Making Sense of Decentralization: Coping with the Complexities of the Urban Environment

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During most of the twentieth century, the exercise of governance was left largely to the discretion of formal governments, most notably the central state. Especially since the 1980s, however, we are seeing some important ‘shifts in governance’. Among the dominant modes of renewing governance is the process of decentralization, supported by idea that local authorities are in a better position to engage in bargaining or collaborative processes with local stakeholders and civil organizations. In addition, familiarity with local circumstances and interests gives local parties benefits in developing more integrated policies that are tailored to the local situation. Decentralization is, however, often pursued without a keen understanding of its possible or likely consequences, which is not without risks. These risks are especially prompt in the realm of environmental policies, as these relate to the protection of ecosystems, human health and future environmental qualities. In this chapter we will therefore reflect on the increasing role of the local level in environmental policy. We will do so based on both a theoretical exploration of theories on decentralization and empirical findings regarding the experiences in the Netherlands where decentralization in environmental policy is relatively well pronounced. We will explain that although decentralization has some important benefits to offer, also in the realm of environmental policies, central policies and regulations remain to play a key role in supporting, enabling and stimulating local good practices.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRisk governance
Subtitle of host publicationThe articulation of hazard, politics and ecology
EditorsUrbano Fra
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)978-94-017-9328-5
ISBN (Print)978-94-017-9327-8
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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