Home page Help page Preferences page
Search for specific termsBrowse by ThemesBrowse by Geographical RegionBrowse by MOST DocumentsBrowse by How ToBrowse alphabetical list of titles

MOSt Publication: The Social Sustainability of Cities
Open this page in a new windowDon't highlight search terms

MOST Project - Socially Sustainable Cities

Diversity and the Management of Change

Edited by Mario Polèse and Richard Stren

ISBN 0-8020-8320-X
Contact Information

Cities are a locus of human diversity, where people of varying wealth and status share an association within a particular urban boundary. Despite the common geography, sharp social divisions characterize many cities. High levels of urban violence bear witness to the difficult challenge of creating socially cohesive and inclusive cities. The devastated inner cities of many large American urban centres exemplify the failure of urban development. With an enlightened, democratic approach to policy reform, however, cities can achieve social sustainability.

Some cities have been more successful than others in creating environments conducive to the cohabitation of a diverse population. In this collection of original essays, case studies of ten cities (Montreal and Toronto in Canada, Miami and Baltimore in the United States, Geneva and Rotterdam in Europe, São Paulo and San Salvador in South America, and Nairobi and Cape Town in Africa) are presented and analysed in terms of social sustainability. The volume as a whole looks at the policies, institutions, and planning and social processes that can have the effect of integrating diverse groups and cultural practices in a just and equitable fashion.

The authors conclude that policies conducive to social sustainability should, among other things, seek to promote fiscal equalization, to weave communities within the metropolis into a cohesive whole, and to provide transport systems that ensure equal access to public services and workplaces, all within the framework of an open and democratic local governing structure.

MARIO POLÈSE is a research professor at the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique-Urbanisation, Université du Québec à Montréal, as well as director of the Montreal Inter-University Group, Cities and Development. He also teaches in urban planning and management programs in Mexico, Central America, and Haiti.

RICHARD STREN is Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto, and the Director of its Centre for Urban and Community Studies. He has carried out extensive research in Africa, where he also worked as a planner. Most of his current research and teaching involves Latin America.


FOREWORD - Humanizing the City: A View from UNESCO's MOST Programme
by Ali Kazancigil

  1. Understanding the New Sociocultural Dynamics of Cities: Comparative Urban Policy in a Global Context
  2. The Social Sustainability of Montreal: A Local or a State Matter?
  3. Governance and Social Sustainability: The Toronto Experience
  4. Miami: Governing the City through Crime
  5. ‘A Third-World City in the First World’: Social Exclusion, Racial Inequality, and Sustainable Development in Baltimore, Maryland
  6. Geneva: Does Wealth Ensure Social Sustainability?
  7. Room to Manoeuvre: Governance, the Post-industrial Economy, and Housing Provision in Rotterdam
  8. São Paulo and the Challenges for Social Sustainability: The Case of an Urban Housing Policy
  9. Downtown San Salvador: Housing, Public Spaces, and Economic Transformation
  10. Social Transformation in a Post-colonial City: The Case of Nairobi
  11. Cape Town: Seeking Social Sustainability in a Fast-Growing City
  12. Learning from Each Other: Policy Choices and the Social Sustainability of Cities



Within its own fields of competence, and especially in the Social and Human Sciences sector, UNESCO's message on urban issues is both moral and intellectual: cities must serve the people who live in them. For UNESCO, the real challenge is to improve the conditions in which urban growth takes place in order to build cities of peace, democracy, and development.

The cities of the twenty-first century must place the citizen at the centre of public policy, reinvent the concept of the city, and realize the many ways of sharing in urban life.

The impact of globalization on urban systems and the strategic role of large cities in the world economy are among the factors now jeopardizing the quality of urban living. There is an urgent need to offset the tendency to subordinate cities to the needs of business and the economy - which are important in their own right - by devising an ethical approach that takes into account the needs of the individual, based on a better balance between men and women, and cities and nature, in which the quality of the environment is primordial and which allows for town-dwellers to make city life a shared experience.

Giving cities a human face is more than a Utopian dream: it can be achieved when the initiatives of the inhabitants, as both users and builders, are encouraged and supported.

Our goal is to implement policies that will awaken the creative capacities of all those - men, women, and young people - who live in cities. We must create the city of the democratic age, in which the ideals of emancipation, equality, freedom, and solidarity can be achieved for everyone.

