In an environment of economic globalization and accelerated urbanization worldwide, local officials share a cluster of challenges—albeit with varying degrees of severity. And adding to these challenges is the trend toward decentralization, which shifts responsibilities for service delivery from the national level to local communities. This shift requires municipal governments to adopt new governing and management techniques.
ICMA designed its CityLinks™ program to allow city officials in developing and transitioning countries to draw on the resources of their U.S. counterparts to find sustainable solutions tailored to the real needs of their cities. In other words, CityLinks improves the capacity of cities to provide quality services to their residents, create a better living space for the community—and sustain those improvements after the specific CityLinks project has ended.
The CityLinks Premise
CityLinks was inaugurated in collaboration with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in 1997. Known at the time as Resource Cities, it is based on the premise that well-managed cities are the key to efficient service delivery, economic growth, sound management of resources, community health, and political stability. A secondary premise is that democratic governance is the system by which local citizens participate in political decision making and hold their elected officials accountable for these outcomes.
Thus, CityLinks seeks to:
- Empower local governments, NGOs, the private sector, and citizens to effect solutions
- Match the skills, knowledge, and resources of the local community with the skills, knowledge, and resources that U.S. partners can share
- Use innovative and flexible partnership models involving various government and nongovernmental counterparts in the United States, host countries, and third countries
- Establish substantive professional relationships between U.S. municipal governments and their counterparts in developing and transitioning countries
- Facilitate greater understanding of the mutual benefits that can be derived when community leaders in the United States—and their international partners—achieve sustainable solutions that enhance the capacities of democratic local government.
CityLinks in Practice
Building on the technical expertise of ICMA’s membership of 9,000 local government professionals, CityLinks has facilitated dozens of partnerships involving cities, counties, professional associations, universities, and other participants. Partnerships have focused on the range of local government challenges:
- Improving the basic public services provided to citizens—including infrastructure development; water, sanitation, and other environmental management services; and crime prevention and public safety—and putting sustainable solutions in place
- Enhancing local economic competitiveness by identifying opportunities, developing strategies, and planning for implementation
- Creating effective municipal management structures for strategic planning, financial management, performance measurement, citizen participation, and advocacy
- Honing the skills of local government officials to enable them to better carry out their mandates.
At the same time, CityLinks has fostered transparency and accountability in budgeting, procurement, hiring, and other municipal practices in each project.
Past CityLinks partnerships facilitated by ICMA have yielded concrete results. For example:
- A consortium of more than 50 cities in Bulgaria, together with a national foundation and U.S. partners, established a local economic development program that resulted in the creation of a website, approximately 4,000 new jobs, and substantial investment in new and expanding businesses.
- Two tsunami-ravaged cities in India designed and built community playgrounds, educated citizens about public services, improved access to reliable, safe drinking water for 20,000 citizens, and increased water service revenues by $150,000 per year.
- In Jordan, CityLinks partners designed and implemented new practices for reduction, collection, and disposal of medical and industrial waste that helped safeguard the country’s precious water supply and the health of the community.
Over the years ICMA has used its CityLinks model in programs outside the “CityLinks” funding umbrella and in programs funded by donors other than USAID:
- In Mexico, Costa Rica, and Argentina, ICMA established CityLinks partnerships that helped jurisdictions improve their credit ratings and increase their ability to borrow for infrastructure improvements.
- ICMA partnered U.S. cities and counties and their police/sheriff’s departments with their counterparts in Panama and El Salvador to share practices in community-based crime and violence prevention.
In programs like these, the goals of CityLinks are to improve the lives of citizens, strengthen the quality of local governments, and foster democracy through international municipal partnerships.
Current CityLinks Programs
In 2011, USAID awarded ICMA the five-year City-to-City Partnerships Program, which came to be known as CityLinks. It addresses three interrelated development issues that are of paramount importance in today’s world, aiming to:
- Improve climate-related governance and systems in targeted urban areas
- Increase resiliency of cities in Feed the Future focus countries
- Improve water supply and sanitation access in urban communities in Global Health Initiative countries.
The 2011-2016 CityLinks program is supported by a robust website that connects users with a worldwide network of professionals with an interest in these three topic areas. It also provides:
The director of the program is Judit Deilinger.