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    Just Sustainabilities and the New Urban Agenda

    By Vanesa Castan- Broto, on 5 August 2016

    Originally published by Urban Transformations

    Will 2016 be an urban year in international development policy? In September 2015, the United Nations Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to supersede the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). One notable feature was the introduction of an ‘urban goal’, Goal 11: “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. Planning is at the centre of the new urban goal. It includes an explicit planning target, Target 11.3: “By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries.” Target 11.3 synthetizes a long history of international development thinking to make cities sustainable through planning.

    The target also emphasises the relationship between inclusive development and sustainability. In doing so, the target expresses explicitly the interconnection between social and environmental issues in planning. By emphasising capacity, the target also points to a fundamental issue in planning for sustainable cities: that institutions with the power to carry on sustainable action, or even to understand what sustainable action is, are frequently absent. The target specifies how planning has to be: it has to be participatory, integrated and sustainable. This last adjective emphasises that sustainability is both a characteristic of the output, i.e., a sustainable city, and of the process whereby that output is achieved: i.e. participatory, integrated.14157883749_8f55b61a29_k

    To a certain extent, Target 11.3 follows on from the guidelines of Chapter 7 in Local Agenda 21 that was later consolidated in the Habitat II agenda in Istanbul, 1996. The assertive formulation of Target 11.3, putting at its core both participation and integrated planning, suggests an association of planning and urban management with social and environmental justice objectives. As part of the preparations for the Habitat III conference in Quito 2016, UN-Habitat has promoted the slogan “the transformative force of urbanisation”. The slogan is designed to harness the energy emerging from positive views of urbanization which do not just see it as an unavoidable global phenomenon, but embrace it as a positive force with the potential to change unsustainable societies. The use of the word ‘transformative’, however, suggests a radical departure from business as usual scenarios, a deep structural change that will not only reconfigure cities but also, will reconfigure contemporary societies and economies towards a fairer world which respects its environment. Overall, the link between inclusive and sustainable cities, the emphasis on the sustainability of both processes and outputs, and the framing of planning as a tool for radical change towards a better society all point to a greater interest on achieving environmental and social justice in urban areas. The central question that should be asked in the road towards implementation of SDG 11 and in the preparations for Habitat III is: what kind of planning can bring about cities that are both sustainable and just?

     

    The protection of the Earth’s life-support system and poverty reduction are twin priorities for development. In relation to the new urban agenda, this is akin to achieving ‘just sustainabilities’ through linking social welfare and environmental protection (Agyeman et al. 2003, Agyeman 2013). Just sustainabilities approaches have the potential to reinvigorate notions of sustainability in the new urban agenda, helping link environmental concerns with the needs and perceptions of citizens, and their articulation in social movements.

    23090523285_5b350f70ae_kThe notion of just sustainabilities emerged as a response to the 1990s debates on sustainable development, and how sustainability goals in an urban context reproduced, rather than prevented, the conditions of inequality and environmental degradation. In urban planning, there has long been a concern about the limitations of using sustainability-oriented urban policies to address social justice issues (Marcuse 1998). Political theorists have questioned broadly where social justice and environmental sustainability are actually compatible (Dobson 1998, Dobson 2003). However, for proponents of just sustainabilities, social justice and environmental sustainability are interdependent problems that challenge existing power structures (McLaren 2003).

    The linkages between environmental change and social justice are apparent in empirical evidence of how environmental degradation and resource scarcity is experienced by the urban poor. Unsafe and inadequate water supplies, inadequate provision of sanitation and waste management, overcrowding, lack of safety, and different forms of air and water pollution continue to shape the lives of many citizens around the world (e.g. Hardoy and Satterthwaite 1991, Forsyth et al. 1998, Brennan 1999, HEI 2004, WHO 2009, UNDP 2014). For example, almost 10% of deaths in low-income regions are directly attributed to environmental risks such as unsafe water, outdoor and indoor air pollution, lead exposure and impacts from climate change (WHO 2009). Poverty and inequalities in access to resources and livelihood opportunities increase the vulnerability of the urban poor to climate change impacts and natural disasters (Revi et al. 2014). By 2030, the global demand for energy and water will likely grow by 40%, while for food it may increase by as much as 50% (ODI/ECDPM/GDI/DIE 2012). This is likely to further hinder poor people’s access to even basic resources. For example, the number of people without energy access is raising, regardless of infrastructure developments or urbanisation rates (IEA 2014).

     

    Incorporating notions of justice in environmental policy and planning emphasises both the distributional impacts of environmental degradation and resource scarcity and the need to adopt decisions that emerge from a fair and open process of policy-making. This also requires broadening the notion of justice beyond a narrow distributive conceptualisation with a recognition of how environmental problems are experienced by diverse groups of actors – especially those which are disadvantaged and struggle to make their views known – the extent to which they are represented and participate in environmental decision-making, and how environmental policy influences people’s opportunities for fulfilment (Schlosberg 2007).

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    Civil society organisations and local community organisations have already made substantial contributions to demonstrating and acting upon the nexus between social justice and environmental sustainability, which have in turn inspired the ideals of just sustainabilities (Agyeman et al. 2002). These are initiatives that recognise the need for people to participate in environmental decisions; the imperative to meet people’s basic needs’ and the normative requirement to preserve the integrity of nature for future generations (Faber and McCarthy 2003). Justice-oriented discourses are already inspiring environmental action for climate change in urban areas (Bulkeley et al. 2014, Bulkeley et al. 2013). Yet, addressing the environmental crisis will require a concerted action between public, private and civil society actors for a sustainability transition.

