Resilience-building: how to include the urban poor

by David Lammers, MSc Environmental Studies and Sustainability Studies, Lund University

“Resilience is also required to respond to bad policy decisions”. This statement by William Cobbett, Director of the Cities Alliance, opened up a session on a very challenging aspect of urban development: achieving inclusiveness, particularly with regards to the urban poor. Cobbett framed two problematic relationships within the local governance sphere: the relation between national and local governments, and the relation between local governments and their citizens. In both cases, he sees a tendency of the former to regard the latter as a burden rather than an asset and an integral actor in governance.

This view was supported by the panelists in the “Inclusive and resilient urban development” forum, who gave examples of their respective work settings, presented the challenges they face in achieving inclusive development and described the pathways they have chosen in attempting to tackle these.

David Dodman of IIED described his institute’s approach to creating a more inclusive local governance sphere by not only focusing on elevating the position of the urban poor, but also by working on changing the attitudes of the more well off members of the community.

Vida Tangwan from the Informal Hawkers’ and Vendors’ Association of Accra followed by describing how her organization had been able to better the position of the informal workers they represent by joining the local government, but how this falls far short of their needs.

Ofelia Bagotio from the Homeless Peoples Federation of the Philippines explained how they managed to build simple houses for their members in a design that would not make them look inferior to wealthier homes.

Sundaa Bridgett-Jones from Rockefeller Foundation described how events around Hurricane Katrina led the Foundation to take a different perspective on resilience, with increased focus on aspects of poverty and equity.

Finally, Manuel Araujo, Mayor of Quelimane Municipality in Mozambique, gave an example how he managed to get the municipal budget approved by opposition parties by engaging the citizens in its creation and mobilizing them to raise their voices for its acceptance.

All these examples showed different and innovative approaches to strengthening the position of the urban poor. The discussion also revealed ambivalent experiences with donor relations as well as with national governments, suggesting that while national governments are often supportive, they are also potentially restrictive – particularly in case the local party in power deviates from the national incumbent.

Despite the fruitful and motivating approaches implemented thus far, it is clear that achieving inclusive and socially just urban development still has a long way to go.