1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Development and Cities

Author(s): David Westendorff
Programme Area: Governance (2000 - 2009)
Project Title: Urban Governance
No. of Pages: 368

Sustainable cities of the South: an introduction, by David Westendorff

This Development in Practice Reader builds upon the May 2001 double issue of Development in Practice, which comprised approximately half of the papers initially prepared for presentation at the European Science Foundation’s annual N-AERUS Workshop, held on 3–5 May 2000 in Geneva.1 Its title, ‘Cities of the South: Sustainable for Whom?’, reflects concern within the N-AERUS and the host institutions – UNRISD and IREC-EPFL – that urban development processes in many cities of the North and South are being guided by superficial or misleading conceptions of sustainable development in the urban context. As will be seen in the contributions to this Reader, the aims of different groups proposing strategies for the sustainable development of cities tend to skew their arguments about what this means and how to achieve it. Environmentalists who see the pollution-free city as the only sustainable one may be willing to sacrifice the only affordable form of mass transport for poor people, or dirty low-tech jobs that provide them their meagre living. Those pursuing the globally competitive city may succeed in attracting foreign and domestic investments that boost economic growth and productivity, but which concentrate the benefits of growth very narrowly, leaving an increasingly large majority to live in penury at the foot of glass skyscrapers. Beleaguered bureaucrats attempting to improve or extend public infrastructure may adopt financing mechanisms that weaken poorer groups’ capacity to benefit from the newly installed infrastructure, even though they bear a disproportionate share of the costs of paying for it. International organisations seeking to promote more effective governance of cities may encourage decentralisation processes that fragment. Responsibility in the absence of legal, administrative, and institutional frameworks to organise and finance governmental responsibilities at the local level. Such a vacuum may be filled by local bosses or other power brokers who have little interest in the common good. In different ways, our various contributors focus on these contradictions.

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