    Demonstrating that just sustainabilities have purchase to deliver an urban future that is both just and sustainable will require operationalising this notion within current governance possibilities. In particular, following Rydin’s (2013) pioneering work on the future of planning, there is a need to think how just sustainabilities can help challenge and redefine environmental planning. Just sustainabilities emphasises the “nexus of theoretical compatibility between sustainability and environmental justice, including an emphasis on community-based decision making; on economic policies that account fiscally for social and environmental externalities; on reductions in all forms of pollution; on building clean, livable communities for all people; and on an overall regard for the ecological integrity of the planet” (Agyeman and Evans 2003; p. 36-37). It adopts an expansive notion of environmental justice which also recognises the just practices of everyday life (Schlosberg 2013). In doing so, it calls for a to move away from current dominant paradigms of growth, using planning as a means to address social and ecological concerns within an unsustainable and unjust economic system (Rydin 2013).

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    In this vein, just sustainabilities may be thought as the attainment of four conditions simultaneously:

    1. Improving people’s quality of life and wellbeing;
    2. Meeting the needs of both present and future generations, that is, considering simultaneously intra- and intergenerational equity;
    3. Ensuring justice and equity in terms of recognition, process, procedure and outcome; and
    4. Recognising ecosystem limits and the need to live within the possibilities of this planet (Agyeman et al. 2003).

    There is already a body of empirical evidence about the practice of just sustainabilities (Agyeman 2005, Agyeman 2013). However, does it represent a viable perspective for sustainable planning agendas? Does it have relevance beyond the environmental justice movements from which it has emerged? Can it be integrated into current practices of environmental planning? These are open questions which will unfold as the New Urban Agenda begins to be implemented on the ground. The concept of just sustainabilities emerges as a positive discourse that can support action to deliver urban transformations. Clearly, there are tools available to deliver just sustainability action in urban environmental planning and management, but their applicability, effectiveness and impacts depend on the context in which they are implemented. More ambitious efforts are needed in the New Urban Agenda to redefine urban development possibilities and the way environmental limits are experienced in different cities. Local governments will play a key role in developing strategies to challenge growth-dependence paradigms and to enable collaborative forms of environmental governance.

     

    REFERENCES

    Agyeman, J., 2005. Sustainable communities and the challenge of environmental justice. New York University Press: New York.
    Agyeman, J., 2013. Introducing just sustainabilities: Policy, planning, and practice. London: Zed books.
    Agyeman, J., Bullard, R. D. and Evans, B. 2002. Exploring the Nexus: Bringing Together Sustainability, Environmental Justice and Equity. Space and Polity, 6(1), 77-90.
    Agyeman, J., Bullard, R. D. and Evans, B., 2003. Just sustainabilities: development in an unequal world. Cambridge: MIT Press.
    Agyeman, J. and Evans, T. 2003. Toward Just Sustainability in Urban Communities: Building Equity Rights with Sustainable Solutions. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 590(1), 35-53.
    Brennan, E., 1999. Population, Urbanization , Environment, and Security : A summary of the issues. Comparative Urban Studies Occasional Paper Series. Washington.
    Bulkeley, H., et al. 2013. Climate justice and global cities: mapping the emerging discourses. Global Environmental Change, 23(5), 914-925.
    Bulkeley, H., Edwards, G. A. and Fuller, S. 2014. Contesting climate justice in the city: Examining politics and practice in urban climate change experiments. Global Environmental Change, 25, 31-40.
    Dobson, A., 1998. Justice and the Environment: Conceptions of Environmental Sustainability and Dimensions of Social Justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    Dobson, A. 2003. Social justice and environmental sustainability: ne’er the twain shall meet. Just sustainabilities: Development in an unequal world, 83-95.
    Faber, D. and McCarthy, D. 2003. Neo-liberalism, globalization and the struggle for ecological democracy: linking sustainability and environmental justice. Just sustainabilities: Development in an unequal world, 38-63.
    Forsyth, T., Leach, M. and Scoones, I., 1998. Poverty and environment: priorities for research and policy – an overview study. Sussex, 49.
    Hardoy, J. E. and Satterthwaite, D. 1991. Environmental problems of third world cities: A global issue ignored. Public Administration and Development, 11, 341-361.
    HEI, Health Effects of Outdoor Air Pollution in Developing Countries of Asia. ed., 2004 Boston.
    IEA, Africa Energy Outlook. ed., 2014 Paris.
    Marcuse, P. 1998. Sustainability is not enough. Environment and Urbanization, 10(2), 103-112.
    McLaren, D. 2003. Environmental space, equity and the ecological debt. Just sustainabilities: Development in an unequal world, 19-37.
    ODI/ECDPM/GDI/DIE, 2012. Confronting scarcity: Managing water, energy and land for inclusive and sustainable growth. Brussels: European Union Report on Development, 9789279231612.
    Revi, A., et al. 2014. Towards transformative adaptation in cities: the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment. Environment and Urbanization, 26(1), 11-28.
    Rydin, Y., 2013. The future of planning. Policy Press.
    Schlosberg, D. 2007. Defining Environmental Justice: Theories, Movements, and Nature.
    Schlosberg, D. 2013. Theorising environmental justice: the expanding sphere of a discourse. Environmental politics, 22(1), 37-55.
    UNDP, Human Development Report 2014. ed., 2014 New York, 239.
    WHO, Global Health Risks: Mortality and Burden of Disease Attributable to selected major risks. ed., 2009 Geneva.


