Right to the City

This flyer came across my desk (well my computer) for an upcoming seminar. Cities Centres at the University of Toronto, The Wellesley Institute and Rooftops Canada are bringing Ana Sugranyes, the General Secretary of Habitat International Coalition to speak on the topic: Right to the City! Lessons from Chile’s social housing experience. An estimable guest, to be sure, but a bit of a dry topic — unless one is one of those dedicated souls who maintains a keen interest in diverse worldly affairs.

But one of the phrases popped out at me: Right to the city.

It’s been chortling around in leftist circles for a little while, spreading across equator and creeping north now into the United States and Vancouver. Democracy Now‘s Amy Goodman has profiled the topic. Right to the City chapters have erupted throughout U.S. cities, on three coast. Vancouverites have united under the same rallying call in their anti-Olympics advocacy.

The concept of Right to the city holds that, as inhabitants of the same urban space, we are all equal participants. The movement has become a way to capture the wide range of interests (of women, low-income people, immigrants, people of colour and all other diversities under one banner. It frames how we live together in these urban spaces.

Right to the city has been more eloquently described:

The question of what kind of city of city we want cannot be divorced from that of what kind of social ties, relationship to nature, lifestyles, technologies and aesthetic values we desire. The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanisation. The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is, I want to argue, one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.
David Harvey, The Right to the City

The Wellesley Institute has a notable record of identifying and acting on issues ahead of the curve, as examples their work on community-based research, social determinants of health, housing and inclusive zoning. Cities Centres and Rooftops are also no slouches.

So, if they’re bringing Right to the City to Toronto, it’s probably time to pay attention.

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