Improving Urban Governance and Involving the Poor: The Right Thing to Do
This chapter has highlighted some of the potentialities and the contrasting realities of the cities. Specifically, it discussed many of the problems faced by the rapidly growing population of urban poor. Large gaps between the access of poor and better-off urban residents to what the city has to offer can be observed with respect to gender, child mortality, reproductive health, education, income, housing and security. The conclusions are that the rights of the poor to the city and to its benefits are often severely restricted and that the advantages of the urban poor over rural populations are surprisingly small in many developing countries.
This is disappointing: Urban economies of scale and proximity should translate into access to better services for all urban dwellers. Extending services to poorer neighbourhoods costs much less than reaching the same numbers of people in remote and scattered rural settlements.(84)It thus stands to reason that much of the discrepancy between potential and reality has to do with urban management.
How can these patterns be improved? What would it take? This Report stresses that accepting the inevitability and potential advantages of urban growth is a crucial starting point. Unfortunately, prohibitionist approaches still prevail in managing urban and slum expansion. Many politicians and planners regard slum formation as temporary: the less intervention, the better.(85)
Instilling among leaders a more positive approach to urban growth and to slum dwellers calls for advocacy concerning the benefits of preparing effectively for urban growth. Ultimately, political commitment to feasible solutions is essential; that issue will be discussed in the next chapter. Policymakers and civil society both need solid information on who the poor are, how their numbers are expanding, where they live, what their needs are and what the obstacles are to accessing what the city has to offer. Chapter 6 looks at this aspect in some detail.
Another critical strategy in efforts to reduce poverty and fulfil the rights of individuals is to involve people in shaping the policies and programmes that affect their lives. The benefits of participation have been widely acknowledged and encouraged in national poverty
reduction strategies, as well as in local-level approaches. Although involving this large and growing population in development processes would seem an obvious necessity, anti-urban prejudices in many cities still prevent it.(86)
In response to day-to-day realities, the urban poor themselves have set up formidable groups, associations and federations. Large or small, Organizations of the Urban Poor (OUPs) have come together to identify the social and economic conditions that they face; to find practical solutions to these problems; to struggle against marginalization; and to ensure access to the goods and services to which they are entitled. They have had success on a variety of fronts: slum upgrading, impeding relocations and evictions, providing affordable housing and infrastructure and building capacities for the stable livelihoods of their members.(87)
A few illustrative cases demonstrate this. The South African Homeless People’s Federation and the People’s Dialogue on Land and Shelter boast a combined membership of over 80,000 households. Through their community groups, the organizations work on local mapping and data gathering for planning; savings and credit schemes; acquisition of housing and land; income generation; and empowerment of individuals through networking and exchange.(88)
In approximately 80 cities around Afghanistan, community groups, mostly women-led, were providing education, health and business services even during the challenging times of Taliban rule. Today, UN-Habitat is working to fold such community initiatives into the development and infrastructure rebuilding process.(89)In the Philippines, a federation of neighbourhood organizations (ZOTO) led a successful effort to secure title and leasehold rights and community upgrading from the Philippine Government, in an area of Manila that had been slated for land conversion and the displacement of the masses of urban poor residing there. This effort, along with others, has brought new laws which make forced evictions nearly impossible without consultation of those affected and which assure relocation in properly serviced areas.(90)
Many OUPs eventually have an impact on the policies and practices of governments. In Pune, India, nearly 2 million inhabitants were supplied with public toilet blocks by the local Government. This was the result of a concept pioneered jointly by the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres and by the National Slum Dwellers Federation, Mahila Milan—a network of savings and credit groups formed by women.(91)In Thailand, more than 1,000 organizations and community groups are linked into a national project to make locally based improvements to the urban environment in poor areas.(92)And in several Brazilian cities, participatory planning and budgeting has allocated a greater portion of the municipal investment budget to priorities determined by neighbourhoods and community groups.(93)
In other instances, small groups have grown into larger national federations and even into international networks.(94)Shack/Slum Dweller’s International, possibly the largest of such international movements, and the Huairou Commission (see Box 8) are two examples of how networked organizations have been effective in raising the profile of issues important to the urban poor.(95)Their pressure has influenced the international agenda in areas such as housing rights, protection against evictions, women’s rights and the responsibilities of government and civil society with regard to the plight of the urban poor.(96)
In such ways over the years, their creativity and lively action have demonstrated that OUPs are capable and motivated to take responsibility for their needs and to claim their rights to living a dignified and quality life. The UN Millennium Project’s Task Force on slums recommended that governments “acknowledge the organizations of the urban poor wherever they exist and to work with their strategies”.(97)Civil society participation and the country-driven approach are among the World Bank’s core principles in the poverty reduction strategy process.(98)
With proper governmental support these organizations can make an even greater impact in attacking material poverty, in harnessing their rights as citizens and city dwellers and in building their own capacities as active agents of change. Governments only stand to gain, since the inclusion of OUPs in city management increases its effectiveness. Needs and demands are better identified, while responsiveness and efficiency in urban service delivery are enhanced. Such collaboration also improves learning and understanding by combining technical expertise with local knowledge. Empowering civil society deepens democracy.(99)