    Vanesa Castán Broto is a senior lecturer and co-director of MSc Environment and Sustainable Development at the DPU. Her work spans a range of issues in developing cities, including disaster preparedness, climate change adaptation and energy supply. Vanesa is also Principal Investigator of the Mapping Urban Energy Landscapes (MUEL) in the Global South project at Urban Transformations.

     

    The Ties That (un)Bind: Affect and Organisation in the Bosnia-Herzegovina Protests, 2014

    By Giulia Carabelli, on 11 December 2015

    In this post, I discuss the preliminary results of my ongoing research on the 2014 mass protests in Bosnia Herzegovina (BiH). Overall, I am interested in the production and articulation of these spaces of rebellion by considering their ‘affective atmospheres’, which means that I am curious about the effects that affect have in the production of socio-spatial relations. In particular, I look at rage, anger, but especially hope as a way to understand how spaces of “togetherness” came to be created during the protests in a country where both “being together” and “occupying public spaces” represent major political and social issues in their own right.

    1: Protests in Sarajevo, February 2014 by abzur licensed under CC BY 2.0

    1: Protests in Sarajevo, February 2014 by abzur licensed under CC BY 2.0

    When the protests started in Tuzla, in February 2014 international media and journalists wrote extensively about hope and anger as unifying forces leading toward a potential future of peaceful coexistence among divided communities, and thus hinting at the power of these affects to create new spaces of political engagement. According to such accounts, people temporarily overcame established patterns of hatred for the “ethnic other” due to an affective displacement created by the much stronger hatred they shared for the corrupt political class. Although this is a simplistic and problematic view, particularly the erroneous – though widespread – assumption that territorial segregation and social divisions are the result of citizens’ ‘eternal hatred’ of ‘the other’ (rather than the result of specific political and economic conflicts among a range of national and international actors) it is nevertheless true that the atmosphere of political, economic and social instability that permeates the country facilitates a sense of disengagement and fear that are not conducive to revolt but rather invite conditions of stasis as a means of preservation or survival (see my article on the struggles of youth activists in Mostar here). And yet, the protests brought about a new sense of hope and euphoria that made it possible to take the risk of being together against the government’s inability to take care of its citizens’ needs and aspirations. Crucially, this movement toward togetherness materialised in public spaces – squares, streets, and parks – that saw the reclaiming of these spaces as a place of community, rather than politically imposed division.

    2: Protests in Sarajevo, February 2014 by abzur licensed under CC BY 2.0

    2: Protests in Sarajevo, February 2014 by abzur licensed under CC BY 2.0

    I have spent the first two months of my fellowship travelling across BiH to interview activists and actors of civil society who were involved in the 2014 protests. I listened to them re-enacting the confrontations in the street, discussing the challenges of coordinating large numbers of people in the plenums, and their personal and collective struggles to imagine how the future of BiH could be radically different from its problematic present. For this post, I will focus on the importance of reflecting on how “becoming hopeful” moved bodies and created spaces for political encounters.

    According my respondents, it was hope that brought people in the streets because hope allowed them to believe that change was possible. The protesting bodies, becoming hopeful, became also a visible presence in the city: impossible to ignore and hard to silence. And it was this very process of becoming hopeful and invading the streets to protest that is in itself an extraordinary event. As one interviewee in Sarajevo explained to me:

    “here we have been deprived of the luxury of being political… I mean it’s a luxury because you need to work, to take care of your kids, you struggle all the time and you have no energy for struggle more for politics…”

    Yet becoming hopeful is also a reason for disappointment, discontent and for the creation of fractures within the movement. As another respondent reported, it was the fact that people put too much hope in what this grassroots movement could do that, when it ended without a revolution, new disappointment and anger arise.

    3: Protests in Sarajevo, February 2014 by Kumjana Novakova licensed under CC BY 2.0

    3: Protests in Sarajevo, February 2014 by Kumjana Novakova licensed under CC BY 2.0

    I believe that there is great potential of looking at hope to account for and explore grassroots protests, how they come into being, how they become movements for creating new spaces of togetherness, but also divisions and fractures; to create and sustain, but also destroy infrastructures of togetherness. Hope begins from encounters and it brings about the question of how new possibilities can be born from these encounters, which involve multiple processes of mediation, negotiation, explanation. And yet, these sites of hope, such as the protests in Bosnia, are the potential signposts that an alternative exists. As Helena Flam argues, we should pay attention to the ways in which protest movements attempt to re-socialise people through (subversive) emotions in order to show that to be angry and to voice concerns is fair and legitimate.


    Giulia Carabelli joined the Centre for Advanced Studies – South East Europe (CAS SEE) at the University of Rijeka in October 2015. This is an international research centre that seeks to support, guide, and encourage early career scholars to produce critical and innovative works on topics related to the region of South-Eastern Europe. Prior to joining CAS SEE, Giulia worked in the Development Planning Unit as the MSc Building and Urban Design in Development Graduate Teaching Assistant.

     

    How can local innovation respond to climate change in cities?

    By Nick Anim, on 31 March 2015

    In the final DPU Breakfast Talk of the term Vanesa Castán Broto was in conversation with Étienne von Bertrab about the role of local responses to Climate Change in urban areas.

    ‘Channeling’ two recent articles by George Monbiot, Étienne opened the discussion by suggesting that: (a) dealing with Climate Change requires the same legislative courage as was necessary to save the ozone layer, and (b), in the absent presence of the required legislation to address Climate Change, the only real spaces of hope and innovation are at the local level.

