Academic journal article The Public Manager

Evaluating Municipal Development in Romania: Launching a United Nations Sustainable Development Program in One Romanian City Has Its Unique Challenges

Academic journal article The Public Manager

Evaluating Municipal Development in Romania: Launching a United Nations Sustainable Development Program in One Romanian City Has Its Unique Challenges

Article excerpt

Introduction

Local Agenda 21 is a program launched by the United Nations (UN) as part of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The Agenda encourages local communities and citizens to rethink development models to balance economic growth, social equity, and environmental protection. The key element is time: development should be sustainable so that it ensures continuity across generations.

Brasov

Brasov, Romania, has a population of 350,000 tucked away in the Carpathian Mountains, about 160 kilometers north of Bucharest. History first documents the municipality in 1234, in The Ninivensis Catalogue, under the name of Corona. In 1548, the great humanist Johannes Honterus, in a letter to Sebastian Munster, a professor at Basel University, tells us that "the Brasov of these times differs from other cities because it cultivates the sciences." Autonomy, citizens' freedom, equality in the face of law, communitarian spirit, and other characteristics of the Western city can be found in the medieval history of Brasov-in contrast to the general social rules of the Middle Ages and to those of the other contemporary Romanian provinces.

The city's recent history has mirrored that of most communist cities: industrialization dramatically changed the social structure. The cultural change of the 1970s and 1980s spurred rural and interregional migration and diminished urban values. Moreover, the migration of the German population, which had a key role in its history, toward the (then) Federal Republic of Germany left Brasov with no identity. The economic crisis and deindustrialization that followed the fall of the communist regime in the 1990s offered opportunities to reinvent the communitarian spirit.

Project Description

To paraphrase de Tocqueville, who held that the way a nation is born influences the way it evolves, the way a project involving local public officials is born has consequences for how it is implemented. Local Agenda 21 started as an offer from the UN Development Program--with a predetermined budget and an implementing procedure already tested in other cities--not as an answer to locally perceived needs.

The Agenda had already been implemented in other Romanian cities, such as Galati and Iasi, similar in dimensions and population to Brasov, and in smaller ones, such as Giugiu, Ramnicu-Valcea, Targu-Mures, Ploiesti, and Baia Mare. In all of these sites, the model was the same, leading to a similar project structure in all communities. This similarity is surprising, given that the UN stressed the freedom of every working group to design its own project according to its perceived challenge. It suggests a rather imitative, top-down process in addressing the problem, as opposed to one that reflects a search for new solutions tailored to each community's needs.

City officials coordinated the project in Brasov, setting up an advisory board at the outset that included representatives from public institutions, decentralized public services, professional organizations, mass media, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the local university. Engineers, philologists, architects, doctors, and statisticians were drawn to the project, as well as managers and civil servants from public institutions concerned with culture, health, and environment. Four working groups were formed around the fields of economy, tourism and environment, sociocultural matters, and infrastructure. Each designated a leader from among university professors participating in the project, who contributed a development strategy in their field. The Brasov Agenda project began in September 2004 and had a deadline for completion of April 2005.

Questions

A project of this proportion, with implications for a community, had to answer a series of questions. What kind of society do we want: a communitarian one with a strong middle class or a metropolitan one with a large gap between haves and have-nots? …

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