Last month, UN-Habitat held it’s once in 20-years flagship conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development in Quito, Ecuador – Habitat III. Mayors of the world, together with UN agencies and a host of other stakeholder organisations adopted the New Urban Agenda, a document that describes a shared vision, and articulates principles and commitments to ‘leave no one behind’. These principles and commitments are particularly important as the numbers of people being persecuted and ‘expelled‘ by the infrastructural regimes of the cities they live in is ever increasing.
Barely has the dust from Habitat III settled, and we have already seen the mass persecution of slum dwellers, this time in the Nigerian city of Lagos. From 9-10 November 2016, the Otodo Gbame informal settlement was brutally demolished. Residents and civil society groups describe the collusion between the Nigerian Police and the Lagos Municipal authorities, who have instrumentally used local gangs to set fires to the settlement. The demolitions continued into the night, while the police shot at and used tear gas on residents as they tried to control the fires. While fleeing into the Lagos Lagoon, four residents, including two women and one child, drowned in the chaos. The demolition has left approximately 30,000 people homeless and vulnerable. The violent demolition continued, with the neighbouring Ebute Ikate informal settlement in Lekki Phase 1, being razed in similar fashion on 11 November.
Violence against the most marginalised must stop
Safe and inclusive cities that are engines of sustainable growth are the envy of all, but they cannot be created through the use of violence. Planning, policy or design interventions that misinterpret ‘ordered cities’ as synonymous with ‘planned’, or ‘smart’ cities are likely to create insecurity, not reduce it. Violence from the State directed towards those who already face marginalisation goes against the very grain of the New Urban Agenda, and it must stop.
Cities that are most likely to prosper are those that improve the ability, opportunity and dignity of people. The built environment is a complex social production, where the ideologies of order not only segregate urban space, along ethnic or class distinctions for example, but such spatial practices connect directly with emergent forms of political mobilisation. A group of stakeholders representing civil society groups, practitioners, academics and municipalities, recently highlighted seven key pathways to manage these emergent politics in an inclusive way.
If we are to have any hope of the New Urban Agenda leading us to a safer, more resilient and sustainable world, we must use it to hold to account those governments who use violence to circumvent the politics inherent in urbanisation. Federations of slum dwellers have already mobilised mass protests in Lagos. They urgently need the support and attention of the international community.