    Nick post header

    In Dar es Salaam water is distributed by private vendors using 10 litre jerry-cans in the absence of formal infrastructure. Local entrepreneurial responses may increasing be required to respond to water scarcity.

    He posed four opening questions to Vanesa:

    1. What have you been doing recently in relation to climate change?
    2. What do you think is the significance of this work?
    3. As an expert, is there a risk of being too close to the formal governance institutions, such as the Conference of Parties, when they have proven time and time again to be achieving very little and when counter summits, such as the People’s Summit, are emerging?
    4. What is the role of theory building in times of urgency?

    Socio-technical innovation is taking place in cites

    Drawing from her vast experience in the field, as well as some key lessons and conclusions from her recent book An Urban Politics of Climate Change, Vanesa began by pointing out that most socio-technical experiments and innovations take place in cities. Technical experiments such as capturing energy from the water mains, and social innovations such as Transition Towns were used to highlight this point in the context of urban transitions for climate change.

    In reference to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, Vanesa highlighted the fact that there were technical alternatives available at the time, which facilitated the relative expediency of its implementation.

    VCD DPU breakfast copy

    Vanesa responds to Etienne’s questions at the DPU Breakfast event

    Participatory planning for climate change?

    A key topic in the discussion was the subject of participatory planning, and perhaps more specifically, participation for Climate Change planning. Climate change is framed almost universally as a global problem; therefore the challenges of addressing its governance have conventionally been approached from the top-down.

    The oft-held presumption that national states/governments are best placed to represent the interests of cities in addressing Climate Change is, it was argued, misguided. Vested interests, as highlighted by a recent Oxfam report, have a disproportionate influence in the corridors of power.

    What is the role of social movements?

    Within the political milieu, what then, it must be asked, is the role of social movements? Can they lobby effectively to counter the prevalence of the vested interests’ lobby groups? How can citizens’ and communities’ voices be amplified, heard and understood in the ‘attention marketspace’ of planning strategies for Climate Change?

    Reflecting on her recent work with informal settlements in Maputo, Mozambique, as part of the Public Private People Partnerships for Climate Compatible Development (4PCCD) project, Vanesa argued that the key to participatory Climate Change planning is developing a network of partnerships between civil society groups, municipalities, and businesses.

    Nick post - Lima

    Residents living in peripheral areas in water-scarce cities, such as Lima in Peru [pictured] are already facing serious challenges due to climate change

    Community-based solutions rely on open channels of communication

    Within this context, local facilitators are key to building good partnerships that can recognise and access the diversity of voices that constitute any given community. The success of the project in Maputo highlighted the fact that community-based practical actions can work best if the necessary channels of communication are developed and maintained with the different stakeholders from government, business and civil society.

    The participatory planning approach had a clear impact in terms of facilitating community organisation, and strengthening their representation through the establishment of a Climate Planning Committee (CPC) – whose expertise and legitimacy has been acknowledged in joint learning events with stakeholders and policy-makers in Maputo.

    Are academics too close to formal governance institutions?

    In terms of ‘being too close to the formal governance institutions’, it is important as a practitioner, to recognise the institutional milieu within which a project is situated, and in that context, it is equally important to work with, and not against politics

    Academia and its inherent practices of theory-building play an important role in planning and development. Although in many instances theories may take time to filter through to the grassroots, iterative processes between academic theories and field practice can ensure that new knowledge can be brought to illiterate communities for example.

    Whilst this DPU Breakfast Talk facilitated the discussion about local responses to Climate Change, we should see it as just the beginning of an open and continuous dialogue to which we can all contribute, and through which we can all learn.


    Nick Anim is a PhD candidate at the DPU. He completed an MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development at the DPU in 2013. His PhD research looks at Transition Cities as a mean of  exploring the viability and potential of community-based initiatives in a transition to a low-carbon sustainable economy.

    The Meaning of Solidarity

    By Étienne von Bertrab, on 13 March 2015

    Protestors outside Downing Street in London, February 2015. Image: Étienne von Bertrab

    Protestors outside Downing Street in London, March 2015. Image: Étienne von Bertrab

    For me, the most significant definition of solidarity is expressed in the words of Eduardo Galeano’s, the  extraordinary yet humble Uruguayan writer:

    “Charity humiliates because it is practiced vertically and from above; solidarity is horizontal and implies mutual respect”

    This is what many of us, upset about the state visit of Mexico’s president Enrique Peña Nieto last week to the UK, found not only in the streets, but in lecture theatres in UCL, LSE, SOAS, Queen Mary University, and several other public spaces.

    The other pleasant surprise was the discovery, at least for me, of Jeremy Corbyn, MP, who was the most outspoken about this state visit (the Queen has two of these per year) in light of the ongoing human rights crisis in Mexico, which the Mexican state has been contributing towards in a significant manner.

    The two videos featured in this post say a lot. The first (in English), about the protest on the first day of Peña Nieto’s visit; the second (mixed English and Spanish), about the extraordinary discussions held in universities in the space of just one week.

    Finally, while the bilateral Dual Year Mexico-UK insists on focusing on trade and investment – and yes, also a bit of education, culture, and nice arts and yummy food – a growing number of people, including 44 members of the UK Parliament, insist that without addressing the pressing issues that affect Mexican society, this initiative is at best misguided, and at worst a slap in the face to Mexican society at large.

    In Mexico traditional media is highly controlled or pro-government (supporting whoever is in power). In the UK, Mexico has been afforded very little attention in the media, though this is changing.

