Advocacy, Votes and Action: The Need for Leadership
These initiatives call for a new awareness and an unprecedented level of political support at the local and national level. Most politicians are, at the best of times, unwilling to confront the power of the urban real estate market. The added complexity of attending to the land needs of the poor, as described above, is even less enticing. A critical initiative, without which most efforts will fail, is to regulate increments in land value. In other words, it is necessary to introduce fiscal measures that prevent speculators and developers from hiking up the price of land and services unreasonably as soon as socially motivated land allocation is proposed.
This is unlikely to be a popular approach for current urban power structures. Political reluctance is magnified by the time lag between proposed action and any possible political return: Expenditure of political capital and financial investment are required immediately, but the political advantage and economic benefits will be reaped far in the future.(23)
These complexities help explain why medium- and long-term land use planning has traditionally not been high among government or donor priorities. Nevertheless, the needs of the growing masses cannot simply be ignored. In particular, the legal, social and cultural barriers that women face in accessing land have to be explicitly considered. Not only political will and viable technical solutions, but coordinated policy support from donors and other actors are needed.
Generating political will begins with the recognition that poor people are often the majority in urban population growth. It also demands that leaders and policymakers accept the inevitability of urban growth, and treat the poor as true urban citizens who have a clear right to the city and to decent housing. The perception that the poor are not true urban citizens(24)undermines the sort of collective negotiations over land use, standards, public services and environment that can effectively address the most critical urban challenges. It also undercuts whatever motivation politicians might have to deal with them.
Creating awareness among policymakers and planners, given the traditional aversion to urbanization and urban growth, will require solid, evidence-based advocacy. Multidisciplinary approaches and broad-based international support can help turn the tide by promoting clear, factual and convincing evidence of ongoing changes and the needs they generate.
Population specialists, in particular, can help to generate and promote key lessons through data, analyses and concrete examples, including: a) the inevitability and real advantages of urbanization and urban growth; b) the futility of anti-urban biases and policies; c) the increasing share of national poverty, disaggregated by gender, in urban areas; d) the effectiveness of proactive approaches to deal with the needs of poor men and women in cities; and e) the importance of involving the poor in decisions that affect their habitat.