Seizing opportunities for urban change: full transcript
Host [00:00:00] You are listening to the Make Change Happen podcast series from the International Institute for Environment and Development, IIED.
In today's episode, as we approach the 2020 World Urban Forum, urban experts David Satterthwaite and Anna Walnycki look back over how our work with urban federations started and has grown.
They explain why cities must be both prioritised and seen as places of opportunity if we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Liz Carlile [00:00:32] Hello and welcome to the latest edition of our podcast: Make Change Happen. And today we're going to be looking at urban issues, and I'm delighted to have with me in the room David Satterthwaite of IIED.
David, you and I have worked [together] for many years, so I shall be looking forward to hearing your take on some of the issues we're going to talk to you today.
But to give our listeners a bit of background, you have… I suppose you call yourself a development planner? But you've had a lifetime of researching and documenting and thinking about the scale and depth of urban poverty. And what, you know, the important way of representing the reality for those vulnerable and poor communities, which are often, as we think, misrepresented by kind of global institutions. I know you've looked at the current and political role of the urban poor federations, and we'll be looking forward to hearing about that.
And also that you've had a long time now looking at climate change and the implications of the everyday hazards of climate change, as well as the more crisis-related situation for urban cities.
You yourself I know are currently a visiting professor at the Development Planning Unit in University College London, and here in the IIED family, we're delighted to say that you've been the winner of the Volvo Environment prize in 2004 and also part of the IPCC team, who were honoured with a Nobel Prize in 2007.
David Satterthwaite [00:02:13] Thank you.
Liz Carlile [00:02:15] I also wanted to say to listeners that David has spent a long time working with the journal Environment & Urbanization, and this is one of the most widely read and respected journals in this sector.
And I think one of the things that we are most proud of – and I know has been of particular mission for you, David – is to really get a good number, a big number of contributors, from the global South and that, we feel we've achieved. If you'd like to say more about that later, please do.
Anna, Anna Walnycki…
Anna Walnycki [00:02:55] Hi.
Liz Carlile [00:02:56] You are a senior researcher here in IIED. And I think I understand you call yourself an anthropologist, and you've been working in inclusive urbanisation. And I hope too that throughout this programme sort of what we mean by inclusive urbanisation will come to the fore.
But my understanding is it's looking at basic service provision in the global South, looking at some of the practical and strategic ways that low-income communities can work with local government and aid agencies to find practical, manageable solutions for water and sanitation.
My name's Liz Carlile, I'm director of communications at IIED, and I have the pleasure of hosting us through our time together.
David, I'm going to start with you. We do go back a long way. We were working together, I think, for the same group of people in the ‘70s. Jorge Hardoy, RP Misra, Omer El Agraa and Jacques Bugnicourt are all names that I really remember. I worked with Jorge as he wrote every week to this group of people building up this network of urban researchers across the globe.
But you know this much better than I. Tell me a little bit about how that started and how far we've come.
David Satterthwaite [00:04:27] When Jorge Hardoy was invited to found a Human Settlements research programme at IIED, he said on two conditions. One is that we would work with and through a very strong partnership of collaborators in Africa or Asia and Latin America. And the other is that he could return to Argentina when political circumstances permitted.
He left for Argentina in 1979 and we jointly manage the research programme between us.
Liz Carlile [00:04:55] And that's the time when I was working with you guys and just seeing the amount of collaboration and the amount of togetherness was really very inspiring.
David Satterthwaite [00:05:07] But what we realised is, you know, the universities we worked with did fantastic work. We still have very strong research partnerships in the global South with the universities. But we also observed that the changes were being driven much more by organised groups of the urban poor, and then by formal federations of slum dwellers and federations of shack dwellers and their partnership with local government.
So when we started the research programme, it was thinking that national governments, international agencies were our natural partner. Now we believe our natural partners are organisations of the poor and the local governments they work with.
Liz Carlile [00:05:49] And so that was the sort of direct experience of Jorge returning to Argentina and his wife Anna's work in the local communities in Buenos Aires.
David Satterthwaite [00:05:59] In 1986 Anna Hardoy began to give advice to informal settlement dwellers, and this then developed into a whole programme of work where our sister institution in Buenos Aires develop these programmes of support. We noticed their importance; we tended to think in the ‘70s that we had to change national governments and we had to change international agencies. These were the change agents we should work with.
Through Anna's work and then through our work with, what 30, 31, 32, federations of slums and shack dwellers, we now focus much more on grassroots organisations and their partnerships with local governments, and their capacity to make change happen.
