Is the Right to the City a Right or a Revolution?


Written by Magali Fricaudet


From a catastrophist point of view, we could probably say that the unprecedented rate of urbanization that the world is currently experiencing is a realization of the more destructive tendencies of capitalism, where life is at serious stake. Indeed, urbanization seems to have no end, as the ideology of growth predominates. In 1920, urban centres represented just 30 per cent of the world population; the proportion of urban dwellers over rural ones will be inverted around 2030—rising to 66 per cent according to the UN Human Settlement Programme, UN-Habitat.1 In that context, since the late 1990s, Henri Lefebvre’s “right to the city” has appeared as a claim among a diversity of voices—from neighbourhood struggles to local government calls for local democracy—that denounces the “competitive city model”.

As cities increasingly represent centres of capital accumulation, and the commodification of life in all its aspects, Lefebvre’s The Right to the City is all the more poignant as an inspiration for the “urban revolution” that he called for as a social practice. Conceiving the right to the city based on its use value, instead of its exchange value, as a way to free citizens from private property and spatialized class relations, has influenced a diversity of interpretations and practices that share the goal to take back the city as a common good—a place for collective emancipation and freedom. At the same time, the exercise of municipal power inspired by the right to the city, in the case of municipalist experiences in Spain since 2014, have also shown the limits of realizing such rights at the local level, as well as the contradictions in exercising institutional power in the hegemonic capitalist city model.


The Paradigm of the Urban Miracle, or How Global Capitalism Has Reached Massive Consent

The preamble of the “New Urban Agenda”, adopted by UN-Habitat member States at Quito in October 2016, enshrines the blindness of the socalled “international community” through describing urbanization as an unprecedented opportunity for humanity, and cities as great engines of growth.

The current hegemonic view of cities corresponds to what Bookchin denounced as a poor “spatial and demographic” conception, “viewing the city as an area occupied by a closely interlocked, densely populated human community”—a definition in “quantitative terms”. That is, totally in contradiction with his view on the city, which he considered to be a “uniquely human, ethical and ecological community whose members often lived in balance with nature and created institutional forms that sharpened human self-awareness, fostered rationality, created a secularized culture, enhanced individuality and established institutional forms of freedom” (Bookchin, Urbanization against Cities, Black Rose Books, 1992, Introduction, p. XIV). In Bookchin’s perception, citification does not mean an opposition between nature and human beings. Referring to what Cicero called a “second nature”, that is “a humanly made nature that exists in balance with the first nature” (ibid, Introduction, p. X), citification is a realization of the natural mutualist tendency of humans to gather and form freely consenting communities. This is why Bookchin denounced urbanization as a result of the accumulation of power by some elites, based on individualism and endless consumption as a “cancerous phenomenon”.

Today, cities are where 80 per cent of global GDP is produced and, although cities are responsible for 70 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions and inequalities at city levels have grown faster than at national levels in the past two decades,2 UN-Habitat affirms that “good management and planning processes” could counter these negative externalities.

Megacities have grown at an unprecedented rate; in 2015, there were 503 cities of more than one million inhabitants, compared with 162 in 1975. Large metropolitan areas are key hubs of value in the international economy, representing huge markets and extremely rapid flows of capital. They are strategic places of specialization within the international division of work, as some cities in the global south, such as Dhaka, Bangladesh, host a very cheap workforce with limited labour rights, while others, such as London, New York or Tokyo, compete to be centres of high-level decisionmaking within the markets and where elites are concentrated. Cities are central to the capitalist economy as they also represent huge markets, where “consumption” patterns belie high levels of inequality. Most of the time, the mass of “urban poor” settled in the “informal neighbourhoods” of peripheral areas are compelled to pay higher prices for basic services, which the public sector does not provide.

With 1 billion people living in slums among over 3 billion urban dwellers, cities have become the only viable option for a large number of internal and external migrants, pushed around by global climate change, and free trade agreements imposed by the European Union, Canada and United States on their countries, devastating their agriculture. Most people move to urban areas with the hope of accessing the kinds of services and opportunities concentrated in cities.

