Lighting the way to municipal prosperity

By Mary Larzelere :: September 3rd, 2013

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kosovo

When was the last time you thought about street lights? They’re certainly something I’ve always taken for granted, until a recent trip to Kosovo as part of an Urban Institute program supported by USAID, the Democratic Effective Municipalities Initiative (DEMI).

DEMI is a three-year, $20 million project dedicated to helping Kosovo municipalities achieve good governance at the local level. DEMI undertakes steps to make local service delivery more transparent and inclusive, and make local officials more accountable for results, a true challenge in any democracy, let alone a new one such as Kosovo’s.

As the project is coming to an end, I traveled to Kosovo in July to help close our office in Pristina. While there, I had the opportunity to visit some of the municipalities with which we’ve been working. Several of these municipalities chose to implement public lighting projects, which was surprising to me, since public lighting has never seemed as politically essential as education or public health.

At dinner one night, our in-country team leader explained the impact these lighting projects have. In Kllokot, a Serb-majority municipality (population 2,500) with a newly elected government, installing street lights has allowed citizens to feel safer walking around at night, which results in increased profits for businesses that are now able to stay open later. These businesses recognize that a service provided by the local government is benefitting them and have started paying their taxes more regularly. This increased municipal revenue in turn allows the municipality to provide further services to the citizens.

Something as seemingly simple as partnering with a municipality to help them provide a basic service has far-reaching effects. Indeed, the value of Kllokot’s public lighting project is twofold: not only has the municipality strengthened its own revenue sources and improved quality of life for its citizens, the public administration has also gained a key insight into governance.

DEMI’s support of the lighting project came only after (and is conditioned upon) municipal efforts to survey citizens on desired public service improvements, design a project and budget for implementation, and carry out a public bidding process that met international standards. As onerous as these requirements were to implement, the positive feedback of increased revenue and a healthier local economy have reinforced the importance of public participation to Kllokot’s government.

Photo Prizren Municipality, Kosovo, by DEMI staff, Urban Institute 

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