The fundamental purpose of a city is to serve its people. Yet in many cities, development priorities are set based on the needs of builders, financial brokers, and the city’s privileged, while sidelining the needs of the city’s majority. (See Chapter 19.) To be more inclusive, city administrations can weave people’s interests into the very fiber of city initiatives, involving citizens in city governance (see Participatory Governance) and reflecting the needs of the majority in daily city administration.

Applying Maslow’s Hierarchy to City Administration

Placing people’s needs at the center of city initiatives in a systematic way is a challenge. An innovative approach proposed in the state of Victoria, Australia, imagines incorporating standards for a healthy society into city programs across the state by simplifying and adapting Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” schema. In this simplified framework, known as Existence, Relatedness, and Growth (ERG), “Existence” refers to meeting basic survival needs, “Relatedness” is about facilitating interactions among people and with nature, and “Growth” corresponds to promoting equity, justice, beauty, and other higher-level values. Standards for each area can be applied across city departments and programs.1

Placing people’s needs at the center of city initiatives in a systematic way is a challenge.

Researchers in Victoria have imagined applying ERG to a city’s water provision. In their framework, Existence needs for water are met when a city can supply basic services (meeting survival needs of drinking, cooking, washing, and bathing); when sanitation advances health through the prevention of disease; and when stormwater drainage protects against flooding (meeting an important security need). These basic water services are supplied through conventional and usually centralized water management infrastructure, such as reservoirs, treatment plants, and pipes, canals, and other conveyances.2

Smart water policy can help a city meet water-centered Relatedness needs as well. Parks, sports fields, and open spaces are places where people socialize and enjoy nature, but these areas often are neglected during droughts, reducing opportunities for interaction. What if recycled stormwater and wastewater were used during droughts to augment water supply and keep parks green? Those resources typically are wasted: Victoria reused only 2 percent of reusable stormwater in 2010 and only 7 percent of the sewage available for treatment. A city can hardly be called water-scarce, the researchers argue, if it throws away large quantities of water.3

At the household level, rainwater harvesting can help families reconfigure their water supply options and cut water costs.

Finally, water policy can meet Growth needs of equity and justice by giving greater control to citizens, which often translates to diversity of offerings and decentralized management. At the household level, rainwater harvesting can help families reconfigure their water supply options and cut water costs. Neighborhood-level systems can manage wastewater and stormwater. These systems can be made available to all citizens, rich and poor alike. Beautification can be created by exposing at the street level once-piped stormwater in garden-like drainage systems, helping to achieve both aesthetic and equity goals.4

See references for this text.

〉〉 Next: Participatory Governance


Gary Gardner

Gary Gardner is director of publications at the Worldwatch Institute and co-director and contributing author of the State of the World project.

Read more in State of the World: Can a City Be Sustainable?

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