As David Harvey (2003) writes, city economies are also largely based on a process of “accumulation by dispossession”, meaning that in front of the high demand for urban land and housing, the unregulated real estate market is realizing huge profits on people’s homes, creating massive segregation processes. Indeed, the real estate market was so high in the global markets during the subprime crisis of 2008 that it marked the beginning of a global financial and economic crisis, unprecedented since the 1930s. According to Saskia Sassen (2016), the huge flows of international capital onto real estate markets in some metropolises, such as London, are now provoking much further consequences than gentrification: they replace traditional elites with international ones (Sassen, 2016)—the famous 1 per cent that controls 82 per cent of the wealth (Oxfam, 2018). The UN Special Rapporteur on housing rights, in her report of February 2017, commented:

The value of global real estate is about US$ 217 trillion, nearly 60 per cent of the value of all global assets, with residential real estate comprising 75 per cent of the total. … Housing is at the centre of an historic structural transformation in global investment and the economies of the industrialized world with profound consequences for those in need of adequate housing. (Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to nondiscrimination in this context A/HRC/34/51, p. 3)

At the same time, fierce urbanization has led to a progressive concentration of power in some decentralized metropolitan areas, and resistance movements have developed locally and globally.


Lefebvre and the Philosophy of Urban Revolution

In the late 1960s, from the radical urban sociologist, the “Marxian” Henri Lefebvre, The Right to the City called for “the right to urban life, to a renewed centrality, to places of meetings and exchanges, to a rhythm of life that allows the full and entire use of these moments and places”.3 For Lefebvre, the right to the city refers both to a social practice of the working class that defends the use value of the city, instead of its exchange value, and to a narrative that he calls “urban revolution”. Lefebvre refers to a post-modern acceptation of the working class as the “dispossessed of the city”. Lefebvre writes, “As one hundred years ago,4 although in new conditions, the working class gather the interests (beyond time and superficiality) of the whole society and first of all, of those who inhabit” (Ibid, p. 108).5

He refers to the inhabitants as suffering the misery of “everydayness”, as managed by the bureaucratic bourgeoisie leading the city. The everydayness of the students, of the intellectuals, of the workers, of the colonized who go every day from their house to the station to take a crowded train or bus to go to the office and go back home to begin again the day after. He pictures the generalized misery of the masses that escape or dissimulate the poorness of everyday life through the satisfactions of urban society, such as commodified culture, hobbies and even nature.

Lefebvre denounces urbanism and the functionalist approach of cities as a political process that underpins the financial sector, which together produces space and alienated time, thus producing power. The technocratic approach of capitalist power to produce the city and space separates the functions of life originally gathered in cities in order to produce and reproduce class relations.

In Marxist theory, social classes are defined as a function of their position in the relations of production between capital and work in industrial society. The modern urbanization phenomenon makes this frame of analysis burst. Lefebvre introduces space and the production of space as the centre of the production of social relations and of the reproduction of the relations of production, because of the increasing exchange value of space. In that regard, western cities, from the political cities of antiquity and the commercial cities of the middle ages have suffered from the increase of exchange relations created by capitalist elites. The critical turning point of the city is the process of industrialization–urbanization at the end of the eighteenth century, which made the city burst, leading to its expansion in a dialectic phenomenon of explosion–implosion. So space and inertia explains the survival of capitalism and the eternally renewed expectation of the final crisis.

Rational planning of the production, organization of the territory, industrialization and urbanization are essential features of the “socialization of society”, which fix predetermined functions in the space of the city and allow it to maintain order. In that regard, urban struggles, through reowning the city, are strategic in the struggle against capital (Claire Revol, 2017).

Thus the space of cities depends on class strategies that produce a segregation of urban spaces, demolishing the idea of cities as shared common spaces, and of the centrality of the notion of the social form of the city— one of gathering and coexistence. In that sense, as Bookchin does, Lefebvre shows that throughout history, cities have been the work of societies, spaces that relate to usage and urban life instead of the product of an exchange value. The right to the city is a claim for transforming life through transforming cities, creating them as collective pieces of work. Hence, the praxis of the right to the city refers to the ideas of struggle and celebration at the same time. Lefebvre used to refer to the creative dimension of the Commune of Paris as a way for the working classes to take back the city that Haussman’s work had spoilt from people. Against the functionalist city that separates the diverse dimensions of life in the space, he invites us to take back citizenship through creativity, spontaneity and self-organization processes of re-owning the city. In that sense, he is in tune with the May 68 movement.

