WUF 5: Special Session, Latin American Consultation: Actualizing the Right to the City



Nelson Saule Jr, Polis Institute, Brazil


Ms. Ada Colau, Obervatori Drets Economica Socials I Culturals (DESC), Spain

Mr. David Harvey, City University of New York, USA

Mr. Edin Martinez, Housing and Urban Vice-Minister of El Salvador, El Salvador  

Ms. Elizabeth Santos, Red Metropolitana de Inquilinos, Venezuela
Ms. Lorena Zárate, Habitat International Coalition, Mexico
Mr. Marcos Landa, Movimento Nacional de Luta pela Moradia, Brazil

Mr. Pedro Franco, International Alliance of Inhabitants, Dominican Republic 

Ms. Rosa Rodríguez Velázquez, Gobierno de la Ciudad de Mexico, Mexico


Guenter Karl, Acting Chief Partners and Youth Branch, UN-HABITAT



Highlights of the Roundtable

 Mr. Karl made introductory remarks stating that this special session was the first of its kind and that he hopes it will be repeated in other regions at subsequent World Urban Forums. It gives Latin American organizations an opportunity to network with one another, while also giving UN-HABITAT the opportunity to improve their partner engagement.
Mr. Saule explained that the main objective for the event was to evaluate and discuss the experiences of the last 20 years in implementing the right to the city. He elaborated by saying that this event would allow the participants to discuss the experiences in Latin America at the local level and at national levels. He also pointed out the fact that a draft statement was being distributed for comments. This statement will represent the opinion of the civil society present at the World Urban Forum.
Ms. Velázquez stated that all citizens have the right to use the services in the cities, especially the poor and marginalized persons. Mexico City agreed to make a diagnosis on the human rights issues in the city and then put together a human right programme in coordination with UNHCR. They have identified the obstacles and have proposed solutions, deadlines and activities based on a human rights approach.
Mr. Martinez declared that national and local governments need to take responsibility in achieving the right to the city. They should strive to provide what cannot be done in the marketplace. He also stated that we cannot talk about the right to the city without discussing redistribution of wealth and the fact that the elite must be responsible for incurring some of the costs of creating a more equal society, for example: housing taxes.
Ms. Santos spoke on the huge inequalities in the housing sector in Venezuela. She mentioned that in Caracas less than 1000 people own more than 25% of the homes and that most of the population cannot afford the rent, nor access housing. She urged for better implementation and clarification of legislation for the housing sector, specifically regarding evictions.
Mr. Franco stated that the right to housing is directly linked with the right to the city. He mentioned that the Dominican Republic has one of the highest levels of evictions despite the fact that last year a new constitution was created that established a right to housing.
Mr. Landa brought up five challenges to the right to the city. These are: the use of public resources; the need to take into consideration the medium and long term impacts; the need for an inclusive perspective; interaction between academia and popular knowledge; justice that doesn’t protect the citizens it is not justice.
Ms. Colau remarked that we need to have people in the streets to promote government responsibility, to continue communicating with one another and to give us a collective dimension to the right to the city. She also pointed out that serious housing issues are not just a developing world problem. The subprime mortgage crisis also occurred in Spain and that in 3 years 350,000 people will lose their houses because they won’t be able to pay their mortgage.
Ms. Zárate stated that we need to ensure that the issues of the right to the city are not forgotten because it is the fashionable issue of the day. This struggle is more than 30 or 40 years in the making and we do not want our achievements to be lost. She concluded by pointing out that participation and social control are key elements to the right to the city.
Mr. Harvey stated that the right to the city is not simply a demand to access what is in the city but a right to alter the city into something else. In order to address the social issues of the last decades, we must concentrate on the real problem, the concentration of political and economic power.


Emerging Issues

 – Objectives and goals such as those of the Millennium Development Goals should be defined with respect to the fulfillment of the right to the city and the right to adequate housing and sustainable urbanization.

– If justice does not protect the right to the city then justice has no legitimacy.

– Europe is learning how to create stronger rights to the city from Latin American social movements.

– We have all built the city so we have the right to define and enjoy the city.

– Urbanization has become a way to accumulate power and wealth.