinking and relation of other development programs.
The map is in Adobe Acrobat pdf (size: 11k).

City Development Strategy (World Bank)

The CDS - or Urban Development Strategy as it is sometimes called - is an analytical approach which takes a city and its surrounding region as the unit of planning. At least four aspects of cities are generally examined: livability, competitiveness, good governance and management, and bankability.

A CDS engages all city stakeholders in understanding the opportunities and constraints faced by their cities. The process aims to develop a realistic long-term vision for a city, helping to define and prioritize actions needed to achieve goals. Upgrading invariably features prominently in the planning visions.

National development programs are moving down to the urban level because of increased emphasis on decentralization and democratization, fiscal reforms, changes in intergovernmental finance, and emphasis on participation in governance.

The Comprehensive Development Framework (World Bank)

At its core, the framework focuses on a holistic approach to development, applied over a 10-15 year time-frame, with the country in the driver's seat and with strong partnerships among donors, the private sector and civil society. The proposal also seeks to put the social, structural and human aspects of development on a par with the more traditional macroeconomic analysis of countries - arguing that unless these two sides of the same coin are taken together, only one-half of the development picture is ever seen.

(See also: and

Example of general framework: Example for Bolivia:
Click on the above framework charts to view a full size example. The examples are in Adobe Acrobat PDF. Adobe Acrobat Reader is free software that lets you view and print Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) files. Download the latest version.
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