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Collection « Les sciences sociales contemporaines »

A Book translated from the French version Quelles villes pour le 21e siècle ?

Une édition électronique réalisée à partir du livre de Françoise Lieberherr-Gardiol and Germán Solinís [ed], CITIES INTO THE FUTURE. A Book translated from the French version Quelles villes pour le 21e siècle ? published with the support of l’Université de Genève, la Faculté des Lettres, La Maison de l’histoire and La Fondation Hélène et Victor Barbour by Les Éditions Infolio, Suisse, 2012, 448 pp. [Autorisation formelle accordée conjointement par Françoise Lieberherr-Gardiol et German Solinis, d'une part, et par la maison d'édition, infolio Éditeur, d'autre part, le 11 février 2014 de diffuser la version anglaise de ce livre en accès ouvert et gratuit à tous dans Les Classiques des sciences sociales.]



Introduction. The Urban, a complex and open figure by German Solinís.
The Urban Agenda, a journey from Vancouver to Nairobi, Istanbul and Medellin. By Daniel Biau
Urban policies and the globalization crisis. By Gustave Massiah
Governances, from global to urban – between innovation and revamping. by Françoise Lieberherr-Gardiol
Participatory democracies: a slow march toward new paradigms from Brazil to Europe?. by Giovanni Allegretti.
Security – a permanent challenge for cities. by Franz Vanderschueren
Urban Environment in the Context of Development: The Case of Southeast Asia. by Adrian Atkinson
Democratic Decentralisation at the Crossroads. A Case Study of India. by Isabelle Milbert
Possibilities, challenges, and lessons from the urban reform process in Brazil. By Edesio Fernandes
Planetary urbanisation with or without cities. by Thierry Paquot

The Urban, a complex and open figure

by German Solinís
Courriels: ou

The city is immediately perceptible but hard to understand. Urbanisation goes back to antiquity but driven by history, it evolves constantly and is powered by a vision of society. At a time when the world is mainly “urban” and urbanisation has become global, we are in an “urban” civilization, but what sort of civilization is that? How should we understand the city?

The introduction refers to several problems where immediate knowledge is opposed to in-depth knowledge concerning the notion of “urban civilization”. In order to tackle difficulties in understanding this notion, the article analyses its complexity and suggests three levels of understanding: the more technical, artistic or expert approach with its disciplines; the epistemological approach mainly composed of the social sciences and humanities; and the empirical approach which produces common knowledge in the street.

Along with these three approaches, the city can also be understood thanks to the three dimensions that constitute it: through time, as a historical fact, through functions, as a useful factor in its economy and through space, which grants it its social identity in physical forms, social relationships, meaning and discourse.

Finally, the approaches and dimensions of the urban phenomenon are elaborating today the “urban paradigm”, putting together characteristics that make an adjective out of its name: “the city is urban”, defines at the same time the mythical power of place and territories and the ideal of future. These qualifications ensure urbanity through a city in the form of a speech and/or a drawing, as a founding symbol. In this way, the city is linked to the urban as is urbanization to society. Even if the city is superseded by the urban (in its physical, juridical and functional limits), it remains its archetype, its symbolic and ideal reference, enabling the urban to project on a horizon of utopian hope.

As a result, the introduction raises the "urban issue" as an open question requiring transdisciplinary analysis of which the methodology is under permanent making.


The Urban Agenda, a journey from Vancouver
to Nairobi, Istanbul and Medellin

By Daniel Biau

According to Daniel Biau, the urban agenda is too broad to be an international priority.  This explains why during the last three decades, the United Nations system has tried to give it some focus and to link it to clearer or simpler priorities such as sustainable development, democratic governance or poverty eradication.  This has not worked very well in terms of resource mobilization and overall visibility.  But it has allowed better understanding of the on-going urban transition, to identify and highlight local policy options and to advise a number of governments on the best ways and means to develop and implement housing and urban strategies. 

Daniel Biau argues that the urbanization process of the developing world has been less chaotic than expected by the media.  Many countries are managing their urban development relatively well, particularly in Asia, the Arab States and Latin America.  Ideas and good practices have been shared, adapted and successfully applied in a number of emerging economies. Of course many other countries, particularly the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), are lagging behind and are unable to address the slum crisis. But the urbanization of our planet should not be seen as an outright disaster. It has both positive and negative features. The United Nations has always stressed the negative to raise awareness while not placing enough emphasis on the positive role of cities, including their impact on rural development.

Daniel Biau tries to address this imbalance in a comprehensive overview.  He describes the major milestones of the international urban debate over the last 34 years, from the viewpoint of a UN manager and expert who has been personally involved in many stages of this journey.

