Table of contents
ERA OF CITIES
TRANSFORMATIONS AT WORK
Multi-cultural and Multi-ethnic City
Technological City CITIES AS THE
ENHANCEMENT OF HUMAN CAPABILITIES
The purpose of this paper is to explore the
research theme “cities as arenas of accelerated social transformations”
and to circumscribe the niche and the role of MOST in the urban landscape
where numerous institutions are acting. The paper synthesizes discussions
held at a regional meeting organized by UNESCO and supported by the City
of Vienna, the Canadian Commission for UNESCO and the IDRC (Vienna, 10-12
February 1994) and the written contributions by experts in the field
commissioned by UNESCO. It does not purport to review systematically the
abundant literature on the theme.
In framing priority research areas, participants suggested that MOST
should be concerned with elaborating a broader conceptual framework on how
social transformations now affect, and in the future will shape cities.
Without pretending to be exhaustive, and with my own bias, this paper
pursues the reflection initiated in Vienna and constitutes but a stage in
the process of collectively defining the theme of “cities” in the MOST
Programme, and an invitation to join the debate.
The paper is organized in three parts. Part 1 sets the scene: the
advent of an urban civilization. Part 2 attempts to sketch major social
transformations that are shaping cities and condition their sustainable
management now and in the future, presenting continuing challenges to
decision-makers, and thereby to international transdisciplinary
comparative research. Part 3 asserts challenges at stake for MOST.
THE ERA OF CITIESWe
are entering a new era, the era of cities, a major civilizational
transition. By the year 2000, half of humanity - 3.2 billion people - will
be living in cities. Seventy per cent of this urban population will be in
developing countries. Eighteen cities in the developing world will have a
population of more than ten million.
Given the unprecedented urban explosion in the South, the magnitude of
the task ahead is illustrated by the following figures. According
to the United Nations estimates, the number of urban dwellers in the South
will have doubled from 1980 to the year 2000: from one to two billion. A
second doubling is likely to occur in the following twenty-five years,
from two to four billion. In less than half a century, three billion
people will be added to the urban population of the South. At the
beginning of the 21st century, low-income people in Third World cities,
many of them crowded in mega-cities, will become the new majority among
the world's population.
Each of the continents is affected in a somewhat different way. In
several Latin American countries, the degree of urbanization has reached
the levels of Europe and North America. In Africa, the rates of urban
growth are excessively high. In Asia, the share size of the population
involved is staggering. Nonetheless, this diversity of configurations
provides an opportunity for internationally comparative research to gain
insight into the contrasting patterns of accelerated social
transformations going on in cities throughout the world.
“By 1990, an estimated 1.4 billion people lived in urban centers in the
Third World. Of these, at least 600 million are estimated to live in 'life
and health threatening' homes and neighborhoods because of the
inadequacies in the quality of the housing and in the provision of
infrastructure and services associated with housing and residential areas
(such as piped water supplies, provision for sanitation, garbage
collection and site drainage, paved roads and pavements, schools and
health clinics)”. (Arrossi, et al., 1994, p.3; see also Hardoy
et al., 1990).
Cities, mirrors of society, reflect maldevelopment and the price of
modernity (Touraine, 1992). The predominant picture is one of fragmented
or dual cities, characterized by phenomena of social exclusion, spatial
segregation and mounting urban violence. The form that economic growth and
social change have taken has been critical to the emergence of new
problems in cities.
This dismal picture is by no means exclusive to developing countries,
even though scales are different between the South and the North, East and
West. The focus of a recent OECD report is on the severe concentrations of
disadvantage, unemployment, poverty and alienation in many cities
throughout OECD Member countries and on the scope for policies to
encourage urban regeneration, social integration and the development of
more livable environments (OECD, 1994; also Jacquier, 1991; Wieviorka,
A report of the Commission of the European Communities on the functions
of cities in the European Community states that "during the next decade,
as Europe moves towards greater economic and political integration, cities
will be even more crucial players... They will also be the focus of many
acute problems in the 1990s... The future of Europe will substantially
reflect that of its cities. Their enormous economic, social and cultural
energy must be harnessed to promote social and economic cohesion
throughout the European Community. Cities demand a prominent place on its
future agenda" (CEC, 1992). Cities are a major political challenge for
both the North and the South.
