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QUESTIONS URBAINES
 
Habitat II + 5
  Researchersí Declaration for Habitat II + 5

1. The Habitat II meeting enabled a more important role for research. Indeed the texts produced by the delegations insisted on the importance of partnership (participation) between all urban actors including researchers. This participation was to be considered on two levels : within national committees, and during a « forum for professional and scholarly bodies. » 
A contribution from researchers had been proposed in 1995-1996 to the French national commission. It outlined the French point of view on urban issues in developing countries. As researchers one of our objectives was to enable a comparison of findings on cities in developing countries and cities in the North and East. We found it unfortunate that in France the interface between these two sets of research wasnít really being carried out and that urban research on developing countries tended to be set apart from the rest of urban research. This trend seems to have been confirmed over the last few years. Yet despite strong specificities, the two types of research share similar problems and objectives and thus can be mutually enriching in the knowledge to be gained from both viewpoints.

2. French researchers working on urban issues in South countries actively worked side by side with associations in the preparation of the Habitat II Conference. 
The organizers of this conference had accorded an important role to research. In Istanbul, the researchers had the opportunity to express themselves through forums and prospective "Dialogues." These discussions covered an account of the achievements in urban research (tenure issues, rural-urban relationships, city services, governance, poverty, etc.), the relationship to be established between the research field and other actors (government, international institutions, local communities, NGOs, economic actors, etc., ) and the need for consolidation of research abilities in South countries.
It was hoped that Habitat II would provide the opportunity to consolidate networks and to define an "international research program." 
 

3. Five years later, certain questions can be raised : 
· what basis should be used to evaluate research results, based on which criteria, which expectations ? 
· on the impact of research on a theoretical and a practical level ;
· on the evolution in research areas  : why and how have they changed, and why and how do new research areas emerge  ?
 
4. One of the difficulties and ambiguities of urban and city research stems from the political nature of the research. Researchers who work on cities are obliged to engage in a political thought process but without taking on any political responsibilities. 
 In the back and forth dialog between political and technical choices, their role is often that of the expert called upon both by decision makers and by public need ; a role that sometimes involves working as consultants for political authorities. This ambiguity raises questions concerning the researcherís commitment. 
 
5. The role of research is to produce knowledge, to contribute tools for analysis and to impart concepts likely to improve our analysis of the mechanisms of production and the management of the city. Research should also help to enlighten and inform decision-makers and to open horizons concerning the rationality of certain decisions while keeping in mind societal choices and budgetary decisions. The relationship between research and action (research and application each having its own specific and legitimate logic ) had been one of the main points of discussion during Habitat II, the focus being placed upon the communication and exchange of knowledge related to scientific production, training (ex : university) and cooperation.
 
6. Although research isnít the only means of production of knowledge, it is important to underline the specific status of scientific knowledge. It is because research complies with theoretical demands and rigorous procedures that it is seen by other actors as legitimate. It is more the researcherís function as an "enabler" than his "commitment" that earns him recognition as an autonomous actor. Although he or she is frequently called upon to "accompany" experimental projects, the researcher only rarely provides possible solutions. 
 
7. City and urban research must integrate two levels : on the one hand, globalization gives rise to common themes applicable to cities worldwide ; on the other hand, territorial singularities continue to require geographical, thematic and area specializations which are perpetuated within national scientific communities by both individuals and especially institutions.
 When international comparisons are applied based on a unifying theme, it is apparent that the concepts being used can change meaning from one speaker to another. Globalization does not erase territories. The development of metropolises and the globalization of urban areas do not necessarily reduce the diversity found within cities and urban areas.
 The stakes for urban diversity are high and take on importance at two different levels : one aspect is patrimonial, covering both inherited identities and the production of cultural and societal innovations; the second concerns the question of city governments : the diversity of urban dwellers constitutes in and of itself and extraordinary potentiality for change and a valuable indicator of possibilities, this in contexts where the possibilities of State intervention are often dramatically diminished.
 