Liz Carlile [00:06:43] So, Anna, what do we mean by informal settlements? I'm just thinking it would be good to share with listeners. We're so used to using that and we know exactly what it is, but what does it mean for someone who's not so familiar?
Anna Walnycki [00:06:55] OK, well, there are a couple of terms, I guess, that get used. The term slum, according to the United Nations, 45% of urban households in developing countries live in slums, and they're essentially settlements that lack improved water, sanitation, housing.
If we take a slightly broader term, informal settlements, I guess we're starting to think a bit more about the nature of tenure, and the legality of the settlement that we're in.
But I guess more generally, if you think about the lived experience and who's living there, these are the poorest people in the city who can't afford formal housing, livelihoods or the basic services that are provided formally in the city.
These are communities that are at the forefront of environmental injustices. They might not have access to appropriate sanitation, or they might be downstream from industrial polluters that are in the city.
Increasingly, I think as David touched on, they're vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
So poor housing, lack of drainage, means that a heavy rain storm can wash away your housing, your possessions, and even your means to a livelihood.
Liz Carlile [00:08:05] So we know that these communities in cities have all kinds of constraints and the things that you have just described. But we also know that they are really good at self-organisation and can work together and develop their own motivation and their own relationships with other stakeholders.
And I think, David, you were beginning to talk about that. We've worked with federations of slum or shack dwellers in 32 nations. That's a very considerable movement of people.
Can you tell us a little bit about the innovation or the things that you have learned and documented from that experience?
David Satterthwaite [00:08:45] Well, the federation started in India where there was the women slum dwellers and the women pavement dwellers formed informal savings groups, and then began to visit each other, learn from each other, support each other. So what was lots of individual savings groups then became a federation.
And this remarkable man, Jockin [Arputham], who was head of the National Slum Dwellers Federation, realised the power of these women savings groups and supported them. So you had this alliance between Mahila Milan, the women savings groups and the national Slum Dwellers Federation.
We got to hear about this in 1990 when Sheela Patel, who had supported this whole process, happened to be in England. And learning about the process, learning about the methodologies, they use, this capacity to do surveys and enumerations, the capacity to broker agreements with local government, that then intrigued the housing activists in South Africa when they were thinking, what should they do with the apartheid government being replaced by a representative government?
Members of Mahila Milan and the Indian Slum Dwellers Federation were at some key meetings in South Africa. And what they said is that, ‘Don't wait for government to support you, you have to be organised. Even if a government supports you in theory, you have to be organised to negotiate the best deals’.
And so, cutting a very long story short, the South African Federation was set up. Then slowly, well, actually no, very quickly the idea has permeated. So you had women's savings groups forming federations – Zimbabwe, Namibia, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya – very successfully. Sierra Leone, Philippines… I'm probably missing several.
Liz Carlile [00:10:46] But I think the point you're making, which is wonderful, is there's a kind of cross-country exchange of ideas. It was a sharing of experience.
David Satterthwaite [00:10:54] Yes, and a solidarity.
Liz Carlile [00:10:57] And presumably the solidarity was a very important part of that.
David Satterthwaite [00:11:00] Hugely important. You hear constantly federation members saying that ‘the federation members are my sisters’.
Liz Carlile [00:11:09] So a real sense of this self-motivation, a group growing together over the world, being the force for their own change.
David Satterthwaite [00:11:17] Absolutely. But also to remind us that, you know, they can do amazing things. They've done profiles of thousands of informal settlements, hundreds of cities. They've built homes, they've done upgrading at scale. They can put in storm drain sewers and water supply in their own settlement, but they can't produce the mains to which these have to connect.
So it's when they organise to do things themselves, it was also being organised to show local governments what they're capable of.
Now there's hundreds of cities where partnerships are formed between the federations and the local governments. And these, to me, are much the most exciting examples of real change.
Liz Carlile [00:12:02] And these are things that can be taken to scale because they're sort of vibrant collaborations…
David Satterthwaite [00:12:08] Yes.
Liz Carlile [00:12:08] …between key stakeholders?
David Satterthwaite [00:12:10] There's two key international players in this. One is SDI - Slum/Shack Dwellers International - which is the small umbrella group that supports all the federations, and all the federations are affiliates of it. And they, for instance, manage the constant interchanges between countries, and funding coming in to support the federations.
The other is the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights, which has been supporting grassroots organisations and savings groups for decades. And [it] has an ambitious programme to support them to work at city scale.