The urban explosion compounded with severe environmental degradation -
the urban poor are the main victims of environmental disruption - will
have to be dealt with in a world economy characterized by low rates of
growth, mounting unemployment, the pains of structural adjustment and debt
servicing, as well as the need in many countries to implement
institutional reforms. The prospect for the cities will, to a great
extent, depend on local solutions found for these global problems. It is
clear, however, that the urban problem, as well as the environmental
concerns, cannot be singled out from the broader context of social and
economic styles of development. This puts the issue of political economy
of development at the top of the urban agenda.
Even in cities that play a pre-eminent role in the processes of
globalization of the economy, economic progress often goes hand in hand
with the persistence of pockets of destitution and ghettos. Hence the
danger of paying too much attention to the economic role of cities, while
underestimating the social, environmental, political, cultural,
psychological and spatial dimensions of the ongoing transformations. The
experience of several industrialized countries shows that provision of
reasonable infrastructure and shelter is not sufficient to humanize the
cities and to overcome the social tensions. Employment, social integration
and effective grass-roots democracy are necessary to create a sense of
belonging and co-responsibility - two ingredients of meaningful
citizenship. Designing and implementing systemic public policies should
not only aim at improving people's quality of life, but also bring social
and political stability to our cities, and thereby to our societies.
Nor is it reasonable to expect that complex and, in many cases, unique
challenges will be met by merely copying ready-made models, even though
these models may have shown their efficiency under other latitudes and in
different contexts. “Cities are like people. They belong to the
urban species but they have their unique personality. The response to the
urban challenge must take into account the singular configurations of
natural, cultural, and socio-political factors, as well as of the
historical past and tradition of each city. Instead of proposing
across-the-board, homogenizing solutions, the diversity of cities should
be considered as a cultural value of paramount importance” (Sachs, I.,
The sheer magnitude of the urban explosion compounded by the backlog of
unattended employment, housing, environmental, public health and
educational needs - “the social debt” - means that the replication in the
South of the solutions now existing in the North would only increase the
prevailing inequality, benefiting a minority and marginalizing a majority
of the urban dwellers. Given the scale and nature of urban change and its
likely extent in the future, the conventional model for the development of
urban residential areas within market or mixed economies, developed in the
North, does not work in the vast majority of urban centers in the Third
World, and proved its limits in the North. Hence the need to seek
The speed with which urban populations have grown in Third World
nations has far outpaced the institutional capacity to manage it. The
central characteristic of the urban problem is not the scale of population
growth but the scale of the mismatch between demographic change and
institutional change (Arrossi et al., 1994).
Today, cities have emerged as strategic territories for a broad array
of social, economic and political processes central to the current era:
economic globalization, international migration, the emergence of the
producer services and finance as the leading growth sector in advanced
economies, the new poverty, among others, and as strategic sites for their
theorization (Sassen, 1991 & 1994). This return of the city to the
fore of the social sciences agenda can be seen as the representation of
the social question in urban terms, the projection of the cleavage between
marginalisation and integration (Dubet, 1994; Rosanvallon, 1995).
However, cities are not just territories where social transformations
take place, they are actors of this process. Hence it is necessary to
determine how cities can play the role of economic, social and cultural
driving forces - becoming incubators of innovation - and adapt to our
rapidly changing, interdependent and uncertain world, as an alternative to
the crisis of the nation-states.