Indeed, Lefebvre was a researcher and teacher at the University of Nanterre, a newly built campus located between the slums of the Parisian working class periphery. The May 68 movement really began on 22 March 1968 in the University of Nanterre when a group of students occupied the administration tower of the campus, denouncing the arbitrary authority of the so-called “Mandarin”, the omnipotent administrative council of the university led by professors. His group of researchers from the philosophy department of Nanterre inspired the 68 movement. When referring to the idea of celebration and enjoyment of the city, his thought is situated in an insurrectional and creative movement, strongly marked by leftist ideals that demand freedom and new models against the class domination of work and consumption.


The Emergence of the Right to the City as a Global Claim for Socio-Spatial Justice

Since the 1970s, Lefebvre’s ideas have acted as a reference for diverse forms of insurgent citizenship that claims ownership of the city—in front of massive investments that evict people from cities, in front of gentrification processes. They also constitute a theoretical basis for movements that occupy public space against its privatization. The South African movement Abahlali baseMjondolo,6 inspired by Lefebvre, defends the legitimacy of squatters to occupy urban space. They argue against the interpretation by the government of the World Bank’s slogan “cities without slums”, which has led to evictions through entitling the owners of shacks (but not dwellers) as land tenants and through privatizing the management of services in renewed neighbourhoods. In Durban, 2006, this movement assembled 50,000 shack dwellers from across the country to fight for land reforms and dignity. They occupy land as a way of reclaiming the dispossession– urbanization process, and denounce the accumulation of land by elites, as well as the inaction of the South African State to fulfil social housing programmes. The anti-State7 process approach of this movement clearly fits within Lefebvre’s vision (Marianne Morange, 2017).

At the same time, Lefebvre insisted that the most revolutionary principles of the right to the city would include land reform, as this would have occurred during revolutions of the agrarian age, where the tenancy of land was key to freeing peasants and agrarian workers from landlords. For Lefebvre, the collective tenure of land in cities against private property, which maintains the monopoly of production of space under financial interests, is one of the key issues of the urban revolution.8

The social function of land and the city as a strong feature of the right to the city has inspired the claim of many unentitled occupants, mainly in Latin America where urban rights and human rights have a long common history. Supported by NGOs such as Habitat International Coalition (HIC) in their struggle to stay in the city and be recognized as city producers, the right to the city became a more holistic claim than the right to housing in the late 1990s. Promoted through the World Inhabitants Assembly during the Earth Summit of Rio in 1992 under the banner “cities for life, not for profit”, HIC developed a “World Charter for the Right to the City”, later adopted by social movements in the World Social Forum in 2005. The Charter was developed as an instrument to promote the recognition and legislation of human rights in an urban context and to change the narrative around the “urban poor” as beneficiaries of tiny neighbourhood improvement programmes. In the context of the Charter, the right to the city is defined as:

the equitable usufruct of cities within the principles of sustainability, democracy, equity, and social justice. It is the collective right of the inhabitants of cities, in particular of the vulnerable and marginalized groups, that confers upon them legitimacy of action and organization, based on their uses and customs, with the objective to achieve full exercise of the right to free self-determination and an adequate standard of living. The Right to the City is interdependent of all internationally recognized and integrally conceived human rights, and therefore includes all the civil, political, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights which are already regulated in the international human rights treaties. (World Charter for the Right to the City, Art. 2 )

The World Charter is a compromise, the result of its institutional purpose to serve as an advocacy tool aimed at introducing the right to the city in international, national and local legislation as an urban component of the “right to development” and as a way to protect people from the arbitrary power of city developers. This claim has received strong opposition from governments, mainly in international negotiations around the so-called “New Urban Agenda”, The Declaration of Quito (2016) where the inclusion of the right to the city and some of its principles, such as the social value of land and the city or the prevention of forced evictions, in the international document crystallized tense discussions between the richest countries (led by the US and the EU) and some Latin American countries, such as Mexico, Chile, and Ecuador.

