Today, the “right to the city” has become a key concept, a motto, in both academic circles and in social movements and public policies. The so-called accessibility of the city for all has become a fundamental concern to institutions dealing with citizens’ movements that reclaim urban space. In developing the concept of the “right to the city,” Lefebvre (1968) referred to a reappropriation of the decision process and the city’s production facilities by its inhabitants. The affirmation and participation of citizens in the future of the city should reduce the gaps between citizens, should limit segregation and foster the emergence of a more inclusive and democratic city.
Now, more than 40 years after the publication of the “Right to the City,” it is clear that inequalities, conflicts and injustices in public spaces have not declined. An important part of the global urban population, north and south, continues to be sidelined for urban amenities. Logics of enclosure and exclusivity (Donzelot, 2004) tend to direct the production of the urban into a multitude of enclaves, classifying individuals according to their social status. Some minorities have ever less access to public spaces, whether they are the homeless (Smith, 1996; Mitchell, 1997), street vendors (Crossa, 2009), prostitutes (Hubbard, 2004) or youth (Malone, 2002). Moreover, the idea of being a citizen has made way for that of being a consumer, as pointed out by Santos (1987).
In order to critically address these phenomena, many researchers have mobilized the concept of the “right to the city” by diverting, distorting or adapting it to local contexts. Furthermore, many politicians have used the term as a slogan, legitimizing practices often distant from the Lefebvrian ideal (Costes, 2010; Souza, 2010). By acquiring multiple meanings, this concept seems to have lost its clarity and its analytical power. The more so because the application of “right to the city” often becomes a pretext for bypassing those considered a burden to the urban experience. Indeed, as soon as certain groups start defending their “right to the city”, they come into conflict with the right of other groups to occupy the urban space. The logics of reappropriation of public space by certain groups of residents are often to the detriment of the right of the homeless and youth groups to also occupy public space. In fact, the implementation of the “right to the city” leads to conflict and reveals the diversity and sometimes the incompatibility of the different meanings this concept may carry.
Following these findings, we invite authors to reflect upon the validity of the “right to the city” to address contemporary urban issues, on how the concept has been interpreted and put into practice by certain actors, but also to look at possibilities to go beyond the concept as it is interpreted today. In this perspective, we accept both theoretical reflections and empirical contributions that are in line with, yet not limited to, the following themes:
– Social movements and protests
– Privatization and private uses of public spaces
– The use of public spaces by youth
– Homelessness and other social and ethnic minorities
– Mobility and the contested uses of streets and sidewalks
– Informal uses of public spaces
– Prostitution and sex-workers
– Gender and conflicts in public space
– Segregation and gentrification
– Surveillance and social control
Costes, Laurence. 2010. «Le droit à la ville de Henri Lefebvre: Quel héritage politique et scientifique? », Espaces et Sociétés, No 140-141, pp 177-191.
Crossa, Veronica. 2009. « Resisting the entrepreneurial city: Street vendor’s struggle in Mexico city’s historic center », International journal of urban and regional research, 33 (1) : 43-63.
Donzelot, Jacques. 2004. « La ville à trois vitesses : relégation, périurbanisation, gentrification », Esprit, Mars-Avril.
Hubbard, Phil. 2004. « Cleansing the Metropolis : Sex Work and the Politics of Zero Tolerance », Urban Studies, 41 (9).
Lefebvre, Henri. 1968. Le Droit à la ville, Paris: Anthropos.
Malone, Karen. 2002. « Street life: youth, culture and competing uses of public space », Environment and urbanization, 14 (2) : 157-168.
Mitchell, Don. 1997. «The Annihilation of Space by Law: The Roots and implications of Anti-homeless laws in the United States », Antipode 29 (3) : 303-335.
Santos, M. 1987. O Espaço do Cidadão. São Paulo: Nobel.
Smith, Neil. 1996. The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City, Routledge.
Souza, Marcelo Lopes de. 2010. Which right to which city? In defence of political-strategic clarity. Interface: a journal for and about social movements, 2 (1): 315 – 333.
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