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Another City is possible - Alternatives to the city as a commodity

In cities and neighbourhoods throughout the world, citizens and communities are resisting, organizing themselves and generating alternatives to challenge an imposed urbanization model based solely on market rules that systematically generates social and economic exclusion. These alternatives mitigate the negative impacts of a crisis, sometimes referred to  as “3F” (Food, Fuel and Finance). Over the next years six dossiers will be published as part of the collection: Another city is possible! Alternatives to the city as a commodity.

The dossiers will introduce some of these alternatives and their actors and also include written and visual resources for those who want to know more and become involved. These are far from exhaustive accounts of the alternative ways that people are building “other possible and liveable cities”, realising Utopian ideals envisioned through the World Social Forum. However, each one of the alternatives listed below corresponds, in our opinion, to the most promising ways to reclaim the “Right to the City”. 

  • Participatory Budgeting;
  • Alternatives to forced evictions - staying in place;
  • Housing and Employment co-operatives;
  • Community Land Trusts (CLTS) and other forms of Collective and Communal forms of land Tenure;
  • Complementary and local currencies;
  • Urban and peri-urban Agriculture, from a food sovereignty perspective

Each one of these six topics plays a key role in an alternative urban production system, beyond simply market rules. And yet whilst each one of them is expanding remarkably in different parts of the world, their combination as a system is under-developed. This is due, in part, to the insufficient dialogue between leading actors. Therefore by documenting these experiences and connecting those who are behind them, this series will address a double challenge: the first is to link-up, put in perspective and potentially unify, these different initiatives, both globally and locally. The second is to shift scale and transformative capacity in order to generate a strong alternative to the production of housing and the city as a mere commodity. We are convinced a decisive step into shifting scale comes from linking up these alternatives.

Each one of these dossiers offers a set of around 25 four-page briefings comprising: about 12 case studies; cross sectional analysis; synthesis; threads between the cases in order to go beyond localism; recommendations to scale up; existing and potential bridges between one issue and the five others in order to ‘weave” the system (for instance how PB can and is being used to fund urban agriculture on a regular basis and strengthen food sovereignty); introductions to key players internationally and locally. Accessible basic references, introduction to key websites and a selected filmography complement each one of the files, that are at the same time standing alone and inter-connected. These briefings are written in the language used at least by some of the people where the experience is built: Spanish, Chinese, Portuguese, English or French. The Charles Leopold Mayer Foundation, FPH, will translate all the material in English and French and upload it on their site, www.CITEGO.info [Cities, Territories, Governance].

The experiences briefly introduced are only the tip of the iceberg. They were selected from many examples according to five criteria:

(i) Radicalism in terms of deep and structural positive transformation of a given situation (an eviction, unemployment, etc.), and contribution to direct or at least participatory democracy, and citizen empowerment; (ii) Availability and accessibility of information such as field notes, testimonies or grey literature;

(iii) Close contact with those who are or have been implementing the alternative, in order to complement and validate what is written; (iv) Innovation: each case focuses on some innovative aspects more than on the whole story;

(v) Bridges, existing, planned or potential with the other five issues from the collection (key criteria).

These alternatives mirror the state of struggles and of utopias that turned reality and therefore permanently evolve. The whole project would lose any meaning if action committed readers are not enriching it. You are therefore invited to share experiences worth documenting.

One singular feature of the editorial project is to offer a digital version through the CITEGO website and through partners’ websites with whom agreements are made along the “creative commons” principles. In addition, and on a case-by-case basis, local printing and publishing are envisioned, depending on requests. We invite people, institutions and organizations to express their interest. To date, some collaborations are planned, and hopefully many more will follow: Self-reclaimed Chilavert Co-operative in Argentina expressed interest in publishing in Buenos Aires, and the Inhabitants National Network from Cameroun as well. The dossiers should reach each one of the partners at no cost and in a publishable format. Using concise, organised and reflexive data, “Another city is possible! Alternatives to the city as a commodity” , aims to contribute to the various Forums that will pave the way towards Habitat III taking place in Istanbul in 2016 and to future World Social Forum that will gather thousands of people struggling for a better life . Despite its quite modest character, the collection posits a “counter-hegemonic” perspective towards the dominant discourse on the city and our urban future.

These files contribute to an international documentary resource site to exchange, showcase innovation and highlight significant experience in the field of urban governance.

This Dossier on Participatory Budgeting consists of 23 files organized into four sub-dossiers:

[A] Background and challenges

The first three information files are analytical and conceptual. They identify the challenges, give some keys of understanding, introduce the case studied and they familiarize the reader with some key issues:

  • The role of participatory budgeting  explains the dossier’s inner logic and the specific contribution of participatory budgeting towards “building other possible cities.”
  • Basics on participatory budgeting : includes definitions (i.e., what is participatory budgeting?); the concept’s evolution since 1989; and proposes three simple analytical tools that help differentiating one experience from another. 
  • No blue print for participatory budgeting  puts in perspective the various experiences presented in the dossier and illustrate how diverse they are.

