Jean-Pau Alduy, mayor of Perpignan, expressed his view that human rights today are the result of a debate held by nation-states in the framework of the UN. Currently, the only counterbalances to economic, political and technological power are, on the one hand, terrorism and religious fundamentalism and, on the other, united cities.
Cities are increasingly cosmopolitan and urban crises are occurring.
These can be tackled in different ways:
1) Accepting the notion of community – communitarism – as a principle of urban development.
2) Secularity and spirituality. In Perpignan, a document drafted by the council, titled “Perpignan and secularity” helped to propagate secularity. 3) Solving the problem of disappearing public spaces. We have to try to build a society like an archipelago in which each person forges links with other islands on the basis of individual identity in order to build a new society.
Manuel Saravia, professor of town planning from the school of architecture in Valladolid, outlined considerations on the basis of the UN Report on poverty. In 1978 the United Nations Habitat programme was set up to call for decent housing for the whole of humanity. Today there is a great deal of poverty and a huge imbalance between rich and poor. Poverty and inequalities are concentrated in cities. The cities of the third world are growing with slums, favelas, shantytowns, hovels, etc. One third of the world’s urban population (1 billion people) live in these kinds of settlements. It is estimated that in the next 30 years these figures will double.
However, in rich cities the impact of shantytowns is much lower and poverty tends to be highest in the older parts of town and in housing estate blocks. When politically expedient, the methods of expelling poverty through gentrification are increased. This means replacing the existing low-income population with new higher-earning people.
When undocumented people gather together social degradation and poverty increase, there is no immigration policy and cities become closed and divided. In the past, poorer areas had always had their dignity but today undocumented people have neither name nor dignity and their invisibility means that they cannot interact with those who judge them. The containment policy of countries nowadays is not slowing immigration but driving it underground, especially in the collective imagination. Mobility has to be promoted and the right to free movement respected.
For Jean-Pau Alduy, in order for cities to be a counterbalance to the state a UN of cities should be set up. Cities must become places of cohesive community with open public spaces. “If we develop a democracy for cities based on respect for identities and secularity we can achieve change in the world.”
Manuel Saravia stated that immigration is the problem today. Besides this, the achievement of our time is not technological development but respect for human rights. The idea of open borders must be promoted even if it encounters resistance. Humanity has managed its major achievements – individual votes, women’s votes, legislation to help the poor, the abolition of the death penalty, etc- in spite of criticism. On this point, he recommended Hirschmann’s Retóricas de la intransigencia.
The major prejudice against immigration is that the rich and the poor world are connected and, like liquids, levels will tend to balance out. However, this is not true because not all the people who live in Extremadura emigrate to Mallorca. As a specific measure, he advises a ban on closed neighbourhoods because they could split away from the council and not contribute to public funds as is happening in Argentina. He also recommended pedestrian areas to put an end to urban apartheid.
Jean-Pau Alduy pointed out that in the European Constitution cities do not have a role, the concept of secularity does not appear and the right to work is not mentioned, which makes it difficult to tackle the challenge of immigration successfully. According to Jean-Pau Alduy, “the new humanism is citizenship plus the internet”.