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Quito, the turning point: the New Inhabitants' Agenda vs the New Urban Agenda

Quito, el punto de inflexión: Nueva Agenda de los Habitantes VS/ Nueva Agenda Urbana

Inauguración del Foro Social de Resistencia Popular a Habitat III, QUITO, ECUADOR (16 Octubre 2016)

We waited a year to understand what really happened in Quito in October 2016 and the social and political impact it had.
In Quito there was no epic battle, and there were no street confrontations between opposing visions for the future of the world. There were a few thwarted attempts to repress the People's Social Forum in Resistance to Habitat III, during the opening of the International Tribunal on Evictions in Guayaquil and the closing event in Quito, but the very difficult debate on policies continued from a distance.

One year later, on analysing what happened during and after Habitat III, the picture is clearer: Quito marked a turning point, a rupture between UN-Habitat and civil society, a separation unimaginable in Habitat I and Habitat II. The first international networks to be involved started in Vancouver in 1976, whilst in Istanbul in 1996 social organisations played a decisive role in the discussions on the Habitat Agenda. In the two decades which followed, instead of making progress towards implementing its progressive aspects, in particular the recognition of the right to housing and collaboration on equal terms, the Habitat Agenda was being driven in the opposite direction.

The management of housing and urban planning is increasingly being entrusted to the private sector, leaving the public sector, governments and UN-Habitat with the role of facilitators, not regulators, and leaving civil society to deal with the problems caused by neoliberal policies in the urban sector. This is at the root of the current global housing crisis.

The gulf created by removing the focus on human rights

In Quito the gulf caused by this disastrous focus became clear: on one side were most of these institutions, especially national governments and UN-Habitat, which laid the foundations for the United Nations Habitat III Conference, and on the other an unprecedented combination of social organisations which organised several independent initiatives, of which the People's Social Forum in Resistance to Habitat III had the most impact.

This gap has been created due to UN-Habitat's progressive distancing from the focus on human rights, which as a UN programme should define it and is laid out in its Strategic Plan for 2014-2019. UN-Habitat has shown clear signs of this gap in the last few years. These include: the increasing role of multinational companies in the World Urban Forums, the removal of "forced evictions" as an indicator on the Slum Index, the dissolution of the Advisory Group on Forced Evictions, and the banning of independent organisations such as the International Alliance of Inhabitants from the World Urban Forums. The preparatory phase for Habitat III, especially the World Urban Forums and the formulation of the New Urban Agenda, set the seal and marked the moment when human rights and meaningful participation were shut out and relegated to a marginal role.

This exclusion paved the way for the New Urban Agenda, which has a neoliberal focus at its heart and is centred on unrestricted urban development as a factor in economic development, in order to relaunch the cycles of valuation, accumulation and wealth concentration as an antidote to the urban and financial crises, at the expense of human rights and the environment. The representatives of civil society who were co-opted into the General Assembly of Partners (GAP), which was called in order to make a show of openness, were not able to make any mark on this focus. In fact they could not influence the policy elements of the New Urban Agenda as their task was sidelined and made merely cosmetic.

Civil society groups who for various reasons decided to participate in the GAP space, were limited to parallel events and contributions to "resilience"; in other words ways for cities and inhabitants to adapt to the consequences of development policies as dogma, without ever being able to build real dialogue with political leaders, governments or UN-Habitat, who were committed to drawing up the New Urban Agenda.

The Social Forum in Resistance to Habitat III: convergence of resistance groups who want to become alternatives

For these reasons, many participants, international networks, universities, NGOs, local authorities and trade unions decided to participate in independent, anti-hegemonic initiatives.

This was possible thanks to the spaces created and consolidated over years of fighting for the right to housing and land, and to independent social forums, especially the People's Urban and Social Forum in Medellín where more than 3,000 participants from 25 countries on all the continents gathered in 2014, at a counter-event to the UN-Habitat World Urban Forum.

The International Alliance of Inhabitants was the main driver of this dynamic convergence, which gave rise to the Social Forum in Resistance to Habitat III.

We give an account of this in this document so that those who participated can be reminded of it and so that those who will come in future can learn from it.

In the Introduction, in "Popular Resistance to Habitat III" , Guillermo Rodríguez Curiel, the IAI coordinator for Latin America, describes the anti-hegemonic heart of the Forum, emphasising its fundamentally human and environmental nature, as expressed in the organisation and deep roots of the popular movements.

Developmentalism against human rights and Mother Earth

In the second part, "The terms of conflict: development against human rights and Mother Earth" , analysis documents, declarations and articles present the different types of alternative space to Habitat III. 

Paul Maquet of CENCA Peru offers a good analysis of the terms of conflict in his article “The New Urban Agenda: the error of leaving the solution of challenges and commitments to the market" , and concludes: “We need a new urban social pact which involves everybody and which comes from the inhabitants themselves, not from resilience but from their resistance to unrestricted developmentalist policies, from their networks and from urban social movements. A pact based on human rights and the environment, and the responsibility towards this and future generations" .

The Declaration for the Defence of our Territories , the final document of the Resistance to Habitat III forum, responds to this need by throwing down a great prophetic challenge to the New Urban Agenda: "We, the invisible, the 99 percent of those inhabiting this planet, raise our voices against exclusion, evictions and the criminalisation of protest, demanding recognition of and respect for multiple forms of living. From the middle of the world we are making progress in the construction of an Integrated Habitat Agenda by and for inhabitants, strengthening the International Tribunal on Evictions and other popular activities and fostering the coming together of social movements in defence of our territories".

The IAI supports this coming together with its proposal for the Urban and Community Way.