The method is quite simple. They will fund six, seven, or eight small local projects driven entirely by the inhabitants of the informal settlement, and those seven or eight then go to local government and negotiate with them, and try to come up with a city-wide solution, not the typical local government who handpicks one solution here and there and ignores the other 120.
Anna Walnycki [00:13:18] And I think beyond the really impressive work that's happening at the settlement and the city level, there have been really interesting attempts to talk to global narratives that really shape the way that we understand poverty in the global North and beyond the settlements and cities that these federations work in.
And a really interesting example of this is the work that the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights has done on poverty lines. So it's quite clear that international poverty lines don't take into consideration the real cost of living in cities.
Liz Carlile [00:13:50] Just to stop you for a minute, what do we mean by a poverty line?
Anna Walnycki [00:13:53] So the World Bank states that the poverty line sits at US$1.90 currently, and that's the same for everyone. And so some of the groups that are affiliated with the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights wanted to interrogate this assumption. And essentially they collectively decided that they needed to be clear on what it really means to be poor in the city.
So do you have access to water? Do you have access to food? Can you send your child to school? And they did a series of workshops and focus groups with communities all over Asia – in cities all over Asia – and they came up with a multidimensional series of indicators that would vary from context to context.
But it was really, really important in demonstrating that this poverty line of $1.90 a day means nothing in a given city. And instead you really need to break down: what is the cost of accessing all these basic services and the means that you need to get by on a day-to-day basis?
Liz Carlile [00:14:59] So it builds a completely different picture.
Anna Walnycki [00:15:01] Absolutely.
Liz Carlile [00:15:03] And that sophisticated thinking through what the context is, what the reality is, is where people can get to real change?
Anna Walnycki [00:15:11] Absolutely.
Liz Carlile [00:15:19] So I think it's great actually to hear how far we've come, you know, over the years that you've been talking about, David, and the amount of documenting of different examples –particularly in environment and urbanisation, as we've talked about earlier, a wealth of information. A terrific progress.
But, of course, we still have a very long way to go. And with all this talk of the kind of new urban agenda, and the ambitious goals that we have in the SDGs and the Paris Agreement, what's the chance of this? Where do we go from here?
David Satterthwaite [00:15:58] Well, we have decades of commitments made within the United Nations that are not fulfilled.
We should remember in 1976 the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements made a commitment that everyone would get water and sanitation by 1990 – or as soon after that as possible.
The Sustainable Development Goals are impressive in that I don't think anyone can disagree with the goals. It's also nice not to have them going over 300 pages. They're short and they’re concise.
But these are national governments making commitments within the United Nations and they will not be held to account. They ignore the fact mostly that it's actually city governments, local governments that are needed to drive the change. And they almost always ignore the federations.
The new urban agenda doesn't mention mayors once in its 66 pages.
Liz Carlile [00:16:51] And they are critical?
David Satterthwaite [00:16:52] Absolutely critical, but they're also a very critical part of the success stories of the last 10 to 15 years in particular cities.
And, you know, making statements about what you want to do, but not saying by whom, with what, and who's going to cover the cost. Almost no acknowledgement of the importance of the federations. We’ve still got a far too top-down national government-dominated system, and it's been very difficult to change that.
I wanted city governments to make their commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals. It's national governments that make those commitments, but most of the responsibility for them lies with local governments. In the same way that local governments have committed to the Paris Agreement, even if their national government doesn't support it.
It would have been great if city governments had committed to the SDGs and then to set up the monitoring to show their progress in this.
Liz Carlile [00:17:47] And again, that's because where the change is really happening?
David Satterthwaite [00:17:51] Yes.
Liz Carlile [00:17:51] It's at that level.
So we're a few days away now, I think, from the World Urban Forum, it's going to be in February. And again, another huge big sort of global meeting, a conference, you know, is this the place where change can happen? I think we believe not, but it is the place where the forum can look at and discuss together a sort of exchange of views and experiences on sustainable urbanisation.
And I know that they want to look at the - they want to have that perspective of cities of opportunity - connecting culture and innovation. And a lot of what you've been both talking about this morning is exactly that. It's where culture and innovation and a local energy comes together for change. So this is an opportunity for us to talk about this.
I know we're doing a project with UN-Habitat and it's UN-Habitat who hosts the World Urban Forum. I know we've been looking at, or working with them on, a project, a pro-poor planning of climate resilience in marginalised neighbourhoods. So I know there's a willingness and a hopefulness to really bring marginalised communities into the centre of debate.
