Cities are potentially epicenters of undreamt wealth and diversity. But for most of their inhabitants the reality remains harsh and exclusionary. The 'Right to the City' is a concept that has become an important rallying cry over the last fifty years for those protesting the growth of inequality, marginalisation, discrimination and a lack of public participation in decision-making in the functioning of cities. Indeed, its rise to development orthodoxy has been signalled by its widespread use by UN-affiliated organisations and radical social movements alike. The Right to the City is not simply an amalgam of existing human rights but rather a distinct right, and means of achieving the rest of the spectrum of rights. Embedded within the concept is a strong critique of urban management approaches, exemplified by South Africa's, which are state-centric, housing-driven and tend to safeguard individual property rights over the social function of land and the city. Nonetheless, despite its increasing presence in the rhetoric of civil society and social movements in South Africa, it has yet to be given a concrete and context-specific form.
The Right to the City Dialogue Series, a partnership between Isandla Institute, Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC) and Informal Settlement Network's (ISN), is a year-long process focused on contextualising and providing momentum to the Right to the City concept in South Africa. It consists of two parallel, cascading (upwards) sets of dialogues that feed one another. The first set of three involve representatives of the urban poor, drawn from the Informal Settlements Network (ISN) and other community-based organisations in Cape Town, in which they reflect on the most salient issues they face in their everyday lives and the challenges they face in self-organising, informed by the Right to the City. These, in turn, shape the agendas for the second set of dialogues between representatives of urban NGOs (as well as selected representatives from community dialogues). The progress achieved during these dialogues forms the basis of, and are fed into, the next dialogue of the urban poor and so on. Each of these dialogues have been supported by preparing input documents to inform the discussion and capture the essence of previous debates. At the end of this process the outputs from each set of dialogues will be presented at a National Policy Dialogue, which will include representatives from each of the stakeholder groups as well as government officials and politicians.
For regular updates of the Right to the City Dialogue Series keep an eye on our other products page.