UNESCO has identified five challenges to be taken up in promoting a city of solidarity and citizenship:

  1. To act against intolerance and prevent the development of social apartheid between the ‘city of the citizens’ and the ‘city of the excluded’;
  2. To affirm solidarity as a fundamental value of democracy and human rights by inventing a city of solidarity, through the encouragement of cultural and social pluralism and the promotion of integration through social policies, particularly employment policies;
  3. To promote a culture of peace: democracy was born in cities, and in cities it is most under threat from tensions of all kinds and from the forces of disintegration. It is also in the city that a new social contract must be worked out;
  4. Development and peace are intimately linked: with cities increasingly becoming the scene of conflicts, UNESCO is implementing a culture of peace" program that includes social-development activities aimed at peace-building, particularly in cities in recovery after a period of conflict;
  5. To turn city-dwellers into citizens through education in citizenship: citizens must be given the means to express themselves in public and have an impact on their city. They must be placed at the centre of choices and decisions for the creation of a multifaceted city by measures to promote democratic discussion and participation.
Intellectually, the mission of UNESCO’s Social and Human Sciences sector is to contribute to generating and transferring social knowledge to policy-makers and civil society.

For this purpose, the Management of Social Transformations (MOST) Programme was created in 1994 with the goals of (a) improving understanding by generating policy-relevant knowledge on three major issues of our time: managing multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism, city governance, and coping with the impact of globalization; and (b) improving the communication between researchers and decision-makers. The program is overseen by an intergovernmental council and an independent scientific steering committee. A small secretariat coordinates the program from UNESCO Headquarters, and national MOST liaison committees (to date established in thirty-five countries) relate the program to national social-science and policy communities.

The MOST Programme is basically a cooperative framework for the promotion of high-quality, policy-relevant, comparative international social-science research, and national decision making through improved use of social-science knowledge. In a world where many of the social, economic, demographic, environmental, and technological processes have become transnational and global, we believe this to be a useful undertaking.

The particular theme of ‘cities as arenas of accelerated social transformations’ resulted from various consultations with specialists, as well as regional, thematic, and statutory meetings (1). The choice of such a theme shows MOST’s salient interest in understanding how social transformations affect the city of today and tomorrow.

The research projects selected by MOST have as their goal a comparative and international analysis of some of these changes (such as urban governance, urban social sustainability, and the issues of environment and gender in cities). In the restructuring process of contemporary urban spaces, at stake is not only changes in terms of morphology, terminology, or practices, but also the relationships between such changes and the underlying social, cultural, economic, and political processes.

Understanding social processes that take place in urban centres is a prerequisite for guiding and changing urban development. Based on MOST's goal to produce policy-relevant knowledge and UNESCO's task to cooperate in the implementation of the plan of action of Habitat II, activities in the urban field have focused particularly on social, economic, and political urban governance. This approach is of relevance to decision-makers and stakeholders in the relationships between the state and civil society. It involves the implementation of both ‘bottom-up’ and ‘top-down’ strategies to favour active participation of all those concerned in open negotiations, transparent decision-making mechanisms, and the formulation of urban-management policies.

Urban governance and management of urban areas within MOST have branched out into three subareas - namely, scientific research and networking; action-oriented projects on sustainable and integrated urban-development strategies geared towards a participatory approach and the revitalization of inner cities; and training and capacity-building for city professionals.

I am particularly glad that the international project ‘Towards Socially Sustainable Cities: Building a Knowledge Base for Urban Management,’ which generated this book, has developed within MOST. The project was initially coordinated by Richard Stren, of the Centre for Urban and Community Studies, University of Toronto, and Mario Polèse, of Montreal Inter-University Group (MIG), Cities and Development, and subsequently by Antoine Bailly, of the Faculty of Economic and Social Sciences, University of Geneva. It is one of the best and particularly relevant activities of the MOST Programme. I would like to express my deep gratitude to the above-mentioned coordinators, as well as to all those who participated in the project, and also extend my appreciation to Geneviève Domenach-Chich, Chief of the Cities and Human Habitat Unit, who monitored this project from the MOST side.

Ali Kazancigil
Executive Secretary, MOST Programme
Director, Division of Social Science, Research and Policy, UNESCO


  1. Notably the first MOST workshop on the theme "cities" in Vienna, in 1994, and the 1994 session of the Intergovernmental Committee of MOST. Cf. Céline Sachs-Jeantet 1995.

Sachs-Jeantet, Céline. 1995. Managing Social Transformations in Cities: A Challenge to Social Sciences. MOST Working Document no. 2. Paris: UNESCO.