But what are some of the innovations that we would like to tell that audience?
David Satterthwaite [00:19:17] The international funding agencies could achieve so much more if they developed the means to support the local. At the moment, all the decisions are taken at national level and international level. And I watch the federations and see how will they use money.
What we ought to have is a fund for grassroots initiatives and partnerships with local government in every city in Africa, Asia and Latin America. And the funding needs are pretty modest.
I always dream that we just need 1% of global development assistance going to local funds that are accountable to, and supportive of, grassroots organisations and federations. That will be about a billion dollars.
Liz Carlile [00:19:59] And that's an amazing thought, isn't it? I mean, we think about that all the time in IIED, is getting money to where it matters.
David Satterthwaite [00:20:05] Absolutely.
Liz Carlile [00:20:06] And I think people tend to think of these things as huge concepts, but I think the point you're making, which is a really important one, is it doesn't need loads of money. It just needs money in the right places to be used by the right people.
David Satterthwaite [00:20:20] With the right accountabilities.
Liz Carlile [00:20:22] Yeah.
David Satterthwaite [00:20:22] Accountability is down to the people that these are meant to support.
Liz Carlile [00:20:26] And those kinds of channels, or pipes, or journeys of money are very difficult to manage. But that's the big thing that we want changed.
David Satterthwaite [00:20:35] Yeah.
Liz Carlile [00:20:41] Anna, can you tell us a little bit about… some examples of that, perhaps, in terms of sort of local participatory and inclusive planning? I mean, those are also ways in which we have to work differently.
Anna Walnycki [00:20:54] So just picking up on what David said about getting money to where it matters, and the sorts of processes that that finance could support.
There's some really, really innovative work happening in a settlement in Nairobi right now, Mukuru, where they've been able to negotiate access to land. There are around 300,000 people living there, and communities are part of a holistic settlement-wide upgrading process.
They're working in partnership with local governments to develop a collective approach that will not only improve access to basic services and housing, but it’s also promoting climate resilience and starting to think about mitigation. So it's very, very innovative.
The aim overall is to deliver climate-resilient, inclusive, low-carbon development, as well as access to housing, basic services and livelihoods.
And what does that mean? What does that look like in practice? It means thinking through the efficiency of solid waste management. It means separating out food waste, organics and recycling with benefits for livelihoods; it means thinking through cooler housing designs; it means providing green space – designing green space into settlements; it means careful consideration of high-density neighbourhoods and how that plays out in a city; it's mixed use development, so there’s housing and opportunities for livelihoods; pedestrianisation; consideration of cycling; solar power for street lighting; and use of LPG – liquified petroleum gas – for stoves in cooking.
So you can see that every aspect of people's lives and livelihoods are being thought through, but also with an attempt to kind of adapt and mitigate climate change.
Liz Carlile [00:22:44] I think what amazes me is, I think you said at the beginning, you're talking about a community of 300,000 people.
Anna Walnycki [00:22:49] Absolutely.
Liz Carlile [00:22:50] That is a big community. And what you're talking about, I think, is bringing all those voices together in a kind of collaborative engagement that addresses all these issues, but together.
David Satterthwaite [00:23:03] Well it’s the genius of the Kenyan Homeless People's Federation. They've got long experience in doing this in smaller settlements, but this is certainly a pretty dramatic increase in scale.
Liz Carlile [00:23:16] And are they going to be successful?
David Satterthwaite [00:23:19] Well, they've got the support of the local government and, yes, I think they will be successful. There will always be niggles and difficulties and small conflicts, but they've managed to generate an amazing consensus in this whole process.
Liz Carlile [00:23:32] And it's a terrific example to be able to share with others for a future.
David Satterthwaite [00:23:37] Yes, absolutely.
Liz Carlile [00:23:38] I mean, one of the things that I think, you know, the World Urban Forum wants to see is an acknowledgement that cities are a place of opportunity. And what you've just described seems to be a massive opportunity.
David Satterthwaite [00:23:52] Well, it's making cities create the opportunities. Prior to the upgrading, it was just struggling to stay alive.
Liz Carlile [00:24:01] And it's really… it's nice to hear a positive example about the potential of cities, you know? We tend to think of them as chaotic, as overfilled with people, we see them as challenges. It's nice to see that these can be places where great collaborations are born and changes can be made together.
David Satterthwaite [00:24:21] Exactly the point that Somsook Boonyabancha, the head of the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights, has been making for 30 years.