Cities are undergoing a profound metamorphosis, the full consequences
of which are still to be completely fathomed. As Francis Godard puts it,
"we may then ask ourselves the following question: does the crisis of
previous urban development models simply reflect the inability of cities
to cope with the new world situation, or are we now instead witnessing the
dawn of a new urban civilization, based on new relationships between
cities and labor, and between cities and regions?"
In this turbulent sea of change, the urban challenge constitutes
perhaps the most difficult, yet crucial, component of the sustainable
human development agenda, and calls for finding concrete ways of
harmonizing the criteria of social equity, ecological sustainability,
economic efficiency, cultural pluralism and integration, and balanced
spatial distribution of human activities and settlements, otherwise
countries doomed to become one after another urban archipelagos in rural
deserts. Meeting these criteria means translating them into a plurality of
local ecosystem-specific, culture-specific and even site-specific
solutions, devising new resource-use patterns and management procedures,
requiring new mindsets, attitudes and values.
SOCIAL TRANSFORMATIONS AT WORKIn
this newly emerging urban civilization, cities are the locus or crucibles,
where major social problems are played out daily and magnified, but also
locus of most creative change. The city is a territory that brings into
focus and crystallizes the major conflicts and contradictions of a society
undergoing a deep mutation, and its role is to increasingly manage
these accelerated social transformations.
Globalization, exclusion, multiculturalism and ethnicity, governance,
ecology, science and technology, are driving social transformations at
work in cities (in various forms and degrees of intensity), presenting a
series of continuing challenges to people and to decision-makers. Taken
together they condition cities' sustainable management, and frame the core
of the MOST agenda for transdiciplinary comparative research.
This is not to underestimate other crucial transformations with
profound effect on cities such as demographic and migratory trends -
gender struggles, family formation and dissolution patterns, fertility
behaviour and sexuality, population structures and growth of the
economically active population, international migration; changes in the
structure of employment accompanied by growing unemployment and
underemployment; fiscal restraint; changing equilibria between population
and territory, among others.
The Global CityThe last
decade has seen a growing literature on the phenomenon known as
'globalization' and the impact on cities of the major structural trends of
our epoch, that is, the formation of a global economy and of the new
techno-economic paradigm. For Saskia Sassen (1994, p. 43) “we are seeing
the emergence of a new type of urban system at the global and
transnational regional levels: these are systems wherein cities are
crucial nodes for international co-ordination and servicing of economies
that are increasingly international”. Economic globalization promotes both
integration and exclusion, decreases national sovereignty and increases
autonomy of the market.
“The combination of geographic dispersal of economic activities and
integration which lies at the heart of the current economic era has
contributed to a strategic role for major cities in the current phase of
the world economy... These cities now function as command points in the
organization of the world economy; as key locations and market-places for
the leading industries of this period - finance and specialized services
for firms - and as sites for the production of innovations in those
industries. A limited number of cities emerge as transnational locations
for investment, for firms, for the production of services and financial
instruments, and for various international markets” (Sassen, 1994, p. 51).
World cities perform a dual role at the intersection of the global economy
and the nation-state.
This process leads to competitive struggle between cities to get and to
retain world city status. However, this world city status bears
considerable social costs: the economic restructuring is accompanied by a
growing social polarisation or dualisation in the occupational and income
structure, which is paralleled by high levels of spatial and ethnic
segregation. Sao Paulo is but one illustration of the contradiction
between the "success" of being the world city and the human price that
most of its inhabitants must endure to survive (Sachs, 1990). The
struggles of people, caught in the trap of relative territorial immobility
and the mobility of international capital, are a part of the dynamic which
will shape both the world cities and the capitalist world economic system
The process of globalization not only changes the economic and social
fabric, and the environment, of large urban areas, but remodel their
spatial structure as well. The outcomes of this process will differ
between particular countries and cities - the links are contingent, and
depend to a significant extent on the scale and structure of the welfare
state intervention, income distribution, planning policy and the mode of
The discrepancy between the rate of company expansion and the rate of
urban development is a problem cities, and in particular world cities,
have to face. In some cases, urban life is in danger of being stifled by
the very high rate of economic growth; the opposite trend can be observed
in cities deserted by companies. How can cities and firms reconcile their
How do major transformations taking place in the patterns of world
economic interdependence manifest themselves in cities functioning as
regional and global nodes? How are these processes of internationalization
articulated with other components in the economic and social structure of
a large city? What are the consequences of these developments for the
general socio-economic conditions of city residents? Recent research shows
sharp increases in socio-economic and spatial inequalities within major
cities of the developed world: how do global processes affect the daily
life in the cites in terms of values, consumption patterns, life styles
and political behaviour?
