Declaration by HIC President for World Habitat Day 2012

World Habitat Day

No more profit! Defending our rights to land, housing and the city

In the past few years,
documents of all kinds have tirelessly repeated an unprecedented fact: for the
first time in history, half of the global human population –about 3.4 billion–
lives in cities. It is expected that in 40 years that percentage will reach three
quarters, although certainly with differing figures between regions and

This trend toward urban
concentration not only goes unquestioned, but is accepted as irreversible, and discussions
surrounding this topic make constant reference to our “urban future”. Extreme
visions fall short in explaining the reality that surrounds us: from
aphorisms like “engines of growth” or “magnets of hope” that promote cities as
embodying the only possible way of life while completely neglecting the
importance of rural life and its relation to cities
, to the apocalyptic denunciation that we are on
our way to having a “planet of slums”. In both cases, little is said about the differentiated
responsibility of social actors, of the rapport between urban and rural worlds,
or of the nuances and possibilities to transform these processes of urbanization.

The concentration of
economic and political power, worsened by the dogmatic and repetitive
application of the savage neoliberal policies arising from the Washington
Consensus, is a phenomenon of exploitation, dispossession, inequality,
exclusion and discrimination whose dimensions are clearly visible: cities where
luxury and misery coexist; thousands of empty housing units and thousands of people
left homeless without a decent place to live; land without peasants, dominated
by agro-business and privatization; and rapid and concentrated accumulation of common
goods and collective wealth in the hands of a few. Several decades of a lack of
support to small-scale rural production and aggressive propaganda of urban
consumption patterns have resulted in millions of young women and men being
driven from their places of origin, leaving them without viable options for
their future.

The conditions and rules
that our societies have created are condemning half of the world’s population to
live in absolute misery, while inequality grows both in the North and in the
South. In some Latin American and African countries, the so-called slums are
home to over 60% of the population.

What we have found in these
territories are the consequences of actions and omissions of various actors
(decisions taken by a few affect the lives of the majority). However, at the
same time, housing, land and habitat policies create possibilities and
conditions for the reproduction and/or transformation of these complex processes
and social relations, and are strong tools for deepening or decreasing the
economic, social, political and cultural inequalities that divide our societies

that 85% of the new jobs at the global level are created in the so-called
informal sector, we must ask ourselves what kinds of opportunities are
available for the youth. Also, we must question what kinds of citizens and what
interpretation of democracy is producing these macro politics and their territorial
consequences? The city as a centre for business for the few seems to be worth
more than the right to the city for all. This apartheid, in its various
dimensions, is still painfully visible among us.

It is not news for anyone
that, especially during the last 30 years, many governments have more or less
abandoned their responsibility to regional and urban planning, allowing
scandalous speculation and the accumulation of exponential earnings for the
real state sector. At the same time, current policies ignore and even criminalize
the individual and collective efforts of impoverished populations to secure a decent
place to live in peace and with dignity. According to several research reports,
between 50 and 75% of the housing and neighborhoods in the Global South were
built by inhabitants’ initiatives and efforts, with little to no support from governments
or other actors.

We have called on the
urgent need for urban and agrarian reform for a long time now. The essential
components of alternative paradigms and social practices of production and
enjoyment of human settlements -democratic, inclusive, sustainable, productive,
livable and secure- have been part of the debates, proposals and concrete
experiences of social movements, national and international networks, unions,
professionals and technicians, academic institutions, and human rights activists
in different countries over the last 50 years.

Thousands of people and
dozens of organizations and networks have taken part in the elaboration,
signing and dissemination of the World Charter for the Right to the City and
the International Declaration of Peasant’s Rights, demonstrating that the right
to live with dignity in cities would be impossible to achieve without also struggling
for the right to live with dignity in the countryside. Considering that these
categories are not static –and that they are being questioned today more than
ever for their diverse juxtapositions– the right to the city approach urges us
to look at territories and the places we live in a more integral and complex manner.
Various environmental (ecosystems, watersheds, weather conditions, etc.),
social (migration), economic (processes of production, distribution,
consumption and waste), political (legal frameworks, policies and programs),
and cultural (language, traditions, imaginary) phenomena are interwoven and
closely linked together. Our struggles cannot be accomplices to the dualistic
vision that maintains them separated and pitted against one another, in a rapport
that is based more on competition and exploitation than on complementarity and

We will need to further
develop this perspective if we want to move forward with urban reform as a alternative
paradigm to what many are calling a “civilization crisis”. We believe that the
values and proposals contained in the right to the city present many points in
common with the ancient worldview of “buen
” (good living) that have being gaining particular relevance in both
political and programmatic terms in the last decade. In this sense, both
alternative proposals place human beings and their relations with nature
(conceived of as being mutually dependent and sacred) in the center of our
thoughts and actions. They consider land, housing, habitat and the city as
rights and not as commodities, prioritizing the social function of property and
collectively-defined public interest. They fight against speculation, land grabbing
and mega-projects, and delve deeper into the conceptualization and practice of democracy,
not only representative but direct, participative and communal. These
alternatives encourage collective rights, not only individual ones, they
conceive of and feed into a productive habitat and an economy that provides for
human life and for the community, not for the personal earnings of the few. Finally,
they promote complementarity and solidarity, not savage competition; they respect,
support and guarantee a multicultural and diversity approach, against the imposition
of discriminatory homogeneous models.

Neither people nor the planet
can endure any longer. It has become clearer now more than ever that a radical
change in our patterns of production, distribution and consumption is needed, in
addition to a transformation of the symbolic standards and values that govern
our life in society. This must happen if we truly want to realize a “good
living” for all in our cities, towns and communities.

Lorena Zárate
HIC President

October 1, 2012