Rapid Urban Environmental Assessment:
The Urban Management Programme (UMP) Approach
Nathaniel von Einsedel
This paper describes the Rapid Urban Environmental Assessment (RUEA) methodology developed by the Urban Management Program of the UNCHS. As a methodology, RUEA draws its inspiration from rapid rural appraisal and participatory rural appraisal. It was initially designed for research purposes. However, it can be the first step in a strategic approach to urban environmental planning and management by helping to clarify issues, involve key actors, identify priorities, and build political commitment in a setting where some or all of these elements are lacking. The methodology consists of a three-step process: 1) completion of a questionnaire on urban environmental data, 2) preparation of an urban environmental profile, using data from the questionnaire and research assistance from local investigations; and 3) discussion of the results through a series of consultations, culminating in a priority-focused public workshop. The technique was tested in seven cases globally, namely, Accra, Jakarta, Katowice, Sao Paolo, Tianjin, Tunis and Singrauli Region.
Little information is readily available on environmental conditions, the interaction between urban development and ecosystems, or the managerial setting that exists to respond to environmental problems in the cities of the developing world. Recent attempts to develop such information have been incomplete because they: (a) focused on a limited number of variables that do not present a complete picture of key environmental issues; (b) took a narrow perspective by examining only one sector within the city; (c) required several years of intensive, multidisciplinary research and analysis; or (d) did not develop a set of urban environmental data that would allow for comparison across different types of cities. The end result is that much of this work has not been immediately relevant to those who must respond to the environmental consequences of urban development in the Third World because the information and analysis are incomplete, sector based, or outdated.
As a methodology, rapid urban environmental assessment draws its inspiration from rapid rural appraisal and participatory rural appraisal. The former, developed during the 1970s, was a "fairly quick and fairly clean" technique for development planning that sought to avoid unsuccessful agricultural projects that were linked to "top-down" and "blueprint" approaches to rural development. The latter, developed during the 1980s, is a participatory approach that involves data collection, analysis, problem identification, ranking of opportunities, preparation of village-level resource management plans, and follow-up. However, urban assessment is much less anthropological and community-focused than its rural counterparts, primarily because cities involve much larger populations and spatial areas.
DESCRIPTION OF THE RAPID URBAN ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT METHODOLOGY:
In summary, the methodology consists of a three-step process:
The three-step process was adopted to enable local experts and citizens to rapidly assess the state of the urban environment. This process is based on the need for measurement, observation, validation, and action, i.e.,
To measure a consistent set of data, an urban environmental data questionnaire is used.
To observe the nature, trends, and factors that influence environmental quality in the cities, a common framework for preparing an urban environmental profile has been developed.
To partially validate and use the results from the questionnaire and profile as a basis for follow-up action, consultations with key actors in the cities are held. Most important, consultations are a means of reaching consensus and developing political momentum to act on priority problems.
The rapid assessment process was initially designed for research purpose. In the context of the current discussion, however, it provides a strategic first step in urban environmental planning and management by helping to clarify issues, involve key actors, identify priorities, and build political commitment in a setting where some or all of these elements are lacking.
Subsequent steps in the strategic approach are:
The phases need not be a recipe. For a given city, one might start at the beginning, middle, or end of the process, depending on the existing level of consensus on environmental priorities , as well as political, socioeconomic, and other conditions.
USERS OF THE TOOL
RUEA is best used by local governments of urban or urbanizing localities as it provides a comprehensive diagnostic approach to determination of problems and solutions to a wide range of environmental problems. Local planning bodies may particularly steer its implementation .
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