In neighborhoods and in the world, fighting for the right to the city, for democracy and urban justice
Preliminary draft for discussion
Transnational corporations, multilateral agencies and their advocates have already foreseen the ideal XXIist century city: it is globalized, tied by flows and hierarchies to the global markets; a city tied to the few who control and rule the markets from their headquarters in the global cities. Conceived and managed as if it was a corporation, this city sails in the global competitive seas and its governance mirrors the corporative management: marketing, competitiveness, pragmatism, flexibility and decision-making processes centralization should be the virtues of urban government. Led by entrepreneurial mayors, free from public control and engaged in public-private partnerships, this city would be able to seize opportunities and secure its competitive advantages in the cities market, competing for foreign capital, investments, tourists and mega-events. This neo-liberal city, market oriented and market friendly, is simultaneously consequence and condition of the structural adjustment imposed by international consultants and by IMF, World Bank and other multilateral agencies diffused recipes.
Its perverse consequences are, however, evident: more inequality, increasing of unemployment and poverty levels, quality of life degradation for millions, violence increase, frustration, despair. Vulnerable groups, ethnic and cultural minorities, migrants and women suffer particularly, due to the discrimination added to their misery.
The new standard, together with its characteristic urban scenarios, imposes itself all over the world. The urban fabric is progressively being decomposed. The city’s diversity and its encountering places, once built by working class neighborhoods within the modern tissue have been bulldozed or intentionally gentrified, and/or ethnically and socially ‘cleaned’. With them, the richness of a cultural and political life once the symbol of those communities, of downtown areas and docklands is also vanishing. It is a transfigured city, transformed into an agglomeration of citadels for the wealthy, enclaves for middle classes, vulnerable quarters for working classes, and ghettos for the poor and marginalized groups.
New controlling tools have been developed resulting in the criminalization of those who, defying the neo-liberal creed, fight for social change and for an alternative urban scenario.
Inherited inequalities, largely a result of the modern city built throughout the XXth century, get more and more acute. The calls on private and corporate philanthropy and on the moralization of public spaces do not hide the failure of policies focused at “alleviating poverty” any longer. New international reports and papers, rich in empty sentences and calls, but poor in poverty and inequality causal analyses, and, most importantly, needing substantial plans to eliminate wealth and power concentration – worldwide or inside regions and cities -, do not bring any surprises or hopes.
Problems increasing with crisis
The most recent world crisis uncovered the real neo-liberal’s traits: facing financial hardship – partly due to the city’s submission to financial markets -, its proponents “re-discovered” and celebrated state intervention! Bank owners and brokers lined up at the once slandered State’s door, begging for help… Within two months, States provided a larger amount of resources to the financial system than it had done for “poverty alleviation” in decades.
Having its origins in the cities’ marketing and financial processes, the crisis reflects itself over the very cities: more unemployment, more homeless workers, more inequality.
Despite this recent and gross failure of the neo-liberal city, global corpora ons and mul lateral agencies have nothing new to say. Real Estate brokers and the big capital demand di! erent and generous subsidies, as well as new forms of public-private partnerships. In exchange they promise the weary “poverty allevia on” formulae. In a number of countries, both in central and peripheral economies, programmed state Þ scal crisis Þ nance public debts with growing shares of their na onal budgets. In the context of a novel and even more perverse distribu on of costs, the city is rea# rmed as the locus of inequality and poverty produc on and reproduc on.
Capital only aims more profits
In a last and sorry effort, elites resort to systematic policies aimed at de-politicizing the city, seeking to transubstantiate citizens into consumers and shareholders or, else, into the “poor”. Citizens become audience to mega-events and city-spectacles, giving life to a world most cannot take part of, especially in peripheral countries.
That is not the whole story, however. There is a lot more to it. A lot not shown or discussed in offcial conferences or in global reports. There are alternatives for the neo-liberal model springing worldwide. Not only in cities led by progressive, popular, and democratic local governments, but also in some neighborhoods within cities under the neo-liberal hegemony.
It is not an alternative model, but alternatives to the model, rooted on different values and goals, different ideals of city, and on insurgent urbanity and urban planning processes. It is more resistance than revolution. Nevertheless, it is positive resistance.
Universalize social struggles
Despite its richness and universal character, it has been rarely possible to look at these experiences as qualitative encompassing processes, able to offer a way to challenge the current dominant urban agenda. There have been rare opportunities to gather urban activists, collective actors, movements and organizations who and which, in many cities and countries, are making the practical critique of the neo-liberal model, or researchers and progressive planners who are making the theoretical critique to the urban pensée unique. There have been even fewer opportunities to bring them altogether.
As such, we, at this moment, feel challenged to take a further aimed at building and structuring a bold movement that can express our international solidarity that will help us collect, organize and diffuse our achievements, both concerning our daily struggles and concrete experiences and our cultural and theoretical contends, all assuring innovative planning canons and methodologies. It is time to give a stronger and more consistent repercussion to our common efforts towards building democratic, socially and environmentally just cities. Cities where all inhabitants are simultaneously compromised with an equal society and with the right to be equal in diversity.
Movements, organizations and individuals, assembled at the 1st Social Urban Forum, in Rio de Janeiro, from March, 22nd through March, 26th, after a number of debates and a rich exchanging experience, call upon all those who struggle against the neoliberal city, at the markets’ and capital’s disposal, to unite, in solidarity, conforming an international movement for the right to the city, democracy and urban justice. In so doing, we hereby reafirm our principles and fundamental compromises.
Our beliefs and hopes
To celebrate these collective principles and commitments:
1) We declare March, 25th the INTERNATIONAL DAY OF THE STRUGGLE FOR THE RIGHT TO THE CITY, FOR DEMOCRACY AND URBAN JUSTICE.
2) We set a new appointment, two years from now and paralleling the next UN-Habitat World Urban Forum, when we should all meet again, stronger and more numerous.
In neighborhoods and in the world, Fighting for the right to the city,
For democracy and urban justice
Rio de Janeiro, 25 March, 2010
1) This proposal has been drafted by militants of movements and organizations participating in the construction of the Urban Social Forum in Rio de Janeiro.
2) This proposal should receive suggestions and amendments, especially from organizations outside Rio, be them from Brazil or other countries.
Suggestions and proposals should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
3) A final draft commission will be elected in the general assembly of the Forum. This commission will prepare the final version of the the Rio Declaration, taking upon suggestions and amendments sent to the email.
Follow what happens at the Forum at http://forumsocialurbano.wordpress.com/