    For this reason, we have created this site with meaningful, trustworthy information of what really goes on in Mexico, all in English, with the hope of educating and increasing awareness: www.ukmx2015.org

    I invite you all to visit the pages and simply to watch and read some of the content, in solidarity.


    Étienne von Bertrab is a Teaching Fellow at the DPU and a guest lecturer in universities in Mexico. He also works as a consultant in the UK and in Mexico, where he has been a social activist for ten years. Twitter: @etiennista

    Mexico: Where does hope reside? (Part III)

    By Étienne von Bertrab, on 18 February 2015

    La tierra no se vende, se ama y se defiende. La Parota, Guerrero. Image: Javier Verdin (Agua, Ríos y Pueblos)

    La tierra no se vende, se ama y se defiende. La Parota, Guerrero. Image: Javier Verdin (Agua, Ríos y Pueblos)

    This post focuses upon the disconnection between the urban population in Mexico (a large majority) and what happens in the non-urban territory, and reflects on the crucial role and state of journalism. However, events that have come to light in the last 7 days demand a short digression:

    Just Another Week On

    An on going investigation has revealed that the ‘disappearance rate’ in Mexico is currently a shocking 13 people per day. That is one every 2 hours. These people are usually considered as ‘disappeared by force,’ as reinforced last week by the UN Committee of Forced Disappearances. They are mostly marginalised women and men who predominantly belong to poor rural and indigenous communities.

    To add to the tragedy 40% are aged 15 to 29, simply too young to go through such experience without life-long consequences – if they survive. The injustice doesn’t end here: confronting a reign of impunity their own relatives face high risks when choosing to do something about it.

    This was the case of Norma Angélica Bruno, aged 26, who had recently joined a group of determined to find ‘the other disappeared’ in Guerrero. So far the group has discovered 48 bodies in clandestine graves across the state. In a sickly ironic turn of fate, Norma was assassinated before the eyes of her three children while walking to the funeral of a murdered colleague.

    As if living in a parallel world, the Interior Minister Osorio Chong declared that Mexico has the highest levels of security in ten years and that “very important steps have been taken to give back peace and security to all Mexicans”.

    National Autonomous University (UNAM), Mexico City. Image: Étienne von Bertrab

    National Autonomous University (UNAM), Mexico City. Image: Étienne von Bertrab

    The missing link between society and nature

    Despite growing awareness of the crises in Mexico, politicians, analysts, mainstream media and even organised citizens who try to reform or rebuild the State, tend to ignore an underlying issue. The country is highly urbanised and most citizens are, willingly or not, alienated from nature, or more concretely, completely dislocated from what happens ‘elsewhere’.

    It turns out, however, that Mexico’s land, water and natural resources are being degraded and extracted at an alarming pace. Mexican institutional framework, created in order to join the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the early 1990s, has been largely irrelevant in the rhetorical pursuit of sustainable development.

    Take water resources, for instance: after conducting hearings between 2006 and 2012, the Latin American Water Tribunal warned of “possible hydric collapse” and condemned the Mexican State for violation of international treaties and its own legal framework to guarantee the right to water as a fundamental human right.

    Indigenous Resistance

    Indigenous communities have resisted for centuries. However, as a result of a combination of constitutional reforms and trade deals, resource grabbing has increased significantly over the last two decades; and it often unfolds violently.

    For instance, in the mountains of Guerrero communities have been resisting the imposition of the La Parota Dam, which would displace 25,000 and severely affect livelihoods of another 75,000. Their decade-long resistance has been relatively effective, yet at a tragic cost: repression, illegal incarceration and assassination of communal leaders.

    But this region is by no means an exception. Another ethical tribunal, the Tribunal Permanente de los Pueblos (TPP), documented over the last few years 220 active socio-environmental conflicts across the country, and observed the normalisation of institutional violence towards those who resist.

    TPP’s condemnation of the Mexican State, entitled “The dispossession and degradation of Mexico: Free trade and deviation of power as causes of structural violence, impunity and dirty war against Mexico’s peoples”, can be downloaded here.

    For years, active community members have regular meetings where they discuss structural problems and actions. With huge efforts they form regional assemblies and have an annual national assembly. This is the case of the Asamblea Nacional de Afectados Ambientales (ANAA).

    In my view, these forms of organisation are poorly supported and understood, and are essential not only in slowing down environmental degradation, but also in addressing a key factor in Mexico’s humanitarian crisis.

    Mazahua people confront the dispossession of their water - pumped to Mexico City. Image: Agua, Ríos y Pueblos

    Mazahua people confront the dispossession of their water – pumped to Mexico City. Image: Agua, Ríos y Pueblos

    The brave world of journalism

    Mexico has become one of the most dangerous countries to practice journalism, particularly critical, independent journalism. According to the map Periodistas en Riesgo, a recent initiative by Freedom House and International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), 13 journalists have been killed over the last two years (the most deadly period has been May-October 2014) and four journalists are currently thought abducted.

    Without brave journalists we would be incapable of understanding what happens in a country whose State machinery has dominated the art of manipulating our mainstream media. On a positive note, as noted by several political analysts, those in power have been completely unable to understand the world of the Internet – despite attempts to monitor and control. Civil society is way ahead in understanding the power and potential of social media, a space where anyone can join in solidarity.

    To explore the role of street art in social movements in Mexico DPU and UCL Americas are hosting a unique conversation with artist-activists part of Oaxaca’s Colectivo Lapiztola, on Monday 23 February. Read more and register to attend.

