Spotlight: Cities and Urban Governance

More than half of the world’s population is living in cities and, according to recent estimations, about 66% of the world population will be living in urban areas by 2030. In order to raise awareness on the important role that cities play today and encourage cooperation to ensure sustainable urban development, the United Nations has designated 31 October as World Cities Day.

“Cities today have become more important in maintaining order, peace, security, and justice… The gaps in national and interregional governance are creating new spaces for cities as first-line actors in responding to not only local but also global challenges that include climate change, poverty and migration. They are therefore emerging as pivotal actors in a devolved landscape of urban governance,” wrote Mayor Jozias van Aartsen in The Hague Institute’s Phase I report on Conflict Prevention in The Hague and the Metropolitan Area.

The Hague Institute has been particularly keen to explore the role that municipalities can play in preventing violent conflict. In particular, the Institute has produced policy relevant research on how municipal institutions, and specifically mayors, can promote collaborative governance, on the role that civil society and non-state actors can play in conflict prevention, and on the approach that cities can take in addressing transnational challenges.

As part of its convening role and its mission as a ‘do’-tank, The Institute has also facilitated a one-year project in The Hague, mentioned above, where representatives from different communities of practice, such as education, civil society, the private sector, and police, have participated in a series of consultations to discuss issues related to conflict prevention in their city and communities, and explore possible new approaches to solve the main drivers of violence. The project will now enter its second phase, which will comprise concrete in depth measures based on the recommendations produced during phase one.

Below you will find an overview of The Hague Institute’s work related to cities, urbanization and urban governance, which includes commentaries, publication and events.


  • Cities and the Protection of the Most Vulnerable Migrants: The Fate of Unaccompanied Minors in Europe | 25 October 2016
    The demolition of the Calais ‘Jungle’ camps gives new urgency to the position of unaccompanied child migrants. Urgent action is  needed to speed up the process of ensuring the protection of these children’s fundamental rights, in which European cities can play a crucial role.
  • An Inclusive Approach to Post-Hurricane Matthew Reconstruction in Haiti | 21 October 2016
    In light of the Habitat III summit and the launch of a new urban agenda, this commentary argues that reconstruction in Haiti after Hurricane Matthew needs a proper understanding of the underlying vulnerabilities and involvement of the local government.
  • The New Urban Agenda: Tackling Food Insecurity in Urban Areas | 19 October 2016
    Food security has become a challenge in many urban contexts, especially in fast-growing cities. This blog analyses the specific threats that food insecurity poses to cities and explores opportunities and limitations offered by the new urban agenda in order to solve these issues.
  • Preventing Urban Violence in Chicago | 15 September 2016
    Cities across the world share the same underlying drivers of violence, such as the segregation of communities, unequal access to health and education, weak infrastructure, and a lack of job opportunities. In a conversation with American activist Ameena Matthews, The Hague Institute explores alternative approaches to reduce violence in Chicago and prevent conflict before it escalates.
  • Can Mayors Succeed Where Governments are Failing? | 15 September 2016
    In September 2016 mayors from many cities across the world convened in The Hague for the Global Parliament of Mayors to discuss the biggest issues their cities are facing and to learn lessons for future policy and practice. This commentary reflects on cities’ capacity to solve the problems that states cannot.
  • Collaborative Urban Governance | 27 June 2016
    In light of several mayoral elections in 2016, this commentary explores the role that mayors can play in preventing violent conflict and, specifically, in addressing its drivers . Research on a number of cities suggests that elected mayors are less likely, compared to non-elected mayors, to adopt a collaborative governance approach and to invest in long term solutions.
  • Moving Global Action on Migration and Refugees Forward: A Need for Innovative Partnerships | 20 November 2015
    If EU governments would stop ‘burden-shifting’ and engage in coordinated ‘burden-sharing,’ a much needed coherent European response could be devised to the ongoing migration crisis. This also requires coordination between different levels of governments, as cities play an important role in the relocation and integration of migrants.
  • The Right to Food: International Peace and Justice and the Role of Cities | 24 September 2015
    Globally, at least 795 million people are estimated to be undernourished and more than 90 million children under five years are still undernourished and underweight. Cities can help to mitigate and possibly even avert such challenges.
  • Urban Safety Lessons from Mexico | 9 April 2015
    Security, as well as social cohesion and trust need to be built at the city level, with a bottom-up approach. This was one of the conclusions reached at the first meeting of the Technical Working Group on the Confluence of Urban Safety and Peacebuilding Practice, in Mexico.



  • Preventing Urban Violence: A Conversation with Ameena Matthews | 14 September 2016
    In collaboration with the Roosevelt Foundation and with the generous contribution of The Haëlla Foundation, The Hague Institute for Global Justice was pleased to welcome activist Ameena Matthews to discuss urban violence, peacebuilding and social change.
  • Book Launch “Global Urban Justice: The Rise of Human Rights Cities” | 29 June 2016
    On 29 June, The Hague Institute and the University College Roosevelt hosted a book launch of Global Urban Justice: The Rise of Human Rights Cities. This book critically discusses the history of human rights cities and  the potential they hold for global urban justice.
  • The Chicago Forum on Global Cities | 1 June 2016
    From 1-3 June, leaders from around the world converged in Chicago for the 2016 Chicago Forum on Global Cities. On 2 June, Dr. Abi Williams, President of The Hague Institute, participated in a panel on Combating Violence and Building Unity.
  • Roundtable – The Hague Dialogue “The Right to Food: International Peace and Justice and the Role of Cities” – Milan, Italy | 24 September 2015
    The aim of this roundtable was to determine whether a concrete agenda can be developed for realizing the Right to Food in the context of international peace and justice, with a special focus on the role of cities.
  • Big Cities: Sources of an Approaches to Urban Securities in Fragile Contexts | 13 November 2014
    This one-day meeting, organized by The Knowledge Platform Security and Rule of Law, brought together experts on urban insecurity to discuss the ways in which marginalization, crime, political grievance and non-state armed groups interact in the fast-growing cities of the Global South.
  • Cities, Peacebuilding and Statebuilding | 7 October 2014
    This panel discussion touched upon the challenges of rapid urbanization in fragile states for peacebuilding and statebuilding, as well as opportunities afforded to local governments in cities. The panel comprised – among others – the Mayor of Kabul, Gjakova and former Mayor of Kigali.


  • City Responsibility: The Role of Municipalities in Conflict Prevention
    This project seeks to examine how city municipalities prevent and mitigate violent conflict and other forms of crises in the global North and South. To this end, it will test the core assumption that devolved or decentralized power produces a more effective response to preventing the outbreak and escalation of violent conflict.
  • Conflict Prevention in The Hague
    This pilot project is part of the Institute’s international research which aims to understand how municipal forms of governance can prevent and mitigate violent conflict.


Further Reading

New Publications: Making Water Cooperation Work

The Hague Institute has released the two final reports for its project ‘Water Diplomacy: Making Water Cooperation Work’. The two publications present research findings…

News Brief

The End of U.S. Leadership on Human Rights?

For a column in Dutch newspaper NRC, journalist Michel Kerres, diplomatic editor for the newspaper, spoke to Stephen Rapp, former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes…

Media Mention