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.
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
· 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
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
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.