Notes on Contributors

John Abbott is Professor of Urban Engineering and coordinator of the Urban Management Program at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. In 1984 he was a founder and first chair of Planact, a nongovernmental organization established to support the emerging civic movement in its struggle for urban equality. Since then he has worked on the development of integrated approaches to informal settlement upgrading and community management. He is also closely involved in the development of an urban management framework for Cape Town, and was a member of the commission to determine the powers and duties of the new Metropolitan Authority. His book, Sharing the City: Community Participation in Urban Management, was published by Earthscan in 1996.

Antoine S. Bailly is Professor of Geography at the University of Geneva. He has a PhD from Paris Sorbonne (1977) and has taught in universities in Canada, France, and Switzerland. Professor Bailly is the honorary president of the Association de Science Régionale de Langue Française and vice-president of the European Regional Science Association. He is also the president of the Swiss section of the International Geographical Union. He is the author of 30 books and more than 300 papers in economic and urban geography and in regional science.

L.S. Bourne is Professor of Geography and Planning at the University of Toronto, where he has in the past served as the director of the Graduate Planning Program and of the Centre for Urban and Community Studies. For eight years he chaired the Urban Commission of the International Geographical Union. His research interests include comparative analysis of urban systems and policy, new forms of urban development, inner cities, social polarization and spatial inequalities, housing and land markets, migration and immigration, and the monitoring of change in urban Canada. Among his recent publications are The Changing Social Geography of Canadian Cities (McGill-Queen's University Press, 1993) and ‘Reinventing the Suburbs: New Myths and Old Realities’ (Progress in Planning, 1996).

Frans M. Dieleman is Professor of Urban and Rural Geography in the Faculty of Geographical Sciences, Utrecht University, The Netherlands. He also serves as the scientific director of the Urban Research Centre, Utrecht (URU). He received his PhD from the Free University of Amsterdam in 1978. His main areas of research interest are residential mobility, housing policy, and Randstad Holland.

Frances Frisken is professor emerita and senior scholar of Urban Studies at York University, Toronto. She has published on metropolitan governance, city and regional planning, urban transit politics and policy-making, the politics of property-tax reform, the role of provincial governments in Canadian urban governance, and Canadian/U.S. differences in urban policy-making. She is also coordinator of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) Forum, which brings together academics, public officials, urban professionals, and concerned citizens to hear and talk about issues of importance to the development and character of the Toronto metropolitan area.

Gunter Gad is an associate professor of geography at the University of Toronto, at Mississauga. He has long-standing research interests in the development of the inner city, the decentralization of offices, and the geography of employment in large urban areas. His research focuses on Canadian cities, especially Toronto and Montreal. He has PhD degrees from the Universität Erlangen-Nurnberg, in Germany, and the University of Toronto.

Annick Germain is an associate professor at the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique-Urbanisation, the urban-research institute of the Université du Québec, in Montreal. A sociologist by training, she taught at the University of Montreal before joining the research faculty of INRS. Among her published works are several studies on urban planning and on Montreal. Her most recent work is on the impact of immigration on the social structure of cities.

Robert C. Kloosterman is Senior Researcher at the OTB Research Institute for Housing, Urban and Mobility Studies at Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands. His research specialization is in the urban economy, urban labour markets, and entrepreneurship. He has published in the Cambridge Journal of Popular Music, Urban Studies, WestEuropean Studies, Regional Studies, New Community, Housing Studies, the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, and Area.

Davinder Lamba is an architect and environmental planner, and the executive director of Mazingira Institute, a Kenyan interdisciplinary research and action non-governmental organization (NGO). A humanrights activist, he is engaged in constitutional and governance reforms in Kenya. He served on the Scientific Steering Committee of UNESCO’s MOST Programme and, with Dr Mario Polèse, conceived the Socially Sustainable Cities research initiative. He convened the Training and Research Partners for Habitat Caucus for the Habitat II Conference. He founded the African Research Network on Urban Management (ARNUM) and is the Anglophone Africa representative on the board of Habitat International Coalition (HIC), the global NGO alliance on human settlements.

Diana Lee-Smith is an architect who has lived and worked in Kenya for thirty years. She was one of the founders of Mazingira Institute and also founded Settlements Information Network Africa (SINA) and the Women and Shelter Network of Habitat International Coalition (HIC). Her career spans academic, research, and activist spheres. She has held appointments in five universities in Africa and North America and is a member of the World Conservation Union team, which is developing methods of assessing sustainability. She holds a doctoral degree in Architecture and Development Studies from Lund University in Sweden and has published widely on urban and gender issues.

