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Second Phase

From: Gabriele Quinti, Co-moderator
Category: Category 2
Date: 6/20/00
Time: 3:56:30 PM
Remote Name:


Dear Colleagues,

I am glad to launch this second phase of our e-conference on the role of the research in the framework of the Habitat Agenda.

During the first phase, lasted 2 months, two important events - strongly linked with our discussion - occurred :

a) the Istanbul+5 Preparatory Conference held in Nairobi from May 8th to May 12th;

b) the diffusion of the report of the UN Secretary General "We the people: the role of the United Nations in the twenty-first century" prepared for the UN Millennium Assembly.

OF the outcomes and the Istanbul+5 Preparatory Conference and its general meaning in the preparatory process we will have the occasion to discuss in our conference, presently I would like to underline only two aspects, more directly related to the FRHS . On the one hand, several Forum members contributed to the discussion, and one statement on behalf of the Forum was delivered by Alessandra Olmi, FRHS Secretariat, in the Dialogue 1 on "Good Urban Governance". On the other hand, it is remarkable the quote of FRHS activity in one of the official the document (HS/C/PC.1/2, 39, on the Item 3 of the provisional agenda on "Scope to be covered by the review and appraisal process"), where we can read : "...the researchers on human settlements have adopted a global agenda for policy-oriented research to help implement the Habitat Agenda".

More unexpected was the second event, that is the diffusion of the UN Secretary General Report. It is a document which seems to enlarge the perspectives of the current debate on future global policies and on the role of the United Nations. In particular, the following issues are noteworthy:

a new understanding of globalization, which includes not only the economic trends but also all the social, cultural, political and technological transnational processes;

a new vision of the legitimacy of power of public actors, increasingly based on the evaluation and recognition of their capacity to cope with the current economic and social challenges and, more specifically, to fight extreme poverty;

the enhancement of the theory and practice of governance as based on a strong partnership involving governments and civil society (i.e. NGOs, CBOs, private sector, scientific and research centres, and so on);

a style of writing which is very far from the usual bureaucratic language characterizing most of UN documents (Social Agenda and Habitat Agenda included).

These aspects are undoubtedly important. But the main point for our e-conference is the weight recognized to the urban policies in the UN General Secretary Report.

Actually, a specific section of this document is titled "upgrading the slums". Let me dwell upon it.

a) The Report feeds a "balanced" vision of the city (both positive and negative), viewed, on the one hand, as the "cradle of civilization and sources of cultural and economic renaissance", and, on the other hand, as a concentration of "squalid and unsafe squatter settlements or slums" ( 134).

b) The problems of the cities are no longer perceived as linked only to the lack of infrastructure and services, but also to the people's exposure to many other social risks. Kofi Annan adds: "Slums lack basic municipal services, such as water, sanitation, waste collection and storm drainage. Typically, there are no schools or clinics within easy reach, no places for the community to meet and socialize, no safe areas for children to play. Slums dwellers live and work in conditions of pervasive insecurity, exposed to disease, crime and environmental hazards" ( 135)

c) Nevertheless, many positive aspects are stressed in the Report, mainly related to people's social initiative, which seems to be particularly strong in the cities and, within the cities, in the slums, favelas and tugurios: "...these cities-within-cities are wellsprings of entrepreneurial energy that can be mobilized to provide welfare improvements for their inhabitants and for society at large" ( 136).

d) The Cities Alliance program (or Cities without slums Action Plan) jointly launched by the World Bank and the United Nations (through the UNCHS-Habitat) is one of the few (no more than 4 or 5) specific programs mentioned in the UN General Secretary Report. Moreover, it is the only programme which is described, as for its objectives (to improve the lives of 100 million slum dwellers by 2020), work plan (year 2000; years from 2001 to 2005; years from 2006 to 2020), expected results, main actions, funding needs, the needs for urban budget increase and the needs of upgrading investments ($ 200 million in the year 2000; $ 2,300 million from 2001 to 2005; $ 47,500 from 2006 to 2020).

Cities Alliance is understood by Kofi Annan as one of the core projects of the UN system, for the success of which he is personally engaged: "I strongly support the Cities without Slums initiative and ask all Member States to endorse it and to act on it" ( 138).

On June 12th and 13th the Second Cities Alliance Council meeting was held in Montreal with the participation of all the donors financially supporting the programme. Some of the World Bank and UN officials managing the programme are aware of the relevance of research and scientific knowledge for generating an adequate knowledge on the city and for improving urban social and economic policy design and implementation. With this event, a decision-making process started up, aimed at formalizing the proposal of allocating part of the funds for carrying urban research programmes.

This increasing recognition of the role of the research poses new questions, related to the capacity of urban researchers to cope with the specific challenges emerging from such a proposal.

I guess that the main question is to what extent and how researchers could share the responsibility for decisions related to human settlements and urban development made and implemented at all levels by policy-makers .

Assuming this responsibility means reconciling the neutrality of the scientific research with the need for a research in tune with the concrete demand for knowledge and information expressed by policy makers (even though we are fully aware of the persisting lack of knowledge on many aspects of the urban development and human settlements).

Moreover, assuming this responsibility means increasing the efforts for transforming research findings into understandable and accessible information which could be fully usable in the political arena.

The central place acknowledged to the theme "upgrading the slums" and, more specifically, the room given to the Cities Alliance Program in the UN Secretary General Report ask to research community to go in-depth into these issues.

This is the reason why I thought to share with the E-Conference participants also these ideas and concerns, also taking into account that the Istanbul+5 process is still going on and a contribution from researchers is expected.

With my best wishes,

Gabriele Quinti Co-moderator

Last changed: March 13, 2002