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URBAN VISIONS: BEST PRACTICES?

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Just two examples might suffice to illustrate the implications of the claims made by the proponents of what Wally N'Dow, assistant secretarygeneral, Habitat II, called 'sustainable human settlements development in an urbanising world'.

Some of the many Best Practice schemes have the feel of Charles Landry's 'Creative City' (AJ 15.6.00), in which he argues for civic organisations to create imaginative ways to re-engage the disenfranchised in order to regenerate a sense of self and of place. Other proposals are geared towards rooting the rootless; consolidating the feeling of the 'richness of cities' (to use Ken Worpole's phrase) - even among the poorest. The following examples are premised on participation and partnership. . . but is it a partnership among equals?

1.The Pune Toilet Festival

Last September, in Pune (Poona), India, Ratnaker Gaikwad, the Commissioner for the Municipal Corporation, was taken to a series of locations where the National Slum Dwellers Federation of India (NSDFI) and Mahila Milan (Women Together) had worked with the poor communities to build new toilets. The poor communities will also contribute on a monthly basis to manage the toilets.

Professor Arjun Apparadurai of the University of Chicago says: 'Consider the idea of a toilet festival. These two words are rarely used in the same breath. In bringing these words together in a technological, political and social programme, the alliance is in the midst of making a revolutionary cultural experiment with many important ramifications.'

As it happens, having been to a public toilet in Pune, I would recommend always using the same breath.However, the creation of a public toilet (when you would have thought that the most basic aspiration would be to have a toilet that was not public) is, in fact, pretty depressing if it is portrayed as the high point of political and cultural experimentation in the new millennium.

2.Avoiding the dangers of market forces

In many poor regions of the world, from Columbia to Senegal, 'innovative approaches' to providing tenure have been tried out. A research project for the UK Department for International Development (DFID) has listed several and thus identified various means by which to develop, inter alia, 'more equitable and efficient urban land markets'as a consequence (Land Rites).

In Pravin Nagar-Gupta Nagar settlement in Ahmedabad, India, for example, the authors note that 'formal title to land exposes the poor to market forces and they can get trapped into selling it and thus being displaced from their original location'. The local authority now protects slum dwellers in the same way a parent supervises a child. In the past, residents might have sold at a meagre profit and moved on to something better and, indeed, many residents expressed the view that 'thinking of the family and of the children, having property titles would be a nice thing'.Unfortunately, under the new 'liberating' tenure programme, this is not on the cards. One resident of the Recife favela (slum) says: 'If we had been given property titles we would not be here now.' Without property rights, though, their appearance of secure tenure seems to be illusory - unable to sell because they have nothing to sell.

For the low-income groups of Dalifort squatter settlement outside Dakar, Senegal, the researchers found that 'tenure regularisation was a key element in any settlement upgrading project as it was expected to encourage the population to participate in and contribute to the upgrading process'. It seems, therefore, that the price for non-eviction is to upgrade your own slum. Analysis of the Peruvian government local lending bank initiative COFOPRI (Comision de Formalizacion de la Propriedad Informal) led to the conclusion that COFOPRI has been able to bridge the gap between the formal and informal city by enhancing the 'sense'of legal tenure security.

In this respect, the formalisation process has made informal urban dwellers feel that they have finally become formal urban dwellers, 'deeply affecting the Peruvian urban mental landscape'. The freedom conveyed in a relationship with a bank manager is one whose illusory character will be well known to anyone with an overdraft.

Many Best Practice schemes tend to reinforce the need for stability with the extant squatter conditions, rather then the need to transform those conditions especially by infrastructural investment.While opportunities may arise by default, the Habitat agenda is a depressing vision of our urban futures.

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