The Fragmented CityThroughout the ages
cities have been the crucibles for the advance of civilization, the
melting-pots integrating people of different cultures, languages and
creeds, the loci of tolerance and conviviality. Synonymous of
democratic sociability, today they are too often synonymous of exclusion,
racism, xenophobia and violence; a reversal in values ("une urbanité
disloquée"). Across Europe, there is a profound unity of processes and
logics that lead to hate, fear and growing incapacity to recognize and
accept otherness (Baudrillard et al., 1981; Bourdieu, 1993;
Donzelot, 1991; Delarue, 1991; Geindre, 1993; Lipovetsky, 1983; Noirot,
1994; Roman, 1993; Wieviorka, 1992 & 1993).
Urban exclusion means that a shift has occurred between the paradigm of
inequality within a cohesive social entity to the paradigm of
fragmentation, isolation, poverty pockets, radical otherness. If nothing
is done to stop this shift from integration to segregation, cities will
break up into separate sectors: on the one hand, overprotected areas and
on the other, dangerous, ghettos and "outlaw zones".
This growing social and spatial polarization of cities goes hand in
hand with mounting urban violence. Many forms of violence in the city are
not only political, but are related to social, economic and cultural
exclusion (Lapeyronnie, 1993). Teresa Caldeira (1992) shows how violent
crime has increased in Sao Paulo in the last decade, so has the fear of
crime and the talk of crime, materially embodied in the city's walls. She
argues that "if the fear of crime and the spread of violence are real in
Sao Paulo, and if crime is supplying a language to talk about and think of
many other de-stabilizing processes, it is also the case that with the
help of the talk of crime and crisis what is being forged is a much more
segregated city and unequal society, and a polity in which the notions of
justice and citizenship rights are fading away - for the sake of security
and of the proper".
The degree of social inequality, cultural conflict and political
fragmentation in cities has sharpened over the last decade. The ghost of
social, political and psychological fragmentation haunts our society.
Social divisions tear apart the very fabric of urban life and are
testimony to the fact that cities and urban life styles lead to conflict
and suffering that may weaken society as a whole. Cities, as political
entities, are faced with the following trade-off: will they develop into
exclusion-generating systems or will they become promoters of citizenship
and well-being, supported by local social contracts? The quest for
citizenship seems to be universal. To enable and to guarantee the full
exercise of citizenship could be seen as the guiding force of the
forthcoming urban civilization (Sachs-Jeantet, 1993).
The Multi-cultural and
Multi-ethnic CityCities are by definition, and tradition,
"cosmopolitan". Perhaps the most dramatic change which urbanization brings
is the throwing together, in small, geographical areas, of people from
different cultures and backgrounds. As underlined by Mario Polèse, this
represents both the chief strength of the city, as a center for social
innovation (urban culture), and its Achilles' heel. The collision of
cultures can be both a source of creation and of conflict. The city is a
powerful tool for promoting positive social change. However, by bringing
strangers together, urbanization provokes tensions. Values and perceptions
collide. How society deals with these tensions is perhaps the most
difficult challenge of all. Few societies are immune to the specter of
violence and ethnic strife.