In the meantime, by the end of the twentieth century, Lefebvre’s The Right to the City had inspired local and national legislations trying to counterbalance the commodification of land, housing and, most generally, the city. One of the most famous examples is the Brazilian Constitution of 1988, translated into the City Statute of 2001. The City Statute refers to the “social function of property”, introducing tools to control the land, facilitating the regularization of occupying people and establishing financial mechanisms to correct socio-spatial inequalities. In 2008, the Constitution of Ecuador enshrines the right to the city in the following words:

Persons have the right to fully enjoy the city and its public spaces, on the basis of principles of sustainability, social justice, respect for different urban cultures and a balance between the urban and rural sectors. Exercising the right to the city is based on the democratic management of the city, with respect to the social and environmental function of property and the city and with the full exercise of citizenship. (Art.11).

This institutionalization of the right to the city also questions the polysemiotic notion of rights that Lefebvre used. A right is essentially attached to all human beings as a guarantee against arbitrariness (civil and political rights) and a guarantee of decent life (economic, cultural and environmental rights). Rights are instruments protected and guaranteed by nation-states and aim at protecting people against the arbitrary power of those same states. Lefebvre’s initial conception was probably more performative in the sense of affirming a right as a social practice and a perspective for urban revolution. For Lefebvre, who was a dialectical thinker, “in difficult conditions, within this society that cannot totally oppose them but at the same time block them, rights are finding their way, defining civilization (rights are at the same time in and against society, through but often against culture.)”,9 he writes. At the same time, the polysemiotic nature of the word right intrinsically connects the right to the city with a diversity of interpretations and that is perhaps the more powerful meaning of the right to the city, although it could also be its main weakness as this makes it vulnerable to possible misunderstandings.

In a rough capitalist urbanization context, the right to the city is an inspiration for an approach that protects the use value against the voracious appetites of the markets. Are the experiences of municipalism relevant for the process of taking back the city against the long-lasting process of capitalist dispossession that the people of cities have suffered?


Municipalities: At the Forefront of the Right to the City?

From the beginning of the 2000s, under the lead of Porto Alegre and Barcelona City Hall, the locally elected Left took their place in parallel with the World Social Forum as a place to renew political views after the collapse of the Soviet bloc.

In that framework, locally elected representatives of urban social movements and NGOs enabled a dialogue that led to discussions around the narrative of the right to the city as an alternative to the “competitive and smart city” model. As a result of this process, the “Global Charter Agenda for Human Rights in the City”, adopted in 2011 in the framework of the organization United Cities and Local Governments,10 refers to the right to the city.

Later, in 2016, the right to the city became a common claim around the preparation of the Habitat III Summit. Through the Global Platform for the Right to the City,11 created by the HIC and Polis Institute (a Brazilian NGO that has supported the Brazilian movements of occupants in the city and pushed for the adoption of the City Statute), NGOs, searchers and local governments gathered to advocate for the inclusion of the right to the city in the New Urban Agenda.

In 2010, the Charter for the Right to the City of the city of Mexico, driven by social movements, represented a further step in the institutionalization of the right to the city. Without enough binding processes to translate it into concrete actions, it defines a framework of shared responsibility between the various actors within the city. The right to the city rests upon six principles:

1) respect, protection and realisation of all human rights (civic, political, economic, social, cultural and environmental);
2) the social function of property, land and the city;
3) the democratic governance of villages, towns and metropolitan areas, which supposes a strong decentralization framework;
4) recognition of the social production of habitat and of the social and solidarity-based nature of the economy, as supported by the social production of habitat;
5) democratic and collective management of common goods— environmental and cultural—through a global vision that is not limited by administrative boundaries;
6) the protection and improvement of public spaces, including infrastructure and community facilities, through supporting inhabitants’ initiatives and precluding privatization.

This reformist view of the right to the city has influenced the creation of community-based district improvement programmes, initiated by civil society organizations and then included as public policy. For example, Mexico City is often used as a reference against the World Bank doctrine of “cities without slums”. The translation of the right to the city into local public policies underlines the tensions that constitute the city, resulting in a very contradictory exercise of power by so-called progressive local governments.

