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Who does the city belong to? An opportunity to transition from words to action.

24/10/2017

Zulma Bolívar. Town Planner, Msc. Urban Design, Specialist in Strategic Urban Planning, Local Management and Development. Lecturer-researcher at the Central University of Venezuela, and President of the Instituto Metropolitano de Urbanismo [Metropolitan Institute of Urban Planning] Caracas Workshop.

In the middle of 2008 I was given the opportunity to leave academia to work in the civil service, and thereby put theory into practice. A candidate for the Mayoralty of the Metropolitan Region of Caracas had sought my assistance to design his government’s programme. It was a good opportunity to test the feasibility of putting words into action.

My first task was to identify who my customer was, and try to define who owned the city? “SOMEONE” must be responsible for looking after it, caring for it and maintaining it but did any of its inhabitants have precise and functional roles, functions and responsibilities, to ensure good results?

I am convinced that the city belongs to “EVERYONE” that lives in it, even when we choose managers to administer it. We all have something to give from our own perspective, location and duty.

No two cities or societies are the same; citizens’ awareness, education, values, respect for institutions and laws, freedom, and even the validation of human rights, vary greatly. Above all in so-called “developing countries”.

In societies such as Venezuelan society, over the past few decades the theoretical “obligation” to comply with laws has gone unattended by politicians and public servants, who defy logic and reason to breach rules and processes. The greatest challenge in such societies is to restore CIVILITY, by promoting culture, education and values as the essential foundations of any future development plan.

The city must be “BY AND FOR EVERYONE”, because no single person is uniquely responsible for its control and development, we must all work to ensure its organisation and growth. I am convinced that “NOBODY”, no matter how radical, wishes to see their environment destroyed, or does not aspire to improved public transport, services or safety, “THAT”, is precisely what each and every person sharing the same urban space wants.

Josep Centelles, Professor of strategic urban planning, reminds us that “Humanity advances and nobody wants to return to the past with its hardships, cold or maladies that have since been defeated”, because “progress in the most successful cities on the planet is driven by collective action, a process that has enabled catastrophic, natural, social, political and economic disasters to be overcome” (CIDEU, 2007). Indeed “SOMEONE” should attend to our demands, but what should be done whilst there is a lack of consensus amongst the “AUTHORITIES”?

The key to development is that people identify with their nation, state or city, as the capacity for collective action goes hand in hand with group identity and solidarity. Which is why, when cities are divided, it becomes harder to create a desired future. When we are divided between “THEM AND US” … we all lose.

After eight years working in public administration, I can attest to the fact that city management is technically complex and politically difficult. The transition from theory to practice requires copious quantities of political will and citizens’ awareness.

My city, Caracas remains hopelessly divided both physically and socially, and extremely polarised in both political and economic terms.  The city has no frontiers or limits, it’s an organism open to the world, which assimilates its changes, part of the economic, cultural and social globalization, but we have to help it change for the better, to transform its structure in our favour. National political change is essential, to promote the renewal and strengthening of our cities.

As citizens, we must demand that the functions of, and coordination between, authorities be restructured, and appeal to the use of imagination and creativity as a means of achieving good governance. The city is the main space where people relate to each other, and must also be the main space for identity and solidarity.

The most successful examples of management around the world remind us that joint, coordinated and concerted action between the government and civil society is essential. Even the most powerful government in the world, when acting unilaterally is infective and its decisions lead to disaster. Caracas and the entire country probably constitute the best example there is of fragmented interests, an absence of legitimate participation, and a lack of coordination between institutions.

How can we conceive of a city’s future without including stakeholders in its development? How can we design a Strategic Plan for Caracas without the participation from different levels of government, service companies and other stakeholders?

Because the city belongs to EVERYONE, when designing policies and strategies it is necessary to include people, organisations or social representatives with sufficient power to disturb how the rules operate and affect collective decision making, either due to their ability to vote/veto, or due to their ability to accelerate or redirect decisions in favour of their interests. The variety of strategic stakeholders can be very broad and transitory, but their participation is essential, as without them there can be no city.

For Caracas we want a plan that is “Made in Venezuela”, a project for the future shared by all, coordinated by the Metropolitan Institute, but with the participation of all local governments, academies, businesspeople and civil society. A PLAN prepared in freedom for implementation in Democracy.

 

Who does the city belong to? An opportunity to transition from words to action.
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