You are here

Right to the City: a renewed social contract at the city level

First conceived by the French philosopher Henri Lefevbre (1968) as a "demand for a transformed and renewed access to urban life", the Right to the City has emerged, throughout decades of bottom-up co-creation, as a collective right fostering local communities to transform urban space under principles of social and spatial justice and local democracy. For local governments in the framework of our Committee and UCLG, the Right to the City arises as an opportunity to promote a renewed social contract at the city level: one that guarantees all universal human rights, promotes an equitable and sustainable development and mainstreams participation in urban life as a vehicle for social inclusion and cohesion.

Over the last decade, the Right to the City has gained ground in the framework of the global municipalist movement thanks to the actions and initiatives of hundreds of local governments around the world. Both the Global Charter-Agenda and the European Charter for Safeguarding Human Rights in the City promoted in the framework of our Committee have articulated a comprehensive understanding of this Right in regards to local governance

“All city inhabitants have the Right to a City constituted as a local political community that ensures adequate living conditions for all the people, and provides good coexistence among all its inhabitants, and between them and local authorities”

Global Charter-Agenda for Human Rights in the City (2011)

Two seminars of local governments for the Right to the City advanced the commitment of local authorities towards this Right, setting the ground for international campaigning for the Right to the City. In the first summit, held in Saint-Denis (France) back in 2012, local governments recalled how, today

“we believe it is imperative to pursue this process so that the right to the city, understood as the equitable usufruct of cities within the principles of sustainability, equality, solidarity and social justice, becomes tangible realities in all of our cities and metropolitan regions”

Final declaration of the 1st World Summit of Local Governments for the Right to the City (2012)

The second summit held in Mexico City in 2015 relaunched local governments commitment and engaged with new local authorities and social movements. It was instrumental in providing a preparatory framework towards Habitat III; the international process aimed at delivering by 2016 a roadmap for world urbanization in the next three decades: the “New Urban Agenda”. On this paramount occasion, the alliance of local governments and social movements proved key to achieve, for the first time in a high-level international document, a mention to the Right to the City. This mention came to enshrine several of its main key components, yet failed to engage enough resources to deliver its goals in terms of fulfilling economic, social and cultural rights.

“We share a vision of cities for all, referring to the equal use and enjoyment of cities and human settlements, seeking to promote inclusivity and ensure that all inhabitants, of present and future generations, without discrimination of any kind, are able to inhabit and produce just, safe, healthy, accessible, affordable, resilient and sustainable cities and human settlements to foster prosperity and quality of life for all. We note the efforts of some national and local governments to enshrine this vision, referred to as “Right to the City”, in their legislation, political declarations and charters”

New Urban Agenda (2016)

As the world organization of local and regional governments, United Cities and Local Governments has showed a great commitment toward advancing a comprehensive understanding of the Right to the City and promoting it among its members, with concrete measures in terms of housing, social inclusion or migration policy to fulfil its core vision. In its Bogotá Congress, UCLG decided to put the Right to the City at the heart of its strategy in terms of urban and territorial governance

“Growing inequalities create new forms of poverty and exclusion. Local and regional governments face the daily responsibility of tackling socio-spatial exclusion and promoting social justice, integrating migrants, preventing discrimination and urban violence, and protecting social rights to ensure prosperity and well-being”

The Bogotá Commitment and Action Agenda (2016)

Hand in hand with UCLG local authorities, our Committee has continued to engage with worldwide social movements and civil society organizations advocating for their Right to the City through local action. The Global Platform for the Right to the City has articulated a remarkable community of civil society organizations, coming to define the Right to the City as

“the right of all inhabitants (present and future; permanent and temporary) to use, occupy, produce, govern and enjoy just, inclusive, safe and sustainable cities, villages and settlements defined as common goods”

Global Platform for the Right to the City (2016)


Local governments around the world are resolved to turn the principles comprised in the Right to the City into a comprehensive and lasting reality. The work areas in that regard are various, yet all share similar notions of local governance and policymaking, clearly grounded in the principles of participation, social justice and sustainability.

Coined as a renewed social contract between local authorities and citizens, the Right to the City has been transcribed into several joint statements among UCLG local governments. Those notions of social justice and participation have arisen after the celebration of international meetings and fora that brought together city representatives, civil society organizations and researchers. As recalled by Mexico City’s declaration of local governments for the Right to the City (2015), those shared views around the Right to the City could be synthesised as

  • Cities where the full exercise of human rights is guaranteed for all inhabitants
  • Democratic, transparent and participatory cities based on citizens’ empowerment
  • Cities as common goods for all inhabitants, where human rights take precedence over the process of privatization, of speculation which inevitably lead to the exclusion of the majority of the population, and where the rehabilitation of historic centers do not result in their gentrification
  • Sustainable cities which maintain a balanced and respectful relationship with the surrounding rural area and its natural resources
  • Cities whose economies aim to ensure their inhabitants’ well-being, and rely on endogenous and sustainable local economic developments and resources without seeking to attract international investments first
  • Multicultural and welcoming cities highlighting the wealth of migrants
  • Cities where public space is accessible to all and recognized as necessary for the freedom of expression, and the various uses of the city
  • Cities where cultural rights are guaranteed as key for social inclusion

Among other milestones for advancing a shared understanding of the Right to the City or developing it in a specific territory, the Committee has promoted or embraced the following documents:

European Charter for Safeguarding Human Rights in the City (1998) – Montréal Charter of Rights and Responsibilities (2008) – Mexico’s City Charter for the Right to the City (2010) – World Charter-Agenda for Human Rights in the City (2011) – Saint Denis Declaration of Local Governments for the Right to the City (2012) – Gwangju Guiding Principles for a Human Rights City (2014) – Financing the Right to the City for all (2016)


On the basis of members’ commitments and initiatives, our Committee has advocated for the recognition of Right to the City as a guiding principle for worldwide urbanization and urban policies in international seminars and fora. In order to do so, it has counted with the support of the UCLG network (which included the Right to the City in its Bogotá Commitment and Action Agenda) as well as worldwide civil society organizations gathered in the framework of the Global Platform for the Right to the City.

Habitat III was the main focus of the Committee’s efforts in terms of advocacy for the last several years, with a view to achieve UN member states recognition of the Right to the City as a guiding pillar of the roadmap for urban policies inthe next three decades: the New Urban Agenda (2016).

After this remarkable advance, our Committee has continued to campaign for the Right to the City full recognition and so that states and international institutions provide enough resources for its full implementation. To do so, it has continued to engage with new local governments and communities willing to join the movement.

As a concrete way of setting up the conditions for fulfilling the Right to the City, the Committee is currently promoting a renewed approach to housing through a human rights lens; to ensure migrants’ right to the city through a human rights-based global governance of migrations; to promote socio-spatial justice in worldwide metropolitan areas; and to secure local democracy and decentralization with enough resources to fulfil economic, social and cultural rights.

If you are local or regional government interested in the actions that other cities or regions have been promoting in the framework of our Committee relating to the Right to the City, do not hesitate to reach us at


You can also become a full member for free in order to keep track of our work and take part in our events around the world!


Tell us about the priorities of your city or region and send us your questions or proposals about the work we do in the Committee. We will see how you could join your voice and experience to the one of other members. We will get in touch and brief you on how to become an active member. Joining the Committee is a great occasion to value your work at an international level and meet with a worldwide community of local governments and social movements learning from each other and advocating for shared goals!