Taking the ‘Right to the City’ Forward: Obstacles and Promises


The phenomenon of urbanisation
continues to accelerate at a rapid rate both with the movement of millions of people
to urban areas and with the absorption of peri-urban and rural areas into the
ambit of cities.
As urbanization transforms the world, and as cities
change, adapt, and grow, so do the challenges.

The city of today,
unfortunately, does not recognise everyone equally. Neither does it make
available its services, benefits or opportunities to all. The most marginalised
and the poorest are the ones that suffer the most. The onset of economic
globalisation and the institutionalisation of neo-liberal policies, including
through privatisation of civic services, has led to deepening inequalities of
income and opportunity between and within nations and cities. This in turn has
led to an increase in the number of people forced to live in inadequate and
insecure housing and living c
onditions and with very unstable
livelihood options.

Cities across the world have become
spaces marked by urban inequality and growing ‘ghettoisation’ and segregation. More
and more projects (gated communities, malls, entertainment complexes) have
created clear demarcation between ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ areas. In the same cities
we find sprawling slums with little access to essential civic services, especially
water, electricity and sanitation. The poor continue to be forcibly evicted
from their homes to make way for neighbourhoods/regions of cities that have
become playgrounds for the rich.

Along with these types of spatial
changes a range of ‘social control’ laws and policies have been put in place
that effectively criminalise and stigmatise the poor with an adverse impact on
their human rights. Many of these policies reflect both a deep-set
discrimination and ‘racism’ in societies against the poor and a false and
unsubstantiated feeling of being ‘threatened’ by them. Amongst the poor those
severely affected by these policies are the homeless, the destitute and
particular groups such as nomads and migrants.

This paper on “Taking the Right to
the City Forward: Promises and Obstacles” will outline the causes for the urbanisation
‘crisis’; the consequences of city policies; and their impacts on human rights.
The paper uses the existing reality in cities to argue for the need for a
broad-based, holistic and encompassing
right to the city as a human
rights response. The paper expands the notion of the
right to
the city
, and ends with some suggestions for city and national
governments on providing solutions, including offering assistance to those
actors attempting to counter the negative dimensions of urbanisation, through
the use of the
right to the city as a human rights-based mobilising
tool on the ground.

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