Since the 2015 municipal elections in Spain, it seems that other narratives have appeared that affirm the centrality of the right to the city and the ownership of people before capitalist interests. After the occupations of places in 2011, the “indignados” rooted the movement into neighbourhood assemblies. In the Spanish municipal elections of 2014, in 60 towns and cities, local coalitions comprised of diverse struggles and movements and supported by leftist and ecological parties structured themselves to take the city back. Their organization was based on strong ethical codes to prevent corruption and to guarantee accountability of locally elected representatives, and on participatory programmes based on feminized politics in contrast to the conception of a concentrated and competitive exercise of power. Cities meant the possibility of changing everyday life, implementing mutualist and community-based solutions, which nation-states (with their promiscuous relationships with private interests) are incapable of. Spanish municipalism relies on the commons as a necessary alternative to the market. It organizes programmes that articulate movements and heterogeneous spaces of struggle, which have thus far acted in parallel (ecologists, activists for water as a common good, activists for the right to health and education, feminist groups, anti-racist movements, hackers, and supporters of free culture and of the neutrality of networks, defenders of social and solidarity economy, etc.) (Subirats, 2018).

Nevertheless, in more than three years of exercising power—sometimes based on weak majorities in the councils—their impact on the disastrous effects of the financialized economy have been limited. The structure of the administration based on rigid hierarchies and limited decentralization strongly limits their capacity for action. In Barcelona, for instance, the team of Ada Colau (the mayor elected on a municipalist agenda who came from a housing rights movement) made strong efforts to take back empty buildings and spaces to create housing cooperatives, to negotiate with banks to create social housing in the flats left empty by mortgage-related evictions, to fine Airbnb and landlords who rent flats without authorisation, to count and tax vacant housing, to stop touristic flats and hotel in the city centre, to purchase property for social housing, to impose restrictions that every new construction or rehabilitation project includes a minimum of 30 per cent of affordable housing. Yet, despite all of these measures, the rental market housing speculation process is at a climax in Barcelona. The exercise of power in cities, which is intrinsically marked by a diversity of interests, is always inherently contradictory.

For instance, one of the more paradoxical aspects of governing is that Barcelona’s administration, in order to fight real estate companies operating in connivance with drug dealers, is now closing empty flats and installing anti-squatter doors in the popular central neighbourhood of the Raval. Indeed, after the mortgage crisis of 2008, leading to the eviction of thousands of dwellers from their flats in Barcelona, a high quantity of housing was reclaimed by banks and remained vacant. Now that the prices of housing are increasing again under the pressure of tourism and few rental properties are available, real estate companies have been accused of collaborating with drug dealers to despoil the district of the Raval. In 2016, a wave of flat occupations by drug dealers led to the mobilization of their neighbours, denouncing their occupation, and the violence associated with drug dealing and the speculative goal of these occupations. Organizing through WhatsApp, and gathering to denounce traffickers in the streets, neighbourhood groups prompted the end of speculative “narco-flats”. In front of the inaction of international banks and investment funds to evict occupying dealers from their properties—despite City Hall demands—the elected team had no alternative other than to use police intervention to evict dealers from the flats and close them with anti-squatter doors.

Another contradictory action of Barcelona’s municipality was also by the way that City Hall acted towards the Senegalese street vendors, who survive by selling counterfeit goods. Indeed, under pressure from local merchants to denounce the unfair competition from street vendors, in the summer 2016, Barcelona City Hall launched an anti-counterfeit campaign in multiple languages—inviting people not to buy from illegal street vendors but to buy from local shops instead.

Cities are intersected by a diversity of interests, where certain interests clearly predominate. In that context, the pressure to act in favour of the most powerful is high. Although governing according to “the people’s wishes” is a commitment, this is somehow difficult to respect. Governance as action is a complex exercise. Barcelona’s government asserts that it tries to do its best within a very hostile political and media context, and for this they need people to stay in the streets and attempt to find a “conflictual collaboration” between the street and the institution.


What if Urban Revolution Meant Permanent Insurrection?