    Étienne von Bertrab is a Teaching Fellow at the DPU and a guest lecturer in universities in Mexico. He also works as a consultant in the UK and in Mexico, where he has been a social activist for ten years. Twitter: @etiennista

    Mexico: Where does hope reside? (Part II)

    By Étienne von Bertrab, on 10 February 2015

    Just one week on

    To understand the depth of the socio-political crisis in Mexico it might be illustrative to go through events that occurred since Part I was posted a week ago: a mayor in the State of Mexico authorised police to shoot those who protest against the dispossession of their communal water system; a newspaper editor in Matamoros was abducted, beaten and left with a death threat: “no more reporting on violence along the border”; and as if it was a horror film, 61 bodies were found in an abandoned crematory in the outskirts of Acapulco, a famous tourist destination in the State of Guerrero (where the disappearance of the 43 teacher training students took place four months ago).

    No caption needed. Image: Colectivo Lapiztola

    Much to the disappointment of those in power, what happens in Mexico can no longer be kept within the country’s borders. The prestigious Hay Festival, which would take place later this year in Xalapa, was cancelled after hundreds of Mexican writers and journalists signed a petition in protest. “We recognise that the killing of Moisés Sánchez, the 15th journalist to have been murdered or disappeared in Veracruz since 2010, has caused unbearable pain and rage” – reads the organisers’ official statement.

    In Geneva – in the same week – the UN Committee of Enforced Disappearances (CED) identified ‘prominent discrepancy between words and deeds’ while for Amnesty International the hearings evidenced the failure of the Mexican State in its international responsibilities. Furthermore, The New York Times revealed over the weekend that amongst the secret buyers using shell companies to grab the most expensive real estate in New York is an ex-governor of Oaxaca and father of the current director of INFONAVIT – Mexico’s social housing agency.

    Elections: opportunity or distraction?

    While it is almost a consensus that the party system is rotten beyond repair, what to do during the elections is always a divisive issue: to back the least worst party or candidates, or to boycott the elections altogether? As a result of a recent political reform it will now be possible – for the first time in Mexican history – for citizens to be elected without affiliation to a political party. For many this is a double-edged sword, but there are glimpses of hope: Wikipolítica, a group of young student-activists, could give Jalisco its first independent legislator – without using any public resources but rather dozens of creative and enthusiastic volunteers.

    Intentions of a long journey Image: Colectivo Lapiztola

    Beyond these more localised opportunities there is an increasing recognition that our social contract has been broken: the Mexican Constitution of 1917 (often referred to as the most progressive of the early 20th century) has been subject to almost 500 reforms, mostly to facilitate capital accumulation in detriment of rights and communal and public ownership of natural resources.

    A call for the formation of a constitutional assembly with the aim of refunding the State is gaining traction, reinvigorated by the very circumstances and by the vocal support of progressive and highly respectable public figures such as bishop Raúl Vera, the last prominent priest of the Theology of Liberation in Mexico, who since the Zapatista uprising has made his cause the voices of the poor. His mission: “to listen to everyone’s feelings and aspirations, particularly those of the poor and marginalised”. However, it is undoubtedly a long-term social and democratic endeavour that no living Mexican has ever experienced. For many, including myself, it might be the only way to avoid a violent revolution.

    In this emotive video, Omar García, survivor of the attack, expresses how the case of Ayotzinapa has awaken millions throughout the country.

     

    Part III on the role of journalism and new media, and on why it’s important to focus on the (non-urban) territory and those who defend it, will be published next week.

    All images are courtesy of Colectivo Lapiztola, a street art collective that emerged in the suppressed social movement in Oaxaca in 2006. Part of their work is exhibited in Rich Mix, London, until 28 February.

    Opening the wings. Image: Colectivo Lapiztola

    Étienne von Bertrab is a Teaching Fellow at the DPU and a guest lecturer in universities in Mexico. He also works as a consultant in the UK and in Mexico, where he has been a social activist for ten years. Twitter: @etiennista

    Mexico: Where does hope reside? (Part I)

    By Étienne von Bertrab, on 2 February 2015

    They want a different future, Yucatán. Image: Étienne von Bertrab

    They want a different future, Yucatán. Image: Étienne von Bertrab

    Mexico is going through turbulent times and its future looks, if not pitch black, then highly uncertain and complex. This is a personal attempt to make sense of recent developments and to share some reflections on causes, implications, and sources of hope.

    The recent wave of high-level corruption scandals and particularly the forced disappearance of the 43 rural students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, have been, for a majority of Mexicans, the straw that broke the camel’s back. Studies over the last few years had already shown a steady decline in levels of trust in State institutions; however, trust has reached an all time low and there are calls to ignore and boycott the mid-term elections this summer. Although most attention is placed on the machinery of corruption and impunity of PRI (the infamous political party that ruled Mexico for 70 years and came back to power in 2012), people are losing trust in all political parties.

    Mexico has the worst political class in decades” concluded a recent panel on democracy and elections held at IBERO University. Internationally, only a year ago mainstream media made reference to ‘the time of Mexico’ and Time magazine portrayed president Peña Nieto as saviour. The Economist, which had praised his constitutional reforms – particularly the juicy energy reform that allows the privatisation of oil – has now referred to him as “a president who doesn’t get that he doesn’t get it”. For The New Yorker, the President himself is the clearest example of corruption in the country.

