Habitat Predicts The World Is a Ghetto, But Will Finance Be Addressed at
Vancouver World Urban Forum?
Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.
UNITED NATIONS, June
16 -- The world is a ghetto. Behind a lengthy PointPoint presentation and thick
glossy report of which there were not enough copies, that was the message the
UN-Habitat brought Friday to United Nations Headquarters, en route to a World
Urban Forum on the topic next week in Vancouver. One billion people now live in
slums, as defined by Habitat. This figure is growing globally at 2.2 percent a
year, and at a higher rate in the developing world.
report takes on what it calls the Urban Penalty from a number of angles: health
and environmental justice, poor education, vulnerability to conflict and natural
disaster. Inner City Press inquired into whether Habitat considers the private
sector's financing, or lack thereof, of housing and small business in low-income
areas, and if Habitat works with the
Global Compact on the issue of
banks' inclusion or exclusion of urban slums from their lending, along the lines
U.S. Community Reinvestment Act.
Agency director Anna Tibaijuka acknowledged that the issue of private finance
"is not covered adequately in this report." As to the Global Compact, at first
no answer was given. When the issue was raised a second time, the response by
rote was that all UN agencies work with the Global Compact, but that such
collaboration has yet to take place on these issues. Here's hoping.
Orleans and the disparate impacts of Hurricane Katrina are addressed in one of
Habitat's case studies. Analogy is made to Kobe, Japan: "when that city was
destroyed by an earthquake in 1995, many residents lived in temporary housing
for eight years, and areas of the city that had been affordable for families
were rebuilt with housing beyond their financial reach." While Ms. Tibaijuka
jibed that mass evictions "used to happen even here, in the past," the reality
is that in many cities in the developed world, the mass evictions continue in
slow motion. Neighborhoods are gentrified and housing costs soar. Even the
conversion of informal settlements to "security of tenure" is viewed
skeptically, unless the de facto cost of the housing stays low.
City Press also asked about Habitat's view of the role of discrimination. Ms.
Tibaijuka noted that many cities in the developing world are "colonial cities"
and that the nationalist governments that took over and "not all in partnership
with their own people." There is discrimination by race and ethnic group, by
gender and by religion, she said. The report's case study on immigrants in
Paris states that in France, employers are "known to discriminate against those
who lived in stigmatized suburbs" and "a similar study in Rio de Janeiro found
that living in a favela appeared to be a bigger barrier to gaining
employment that being dark skinned or female." Call it the Urban Penalty, or
more precisely the Ghetto Penalty.
crystallize the dangers of not acting on these issues, Ms. Tibaijuka said that
"if the poor are not empowered, they are sure going to empower themselves." She
mentioned crime and terrorism and even, if reporters heard her right,
revolution. The World Is a Ghetto, indeed...
Footnote: There are
18,000 registrants for World Urban Forum III in Vancouver, June 19-23. In the
run-up to the Forum, an online "Habitat Jam" was held. Inner City Press asked a
Habitat staffer at the briefing for his view on "the Jam," as it was called. "It
cost a lot," he responded, and did not yield as much input as expected. Not
mentioned in the report is the digital divide...
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