From local environmental initiatives to city management


Since the Vancouver Conference in 1976, one of the objectives of all major International conferences on Housing has been: “Accommodation and shelter for all”. However, this objective (not in the least easy to achieve), has so far not been attained, despite all the initial predictions. This is due to many factors which include: the ever increasing demand resulting from a serious demographic upsurge, on the one hand, and the high cost of housing, which is well beyond the reach of low-income groups (having no access to loans), on the other.

While agreeing on the goals of Agenda 21 or the Habitat Program advocating the right of populations to access basic services such as water, sanitation, health, and employment; the meeting was called to find concrete and practical means of accessing them. Facing rapid urban growth, the State and its municipal services have the heavy responsibility of equipping -with limited resources- their cities which, despite this uncontrolled growth , continue to be managed in a conventional fashion. Their inability to meet the increasing demands of populations has stimulated the emergence of grass root initiatives from new civil society actors in the urban arena (NGOs, CBOs, communal enterprises, groups, associations, etc). In fact, the underprivileged populations and their soul partners (who may be in the community/associative sectors, or in local authorities/public sector etc.) have shown through some of their activities that civil society -notably the poorest of the poor- is capable of doing the impossible. But taking these initiatives to the expression of their full potential, entails expanding their activities beyond the micro level.

A scale change relies on the premise that we can no longer content ourselves with laboratory style activities, regardless of their success. This does not mean suppressing every initiative at a district level, but obtaining the wherewithal to surpass this stage and work for and with the majority of society. Changing scale therefore also requires a constructive dialogue between civil society and local authorities.

The HEC is very sensitive to this problem which is considered to be indissociable from environment problems in general.

Finding a lasting solution to these problems will involve a change in perception and in measures formerly employed to tackle them. Such measures include those that were not favoured by a vast majority of the population which was excluded from all decision making in the first place.

People can better care for their social change went when all the interested parties are accorded due consideration and awarded a fair share of their responsibility. The Bamako summit of June 1998 which was co-organised by the HEC, provided an opportunity for all the interested parties present to air their views on this issue. The relevance of setting-up the popular observatories was strongly emphasized during this conference. These observations should be seen as the expressions of the various points of view of the different interested parties (government, municipal authorities, grassroots organisations, non-governmental organisations, institutional lending agencies, etc.). The objective of such a forum was to establish a think tank composed of all the different interest groups.

To achieve this, management methods must be improved. Government authorities and municipal services share the heavy burden of equiping and managing the cities without sufficient financial means. The problem is that management continues to be undertaken in the conventional way, using models and techniques which are often incompactible with local realities.

  • Excessive centralisation, which leaves little room for local initiatives;

  • Unisectorial Approach, which disseminates responsibilities and prevents a global approach to the management of residential areas;

  • Administrations which are often considered too technocratic and bureaucratic and which keep residents and communes away from decision making.

It is therefore imperative that a network of popular observatories be created at the local, national and regional levels which could better understand the inner functioning of the cities and therefore be in a better position to anticipate, identify, evaluate and analyse urban issues and propose the right political responses. In other words, an attempt should be made (with the participation of all the interested parties involved in development), to bridge the gap which exists between the existing urban realities and developmental efforts. Non-the-less, the developement of such a system should imply a thorough knowledge of the various levels of intervention – local, national and regional, as well as their respective roles and responsibilities. This will enable durable, concrete and workable collaborative mechanisms to be established between the various partners concerned.

To establish a network between the various urban observatory systems that would hence prevent disorganisation, isolation and consequently contribute to an improvement of housing and environmental conditions. This will be brought about at two levels:

  • At the primary level, it will involve the local interest groups, enabling them to determine and advance their standard of living.

  • At a level higher than the local level, it will create a synergy between the different regions, promoting exchange and various forms of intra — and inter — city cooperation and bigger partnerships.