8. Research also concerns the factors which determine the evolution of the city and of city politics. In this perspective, it is necessary to analyze the construction of concepts and methods. Without this analysis, there is a great risk that political outcomes determine research prerogatives, that politics formulate both possible solutions and mandate orders. 
 Urban research will only succeed in proposing theoretical alternatives by analyzing real situations and by investing in new fields of research such as the social economy, the relationship between citizens and fiscal policy within the framework of decentralization, new forms of conflict and security issues. 
 Global change and the evolution of scientific knowledge have modified our approach to cooperation in urban development. Science does not function outside the realm of knowledge of the social, political and economic conditions of its application. 
 More than in other areas of research, analyzing the urban sector presents certain difficulties : it is necessary to take into account aspects of diversity while translating the particularity and originality of that particular context into the particular knowledge of another. Other important difficulties are encountered by researchers working in countries where political democracy is absent. And finally the factor that acquired knowledge on South cities is barely receiving a response from the North is also an area of concern. 
 French research is at risk of being marginalized if not enough attention is paid to the meaning that others give to words. However, as the example of "poverty" demonstrates, a certain number of these words function as traps both in scientific and political debates. The increasing marginalization of francophone research faced with anglophone research contributes to the worsening of the situation. 
 
 9. The French scheme of urban research on the South is currently weakened by :
· The aging of its actors; a situation which has largely resulted from restrictive policies in civil service employment which has negatively affected laboratories working on developing countries. 
· The crisis of research institutions and the dispersion of resources among numerous university research units. 
· The French governmentís clear lack of interest in this field. The instigative actions of the Ministry of Research, as well as the 6° PCRD on the European level, do not sufficiently take into account the international aspects of research. Moreover, in France it has been made clear that the future "Cities Institute" will not include researchers. 
 
 10. Too often, political support to scientific communities in the South is restricted to the distribution of a limited number of scholarships and grants. These policies do not necessarily target the most disadvantaged countries in scientific competition. (The last bid from the Ministry of Research for the financing of studies abroad in social sciences considered as priorities the countries of South Africa, Brazil, China, India, Japan, Mexico and Russia.)
 The stakes appear to be even more important : 
· Particularly in the urban field, international scientific cooperation must be used as an antidote to liberal globalization through the creation of new forms and venues of solidarity, the possibility for debate and confrontation. 
· Priority must be given to projects with cooperation between European teams, as these are the only projects likely to propose an alternative to the ultraliberal model of urban planning and management. 
· We must work together with South countries to develop the knowledge and tools of control which will allow them to fend off the predatory risks they are now confronted with. Questions can be raised in this area concerning the resources used to reduce the "numeric fracture." 

11. On all these points, the results of Habitat II appear to be limited. Although certain progress has been made in the area of decentralization, there has been no confirmed support for international research networks, nor for the promotion of a truly international research program on the city. Habitat-CNUEHís global campaigns on governance, security of tenure and poverty have come up against resistance and in some cases hostility from the United States. Due to a lack of funds, campaign objectives have been cut back. 
Under the "Cities Alliance" initiative, the World Bank acquired a new tool for developing a "new" urban way of thinking. French research is not participating in this process. Proposals were made to the French representative to support the backing of researchers working on cities in developing countries for their participation in the decision-making body of "Cities Alliances." Those propositions were refused.
Although in France a productive dialog has been undertaken between researchers and elected officials working in the framework of the African pole of French Unified Cities, and the High Council of International Cooperation is facilitating a work group devoted to urban issues, the Priority Program for Urban Development has not been, as one would imagine, a framework for productive meetings between researchers associations and NGOs. 
The dialog which began five years ago within the framework of the preparation for Habitat II, did not produce many positive results. The time has come to re-embark on and to widen this discussion. Social forces other than States and international institutions must be invited by urban research to create new alliances. 

March 2001


 

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