Right to the city
The right to the city is an idea and a slogan that was first proposed by Henri Lefebvre in his 1968 book Le Droit à la ville  and that has been reclaimed in the last decades by social movements, thinkers and several progressive local authorities alike as a call to action to reclaim the city as a co-created space; a place for life detached from the growing effects that commodification and capitalism has had over social interaction and the rise of spatial inequalities in worldwide cities throughout the last two centuries. In his first inception of the concept, Lefevbre paid specific emphasis on the effects that capitalism had over “the city”, whereas urban life was downgraded into a commodity, social interaction became increasingly uprooted and urban space and governance were turned into exclusive goods. In opposition to this trend, Lefevbre called to “rescue the citizen as main element and protagonist of the city that he himself had built” and to transform urban space into “a meeting point for building collective life”.
Due to the inequalities produced by the rapid increase of world urban population in most regions of the world, the concept of the right to the city has been rescued various decades after the publication of Lefevbre’s book as a call to action by social movements and grassroots organizations. In their appeal for “their right to the city”, local mobilizations around the world usually refer to their struggle for social justice and a dignified access to urban life face to growing urban inequalities (especially in large metropolitan concepts). The right to the city has had a particular influence in Latin America and Europe, where social movements have particularly appealed to the concept in their actions and promoted local instruments for advancing its concrete understanding in terms of policy-making at the local and even national level. A good proof on how the notion of right to the city has gained international recognition in the last years could be seen in the United Nations Habitat III process, and how the New Urban Agenda (2016) recognized the concept as the vision of “cities for all”.
The growing popularity of the concept has nonetheless raised some criticism and concerns on how the original vision of Henri Lefevbre could be reduced to a “citizenship vision”, focused on the mere implementation of social and economic rights in the city leaving aside its transformatory nature and the concept of social conflict behind the original concept. Marcelo Lopes de Souza has for instance argued that as the right to the city has become "fashionable these days", "the price of this has often been the trivialisation and corruption of Lefebvre's concept" and called for fidelity to the original radical meaning of the idea.
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 urbanization. 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.
It has been suggested that the phrase has taken on a variety of meanings and Marcelo Lopes de Souza has argued that as the right to the city has become "fashionable these days", "[t]he price of this has often been the trivialisation and corruption of Lefebvre's concept" and called for fidelity to the original radical meaning of the idea.
A number of popular movements, such as the shack dwellers' movement Abahlali baseMjondolo in South Africa, the Right to the City Alliance in the United States, Recht auf Stadt, a network of squatters, tenants and artists in Hamburg, and various movements in Asia and Latin America, have incorporated the idea of the right to the city into their struggles.
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- World Charter for the Right to the City (PDF)z
- World Charter for the Right to the City (HTML)
- Proposal for a Charter for Women's Right to the City
- Proposals and Experiencies towards the Right to the City, Ana Sugranyes and Charlotte Mathivet (editors) 03-16-2010