Thursday, 23 June 2011

Together with the state, despite the state, against the state

 by Marcelo Lopes de Souza, City, 2006

Curiously, even progressive planners usually share with their conservative counterparts the assumption that the state is the sole urban planning agent. This paper outlines that even if the state is sometimes controlled by more or less progressive forces and even influenced by socil movements, civil society should be seen as a powerfiel actor in the conception and implementation of urban planntng and management. Drawing on examples from urban social movements in Latin Americn, in particular favela activism, the sem-teto movement and participatory budgeting, it explores how civil society can conceive, and even implement, complex, radically alternative socio-spatial strategies. This can be seen as part of a genuine attempt at 'grassroots urban planning.

Fanon famously argued that:

If the building of a bridge does not enrich the awareness of those who work on it, then that bridge ought not to be built and the citizens can go on swimming across the river or going by boat. The bridge should not be ‘parachuted down’ from above; it should not be imposed by a deus ex machina upon the social scene; on the contrary it should come from the muscles and the brains of the citizens. Certainly, there may well be need of engineers and architects, sometimes completely foreign engineers and architects; but the local party leaders should be always present, so that the new techniques can make their way into the cerebral desert of the citizen, so that the bridge in whole and in part can be taken up and conceived, and the responsibility for it assumed by the citizen. In this way, and in this way only, everything is possible.
-Fanon, The Pitfalls of National Consciousness

This paper by Marcello Lopes de Souza does not engage directly with Fanon but it does propose the (very Fanonion) idea of 'grassroots urban planning' and it is useful to read it together with Fanon's argument about 'the bridge'. Click here to download the paper in pdf.

There are some other papers by de Souza here:

1. Social movements in the face of criminal power, 2009
2. Cities for people, not for profit—from a radical-libertarian and Latin American perspective, 2010
3. Which right to which city? In defence of political-strategic clarity, 2010
4. A (Very Short) Tale of Two Urban Forums, 2010