    Protest street art, Guadalajara. Image: Étienne von Bertrab

    Protest street art, Guadalajara. Image: Étienne von Bertrab

    But corruption and impunity have been there for a while and the distance between the political class and ordinary people has been widely perceived and commented upon. Why are so many Mexicans in the streets over and over again, shouting ‘enough is enough’ and getting engaged in the public sphere in ways never seen before? Behind the Ayotzinapa case are around 100,000 deaths and more than 23,000 disappearances since 2006 (according to official figures), plus 150,000 displaced people according to Freedom House. Unsurprisingly, those affected the most are the poor and the marginalised amongst Mexican society.

    More than two decades of neoliberal restructuring and particularly the culture of capitalist cronyism built by those in power, have benefitted only a few while too many women and men continue to live in poverty. Not to mention indigenous groups who for centuries have been victims of oppression and dispossession (for most, little has changed since colonial times). Across the country over 7 million young people can’t find opportunities to study or work and thus are unable to imagine a future in their own country. Apart from the negative effects on human development the country is losing its ‘demographic bonus’.

    ‘Where those above destroy, below we flourish’. Image: Creative Commons

    ‘Where those above destroy, below we flourish’

    There is simply too much suffering in so many families and communities, and too few provisions to deal with the repercussions of eight years of crude violence on top of the generalised sense of injustice. The situation of human rights in Mexico, according to Amnesty International, is now the worst in the American continent.

    In the latest developments, while the federal government declared the official investigation on the 43 disappeared students ‘closed’ last week, a new journalistic investigation revealed that most of the government’s ‘evidence’ was obtained through torture. The federal government will surely defend its version (referred to as the ‘historical truth’ by the attorney general) with full force, and repression to protestors is likely to escalate. These practices should also not come as a surprise: according to Human Rights Watch, there have been over 9,000 complaints of abuse by the army since 2006.

    For an audio account of the investigation that proved that the authorities at the national level were involved in the disappearances, you can listen to Steve Fisher, one of the authors of the original article in Proceso magazine, here. Channel 4 News has also produced an informative video entitled ‘Are Mexico’s disappeared students victims of drug war?’ – available on its website.

     

    Part II, on hope, solidarity and opportunities for research that can make a difference will be published on the DPU blog next week.

    Étienne von Bertrab is a Teaching Fellow at the DPU and a guest lecturer in universities in Mexico. He also works as a consultant in the UK and in Mexico, where he has been a social activist for ten years. Twitter: @etiennista

    What is going on in Brazil?

    By Alexandre Apsan Frediani, on 23 June 2013

    Together with my Brazilian friends and family living in London, we cannot stop following the posts, videos, tweets and news about what is going on in Brazil since the demonstrations in the streets of São Paulo on June the 6th and spreading to the main urban centres of the country. We cannot also help starting most conversations we have at the moment by commenting on the latest news. Even after spending hours talking and reading about it, it is still hard to answer the question: what is going on in Brazil? While hopeful and excited about the level of social mobilisation around equitable access to urban infrastructure and services, we are also extremely worried about the more recent turn of the events towards a conservative agenda.

    Picture 1: Demonstrations in London

    Source: Alex Frediani

    Source: Alex Frediani

     

    The Excitement

    Since the demonstrations that impeached the president Fernando Collor de Mello in 1992 we probably have not seen the public sphere so much dominated by political debates, rather than football or soap opera. Everybody is talking about it, everybody is having to position themselves in one way or another. This is also the result of a long-term mobilisation story around universal access to transport through free fares. After a series of decentralised actions (including the demonstrations in Salvador in 2003 in Florianopolis in 2004[1]), in the 2005 World Social Forum the Movimento Passe Livre, MPL (Free Fare – but also translated as Free Pass – Movement) was formed. A charter with basic principles was developed, which included independence, non-partisanship, horizontality and decision-by-consensus. National meetings were conducted to generate strategic plans. Local groups consolidated and political pressure was successfully exerted through studies and street demonstrations. During August and September of last year the MPL organised demonstrations in Natal (Rio Grande do Norte), March this year the movement took thousands to the street of Porto Alegre (Rio Grande do Sul). Then in the beginning of this month, the movement responded to the plans of increasing the price of bus fare in São Paulo by organising the demonstrations on the 6th of June, which brought 5,000 people to the streets.

    For me, these activities provide examples of how social movements are contesting the commodification of city services. One of the major references of the movement is the engineer Lúcio Gregori (municipal secretary of transport of São Paulo between 1990-1992). Lúcio designed during his mandate the Project Free Fare, never implemented but which aimed at subsidising the cost of public transport through a reform of the progressive property tax. His argument is based on the idea that the high costs of the tariffs is prioritising the support towards automobile industry and bus companies over the movement towards sustainable and equitable cities.  By subsidising public transport and reducing tariffs, citizens would opt for collective transport services rather than individual cars, minimizing traffic and maintenance costs of roads. Importantly, Lúcio argues that financially the project free fare is viable, however it needs the political willingness that is not in place, hence the need for social mobilisation and pressure by civil society organisations.

    Picture 2: Illustration used by MPL

    Translation: A city only exists for those that can move through it. Source: http://tarifazero.org/

    Translation: A city only exists for those that can move through it. Source: http://tarifazero.org/

     

    However, since the initial stages, protests increased in amount of supporters but also concerns. Apart from transport tariffs, the various signs seen in the demonstrations have condemned a series of issues, including the costs caused by the forthcoming world cup[2], as well as the controversial constitutional amendment number 37, which would prohibit public agencies from carrying out criminal investigations. Such claims are important demands to keep Brazilian government under scrutiny and deepening public debates and democratic practices.

