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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.

Perverse consequences

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

  • We believe in the construction of different cities, receptive to its inhabitants instead of receptive to the capital, friendly to its population and its needs before cities are friendly to the market and its rules;
  • We believe that, under the auspices of organized and autonomous citizen participation through their organizations, it is possible to elaborate and to implement policies and plans that further the elimination of the great wealth and power inequalities in our societies;
  • We believe academic and professionals should contribute to the construction of collective action processes and should help workers and urban residents in general to take their destiny and the destiny of their cities into their own hands;
  • We are committed to the struggle for reassuring the right to the city, understood as a collective right of all to a city without discrimination based on race, gender, sex, age, health, income, nationality, ethnic and migrant conditions or on political, sexual and/ or religious orientation. We also compromise with the universal right to preserve group memories, heritage and cultural identity;
  • We are committed to oppose each and every discrimination based on race, gender or economic condition, and sexual or religious orientation;
  • We are committed to struggle for housing policies aimed at dignifying homes, in fully equipped urbanized areas close to the job market;
  • We are committed to struggle against relocations and forced evictions based on rhetoric environmental arguments, on calls for public order, on development and/or patriot discourses mostly associated with mega events, which favor real estate speculation, capital and status quo governments;
  • We are committed to struggle and ensure that social rights to the land take precedence over property rights to the land;
  • We are committed to struggle for land regularization and urbanization of poor and/ or vulnerable areas and informal settlements and for public policies encouraging the implementation of cooperative forms of work and/or enhancing solidarity economy;
  • We are committed to struggle for affordable and quality public transportation, at unified and integrated fees in metropolitan areas, and for public policies that encourage non-polluting transportation forms;
  • We are committed to struggle against all forms of criminalization of the poor, including street workers, homeless and in-migrants, especially when occupying empty real state in order to shelter their families or legal economic activities to support them. We also commit to struggle against all forms of social movements criminalization, both in the city and in rural areas.
  • We are committed to demand basic transportation, health, housing, educational, cultural, leisure and sports services, facilities and equipments from the State. We also commit to struggle for public and democratic control of such services, facilities and equipments.
  • We are committed to struggle for public management and universal coverage of sanitation systems, in as much as water services, which shall not be privatized.
  • We are committed to struggle against monopoly in mass media production and distribution, currently in big corporations’ hands, ensuring their democratiza on. In particular, we commit to struggle for community broadcasting freedom, for their communication channels express a diversity of opinions and cultures that constitute a major asset to our cities.
  • We are committed to struggle against all forms and manifestations of environmental injustice and for environmentally sustainable cities.
  • We believe that the construction of a just and egalitarian city is tied to the struggle for the democratization of rural land access, for the agrarian reform, for food production sovereignty, for environmentally responsible agricultural practices, for safeguarding family agriculture, traditional groups and indigenous populations modes and means of production.
  • We believe marketing practices and market friendly policies favor environmental degradation and we struggle for economic and efficient energy policies, for adequate treatment and recycling of solid, liquid and gas waste and for increasing and democratizing urban green and forested areas.
  • We believe the cornerstone of urban plans and policies should be to ensure universal access to dignifying housing, education, health care, food, clothing, multiple forms of cultural expression, safe and stable jobs and a healthy environment, instead of working for private speculation and capital valorization.
  • We advocate for public policies responsible for meeting these needs and we believe human beings are more important than commodities, social needs take precedence over the market logic, and cooperation and solidarity are the founding stones of a worthwhile social behavior.
  • We believe that National and Sub-national State structures are decisive to achieve these goals. We are convinced, however, that their agencies, tools and resources must be submitted and accountable to public control and to bottom-up participatory decision making processes, instead of being placed in the hands of bureaucrats, technocrats and all kinds of advocates of vested interests.
  • To celebrate these collective principles and commitments:


    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

    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


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