Daniel Biau concludes that the Urban Agenda covers by essence a cross-sectoral and multi-disciplinary field, and has to be related to many aspects of the economic, social, environmental, cultural and political life.  It has to provide the territorial or spatial dimensions of a number of societal challenges that the UN system tries to bring together at the global level, in an often scattered but consensual manner. This might be the weakness of the urban agenda: because it is too broad it cannot stand on its own and needs to be subsumed under -or associated with- more popular and fashionable topics (such as climate change). But then it loses its explanatory power, its comprehensiveness, its political value. Therefore urban specialists have no choice but to continue the struggle and frequently restructure this agenda in various ways to reach the world leaders.


Urban policies and the globalization crisis

By Gustave Massiah

The globalization crisis puts a new perspective on the issue of urban transformation. After considering some aspects of the connection between globalization and urbanization, we will return to urban policies and urban models before going on to repeat the importance of urban social movements. We will then go into the effects of the crisis on urban policies and end with alternative policy proposals, initially restricted to local policies.

The crisis of neoliberalism puts into perspective recent decades and the close link between globalization and urbanization. Urbanization has changed and is no longer an extension into the South of the 19th century urban revolution. It now corresponds more to a breakdown in urban development. The evolution of globalization upsets the geopolitical system and calls into question the very nature of States. It alters the links between local, national, regional and global; between rural and urban; and between individual and universal.

Therefore the author reviews the transformation of the world’s population through migrations and   explosion of cities, the evolution of urban models and urban policies in the North and the South, as well as the development of urban social movements with the demand for inhabitants’ participation in democratic processes. While the dangers of the general crisis linked to globalization are known (poverty, housing, violence, insecurity), the opportunities are not, and the author presents examples of them. The challenge is that of asserting rights and their inscription in urban policies and in the generation of cities, including the right to the city for everyone. With a description of different alternative local policies in their challenges and strategic lines, the author introduces the importance of the linking of levels and scales, between the local, the national, the large regions and the global. Urban and spatial thinking must combine the responses to balanced, multipolar geopolitics, to social justice, to the ecological urgency and to respect for liberties.


Governances, from global to urban
– between innovation and revamping

by Françoise Lieberherr-Gardiol

From a context of ideological and geopolitical transformation, whether globalization, neo-liberalism, opening up to a multipolar world and environmental crises, governance has asserted itself as a new founding paradigm of the late 20th century. In sum, three elements  interact : partnerships between public and private actors, negotiation of rules of the game, collective decisions, which can be made at several levels from local to transnational and from an organization to a region or State. In this context the World Bank launched its normative concept of good governance as a model of effective public administration which becomes the main reference for development. The principal criticisms aim at the application of a development model created in Western societies and marked by the dominating neoliberal current with criteria and norms in cultural gaps with other contexts, which turn into the development conditionality.

Urban governance falls into the sphere of application of cities involving local government, as process of readjustment in the exercise of urban power in a context of fragmentation of spaces, proliferation of institutions and networks intervening in one area, diversification of actors with divergent value systems and interests.

Through three experiences of urban governance linked to decentralization in Burkina Faso, administrative reforms in Viet Nam and local democratization in Bulgaria, we propose to examine how this Western product is interpreted, adapted and implemented in very different cultural and geopolitical contexts. We conclude that there are multiple forms of governance, whose adaptation varies depending on the specific situations. Far from operating as a simple management tool, they show themselves to institutional and organizational outcomes shaping community action and made up of multiple and hybrid values and attitudes. We talk of the fabrication of urban governance because it is set at the centre of socio-economic and democratic transitions, of exogenous and endogenous dynamics, of the emergence of new actors, of the construction of new rules and contracts for living together, and of the creation of a collective identity. Imprinted on them are movements of resistance and rejection, conflicting and divergent interests, development phases and phases of regression, and paralysing routines,  all largely underestimated in projects for the promotion of governance.


Participatory democracies:
a slow march toward new paradigms from Brazil to Europe?

By Giovannii Allegretti

Since the echo of Porto Alegre experience started to gain space and emulations around the world, during the 90s, Participatory Budgeting (PB) became one of the most respected and analysed typologies of participatory democracy processes, due to the radical horizons it often poses, and the clear principles that forge its peculiarities. At present, with more than 1500 experiences of Participatory Budgeting existing in different countries of the world, it raises an interesting debate which explicitly poses the question whether or not a unique sequential logic in conceiving the relationship between representative democratic institutions and spaces of participatory decision-making exists. The essay starts looking at Participatory Budgeting practices as a barrier to what can be described as the “double disease of liberal democracies” (DDD) through the creation of “hybrid models” of participatory institutions which could involve a tight dialogue between delegated decision-making and direct participation of citizens in the framing of government acts. PB is analysed not only as a central tool of new experiments seeking to successfully renovate public policies at a local level, but also as a perspective from which it is possible to understand some features and challenges of a needed major “shift” in facing the convergent crises that affect several countries.