To counteract nationalist tendencies, consolidating social integration
with respect to ethnic and cultural diversity, and yet inciting them to
blossom, is a major public policy challenge facing cities today and
tomorrow. What are the principles for an equitable quality of life in
cities? What have we learnt from experience about the principles of
multi-ethnic coexistence in urban areas and what are the strategies to be
implemented to enhance cosmopolitanism of city dwellers?
The Governed CityCities as magnifiers of
general social problems have become crucibles of crises more or less
amenable to governance. Changes in thestructure of contemporary
urbanization raise the problem of social, economic and political
governability, and in particular, of the emerging large metropolitan
How did governance - involving the relationship between civil society
and government institutions at different levels - become restructured, on
one hand, as a consequence of globalization and, on the other, the search
for greater local democracy, accountability and transparency? What
empowerment policies are needed to seek new forms of partnership for
development between the State, the city, civil society and the private
sector to guarantee the right to the city and the full exercize of
citizenship in terms of political, civil, economic, social, psychological
and cultural rights which are indissoluble? What new imaginative systems
of governance can be found to foster civic engagement and integration of
States or markets? Processes of decentralization, municipalization and
privatization of functions (urban services) previously carried out by
central government, are part of the more general and structural
transformations of the State, and the need to rethink local government.
In which ways will urban management issues such as social policy,
infrastructure investment, public transportation, land policy, municipal
finance and administration, and responses to urban social crises,
determine the future of cities, and their capacity to cope with social
transformations and guide social change, including the management of
According to Guido Martinotti, particularly in regions with millenary
urban history such as Europe, changes in the structure of contemporary
urbanization - strained by the new patterns of social relations emerging
in time and space - raise the problem of social, economic and political
governance of the large metropolitan complexes. Local governments are
elected by residents, but the economic interests of the metropolis are
increasingly dependent on agents, such as big financial and industrial
corporations which are not politically accountable from the point of view
of the city itself. Traditional municipal policies and institutions seem
inadequate to achieve the aim of governing these new entities.
Indeed, the new form of urban morphology is largely the product of the
progressive differentiation of several populations gravitating around
metropolitan centers. With increased mobility of the population, the very
relations between population and territory become highly dynamic. Many of
the social problems of contemporary metropolitan societies depend on the
coexistence, competition and superimposition of these "urban layers" -
inhabitants, commuters, users, metropolitan businessmen - and lead to
de facto disenfranchising of the urban dweller. Martinotti argues that
a great deal of governance problems of the new metropolis can be
approached more aptly by acknowledging this intertwinement of
The administrative borders of the traditional centers have often become
obsolete in the course of the current urban dynamics. So far local
democracy was largely understood in terms of some variation of the
original idea of political community, but now the validity of this concept
is increasingly submitted to erosion by the emerging social and physical
morphology of the city (Martinotti, 1993).
The Ecological CityA city is a complex
natural and social ecosystem, and should be managed accordingly. In terms
of quality of life for the populations concerned, the disruption of the
urban environment is one of the most difficult problems faced in the
mega-cities of the South. A fundamental aspect of the urban environmental
problem, emphasized by WHO (1992), is the prevalence of poor health and
the premature death of millions of people (mostly infants and children)
due to inadequate nutrition and pollution of water, air and soil (Hardoy
et al., 1990; Hardoy & Satterthwaite, 1992). Even though the
situation in the cities of the North is less dramatic, environmental
degradation has long-term effects and prejudices the movement towards
How cities can play a crucial role in moving our societies toward a
more environmentally sustainable future and environmentally sensitive
local politics (Stren et al., 1992)? Designing socially responsive
and environmentally sustainable urban strategies that respond to the
diversity of ecosystems and their resource potentials, as well as of needs
as perceived by local communities, calls to move away from ex-post
remedial environmental management to ex-ante pro-active
environmental policies. For this, to promote a more rational resource
management so as to increase the efficiency of the urban economy by: (i)
identifying and eliminating the wasteful uses of resources (financial,
physical and human) and in this way releasing resources for development;
(ii) extending the useful life of existing infrastructure, buildings, and
equipment by better maintenance; and (iii) mobilizing latent, underused,
misused or wasted resources, both in the 'legal' and in the 'illegal'
city: vacant land, unoccupied public and private buildings, the potential
for non-financial investment in self-help housing, waste recycling, energy
and water saving (Alberti et al., 1994; Sachs, I. & Silk,
The Technological CityScience and
technology are an essential component of the future of cities. In a highly
interconnected world, in which competitiveness will depend largely on the
capacity to generate and utilize knowledge, scientific and technological
capabilities will strongly influence the pattern of urban development and
amenities, and cities' sustainable management. Advances in science and
technology have created unprecedented opportunities for improvements in
standards of living. However, that progress in material well-being for a
growing fraction of the world's population coexists with stagnation and
even deterioration in standards of living for the majority of poor people.
