This dialogue dealt with the problems and challenges arising from today's megacities, which will be accommodating 60% of the world population before 2025. There was consensus among the speakers that cities should have a greater presence in the international decision-making bodies, more competences should be transferred from the central governments to the municipalities and the collaboration between them must improve for planning the management and the future of the cities of the 21st Century.
Some of the great challenges of the future that came up during the dialogue, City and Citizenship for the 21st Century, were: overcoming social inequality and civil insecurity, more functional and more human-oriented town planning with services within the reach of all and decentralisation of the power of the state in favour of the municipal governments.
Forty-four speakers from various places participated in this dialogue. It dealt with the problems of excessive urban growth foreseen for the next half century with the arrival of 2,000 million new urban inhabitants. As of 2004 and for the first time in history, more than half of all humanity lives in cities.
At the current rate, it is estimated that there will be 358 cities with more than a million inhabitants by 2015. Twenty-seven of them will be megapolises with more than 10 million inhabitants and 18 will be in Asia, according to expert Peter Hall, citing sources of international organisms.
This means that 60% of the world population will live in urban environments in less than 20 years. This growth rate is equivalent to a new Barcelona every 10 days during the next 20 years. For Hall, as for most of the speakers in this meeting, the challenge will be how to manage this excessive growth and assimilate the underground economy, slums and shantytowns that come with it.
Hong Kong town planner Stephen Lau decried the enormous migration waves in Asia and Africa that propitiate “trash architecture”: vertical constructions thrown up overnight without any type of planning or control by the public institutions.
This is what is happening in cities like New Delhi and Peking, where this type of constructions either spring up in the periphery without hardly any services or provoke the destruction of the historical centres. “The situation is very difficult but the State and the local administrations have to know how to plan the future of our cities together”, he pointed out.
The problematic relationship between central power and local power was the main issue of the closing session, which the mayor of Barcelona, Joan Clos attended. He criticised the very limited willingness of the central and regional governments to cede power to the municipalities, even when they are governed by the same party. He also pointed out the necessity to reach a consensus to distribute the competences. “The new role that cities are called to play in the 21st Century needs a transformation of the view of the state-nation concept”, he asserted.
In the same session, economist Michael Cohen continued along this line. After underlining that cities produce more than half of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the states and are the first to bear the brunt of any economic change, he asked, “How is it possible that they are not present in the debates about the growth of the economy and the relationship between the countries of the North and of the South”? The chairperson and town planner, Jordi Borja, called for a greater presence of the local powers in the big international decision-making bodies.
This prestigious town planner expressed his concern in another two sessions about the future of the enormous conurbations that are appearing, primarily, around third world cities, which “no longer guarantee the citizenship of their inhabitants when citizenship is understood as equality of conditions and rights”. Borja also decried the lack of civil rights for the so-called “illegal immigrants” that come to European capitals from underdeveloped countries. The chairperson believes these new sources of conflict arise from the difficulty of managing the great migratory waves into these cities, from land price speculation and from the public authorities' lack of planning and political will. Most of the speakers coincided with him on this point.
The town planner and expert from the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo, Jorge Wilhem, summarised the current situation in these emerging megacities as “archipelagos of modern consumers that talk, work and consume more or less the same but are surrounded by oceans of exclusion. In Barcelona, the island is big and the ocean small. But in Lagos and Bombay, the islands are very small and the oceans very big”.
A session titled “Fears and wishes in the city” addressed the problem of civil insecurity. Within the prevalent spirit of this meeting, there was a consensus in decrying the “repressive-preventive” policies being implemented in many third world cities. They are exports of the franchised model of the mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, zero tolerance. The speakers came out in favour of social policies that favour the insertion of persons and their neighbourhoods into civil life.
Jordi Borja pointed out that “insecurity is often only a subjective perception” promoted by a given historical situation, such as Spain during the transition. Therefore “we must learn to live with a certain amount of insecurity as long as social inequalities exist” to avoid what is already happening in many third world capitals, “barbed-wire urbanism”. Borja favoured, meanwhile, a set of actions to combat insecurity such as urban development with a social mixture, a centre that is accessible from the periphery or cultural actions, not only events but also participative activities. Jordi Borja coincided with town planner Manuel Solà-Morales, also from Barcelona, in “integrating the periphery” and legalising it, endowing slums and shantytowns such as the favelas of Brazil with services, “giving their occupants the social recognition that is indispensable for a life project.”
“You have to approach security, not as a problem, but rather as a right for all” he added. He argued that police presence in neighbourhoods such as La MIna in Barcelona could have been interpreted as an “invasion” just a few years ago. When it is preceded by a number of urban, social and economic improvements for the residents, however, the residents themselves end up requesting it as one more service to favour their quality of life, Borja explained.
Giuliani's model of zero tolerance was another of the issues for which there were consensus. It was strongly criticised by experts such as Saskia Sassen and New York sociologist Neil Smith as an expression of the impotence of the neoliberal system to repress the social and economic discontent in the poorer levels of the population. These experts believe the neoliberal model is in a serious crisis, since it has not brought about the overall prosperity that it proclaimed, “as demonstrated by the 40 million poor in the United States”. Therefore, it will be replaced by the emerging alternative citizen-based social movements.