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Summary of the 1st Phase

From: Luciano d'Andrea, Moderator
Category: Category 2
Date: 11/6/00
Time: 8:57:18 PM
Remote Name:



The E-conference “The role of the research in the context of the Habitat Agenda” started up on March. Up to now, 24 researchers (whose 10 belong to University institutes, 12 to research centres and 2 to United Nations Agencies) made their contribution (for a total of 33 messages, comments and papers).

In the following paragraphs, the main issues dealt with by the contributors are briefly summarized, in order to raise new comments and opinions. The main themes dealt with by the contributors are:

o the Istanbul City Summit and its follow-up; o the view of the city in the Habitat Agenda; o the actors of the urban governance; o city and poverty o city and sustainable development; o city and globalization; o the contribution of the research on human settlements.

1. The Istanbul City Summit and its follow up

Part of the discussion was devoted to the Istanbul City Summit and its follow up. The Summit surely allowed to set up stable guidelines in the domain of urban policies, establishing priorities and objectives to be pursued (the right to adequate housing, the sustainable urban development, etc.). However, the Habitat Agenda has no value in law. Moreover, the Istanbul follow-up appears to be characterized by some delays and shrinkages, also due to the financial constraints which affected the UNCHS immediately after the celebration of the Summit.

For this reason, it is particularly important to understand if and to what extent the Summit had the "moral" capacity to urge national governments to devise strategies aimed at implementing the Habitat Agenda. Therefore, setting up a monitoring system of the Habitat Agenda implementation becomes an important step towards Istanbul +5, which researchers are required to support.

2. The view of the city in the Habitat Agenda

As for the view of the city provided by the Habitat Agenda, the opinions seem to be diversified.

Some contributors stress that the contents of the Habitat Agenda are not particularly new. Moreover, the document seems to be mainly focused on the symptoms of the problems affecting cities rather than their causes. Finally, the document tends to overestimate the role of the city as development catalyst, offering to national governments the opportunity to off-load their responsibilities and faults onto local authorities. All in all, in order to view the city as a development engine, it is necessary to achieve a better understanding on how the city works.

Other contributors hold that any opinion on the value of the city with respect to World development cannot be expressed without a broader knowledge on the conditions which make the city desirable. The Habitat Agenda does not stress the positive role of the city as such, but of a specific type of city, i.e. the socially and ecologically sustainable city. However, the idea of a sustainable city seems to be still difficult to make concrete, especially taking into account the increasing weight of the mega-cities; hence the need for a growing engagement in support to rural development which could contribute in limiting the social and demographic pressure over the urban settlements.

Finally, other contributions tend to see the city and its role in fully positive terms. The city appears to be a decisive factor for enhancing the human condition as well as the enabling environment for development.

3. The actors of the urban governance

A number of contributions addressed the question of the actors of the urban governance.

All those who dealt with this issue remarked how the role of private actors and, broadly speaking, of the people grew dramatically. Rather, one of the main factors hampering urban policies is exactly the inadequate perception of the role played by these actors in urban development.

These problems are furtherly sharpened by the fact that civil society seems to be made of an incoherent set of actors, each one acting following its own logics and strategies. Therefore, an analysis including different analytical perspectives, such as gender, social status, age or the degree of involvement in urban development programmes is particularly urgent. For instance, when the question of urban waste management in Abidjan is to be coped with, we cannot ignore that the main actors involved with waste collection (on the streets and around the houses) are the girls under 13.

The recognition of the role of non-governmental actors becomes an essential step to be done. Hence the need for programmes ensuring large opportunities for people participation, which is the main "antibiotic" against the reproduction of inequalities and supporting those groups in a condition of disempowerment as they are excluded from decision-making processes.

Many contributors suggested strategies and tools aimed at increasing people participation. Some of them stressed the growing relevance of the information technologies, to be used in favour of the community, also in order to combat the raise of new inequalities due to the uneven access to information. Other contributors underscore the need for returning all the information and findings generating through research programmes not only to the contracting agencies but also to the concerned people. The necessity to start from the practices developed by the community was also stressed, in order to set up forms of action allowing the mobilization of all existing potentials.

However, some contributors pointed out how many public actors are scarcely oriented to co-operate with private and non profit actors in a context of partnership, also because of the traditional mistrust between public sector and private sector. There is also the risk to use participation as a residual form of negotiation to be applied only at the local level, keeping the non governmental actors out of the decision-making process on the core questions. A further factor hindering the participatory process is the self-referring attitude of public actors which cut them off from society.