[B] Case files

A dozen of innovative cases from diverse regions in the world mirror the diversity of participatory budgeting processes and cover cities of all size and all kinds: small towns and village, like Dondo in Mozambique; middlesize cities and regional capitals such as Belo Horizonte in Brazil, Rosario in Argentina, Seville in Spain, or Ilo in Peru; cities located at the periphery of large metropolitan areas, such as Guarulhos in São Paulo Metropolitan region or Cascais in Metropolitan Lisbon. Some of these experiments take place at Metropolitan level for instance in Chengdu, China that counts over 15 million inhabitants. The dossier introduces the reader to experiments implemented at sub municipal levels such as “Commune d’Arrondissement 6” in Yaoundé, Cameroon or Chicago’s 49th Ward, United States of America. It also presents “supra-municipal” experiments, occurring, for instance, at regional level, such as in the secondary schools (lycées) of the Nord Pas de Calais Region in France.

These case studies also reflect considerable diversity in terms of the time span over which participatory budgeting has been used, as they range from 3 to 25 years as for Porto Alegre. This diversity will hopefully shed light on how the volatility of these experiments can be reduced. Though the briefings are in narrative form and tell stories, they also offer some answers to practical questions, notably where, when, who, what, why and how; the experiment’s relevance and broader interest; what obstacles were faced and how where they overcome?

Finally, they illustrate the different “families” of participatory budgeting, as well as their combinations, which are often mixed up:

  • Actor’s based participatory budgeting for instance for women such as in Rosario or for the youth such as in La Serena in Chile.
  • Thematic participatory budgeting, for example, related to housing, as in Belo Horizonte.
  • Spatially based or Territorial participatory budgets, which occur at neighbourhood / district /city levels and are the most commons. These experiences are documented with links to the actors who participated.

Here is as short introduction to the twelve narratives:

Chicago, 49th Ward  is a sub-municipal PB and a pioneering case in the USA with an effort to facilitate the participation of the excluded young people and African Americans.

Cascais,  Portugal: information and communication technologies (voting by text messaging; governance and strong relations with the public; ties to Agenda 21; openness to innovation (for instance, local currencies); urban agriculture.

Belo Horizonte,  Brazil is a paradigmatic thematic PB focused on Housing that allowed building mutual aid multi-storey developments and collective property.

Guarulhos , São Paulo focuses on mass education and the need to transform citizens to transform cities.

Participatory Budgeting in Dondo , Mozambique is a unique example of PB as a driver of good governance.

La Serena , Chile highlights an innovative case of PB for primary and secondary school students.

Rosario , Argentina remains a reference for PB. This file use Rosario experience to illustrate an analytical grid that can be used to establish city PB profiles.

Ilo , an industrial port located south of Peru that decides 100 % of its capital budget through PB and set up a unique democratic governance model. Seville , Spain, one of the most advanced European participatory budgeting experiences at a point in time, unfortunately interrupted.

Yaoundé, Ward 6,  Cameroon, has reached, despite numerous obstacles, a way to democratization and improvement of living conditions in very poor local governments.

Nord Pas de Calais Region  case shows experiments conducted in high schools.

Chengdu, Sichuan,  China: Participatory budgeting as a way to reducing the urban – rural divide in China over 40,000 projects were decided upon by people and implemented in three years only.

[C] Issue briefs

In order to go beyond these case studies and avoid falling into the trap of isolated experimentation, this section of the dossier explores key issues that are illustrated by the different cases:

  • Contribution of participatory budgeting to the democratization of governance at local level  that these various experiments have created and which represents one of the major contributions of participatory budgeting. - Continuity and discontinuity of participatory budgeting processes deals with the conditions that are necessary to reduce the risks of interruption of experiences. It gives the voice to successful actors in the field that explain how they addressed this crucial issue.
  • Recommendations to further radicalize PB  in order to fully release its potential as a powerful instrument to democratize radically democracy, that in its turn is probably one of the best way to build “another possible city’ and alternatives to cities as a commodity.
  • The last text sheds light on some empirical connections between participatory budgeting and other issues  dealt with in the collection, ranging from urban agriculture, housing and employment cooperatives, or alternatives to evictions. Based on studies and the testimony of participants, it provides concrete information on the nature of these connections and how participatory budgeting has or has not contributed to strengthening them. It should also identify recommendations on strengthening synergies between the least connected themes like Community Land Trust or local currencies. [D] Resource files

The dossier’s final part is for those who would like to go further, by deepening their knowledge through study but particularly by engaging in action:

  • A Bibliography of “Must-Reads”  that introduces a selection of 20 accessible and annotated sources.
  • Fifteen Web sites on participatory budgeting  in several work languages.
  • A Selection of Films : introduces and comments fifteen documenta-ries and movies in several languages on participatory budgets covering the period between 2002 and 2012.

Read all the dossier


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