The clash between rising aspirations and the reality of widespread poverty
has become a source of social tension.
Cities of the future call for exploring and assessing the opportunities
and threats of science and technology for their management under the new
techno-economic paradigm, and in particular advances in new technologies
(information technology, biotechnology, new and advanced materials). They
call for urban innovations adapted to ecological, cultural and
socio-economic contexts, and for designing resource-conserving cities,
blending the most advanced and the traditional techniques (skillful
management of technological pluralism), both affordable and accessible to
developing countries. How to improve the overall cost-effectiveness of
fixed capital investment in urban infrastructure, in services and in
shelter by means of developing and demonstrating new cost-effective,
resource-efficient, environmentally sustainable technological solutions?
How can the trend towards flexible specialization and the concomitant
communication revolution characteristic of the "second industrial divide"
(Piore and Sabel, 1984) alter rural-urban configurations, by "diffuse
industrialization" à l'italienne?
Acknowledging the growing importance of science and technology should
not lead to celebrate the marvels of what they offer to mankind and
cities' future. Science and technology are a social process among others,
hence the need to refute urban management anchored on the mystification of
the “technological fate” (Salomon, 1992).
"Development is an uncertain quest in which the seekers are doomed to
rely more and more on science and technology. The quest is uncertain not
only because there is no prior guarantee of success (nor that it will be
lasting), but above all because it raises questions about the price of
modernity: the benefits that a country can expect to derive from it, in
political, economic, social, and cultural terms, as well as the sacrifices
that it is prepared to make on its behalf... In short, despite what was
promised by the rationalism of the Enlightenment and even more by
positivism of the nineteenth century, scientific and technological
progress does not necessarily coincide with social and moral progress...
In the upheavals marking the end of the twentieth century... the whole
world is in quest of new paths and alternatives leading to a better social
order... Science and technology can contribute a great deal to
development, but they cannot do everything, and above all they do not
offer a ready-made solution to the problem of values that is raised by the
clash between tradition and modernity... Development requires... a mastery
of the consequences of scientific and technical change” (Salomon et
al., 1994, pp.22-24).
CHALLENGE AT STAKE : CITIES AS THE ENHANCEMENT OF HUMAN
CAPABILITIESCities, a multi-faceted problem, are confronting daunting
challenges continuously altered by the constellation of political,
economic, social, cultural, environmental, scientific, and technological
changes. The choices and challenges are many. To face these formidable
challenges cities are faced with a dilemma: either to reaffirm blind faith
in the power of economic growth, synonymous of modernization and progress,
and the hidden assumption that the gains of economic growth will "trickle
down" to the poor and make cities fit to live in; or cities strive for
explicit societal development subordinated to values of social equity,
ecological sustainability, economic efficiency, political participation ,
and cultural pluralism and integration. The specter of social, political
and psychological fragmentation haunts our society; to halt it constitutes
the real challenge as we approach the twenty-first century. To fight
exclusion and discrimination, and to promote human rights and peace, are
The ongoing process of globalization can be seen as “a narrative of
eviction” (Sassen, 1994) of the symbolic meaning of places and people's
quality of life, as if the place where we live no longer matters. On the
contrary, the process of social (re)construction of spaces - public spaces
- by enabling citizenship, as opposed to this loss of the
place-boundedness, is not only complementary, but crucial, to the
globalization of capital if we do not want to move towards a world of
"non-lieux" (Augé, 1992).