Liz Carlile [00:24:27] Well, we must keep making it.
So the other thing that we like to think about is, where should change happen? We think this importance of looking at local action for kind of global change and sharing that, but where are the places that you think now?
I'm going to kind of close us with a thought from both of you on, you know, what is the next big change you want to see, Anna?
Anna Walnycki [00:24:55] I guess it's just interesting to note that a lot of the innovation that happens in Latin American cities that drove the democratic national processes that unfolded during the 2000s, and given the changing nature of democracy, and the new leaders that are coming in in certain parts of Latin America, we really hope that those cities can continue to hold some of those democratic processes, and shape some of the national processes.
But I think it would be really great to think about how the climate finance that's coming online can be made available to grassroots organisations in cities.
It's clear that communities in informal settlements are on the frontline of climate change, and they're also starting to respond and adapt and even mitigate some of the impacts of climate change.
So trying to think carefully, making the most of the fact that the COP meeting will be in Glasgow this year. What can organisations like IIED do to connect some of these grassroots organisations to some of these bigger debates around climate finance, adaptation and mitigation, I think?
Liz Carlile [00:26:03] And how optimistic do you feel about that?
Anna Walnycki [00:26:06] I mean, we're in February, so I'm fairly optimistic. We’ve got time.
Liz Carlile [00:26:10] That’s good, we have got time.
Anna Walnycki [00:26:10] We’ve got time to nail this.
Liz Carlile [00:26:11] But you think there's maybe a groundswell rising behind this idea?
Anna Walnycki [00:26:17] Well, I think it's interesting given that you have social movements like Extinction Rebellion. They’ve kind of, they're British, they've carved out a space for social movements to talk about climate change. Maybe it's time to bring social movements from the global South to the table.
And I think there's scope for organisations like IIED to facilitate that in the next few months.
Liz Carlile [00:26:35] And such good examples that we've talked about today that we can share.
Anna Walnycki [00:26:39] Absolutely.
Liz Carlile [00:26:40] David, closing remarks from you. The floor is open.
David Satterthwaite [00:26:44] The two groups that I believe will generate most change are city governments and grassroots organisations and federations.
We've had some fabulous mayors in the last 15 to 20 years, in Europe, in North America, but also very much in Latin America. And these come in response to the return to democracy, real decentralisation. And the whole new generation of professionals came to see that they wanted to be mayor and they wanted to drive change, but within very strong democratic accountabilities.
You also see the spread of participatory budgeting round the world, but mostly in Latin America, which is a commitment by a city government not only to allow each neighbourhood to define their priorities, but to hold government to account for all its expenditures.
The other, of course, is the grassroots organisations and federations, and the network of NGOs that support them. This is community-driven, but as mentioned earlier, it depends critically on local government – seeing them as a positive force, learning their capabilities, and then forming partnerships. Partnerships where there's even joint control of local funding.
Liz Carlile [00:27:59] So again, the importance, I suppose, of democracy,
David Satterthwaite [00:28:04] Absolutely.
Liz Carlile [00:28:04] Of local government, of people working together, is critical.
David Satterthwaite [00:28:07] Yes.
Liz Carlile [00:28:08] And do you have a sense that there is enough of that good environment in which these kind of initiatives can proliferate? Are you feeling positive about that?
David Satterthwaite [00:28:19] Well, you read all the stories of success and of ingenuity, and you become optimistic. And then you realise that these are outliers, that these aren't necessarily generating change elsewhere, and you get pessimistic. And then you go to a meeting of the federation, and again, you get optimistic – because the drive, the innovation, the insights they bring to development are what really should be making change happen.
Liz Carlile [00:28:51] That's really good to hear, and I think it does fill us with hope because certainly at IIED we’ve spent a long time sharing these examples. Thank you very much, both. This has been a really great conversation. It's only a short conversation and we hope a good introduction to our listeners.
May the meeting in February really demonstrate cities as an opportunity, a place of innovation and change. That would be something we would feel very happy to see emerge from that debate.
Host [00:29:24] You can find out more about Anna and David's work, and the work of our wider human settlements team at www.iied.org/urban. We greatly value our listeners’ opinions, so please leave us your feedback and comments, and feel free to share this podcast with your colleagues.
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You have been listening to the Make Change Happen podcast from the International Institute for Environment and Development, IIED. This episode was generously funded by UN-Habitat as part of its project on pro-poor planning for climate resilience in marginalised neighbourhoods.
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