Nelson Fernandez: The right to the city


Nelson Fernandez
20 April 2016

“Many problems related to citizens’ quality of life have their roots in cities”, claims Nelson Fernandez, Director of International Relations and Cooperation at the City of Montevideo (Uruguay), “and is it there where many of these problems can be solved.” On the occasion of the first Meeting of the Global Steering Committee of the International Coalition of Cities against Racism (ICCAR) , held in Bologna (Italy), from 17 to 18 April 2016, the Director shares his reflections on the localisation of development efforts in the context of the Habitat III process and the articulation of the New Urban Agenda.

The combination of an increase in the world’s population and growing urbanization have augmented citizen’s needs and concentrated their claims on cities. Many citizens believe that the more cities grow, the bigger the barriers are facing their realization of high welfare standards.

The difficulties obtaining jobs and housing and accessing education and health, as well as the growing manifestation of discriminations in public services are evils that affect a large amount of world population, especially those who migrate to cities.

Other global objectives also exist, like the pleasure and enjoyment of the place in which we live, the use of free time and the ability to exercise democratic control – particularly through the use of modern technologies. These objectives should be installed and defended as exercisable rights by city authorities, particularly in a world where markets and individualism threaten the solidarity of public spaces in cities.

Diverse forms of discrimination, economic exclusion being one of them, have moved a considerable number of citizens to the periphery of cities, away from their usual life and work places, with increased transportation time and potential loss of jobs and often their closest social bonds.

This phenomenon of “ghettoization” happens inexorably when societies are not equipped to accept difference, and if cities are not able to effectively advance efforts towards efficient inclusion and equitable urbanization.

These “ghettos” often do not have adequate sewage treatment, roads, schools, polyclinics or other basic services, and can encourage subsistence activities like garbage classification and recycling, with the health risks associated with that those tasks if developed on inappropriate land.

The disadvantage of those who are excluded in such ways is reinforced by their lack of tools to mitigate the segregation and reintegrate into the society that marked them as different.

A new urban agenda

Many problems related to citizens’ quality of life have their roots in cities, and is it there where many of these problems can be solved.

This implies that local authorities should boost and provide protection, within a framework of human rights, for non-discrimination and equality, in agreement with the standards of national governments and international organizations.

The world has identified the need to establish a New Urban Agenda to achieve sustainable urban development, which will be elaborated at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in Quito, Ecuador in October 2016.

It has become evident that commitment to social inclusion and sustainable urban development are intimately related and both must be worked on together, without falling on the temptation of seeing them as separate, independent or exclusive. They must, on the contrary, be fully integrated.

Local governments, working in this framework, must promote citizens’ participation as a way to generate a positive and lasting change for the lives of their communities. Attention needs to be made to ensure that all citizens are able to achieve a high standard of wellbeing, particularly where individual exclusions – namely those related to race, sexual orientation, religion, economic capacity etc. – reinforce other exclusions based on where one lives, acting as a kind of double discrimination.

The development of urban areas should offer guarantee towards achieving today’s needs, without risking citizens’ human rights or their capacity for social integration, just as it should not gamble with the satisfaction of human needs or the planet’s future.

Mitigating the identified problems and finding solutions for habitable and less destructive urban environments is the challenge of this historical age.

Local authorities are working to change developmental concepts, including through a shift in mentality underscored by good sense, so prosperity and development can be guaranteed alongside citizens’ good life quality and happiness.

To this end, local governments must show a greater commitment to citizen representation when problems have to be discussed and solutions proposed. The Coalitions have a critical and special role to play for achieving these aims.


Nelson Fernandez, Director of International Relations, city of Montevideo, Uruguay