To resume with the art of the city and its symbolic meaning is crucial.
Augustin Berque (1993) offers a beautiful journey across Japanese cities
illustrating the intertwining of social link and places, that is, in fact,
to nature. Manuel Castells (1989) pleads in favor of "a series of
political, economic and technological strategies that could contribute to
the reconstruction of the social meaning in the new historical reality
characterized by the formation of the space of flows as the space of power
and functional organizations... The new techno-economic paradigm imposes
the space of flows as the irreversible spatial logic of economic and
functional organizations. The issue then becomes how to articulate the
meaning of places to this new functional space. The reconstruction of
place-based social meaning requires the simultaneous articulation of
alternative social and spatial projects at three levels: cultural,
economic, and political..."
The ethics of the city is to serve people and not the economy, hence
the need to depart from an economicist vision of the city, the urban
economy and macroeconomic performance framework, and explicitly assert the
coronation of the citizen ("le sacre du citoyen”, Rosanvallon, 1992) and,
as a corollary, the process of expansion of citizenship rights - civil,
political, and social (Marshall, 1977). This principle must be upheld if
cities are to become safe and democratic places to live.
The search for socially and environmentally sustainable urban
development strategies should be guided by the principles outlined in the
Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (June 1992), and in
particular Principle 1: "Human beings are at the center of concerns for
sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive
life in harmony with nature."
Hence, managing social transformations in cities should become a
process of expanding people's capabilities and entitlements, of enlarging
the range of people's choices. This shift in development thinking towards
the concept of human development, that is development of people,
for people, including the creation of economic opportunities for
all, and by people, requiring participatory approaches, should
become the driving force of urban management, and, thus, elevate “city
governance and democracy” to the forefront of urban futures.
The challenge ahead is to promote alternative urban futures towards:
In this imagined future of modernism, the right to the city,
vector of social integration and humanism, can be fostered through:
- cities, managers of social transformations and guides of deliberate
- cities of solidarity and multiculturalism, capable to nurture an
environment of tolerance and social sustainability;
- cities, promoters of citizenship and well-being;
- resourceful cities, designed to use natural resources sustainably.
Beyond the conceptual challenge of envisioning
cities as the enhancement of human capabilities, and hence endorsing an
ethical stand - the right to the city, vector of social integration and
humanism, by enabling the exercise of citizenship -, there is an urgent
need for a very profound reconceptualization of the intellectual and
empirical tools for the study of urban social facts and processes because
many of the established intellectual tools used to depict the urban
phenomenon were built on a radically different urban morphology, and are
strained by the new patterns of social relations emerging in time and
space. Scholars of urban phenomena, and social scientists in general, are
faced with the challenging task of radically redefining the object of our
field, and its conceptual representation. To appreciate fully the
challenges and options available it is necessary to develop new conceptual
frameworks, habits of thought and willingness to move to highly
disaggregated modes of thinking, as well as to reinterpret past experience
in a rapidly changing context.
- Fighting the fragmented city and struggle against social exclusion
before its territorial crystallisation - the French urban policy
illustrates the limits of the territorial management of exclusion
(Belorgey, 1994) - by policies to alleviate urban poverty, promote
social integration and generate employment. Unemployment is often the
trigger of exclusion, however exclusion is not only economic and social,
but political, cultural, and symbolic - the question then becomes how to
satisfy the claim for dignity of the marginalized population
- Building partnerships for change between the civil society, the
State and the market in the context of 'mixed economies' with special
emphasis on participatory management and increased citizen involvement.