4. City and poverty

According to many contributors, poverty is one of the main knotty questions of urban development. Urban poverty is prevalently viewed as a dynamic process, which changes rapidly. This means that our attention is to be focused, not only on those who are presently poor, but mainly on the process of impoverishment or on the factors contrasting poverty. At the same time, rather than studying poverty as the cause of many urban problems, it could be more fruitful to study the causes of poverty, also in connection with the whole set of trends at the basis of the urban development.

Moreover, there is a strong orientation not to distinguish among different conditions of poverty (short-term/long-term poverty, overall/extreme poverty, etc.). Often, the relevance of the perception of poverty beared by the urban elites and the governments is underestimated.

As for the role of the city in eradicating poverty, some contributions stress the importance of small and medium-sized cities, where it is easier to combine the struggle against poverty and the ecological sustainability. Other contributors point out that the technical feasibility of poverty eradication is still to be verified. Moreover, the objective of poverty eradication requires a profound change in power distribution among social groups, which seem not to be remarkably modified by the urban growth. Finally, urban policies often represent a factor strengthening social inequality and consequently increasing the number of people exposed to poverty.

Most of the contributors draw the attention on the pivotal role performed by the informal sector as one of the main tools for combating poverty.

5. City and sustainable development

Sustainable development was a recurring issue in the first phase of the E-conference.

The need for identifying the components of an urban sustainable development was stressed by some contributors as well as the necessity to structurally connect social sustainability and ecological sustainability, understood as the only realistic strategy to pursue. Moreover, in this same perspective, national priorities as well as the priorities expressed by the social groups are to be harmonized.

Starting from the concept of sustainability, other contributions address some specific relevant questions, such as energy, solid waste management and urban planning.

Beyond these considerations, the idea of a "sustainable city" launched by the Habitat Agenda seems to be one of the most shared and discussed by the contributors to the E-conference.

6. City and globalization

The relationship between globalization and urban development is another pivotal question dealt with in the conference.

Actually, globalization appears to be the most appropriate context for coping with urban issues, mainly when the question of a "sustainable city" is at the stake. A real integration of different global policies (Agenda 21, Habitat Agenda, the Copenhagen Declaration) is required. Overall, urban policies cannot be thought only at the local level, but combining together the local and global levels, because of the complexity of the problems to face up to (shelter, health, environment, etc.).

Globalization is not only a top-down process involving the city from outside, but also a process emerging within the city (globalization-from-below), grounded on the action of local communities and NGOs which tend to develop transnational forms of collective action. Therefore, all forms of local, "cross-boundaries" and regional governance are to be viewed as part of globalization.

7. The contribution of research on human settlements

Many contributors dwell upon the main research sectors to develop as well as upon the role of researchers in the context of the urban policies.

In general, the researchers are asked to contribute in the fulfillment of the objectives of the Habitat Agenda, i.e. the right to adequate housing and the urban sustainability, both participating at the national level in the Habitat Agenda implementation monitoring process and broadening the spectrum of research subjects in order to include all the aspects of the urban life.

An effort could be made for the establishment of the Istanbul +5 Charter, i.e. a document which could incorporate all the standards pertaining the management of human settlements, to be used as guidelines by public administrators, decision makers, and urban planners. This could be a specific contribution that researchers could make for the implementation of the Habitat Agenda and could characterize their participation in the Istanbul +5 Conference.

In this perspective, researchers could help to speed up the institutional learning processes of urban actors, in order to avoid the same mistakes made in the past.

A specific commitment for the FRHS could be that of poverty eradication, by developing realistic and feasible plans of action which the international community could be discuss and implement.

Other specific issues for which a commitment of researchers is required have been mentioned:

o the overall characters of contemporary city;

o the identification of sustainability indicators for human settlement;

o the entire spectrum of gender-related issues (especially those connected with housing policies;

o the role of the city in the regional and global development;

o the urban practices and the "satisfying" solutions in urban management, to be linked with the best rural practices;

o the process of "globalization-from-below;

o the rural-urban linkage;

o the practices and conditions of people participation to urban planning;

o the political and socio-cultural dimensions of poverty;

o the role of the information and communication technologies and their positive or negative impacts on poverty and inequality;

o the most advanced and successful forms of local and transnational governance;

o the relationships between information and decentralization;

o the instruments for controlling the negative effects of globalization.

Luciano d'Andrea, moderator

Rome, 16/6/2000

Last changed: March 13, 2002