Seen not as a “model”, but rather as an “ideoscape” (using an Appadurai definition), Participatory Budgeting is red as a political and contextualisable “set of principles” which travels globally through cross-pollination networks, but only exists through local appropriation, especially in urban areas. The essay describes “pure models” and some “hybrids” that merged the most common principles of Latin American PBs together with features which are typical of “deliberative democracy” experiments, as the Chinese example of Zeguo. Beyond the multiple and differentiated direct effects on investments, Participatory Budgeting is valorised for its pedagogic added value on citizens’ civic engagement and maturation, its capacity to strengthen and spread a “pedagogy of solidarity”, and for the complementary integration with the benefits of other participatory programmes, often interrelated with it. Specific references are done to concrete examples where PB contributed to guarantee a better level of sustainability to local public policies.

In the end of the article, the author underlines some examples (in Spain, Italy, France, Congo, India or Brazil) which are showing the challenges of “scaling up” of Participatory Budgeting to higher institutional levels than the municipal ones, also fighting against the fragility and volatility that have – up to now – affected several experimentations around the world.


 – a permanent challenge for cities

by Franz Vanderschueren

This article highlights the historical links between the challenges of urban security and the evolution of urbanization since the industrialization at the beginning of XIX century until today. It shows the successive crisis of the policies of security in different urban changing contexts.

The uprising of metropolis at the beginning of the XX century put in evidence the lack of the criminal justice system and introduced the need for social and community prevention. But it is mainly during the sixties, with the consumer society and the exponential growth of crime within almost all countries, that the urban security policies were affected by important changes.  The causes of this crisis are socioeconomic but also urban (individual rather than public means of transport, double-income families and the predominance of the nuclear family, separation of working places from homes and leisure spaces, badly-equipped poor districts). However the urban causes are not linked to the size of the cities but to their management capacity.

The crisis became deeper with the globalization. It is characterized by a more diversified criminality, the globalization of organized crime, the awareness of the social relevance of domestic violence, the growth of cyber crime, new types of violence (school and urban violence). This crisis generates some responses such as the multiple and heterogeneous police reforms, justice reform and the timid search for an alternative justice, the implementation of situational prevention, the growing of the private security systems and mainly the partnership between civil society and local authorities.

This present crisis happens in a new urban context with the urban sprawl, the increase of new third world metropolis, the protected gated communities, the extension of semi public areas, the decline of public spaces and the fragmentation of cities

Therefore the issue of security, as shown by numerous promising practices, has to be considered within the framework of urban governance which request the complementarities of prevention and control and which is based on the need of security networks.


Urban Environment
in the Context of Development:
The Case of Southeast Asia

by Adrian Atkinson

In various times and places in history cities have been planned and built in ways that eliminated the kinds of problems we see in the burgeoning cities of the South today.  In the Occident, deteriorating conditions in the growing industrial cities in the 19th Century were confronted by social movements that forced changes in political decision-making that brought adequate resources to bear to solve most of the environmental problems that were then being experienced.  The present liberal sensibilities that are influencing those responsible for planning and management of cities in the South are, however, poorly oriented to dealing with the environmental problems that are arising.

Today, in the global South, urbanisation is rapid with inadequate attention or resources being directed to combating deteriorating urban environments.  On the one hand the influence of the northern environmental movements is not directed towards urban issues because these are seen as largely solved in the North.  Furthermore, development agencies have hitherto focused little attention or available resources to solve urban environmental problems.

Typically, southern cities suffer from inadequate and insanitary water supply, poor sanitation, frequent flooding and poor solid waste management, all of which contribute to poor health conditions particularly amongst low-income groups.  Escalating traffic problems combine in some cities with industrial emissions resulting in air pollution that also affects local health conditions negatively.

The paper looks in some detail at the current efforts to ameliorate urban environmental problems in cities of two Southeast Asian countries, Indonesia and Vietnam.  Here one can see some attempts to improve matters in a situation where, however, urban growth is outrunning human and financial capacities to create healthy and environmentally pleasant cities.  There is also some political resistance to accepting low but adequate standards due to unrealistic hopes that in the near future the resources will be available for the expensive solutions that have been applied in Singapore and cities in the North which, however, have far more resources they can devote to solving urban environmental problems.