- Empowering of local communities through enablement strategies for
urban self-reliance by making available the resources and techniques
that cannot be mobilized locally, in particular funding community
initiatives (Arrossi et al., 1994); even if not easy, community
involvement is indispensable for social cohesion.
- Strengthening of local capabilities to cope with the rapidly
changing environment, and therefore changing priorities.
- Implementing a holistic and multi-sectoral approach to urban
regeneration, targeted at neighborhoods, as the essential building block
of urban change.
According to Guido Martinotti, if we want to understand the current
urban dynamics and related social problems, we must adopt a new visual
angle based on the idea that the study of cities is systemic in character
and that at present the system we have to consider tends to have planetary
extension. One of the aspects of our conceptual apparatus that needs
radical reconsideration has to do with the implicit or explicit
intellectual heritage of social ecology where the residential function is
Another one has to do with the challenge of change and policy
relevance, that is to cope with uncertainty and change; to enhance
"organizational learning" (Argyris & Schön, 1978); to bridge the gap
between theory and practice by fostering reflection-in-action (Schön,
1983); to implement the socially desirable futures through the strategic
planning process viewed "as a loose co-operative learning process that
involves a multiplicity of actors throughout the whole fabric of society,
that seeks to attain increasing levels of shared perceptions on objectives
and goals, and that aims at agreeing on specific anticipatory and actual
decision on the basis of temporary consensus" (Sagasti, 1988), and to
foster innovation (more flexible capacity to respond and adapt).
Furthermore, a methodological reflection on empirical categories is
called for: the history of concepts - distinction between universal
tendencies versus local phenomena - and their specific meanings in given
cultural contexts, through a multicultural viewpoint examining how spaces
and urban territories are categorized in various linguistic areas and
different countries (semantic problems, conceptual, terminological and
empirical data issues).
As territories where social transformations take place, cities need to
be monitored and studied from a broad social science perspective. In this
context the following three major tasks for MOST are to be underlined:
Of the necessity to renew
research methods: the challenges are not only conceptual, but concern
research philosophy and goals, elaboration of proposals and the process of
policy change (the essence of decision and the implementation game). The
question today is not (or less) what to do, but how to do it, and rather
than producing normative discourses on what ought to be done, get people
actively involved in charting their own destinies and construct cities,
territories of desire(s) - individual and collective, conscious and
unconscious -, territories of utopia, territories of democracy, where the
coronation of the citizen and citizenship is corollary to rely on the
competence of the town-dweller (Sachs-Jeantet, 1994).
- to study simultaneously the different facets of the social
transformations at work, that is, to study the city as a territory where
the global city, the fragmented city, the multicultural and multi-ethnic
city, the governed city, the ecological city, and the technological city
concert, but also as a territory mastering many of the social
transformations of the future;
- to build a transdisciplinary knowledge base involving urban studies
and planning, sociology, geography, political science, political economy
of development, anthropology, economics, organization theory, sociology
of organizations, history, behavioral sciences, linguistics, and
architecture, and to reflect on the specificity of the urban research
nowadays - the territorial-theoretical nexus;
- to foster international, transdisciplinary comparative research and
co-operation between urban research communities, as well as to convey
scientific information and knowledge to users (policy-makers, citizen
movements, NGOs, trade unions, etc.).
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About the author
Céline Sachs-Jeantet, urban planner, was educated at the
Institut d'Urbanisme de Paris and at the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology and earned a PhD in urban studies from the University of
Paris XII in 1987. She has served as a consultant for urban affairs to the
World Bank, Unesco, the United Nations University and the French
Government. She is the author of São Paulo. Politiques publiques et
habitat populaire (Paris. 1990. Editions Maison des Sciences de
l'Homme) and co-editor of The Uncertain Quest. Science, Technology,
Development (Tokyo. 1994. United Nations University Press).
The facts and opinions expressed in this series are those of the
authors and do not engage the responsibility of UNESCO.