Leon Morenas and his team of ISSC Fellows in a session on Transitions in Urban Environments, say the urban poor are often blamed as the “culprits of pollution” and by extension, cast as the cause of environmental unsustainability.
They then become targets of sustainability projects and slum dwellers are,through this process, removed to other areas. He said these degrading narratives are misplaced as the industrialised countries, with only 20% of the world’s population, are responsible for 80% of the accumulated carbon dioxide build-up in the atmosphere. The US, in contrast, was responsible for 20 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per person, compared to only 0.2 tons in Bangladesh, 0.3 in Kenya and 3.9 in Mexico.
In tackling the core question posed by the session, namely modes of urban governance emerging across the developed and developing world to tackle the underlying challenges of urban growth, urban poverty and environmental unsustainability, Morena wanted to convey that a just world is not created by a linear process of transforming global relations, but through “critically understand what global relations are, and how they are transfigured and reified in local contexts”.
The solution put forward by ISSC Fellow Buyana Kareem from the South African group, entailed involving the Durban municipality in carefully managing the informal settlement without destroying existing social structures. He advocated an incremental approach and creating relationships with groups involved in urban activism so that they could work together and recreate sustainable urbanisation.
Fellow Moises Lino e Silva from a third group, who lives in Quito in Ecuador, said sustainability is about power and power is often invisible. Communities need to make power visible by analysing the underlying power dynamics.
One of the many questions during the discussion was about waste pickers in the streets of Cape Town, who are homeless and stigmatised. How to work around that, it was asked. Said Martin from Argentina: “We have got to work slowly at their pace to restore their identity. The way we frame it is to take account of the fact that they want to be called ‘workers’ and give them a sense of community. They are incorporated into waste management systems and a process of recycling, thereby creating a value chain for trash.”
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Author: Sarah Van Der Ahee from HIPPO Communications.