Civil society participation in urban development in Syria
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This research examines urban planning as a form of governance, considering it a process where decisions are taken on urban land use, analysing the possibilities for wider participation of civil society in this process in order to promote potential sustainable outcomes within their related political, economic and social contexts. The geographical context for this study is Syria where, along with other countries of the south, such issues have been under-researched. Syria is experiencing a transformation period economically and socially. This has been greatly influenced by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This effect is translated into the objectives of the Syrian national 10th Five-Year Development Plan (FYP) (2006-2010) of promoting stable economic growth and sustainable human development as two requirements to achieving a socio-market economy. According to the FYP, sustainable human development is characterised by empowering civil society as a partner in the development process and boosting its participation in all society aspects towards the achievement of ‘good governance’. This is intended to counter the misperception that urban development processes are limited to formal institutions of the government, and to include a whole range of society actors from all state, private sector and civil society spheres. This is consistent with the UNDP focus on civil society participation as a fundamental prerequisite of sustainable development, which is an essential characteristic of good urban governance. However, to date, the extent to which these values have been incorporated in practice has not been examined. This study adopts a case study approach and uses institutional analysis to examine the extent to which development institutions in Syria permit the environment needed to apply this principle in practice. In addition, the research investigates the areas where possible alternative institutional models can be developed within state-market-civil society contexts through defining new roles and relationships, mainly between civil society and the state, in order to promote an effective practice of civil society participation in urban development decision-making. The empirical analysis in this research highlighted the shortcomings of international empowering policies, where neither the role nor the potential of the informal segments of civil society are recognised. In addition, the analysis showed that the international policies of participative approach to urban development tend to be limited and do not sufficiently take into account the fact that structures of power are multi-layered, multirelated, and change from one context to another. Empowering options for civil society participation thus need to be informed by in-depth understanding of local contexts. The research suggests that the adoption of UNDP enabling approaches in Syria has potential. However, achieving this is a political matter, where issues of how power is structured and practiced by society actors (the state, the private sector and the civil society) in a given context should be considered. Thus, this research maintains a postmodern view of civil society participation in urban development. It argues for the need to promote a proactive approach to enable civil society participation in the countries of the South based on an institutional vision of planning as a form of governance, rather than a normative internationally accepted approach developed in isolation from the given political and institutional urban development context.