Finally, almost no attention is yet being paid to looming longer-term sustainability problems.  Particularly, many of the major cities in Southeast Asia that are already chronically flood-prone will not be able to withstand the impacts of sea level rise as a result of global warming.  Furthermore, rising energy prices to be expected in the coming decades due to depletion of resources are likely to create havoc in the local economies and may well jeopardise the viability of these cities at a quite fundamental level.


Democratic Decentralisation at the Crossroads.
A Case Study of India

by Isabelle Milbert

Decentralisation policies, implemented at the heart of state structure, have been unanimously praised for 30 years.  They are meant to be able to bring democracy and participation at the local level, thus enabling a new approach of citizenship and public life in urban centres. The history of the implementation of decentralization policies shows that the decision makers (cooperation agencies, States, funding authorities) have anticipated that the transfer of functions and funds to the local level and training of municipal staff  would result in a local government more accountable  to the people. 

The Indian example illustrates particularly well the Central government’s goodwill and the positive impact of decentralisation on democracy. Citizens’ participation has found new avenues for development. However, a number of prerequisites could not be achieved: the strengthening of mayors‘ status, functional clarity, the transfer of essential functions and funding and staff training have not reached a sufficient level of achievement. Often there is dissatisfaction about the very uneven and usually poor performance of urban local bodies in the main fields of urban management, such as town-planning, habitat, environment, fight against poverty, heritage conservation in particular. In many cases, citizens associations and  private structures have come to position themselves as the representatives of a local efficient management, in opposition to the municipal methods of management.


Possibilities, challenges, and lessons
from the urban reform process in Brazil

Edesio Fernandes

This article describes the main aspects of the process of urban reform in Brazil. Following a brief account of the historical context, the article will discuss the new legal-urban order that has been created in Brazil since the promulgation of the 1988 Federal Constitution; special emphasis will be placed on the provisions of the internationally acclaimed 2001 City Statute. The article will then describe the new institutional apparatus that resulted from the creation of the Ministry of Cities and the National Council of Cities in 2003, as well as discussing some of the main problems affecting these new institutions since their creation. As a conclusion, it will be argued that, while significant progress has already been made towards the realization of the urban reform agenda in Brazil, the socioeconomic, political, institutional and legal disputes over the control of the land development processes have increased. The renewal of social mobilisation at all governmental levels is crucial for the consolidation, and expansion, of this new inclusive and participatory legal-urban order.

Above all, the Brazilian experience clearly shows that urban reform requires a precise, and often elusive, combination of renewed social mobilisation, legal reform, and institutional change. This is a long, open-ended process, the political quality of which resides ultimately in the Brazilian society’s capacity to effectively assert its legal right to be present and actively participate in the decision-making process. The rules of the game of urban development and management have already been significantly altered ; what remains to be seen is whether or not the newly created legal and political spaces will be used at all governmental levels in such a way as to advance the urban reform agenda in the country. There is still a long way to go in Brazil, and many are the serious obstacles to be overcome.


Planetary urbanisation
with or without cities

by Thierry Paquot

Through the analysis of the different kinds of global urbanisation and the examination of the connected challenges, the author describes three phases in the history of cities. In sum, the first phase is the creation of cities sustained by agricultural surplus. The second phase corresponds to the globalisation of capitalism and of trade cities connected to the transcontinental network. The third one begins with industrialisation and supports the expansion of the modern world, which bears witness to the process of urbanisation across continents – primarily in industrial countries and then in the third world, with or without industrialisation.

Although our planet is now fully urbanised, the shape this takes varies widely. One may categorise five main forms of human establishments: the slum, the megacity, the global city, the gated community and the medium or intermediate city. Clearly, these five forms of urbanisation are not mutually exclusive and easily hybridize themselves, and become inextricably linked. They translate the urban issue, one of the four issues that world inhabitants have to solve at the onset of the twenty-first century. The other three are the social issue, the communicational issue and the environmental issue. These four issues have cumulated each other and are so inextricably linked that it is increasingly unfeasible to address them separately. The author concludes suggesting some paths to an ecological urbanisation because earth is home to humans and all forms of life. 

Retour au texte de l'auteur: Jean-Marc Fontan, sociologue, UQAM Dernière mise à jour de cette page le lundi 2 juin 2014 12:04
Par Jean-Marie Tremblay, sociologue
professeur associé, Université du Québec à Chicoutimi.

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