Observatory shifts focus to global implementation of ‘right to the city’

People tend to gardens in Huerta Park, in Rosario, Argentina. Since 2007, the municipality has made public spaces available for multiple uses managed jointly by the community and local government. (Rosario government)

A global database has been relaunched to track how local authorities are implementing the “right to the city”, a concept that gained international recognition during the run-up to last year’s Habitat III conference on sustainable cities.

The Inclusive Cities Observatory, a project spearheaded by the global United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) network, has been revived to highlight lessons and strategies that can shape municipal governance.

The right to the city is the notion that urban environments should be inclusive and free of discrimination, and that public services and investments should benefit all residents. While the right to the city is not a human right per se, advocates portray it as a synthesis of human rights.

The ambitious concept is enshrined in the New Urban Agenda strategy adopted by national governments in October. Read about other implementation strategies here.

[See: How will Mexico City pay for its new ‘right to the city’ guarantee?]

The observatory originally debuted in 2011. With the relaunch, the UCLG Committee on Social Inclusion, Participatory Democracy and Human Rights intends to update and refresh the initiative’s content and reach a wider audience with its message. The new goal will be to advocate for the right to the city by disseminating more information about it.

“The aim of this observatory is to identify and analyze experiences that can provide insights to inspire other cities in the design and implementation of the Right to the City,” according to a statement.

The fluid nature of the right to the city concept has made it complex to translate into specific policies and programming. Helpfully, then, the observatory is currently featuring 68 case studies of such implementation, from five continents. These range from human rights, justice and anti-discrimination initiatives to those focusing on community development, poverty eradication and public services.

The case studies illuminate how cities already are interpreting and defining the right to the city — and integrating the concept into their governance policies. Here is a sampling:

Social inclusion

Belo Horizonte, Brazil: Villa Viva aims to improve the lives of 45,000 people in a “high risk” neighbourhood with limited infrastructure in the nation’s sixth-largest city. The programme emphasizes improved public services and living conditions, with some families resettled in newer and safer housing. The community now has better roads, drainage, parks, and sports and leisure facilities.

[See: As a global commodity, housing has ‘lost its currency as a universal human right’]


Chengdu, China: A migrant inclusion policy aims to ease the arrival of villagers into this mega-city, the capital of Sichuan province. Local government institutions strive to be inclusive by housing newcomers with other residents and giving villagers a voice in governance decisions. These steps have lessened social tension caused by segregation.

Property rights

Rosario, Argentina: This port city of more than a million people north of Buenos Aires allows marginalized residents to use vacant urban land for farming. The initiative, Programa de Agricultura Urbana, has several goals: food security, economic opportunity and the revitalization of abandoned urban plots. Funding for the project comes from Rosario’s participatory budgeting process, which gives residents a voice on how municipal funds are spent.

Public space

Surakarta, Indonesia: Located in central Java, the city of a half-million people created dedicated space for street vendors and equipped them with umbrella tents and traditional carts. The move was partly in response to complaints that some vendors were operating illegally and disrupting traffic. But the mayor also was sensitive to their need to make a living and has sought to nurture these fledgling entrepreneurs.

[See: After a painful eviction, Bangladesh slum dwellers start over with a 99-year lease]

Additional case studies will be added this year about the experiences of migrants in European cities and the Mediterranean region, according to Inclusive Cities Observatory organizers.

The urban profiles were compiled with support from research teams at the University College of London and the University of Coimbra in Portugal. Access all of the case studies here.

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David Hatch is a correspondent for Citiscope.  Full bio

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