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The Right to the City: a renewed social contract at the level of cities and territories

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 progressively emerged as a collective right fostering local communities to transform urban space under principles of social and spatial justice and full participation. 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 human rights, promotes an equitable and sustainable development and mainstreams participation in urban life as a vehicle for social inclusion and cohesion.

Building on the legacy of more than twenty years of mobilization among local governments and civil society, the Committee has become a meeting point between local authorities and social movement for debating and advancing the global commitment with the Right to the City.

International seminars of local governments for the right to the city

Our Committee supports local governments willing to organize International Seminars for the Right to the City. As the Global Charter-Agenda for Human Rights in the City is a key reference tool for cities to improve human rights protection and promotion at local level, these seminars are key moments to go further in their implementation and to consolidate the global movement for the right to the city. They are also great occasions to exchange local advances on policies promoting and effectively implementing the Right to the City, making local initiatives for the right to the city visible.

[International Seminars of Local Governments for the Right to the City]

 

Networking: Global Platform for the Right to the City

The Global Platform for the Right to the City (GPR2C) is an international network of civil society’s organizations and local governments with the aim to promote the right to the city in local and global agendas. It also aims at defining a new, more inclusive and democratic paradigm of urban development. The Platform facilitates dialogue, cooperation and coordination between its over members through advocacy, research, training and awareness raising actions.

[Global Platform for the Right to the City]

 

Global agendas and the Right to the City

The Habitat III process - conveyed to deliver the New Urban Agenda as roadmap of urban policies for the next decades - was instrumental for advancing international networking and recognition of the Right to the City. The Committee worked for the recognition of the Right to the City through two main axes: taking part in the political advocacy campaign conveyed by local governments and UCLG; as well as rallying with international civil society.

[Building on Habitat III legacy]

 

The 1990s was a milestone in terms of recognition of the role of local governments as pillars of states' democratic quality. Some years later, recognition of cities as key players in the guarantee of human rights in their role of providers of public services and agents responsible for education, health and housing policies would gain ground. International debates in this regard would increasingly derive into the claim for “the right to the city”, according to which the city is a collective space which belongs to all its residents and which must offer the necessary conditions for a decent life.

The origins of global discussions around the Right to the City within the framework of the municipalist movement took place during two forums of cities that emerged in parallel to the first editions of the World Social Forum: the Forum of Local Authorities for Social Inclusion (FAL) and the Forum of Local Authorities of Periphery (FALP). The FAL ended up leading to the UCLG Committee on Social Inclusion, Participatory Democracy and Human Rights (2005), which has been promoting the Right to the City ever since.

The Commitment of Belém (2008) is a good compilation document to take stock of ten years of work of the FAL on the Right to the City. It helps us to identify its origins and advance in global municipalism:

"Once again, the FAL reaffirms the importance of cooperation between territorial governments of different levels and of the alliance with social movements for the construction of another possible world in a context of strong structural and global crisis (…) Therefore, it is proposed to deepen the reflection on the right to the city (...), on the social function of the city and on the need to territorialize human rights. In addition, it must be noted how the right to the city also involves talking both about rights as well as responsibilities of citizens, since building a dignified and solidary city is a shared commitment”

Commitment of Belém (2008)

In parallel to this process, discussions Right to the City started to gain specific ground thanks to the actions and initiatives of hundreds of local governments gathered around the framework of our Committee. Both the Global Charter-Agenda and the European Charter for Safeguarding Human Rights in the City have articulated a comprehensive understanding of this Right in regards to local policies and human rights

“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)

By the second decade of the century, two seminars of local governments would advance the commitment of local authorities towards the Right to the City and set the ground for international campaigning. In the first summit of local governments for the right to the city, 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 Seminar of Local Governments for the Right to the City, held in Mexico City in 2015, relaunched local governments commitment and engaged with new local authorities and social movements. Mexico's summit was also instrumental in providing a preparatory framework towards Habitat III; the international process aimed at delivering a roadmap for world urbanization, the “New Urban Agenda” (2016). On this paramount occasion, the alliance of local governments and social movements was instrumental to achieve, for the first time in a high-level international document, a consistent mention to the Right to the City

“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 - UCLG has deepend its commitment toward the Right to the City and had promoted it among its members, with concrete measures in terms of housing or migration policy. In its Bogotá Congress (2016), 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)

Among other milestones for advancing a shared understanding of the Right to the City or developing it in a specific territory, in the last years 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) – Global 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)