We begin this new millennium with half the world īs population living in cities. According to forecasts, the world īs population will be 65% urban by the year 2050.
Cities are potential territories of great wealth and economic, environmental, political and cultural diversity. They are much more than simple physical spaces marked by greater population density. The mode of urban life influences the manner by which we establish connections with our fellow human beings and with the territory.
Nevertheless, contrary to these conditions, today's models of development being implemented by most countries of the Third World are characterized by patterns of concentration of income, power and accelerated urban processes, which contribute to the degradation of the environment and to the privatisation of public space, generating exclusion and social and spatial segregation.
Cities are far from offering equitable conditions and opportunities to all of their inhabitants. The majority of the urban population is deprived or limited - due to its economic, social, ethnic, racial, gender and age characteristics - in the possibility of satisfying their basic needs.
This context favours the growth of representative urban struggles. But at the same time, they are often fragmented, and therefore, incapable of producing significant change within the present development model.
Confronted with this reality, civil society organisations meeting at the First World Social Forum 2001, discussed and committed themselves to the challenge of building a sustainable model of society and urban life, based on the principles of solidarity, freedom, equity, dignity and social justice. One of its fundamental principles must be respect for diverse urban cultures and the urban and rural balance.
The participation of local actors, especially the social movements and the popular associations, is fundamental for the construction of this model. Governments and international organisations should recognize them as significant partners and guarantee permanent spaces for democratic participation.
The Habitat Agenda, approved by all national governments that participated in the Habitat II International Conference, June 1996, in Istanbul, Turkey, already focused on these issues, principally when it states: "We commit ourselves to the goal of sustainable human settlements in an urbanising world by developing societies that will make efficient use of resources within the carrying capacity of EcoSystems and take into account the precautionary principle approach, and by providing all people, in particular those belonging to vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, with equal opportunities for healthy, safe and productive life in harmony with nature and their cultural heritage and spiritual and cultural values, and which ensures economic and social development and environmental protection, thereby contributing to the achievement of national sustainable development goals." (Habitat Agenda, art. 42)
Significant Elements for the Right to the City: Urban struggles are generating a need to recognize, within the international human rights system, The Right to the City, defined as the equitable usufruct of the cities based on the principles of sustainability and social justice. It is understood as a collective right of the inhabitants of cities, especially vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, conferring the right to organise and act, based on their own traditions and customs, with the objective of securing their full exercise of the right to an adequate livelihood.
The Right to the City is holistically conceived as being interconnected and interdependent with all internationally recognized human rights. Therefore, it includes the rights to: land, livelihood, employment, health, education, culture, housing, social welfare, security, healthy environment, basic infrastructure, public transportation, recreation and information. It also includes the right to meet and to organise, respect for minorities and ethnic, racial and cultural diversity, respect for immigrants and the guarantee of the preservation of historical and cultural heritage.
This right presupposes interdependence between populations, resources, environment, economic relations and quality of life -for both present and future generations. It implies radical structural changes in both production and consumption patterns and in the forms of land use and natural resource allocation. It refers to the search for solutions to counteract the negative effects of globalisation, the privatisation of scarce natural resources, the increase of world poverty, environmental vulnerability and their consequences for the very survival of humanity and of the planet.
Principles of the Right to the City: Full exercise of citizenship: Understood as the fulfilment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, ensuring the dignity and well-being of all the inhabitants of a city, in conditions of equality and justice, as well as the full respect for the social production of habitat. It implies the creation of conditions for peaceful co-existence, collective development and the exercise of solidarity. It means to guarantee the full usufruct of the city, respecting differences regarding class, sex, age, race, ethnicity and political/religious orientation and the preservation of the collective memory and cultural identity.
Violations to the right to the city are considered to be any actions or omissions, be they legislative, administrative or legal measures or social practices which result in the violation, impediment or constraints towards the cultural identity, forms of peaceful co-existence or the social production of habitat. It is also considered a violation, any obstacle to the preservation of all forms of public demonstrations, organising and action, based on the tradition and customs of social groups and inhabitants of cities, especially the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.
Democratic Management of the City: Understood as the control and the participation of civil society, both by direct and representative democracy, in the planning and governing of cities, giving priority to the empowerment and autonomy of local authorities and popular organisations.
It includes the right to free and democratic election of local representatives, the realization of referendums and popular legislative initiatives and the equitable access to public debate and public fora. It also includes the right to equitable participation and decision-making in the defining of municipal policies and budgets, and in the institutional channels, including the municipal councils and sectoral and territorial commissions. It presupposes the adoption of principles of transparency and efficiency in public administration.
Violations to the right to the city are considered to be any actions or omissions, be they legislative, administrative or legal measures or social practices which result in the impediment, denial, constraint and inability for the collective political participation of social groups and inhabitants in the management of the city, such as in the fulfilment of the decisions and defined priorities in the participatory processes that are core and essential to city management.
Social Function of Property and the City: Understood as the prioritisation of the common interests over individual property rights, in the formulation and implementation of urban policies. It implies the socially just and environmentally sustainable use of urban space. It includes the obligation of government institutions to regulate and control urban development by land use policies, which give priority to the social production of habitat in response to the collective social, cultural, and environmental welfare above individual interests.
Any omission, by public authorities, resulting from not applying or not adopting these principles in the implementation of urban policies at any level of government in the field of administration, involving the elaboration and implementation of projects, programmes and plans is considered a violation of the right to the city; in the legislative sphere, through the publication of laws, control of public resources and government actions. And in the judicial sphere, in decisions and rulings regarding widespread collective conflict referring to urban issues of interest.
See also OrganicArchitecture