Marc V. Levine is the founding director of the Center for Economic Development at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he teaches in the Department of History and the Urban Studies Program. He is also professeur invité at the Université du Québec Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique-Urbanisation, in Montreal. Levine received his BA, MA, and PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. His research focuses on urban redevelopment, wage polarization and urban labour markets, and tourism as an economic development strategy in the United States and Canada. He has also written extensively on language policy and cultural diversity in cities. Levine is the author or co-author of four books, the most recent of which is La reconquête de Montréal (VLB Éditeur, 1997). He is currently completing a book on the history of urban redevelopment, ghetto poverty, and metropolitan restructuring in Baltimore since the 1950s.

Mario Lungo is a Salvadorean urban planner who studied at the Instititut d’Urbanisme of the University of Paris. He is now a professor at the Universidad Centroamericana José Siméon Cañas, and the executive director of the Bureau of Planification of the Metropolitan Area of San Salvador. Professor Lungo is in addition a research associate of FLACSO, the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, and was the Central America coordinator for the Global Urban Research Initiative, a project coordinated by the Centre for Urban and Community Studies at the University of Toronto.

Robert A. Murdie is Professor of Geography at York University in Toronto. He is also the Housing and Neighbourhood domain leader for the Joint Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Settlement in Toronto. His research interests include the housing experiences of immigrants and refugees in Toronto, the changing social composition of public-sector housing, and housing and immigrant settlement in Swedish metropolitan areas.

Mario Polèse is a research professor at Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique-Urbanisation, Université du Québec, in Montreal, as well as the director of the Montreal Inter-University Group, Cities and Development, designated a Centre of Excellence by the Canadian International Development Agency. He holds a PhD in City and Regional Planning from the University of Pennsylvania. He has published widely in the field of urban and regional development, among his more recent work being Economie urbaine et régionale (Economica, 1994), the principal university text in French (also translated into Spanish and Portuguese). He has held many positions as an adviser with the Canadian federal government and the government of Quebec, as well as with international agencies and community groups. Outside Canada he has held teaching and research positions in the United States, Switzerland, and France, and currently teaches in Mexico, Central America, and Haiti.

Anne-Marie Séguin received her PhD in geography from the Université Laval and has been a research professor at Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique-Urbanisation, Université du Québec, in Montreal, since 1990. Her current areas of research interest are poverty and exclusion; employment and housing careers; gentrification; immigrant residential location; and urban policy, particularly housing policy.

Ana Amélia da Silva received her PhD in sociology from the University of São Paulo, Brazil. She teaches at the Catholic University of São Paulo and is a research fellow of the Centre for the Study of Citizenship Rights, an interdisciplinary institution at the University of São Paulo. The centre's research program covers the historical pattern of social and human rights in Brazil, the obstacles to their implementation, and the social spaces in which new democratic innovations emerge. She was, until 1998, a research consultant at Polis Institute, a public-policy NGO in São Paulo.

Jonathan Simon is Professor of Law at the University of Miami. He has also taught at the University of Michigan, New York University, and Yale. Simon received his law degree and a doctoral degree in Jurisprudence and Social Policy from the University of California, at Berkeley. His research deals with the transformation of regulatory and crime-control strategies in advanced liberal societies. He is currently at work on two book projects: one is a study of the explosive growth of the U.S. prison population; the second examines the history of twentieth-century tort law as a window into the changing rationalities behind liberal governance.

Richard Stren is Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto, and the director of the Centre for Urban and Community Studies. He received his PhD in political science from the University of California, at Berkeley. Over the past thirty years, he has carried out extensive research on African cities, still a major research interest, together with urban politics in the developing world and comparative urban policy and the environment. His major publications include Housing the Urban Poor in Africa; African Cities in Crisis (co-edited with Rodney White) and Sustainable Cities (co-edited with Rodney White and Joseph Whitney), and he also edited the four-volume Urban Research in the Developing World, the result of the Global Urban Research Initiative, a major international collaborative research project of which he was the coordinator.

For more information, please contact:

    Geneviève Domenach-Chich
    Chef de l'Unité Ville et Habitat Humain (VHH)
    Management of Social Transformations (MOST) Programme
    Fax: +33 (0)1 45 68 57 28
    E-mail: g.domenach-chich@unesco.org

To MOST Clearing House Homepage

To see the document in English
Pour voir le document en
Para ver el documento en