    Picture 3: Protests in London with demands beyond bus tariffs

    Translation: Brazil, let’s wake up! A teacher is worth more than Neymar (Brazilian footballer). Source: Alex Frediani

    Translation: Brazil, let’s wake up! A teacher is worth more than Neymar (Brazilian footballer). Source: Alex Frediani

     

    The Brazilian government responded to the voices of those in the street. In a televised announcement on the 21st of June, the president Dilma Rousseff called for meeting with activists, mayors and state governors to discuss about the demands of protesters. In particularly, urban mobility would be a major theme of deliberation. Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo mayors also responded by scraping their plans to increase prices of bus tariffs in the short term

    The Worry

    Apart from those exciting citizenship claims through debates of transport and urban mobility, we have also seen a series of worrying elements that we perceive to be counter productive to such claims. Firstly ‘violence’ has been unfortunately dominating a lot of the discussions. Just after the first protests since the 6th of June, the major media corporations did not hesitate to focus their news around the violence generated by a few protesters, therefore criminalising the activities in the streets. In the meantime, on-line various videos were shared by protesters and journalists showing the outrageous reactions of the police force using rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the peaceful crowds shouting: sem violencia – without violence. Videos also show police shooting people recording the events in the streets and in buildings.

    When the activities in the streets of the country started getting momentum, the position from the major media corporations, especially Globo, changed radically. From criminalising uprising, they started to provide ‘reasoned’ arguments, mostly associated to corruption of current government, to legitimize activities. Many comments on-line have accused such shift to demonstrate an opportunistic attitude of the right-wing/conservative elite in Brazil, tapping into and co-opting events, shifting the agenda from urban mobility towards a debate on corruption with the intention to destabilise the PT (workers party) government[3].

    Also worrying is how the mood of the crowd in the streets started to shift. As numbers increased and causes for mobilisation started to multiply, the national anthem has become a key shouting bringing protestors to a united voice. The article by journalists Camila Petroni and Debora Lessa of the journal Brasil de Fato[4] outline the dangers of the emergence of this problematic nationalistic mood, which often is associated to militarization and reminds us of worrying times of our history during the 60s and 70s military government. Therefore, many have argued that the demonstrations have become compromised, losing coherence, depth and clarity due to this attempt of the right to sabotage and co-opt activities. Others have argued that this is the nature of current uprisings: multiple, decentralised, unpredictable, difficult to explain as a whole, and evidence of a new form of networked society.

    However profoundly worrying has been the reaction in the streets of São Paulo in the celebration following the announcement of the mayor saying that the bus tariff would not go up. Those who went to celebrate using their party or organization’s banners and shirts (i.e. PSOL – Partido Socialismo e Liberdade, Socialism and Freedom Party – that thas been involved with the MPL since its first steps) were kicked out from the marches. Protesters argued that they would not like such groups and organisations to profit from what has been the ‘people’s demonstration’[5]. This rejection to the role of such groups in the organisation, mobilisation and future dialogue with government officials is naïve and limits the potential of protests to move beyond an outburst of grievances and influence concrete policy and practices of governance. Furthermore, and even more worrying, those claiming to be of no-association and no-party have also been accused of belonging to organised right-wing and military groups[6].

    As a result of such recent events, the MPL has said that it would not be involved in the organisation of future demonstrations. Journalists and bloggers are calling protestors to localise their discussions. As it happened also in Spain, the call is to consolidate the debate and critical thinking in neighbourhoods and hubs of dialogue. The editorial piece of the magazine Forum (which was created during the World Social Forum of 2001 in Porto Alegre) asked activists to replace in the short-term demonstrations with meetings to deepen the debate, work out differences and share perspectives before going again to the streets[7].

    Next steps

    The above description is one of the many readings of the situation. It is quite surprising that the media in the UK is not engaging with such reading and has not been trying to capture complexities and the contradictions of the schizophrenic nature of the uprisings in Brazil. It is impossible to attempt to make any analysis of what could happen, but I see exciting and worrying scenarios: if the progressive activists move out from the demonstrations by prioritising localised discussions, the conflict in the streets might end up dominated by right-wing groups, with dangerous prospects of militarization and confrontation with the current government. But on the other hand the confrontations with fuzzy purposes might phase out with time, and what is going to be left are the seeds for a much more constructive and profound mode of civil engagement. What is going on in Brazil? I am not sure, but definitely it is uncertain, exciting and worrying all at the same time…

    Alexandre Apsan Frediani is a lecturer at the Bartlett Development Planning Unit and co-director of Masters in Social Development Practice.


    [1] See documentary Impasse on-line about the movement in Florianopolis: http://impasse.com.br/documentario/impasse

    [2] See videos that went viral on-line outlining the major arguments against the World Cup: ‘No, I am not going to the world cup’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZApBgNQgKPU and Brazilian ex-footballer and now politician Romario arguing that FIFA has established a estate within the Brazilian estate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMhL-K2kBxQ.

    [4] http://www.brasildefato.com.br/node/13269

    [5] See post by a demonstrator that got kicked out from the celebrations: http://socialistamorena.cartacapital.com.br/querem-desestabilizar-o-brasil-nao-vou-compactuar-com-isso/

    [6] See list disseminated through facebook: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=538407982884717&id=149047141820805

    [7] http://revistaforum.com.br/blog/2013/06/editorial-contra-os-fascistas-a-forca-das-redes-e-dos-processos-democraticos/