Beyond the boundaries of Habitat III: openness and new strategic collaborations

In this it is important to emphasise the participation of the Global Platform for the Right to the City, a network of more than 100 organisations and networks on all the continents which includes local authorities, universities, social networks and movements and NGOs. In 2014, as a co-promotor, the IAI contributed to a growing focus on openness, unrestricted by the institutional framework and offering an opportunity to move beyond the boundaries of Habitat III when it became clear that for the right to the city to be recognised, independent mobilisation spaces were needed. The Right to the City, which was launched with a Charter in 2005, was not recognised in the New Urban Agenda as a founding principle of its policies. By contrast, convergences and alliances were strengthened between local authorities, universities, popular organisations and civil society -  the basis for Alternative Urban Social Pacts at territorial level.

For the first time this collaboration also involves trade unions from the public sector and the construction industry at a global level on the topic of habitat, as highlighted in the article by Public Services International (PSI): "Habitat III's New Urban Agenda will not deliver unless it creates decent work and fully includes trade unions and workers ". The dialogue between the IAI and PSI (20 million workers in 700 member unions in 154 countries), has resulted in participation in common events and a will to collaborate in the battles for the right to decent work and sustainable cities. Dialogue on common campaigns is ongoing for remunicipalisation of public services, especially water, low-income housing, and transport.

Last but not least, we remember the part played by the academic sector, which analysed, discussed and approved the Quito Manifesto during the forum Towards an alternative Habitat III. As well as highlighting various alternative proposals to the New Urban Agenda, especially the Right to the City, the document explicitly states "Habitat does not represent us. We need to rebuild a Habitat which is not exclusively in the hands of state governments. They should only be in the minority. Most of the members should be shared among city governments and other local bodies, representatives of social organisations and movements and collective professional and academic members. They should all commit to defending a set of principles which express the desire to create a city and to promote citizens' rights for all" .

The deep impressions left by the Forum of Resistance to Habitat III

In the fourth part, "The Forum in Resistance to Habitat III: events which leave their mark" , we describe the events which left a deep impression and which can be specifically followed up.

The document "Resistance to Habitat III, Summary and Lessons Learned" (“Resistencia Hábitat III, Resumen y aprendizajes" ), produced by the Peoples’ Committee for our Territories against Habitat III with the collaboration of the IAI, is particularly important and well-structured, and gives a precise account of the dynamic which preceded and accompanied the Social Forum in Resistance to Habitat III.  This was a dynamic, rather than a series of events, which began to implement a new type of Social Forum: not just a space for debate but also a place where decisions are taken.

In this regard the  Fifth  Session of the International Tribunal on Evictions :  the urgen  need  for a global moratorium  is highlighted, as detailed in the article by Soha Ben Slama, the Tribunal coordinator.

As many people said, this session was the real highlight of the People's Forum, with its capacity for mobilisation and its impact both when it was organised and in the followup.

In fact it was an unprecedented event as it not only put perpetrators of human rights violations in the dock, but also indicated how to put matters right.

What was new, and a real achievement, was that inhabitants' organisations took direct responsibility, and proved that they were able not just to make demands but also to show how to directly implement respect for the human rights violated. The Verdict, that is the recommendations as to how to resolve the eviction cases, are a concrete example of this assumption of responsibility, and a road map for mobilisation and monitoring on the local and international level.

The article by Cristina Reynals, coordinator of the Urban Popular University and IAI Antena Sur entitled "The Charter of Responsibilities of inhabitants: contribution to the Urban and Community Way" , is an account of this debate and explains this maturing process in the inhabitants' organisations. 

Monitoring: the recommendations of the International Tribunal on Evictions and the New Urban Agenda

The fifth part of this systematisation work shows what happened "One year after Quito: inhabitants and civil society monitoring the turning point" .
On the one hand, "Monitoring the recommendations of the International Tribunal on Evictions: Case: South America, Ecuador, Guayaquil - Monte Sinai and surrounding areas" ,  by Patricia Bertha Sánchez Gallegos, IAI, Guayaquil-Ecuador details a specific case, where thanks to united local mobilisation and international support, implementation of the Recommendations of the International Tribunal on Evictions (Zero evictions for Monte Sinai) is at an advanced stage.

In contrast, the "New Urban Agenda in Argentina"    describes the analysis carried out by Habitar Argentina on the virtually zero impact of Habitat III on the country.
It is a conclusion which could become more common, given the stagnation of UN-Habitat, which is stuck in a debate about its future and which cannot be effective in any case due to the lack of support from governments. Paradoxically it is precisely the neoliberal focus of the New Urban Agenda which could be the root cause of the cuts to this UN programme, which is in deep crisis.

Requirements, potential and problems for the implementation of the Urban and Community Way

The lessons learned based on these analyses acknowledge the potential of the pivotal moment in Quito. The ground was already prepared by the Urban and Community Way, a convergence of inhabitants’ organisations set up by the IAI in 2005 through a C all  for creating a Common Global Space of Solidarity for Urban Social Movements  .  It was consolidated by the World Assemblies of Inhabitants at the WSF in 2011 (Dakar) and in 2013 and 2015 (Tunis), and at the alternative Urban Social Forums in 2011 (Naples), 2014 (Medellín) and in Quito in 2016.

There is potential, but there are also problems and difficulties, because the neoliberal model is resistant even though it has failed to find a solution to the global urban and housing crisis, and because a large part of civil society is still concentrating on projects for resilience and good practice, and a significant number of people's organisations and social movements still do not manage to combine resistance with direct implementation of alternative policies and impact on these.

The Urban and Community Way project and the Impact project have made and must continue to make an important contribution to consolidation in this direction.

O(A) seguinte Tradutor(a) Voluntário(a) pelo direito à moradia sem fronteiras da AIH colaborou com a tradução deste texto:

Sheila Horvat


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