Mayors of new cities will not only inherit weak city economies, inferior city infrastructure, and poor welfare service systems, but will have to contend with a fragile blend of rural and urban communities.
Great tasks therefore await them; the seminal being to grow resilient city economies through a tripartite intervention involving revenue retention, creation and attraction.
To retain revenue within their cities, new city mayors will have to mastermind quality social services to discourage revenue migration in the form of taxes and fees as residents for example seek better healthcare elsewhere because city hospitals cannot handle advanced medical procedures, or educate their children in schools elsewhere due to poor academic standards of city schools.
They will also have to create new revenue streams by empowering the majority poor in their cities to engage in profitable and taxable commerce, funding start-ups, and prioritising local product businesses because they employ more people and multiply revenue streams along chains of distribution and consumption.
To attract revenue from elsewhere, mayors will have to brand their cities as leading destinations for lucrative social and economic opportunities. Hong Kong for example is known as a city of trade and commerce and Paris as a city of love.
What will new cities be known for? Jinja can brand around the Nile and Hoima on the oil resource, while Soroti thrives on agriculture and can leverage on having the only aerodrome in the region to boost agro-tourism.
Meanwhile, cities are built on land, not air.
Mayors must prepare to address concerns of tenure security and property rights, bearing in mind the rural communities controversially annexed in some of their cities, and urban communities are used to municipality standards.
The former, seeing in city expansion, a threat to their agriculture and means of livelihood, and fearing dispossession of their lands, could resist development while the latter, gripped with perceived insecurity of tenure, could hesitate investing in upgrading land and housing.
Mayors will have to sensitise their communities and explore options around facilitating the acquisition of individual freehold property and land titles to not only allay fears, but raise property values which owners can use as collateral to obtain formal credit for developing lands, improving properties, and investing in businesses suited to city standards.
They will also have to limit urban sprawl on agricultural land and the natural environment by prioritising investment on previously developed land.
Their task will be to ensure social cohesion and to build climate risk resilient cities by ensuring city structures do not displace, but co-exist with the natural environment, and further ensuring that structural designs portray and facilitate the city’s sociability and commerce.
In central business areas for instance, cities will benefit from having buildings along pedestrian-oriented streets adopt glass frontages showcasing products inside, including modern architecture in place of dominant Indian dukawallah or shop style-buildings, and further still, identical housing designs in residential areas for aesthetic outlooks.
Tourists, traders and new residents, will throng new cities, straining sanitation systems and intensifying threat of crime and disease.
Mayors will need to ensure uninterrupted city lighting to deter crime, and plan well-ventilated urban spaces with good access to sunlight to fight infectious diseases.
The overarching task for mayors will be to creatively tweak pre-existing systems and hierarchies within their city’s administrative, economic and social structures, without disrupting established community customs as they transform their cities, majority currently cities by name, to cities by character and outlook.
Mr Larmbert Ebitu, Democratic Party (DP) Candidate for City Mayor, Soroti City, 2021