By Wandia Seaforth
At the Dialogue on Urban Realities, held as part of the Second World Urban Forum in Barcelona yesterday, three compelling success stories were showcased to illustrate the importance of political will, good policies and participation in translating vision into reality. The following three cases from Morocco, Spain and South Africa have not only physically transformed cities in these countries, but also improved the quality life of their citizens.
POLICY -- Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Ten years ago, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, was a dying city. Built in medieval times, the buildings in the historic centre of the city had been decaying over the years and residents were moving out. The abandoned buildings became a security problem and this in turn accelerated the exodus from the city. The city initiated a restoration policy aimed at restoring the city while maintaining its historic character and the balance between residential and public buildings and spaces. In 1994, the city government publicized a study that outlined the state of the city and what needed to be done. Half the population of the city objected to various details of the plan and intensive public education had to be carried out to address residents' concerns.
Today, the city has recovered 2000 buildings, the historic centre is alive again and 8000 tourists visit the city every year. Several architectural, restoration and construction companies have acquired the expertise for restoring historic buildings using traditional materials. The university is even training modern architects on traditional skills.
However, an unintended outcome of the restoration has been social exclusion: Santiago de Compostela's historic city centre has become so fashionable that only high-income people can afford to live there. The city is trying to address this through various means but it remains an issue of concern. Another bitter-sweet consequence of the revitalization of the city has been the impact of large numbers of tourists to the city; residents can barely cope with the volume and the consumption patterns of foreigners are compromising the local culture.
PARTICIPATION -- Tetuan, Morocco
The Moroccan city of Tetuan has adopted the Metropolitan City Development Strategy (CDS), an innovative city-wide demand-driven and participatory planning process. Tetuan is an excellent example of how participatory physical, social, economic and environmental planning and management can be particularly effective in reducing urban poverty and stimulating local economic development
POLITICAL WILL -- South Africa
South Africa has since 1994 been putting in place policies and legislation to reverse decades of institutionalized exclusion. The Constitution recognizes the right of every citizen to many basic services, such as housing, water and sanitation. A series of laws backed by a comprehensive implementation strategy has increased access to clean water from 60 per cent to 83 per cent and sanitation services from 49 per cent to 60 per cent. The "Water for All" policy is based on the constitutional provision that recognizes the right of all citizens to clean water and adequate sanitation. The main objective of the recent Strategy Framework for Water Services is that all people have access to a functioning basic water supply facility by 2008 and basic sanitation facility by 2010.
What do all the above cases have in common? Many things, but some of the most significant are that they show a clear political commitment and vision to institute policies and laws with a strong social content. The political will is translated into good policies and laws that are formulated, implemented and monitored in a participatory manner.
Institutional responsibilities and linkages must also be clearly articulated. The cities and countries concerned have by no means solved all the problems that they set out to solve. Initial and continuous capacity-building at different levels and for different actors is needed. Also needed are proper tools for implementation, which must be periodically reviewed and updated to reflect changing realities.