Cities of Integrity: An Overlooked Challenge for Both Urbanists and Anti-Corruption Practitioners - And a Great Opportunity for Fresh Ideas and Alliances

29 Pages Posted: 3 Jul 2013 Last revised: 16 Feb 2018

Date Written: July 2, 2013


The future of the fight against corruption critically depends on cities and the future of cities critically depends on the fight against corruption. Despite a great potential for mutual learning, innovation and joint impact there is still a surprising and very unfortunate disconnect between urbanists and anti-corruption practitioners in research, practice and advocacy.

These are the central arguments of this article that targets two very different audiences: firstly, urban scholars, practitioners, and advocates to present them with reasons why they should put a stronger focus on corruption issues; secondly, the anti-corruption community, to make the point that they should much more consider the role of cities and urbanisation in their work. This two-track approach means that some of the “why cities matter for fighting corruption” arguments may yield more novel insights for the anti-corruption community, whereas the same applies the other way around regarding some of the facts and learning about corruption that urban scholars and practitioners might find particularly insightful.

The article is organised as follows: The opening section (2.) discusses some common, yet empirically untenable misperceptions of corruption as they are often invoked by commentators outside the anti-corruption community. Section 3 addresses the urban scholar and practitioner communities to discuss why and how corruption holds back cities. It explores the scale and impact of corruption across different segments of urban governance and different objectives for urban development. Drawing on a vast and diverse body of empirical evidence, the emerging picture is one that confirms that corruption is a key obstacle to almost all major urban aspirations. It should be a central concern to urban practitioners of any provenance and all the objectives and ambitions they attach to their work on urban issues. Corruption matters in and for cities. Tremendously.

Section 4 switches perspective and considers urban corruption from the vantage point of the anti-corruption community. It argues that cities are pivotal venues for fighting corruption and present a very distinctive, strategically important, yet rather underappreciated dimension of the fight against corruption. The section explores whether it makes sense at all to talk about a distinctively urban corruption challenge, rather than just about issues of local governance more generally. It identifies a number of drivers and characteristics of the urban corruption challenge that clearly underscore that corruption in cities exhibits a particular risk profile and also distinguishes itself in terms of sheer scale and impact from corruption in rural or general local governance settings. Urban corruption thus merits its own treatment in terms of analysis and remedial action.

This section then moves on to review the state of corruption analysis and anti-corruption advocacy and action in relation to cities. This scan indicates that, a) cities so far have not received due attention in the thinking and doing of the anti-corruption community, b) this is very unfortunate since for a variety of reasons cities play a very pivotal role in the overall fight against corruption and the chances for its success. Cities have so far not been recognised as the important sites of analysis and action that they actually are. To put it a bit provocatively, the urban condition is a bit of a blind-spot for the anti-corruption community. But the analysis also shows that this is gradually changing, and cities are beginning to assume a more prominent role in the accountability and integrity arena.

Against this backdrop that cities matter for fighting corruption and fighting corruption matters for cities section 5 concludes with a positive outlook on the promise of integrating these two topics more closely. It discusses the potential of forge new collaborations around urban governance issues. Focussing on the example of urban planners and architects it presents a number of ideas of how these professionals could be productively involved in tackling urban corruption issues.

In a nutshell, there is double blind-spot: anti-corruption analysts and advocates do not pay sufficient attention to cities, and urban practitioners do not pay enough attention to corruption. Stepping up the conversation between these two communities has a great potential to develop new ideas for urban governance, energise the anti-corruption movement and remove a tremendous obstacle to any kind of ambition for cities that their communities and urban practitioners are setting for themselves.

Keywords: Urbanisation, corruption, transparency, accountability, integrity, cities, land, urban planning, resource curse, public services, local development, governance, policy capture

Suggested Citation

Zinnbauer, Dieter, Cities of Integrity: An Overlooked Challenge for Both Urbanists and Anti-Corruption Practitioners - And a Great Opportunity for Fresh Ideas and Alliances (July 2, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

Dieter Zinnbauer (Contact Author)

Copenhagen Business School ( email )

Solbjerg Plads 3
Frederiksberg C, DK - 2000

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