Building the City With the People

Within the new world scenario, for the last number a years of series of social, economic and political changes have begun to spread across the planet. “Modernization” has made its appearance, within the context of the parallel reorganization of capital and the State. The reorganization of capital is expressed, on the one hand, in “flexibilization”, which seeks to eliminate legal and labor union-based forms of protection, and, on the other hand, through the “de-regulation” of the market, which seeks to stimulate the circulation of goods and make it possible for private companies to fix prices and determine the quality of consumer goods. The reorganization of the State seeks to redistribute a series of functions and attributes towards non-governmental actors.

The policy of privatization has meant that the more profitable functions of the State are sold cheaply to largo national business interests, while non-profitable social policies are handed over to the municipalities, the Church, non-governmental organizations and inhabitants themselves. This is accompanied by the “slimming down of the State” which includes lay-offs as well as reductions in public spending for productive investments and social policy. Meanwhile, the State’s repressive apparatus, mechanisms for controlling the population and political patronage networks all remain intact. This reorganization of the State, by redistributing functions, supposes that social actors will be transformed to fulfill the new roles assigned to them. This is particularly true in the case of municipal governments, NGOs and popular organizations.

In order to provide this sort of attention to the problems of urban popular sectors and their settlements, integral and coordinated institutional action is necessary, action, which is consistent and long-term. Only through a series of planned and broadly negotiated actions involving public and private institutions, NGOs and popular organizations, can the challenges of helping these settlements to provide a decent life be met.

Numerous efforts on various fronts are necessary, efforts which will help achieve the necessary political decision and will to grasp the idea that the habitat conditions of popular sectors actually represent a form of social and economic investment towards achieving equity, social justice and the full democratization of society.
The public sector of our countries must make these groups (which actually represent the majority) their priority if they are to respect the fundamental right to a decent life.
It is crucial that mechanisms be developed for consultation, negotiation, multi-lateral accord and coordination among the various agents involved, within an institutional framework that respects integral policies, plans and programs. If these practices are to be legitimated, the validity and representativity of the spokespeople of popular organizations must be recognized and their dynamics respected. Institutions must be adapted and public servants educated so that they have an open mind and recognize the importance the processes present within the popular neighborhoods of our cities.
The challenge is to demonstrate the possibility of using creativity and innovation to solve the habitat quality problems suffered by millions of poor families. The key is to develop forms of habitat, which empower the lives of these women, men, children, youth and elderly.
Innumerable experiences demonstrate that it is possible to formulate and promote massive national policies, which take into account the heterogeneity, and diversity of the urban realities of our countries.
In these cities, our cities, we must accustom ourselves to living together. So that we live together in a just way, we need to begin by guaranteeing that everyone have access to a place to live which is safe, decent and peaceful, in a healthy environment, where solidarity and equity govern our neighborhoods. This is a right yet to be won.