Fifty years after Lefebvre wrote The Right to the City, where he denounced the total absurdity of the dominant alliance of bureaucratic and private interests, which led the city to fulfil the interests of elites, neoliberalism has increasingly foisted the totalities of the economic system upon city life. Is it possible then, within the current financialized economy, to guarantee the right to the city from a municipalist perspective when cities are places where so much wealth is generated and which have served the interests of production and consumption since times of industrialization?

Referring to the progressive concentration of land into fewer hands, Lefebvre spoke about the ruralisation of cities. From that view, perhaps it is time to look to occupying rural areas to prevent their urbanization, and then try to citify the rural world—in the sense of Bookchin’s city as an ecosociety, far away from the necrotic metropolitan way of life. Worldwide mobilizations against megaprojects in the last decades have carved a new path for creating ecosocieties.

In its resistance against Nantes’ new airport in Notre-Dame-des-Landes in France, the ZAD movement is a clear example of this. In French law, Zone d’Aménagement Différé (ZAD) means an area owned by public authorities to make a project in partnership with business companies. In Notre-Dames-des-Landes, a ZAD was created in the 1960s to build a new airport in Nantes. Farmers and local residents have resisted this project since that time. In 2009, when the project was relaunched by public authorities, ecologists and libertarian activists from the Climate Camp occupied this land. They renamed the territory ZAD for Zone d’Autonomie et de Defense (Zone of Defence and Autonomy), creating a self-organized area based on autonomy from capitalism, radical ecology and de-growth. Fighting a high degree of repression, the movement received support from a large part of leftist and ecologist movements, leading to the cancellation of the project by the French government in 2018. Since the airport project was halted, Zadists have continued to fight to live in autonomy in the area, free from the capitalist system. The State is denying this, declaring it a “no rights zone”.

Finally, urbanization is probably the last step of industrial civilization based on the exploitation of nature. Beyond climate change, scientists from different disciplines agree that a process of collapsing ecosystems and civilization is in march, threatening entire species. The end of fossil-based energy and the scarcity of resources that are currently essential to maintain the urbanized way of life of an increasing number of human beings has put the natural, economic, political and social balance at serious stake. As Pablo Servigne writes, “It’s true that the possibility of collapse closes futures that are valuable for us, and this is violent, but it opens some futures that could be really happy. What’s at stake is to approach these new futures and make them liveable”.12

In that context, from the perspectives of both the right to the city and of social ecology, citifying the rural and reaching harmony between the first and second natures, building autonomous communities with a real possibility of creating a face-to-face democracy, and preparing ourselves for the inevitable end of the collapse of the capitalist system is probably the kind of permanent insurrection that we have to make real.



Barcelona en comú 2014. Why do we want to win back Barcelona, 2014. [Online]. [Accessed 19 August 2019]. Available from: uploads/2014/06/priciples.pdf.

Bookchin, M. 1992. Urbanization against Cities. Montreal: Black Rose Books.

Farha, L. 2017. Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context A/HRC/34/51. [Online]. [Accessed 19 August 2019]. Available from:

Harvey, D. 2011. Le Capitalisme contre le Droit à la ville. Néolibéralisme, urbanisation et résistances. Amsterdam: Editions Amsterdam.

Lefebvre, H. 1967. Le Droit à la Ville. Economica. OXFAM 2018. Reward work, not wealth. To end the inequality crisis, we must build an economy for ordinary working people, not the rich and powerfu. [Online]. [Accessed 19 August 2019]. Available from: https://wwwcdn.

Polis Institute 2015. The City Statute, New Tool for ensuring right to the city in Brazil. [Online]. [Accessed 19 August 2019]. Available from: Servigne, P. and Stevens, R. 2015. Comment tout peut s’effondrer: Petit manuel de collapsologie à l’usage des générations présentes. Paris: Seuil.

Revol, C. 2017, Le Droit à la ville, Quelques éclairages sur le texte et l’auteur, in Le Droit à la ville, Cahier des 2èmes rencontres de géopolitique critique, sous la direction de Claske Dijkema et Morgane Cohen, Mars.

Sassen, S. 2016. Expulsions. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Subirats, J. 2018. Les villes au coeur de la redistribution? Le nouveau municipalisme, antidote à l’Europe de l’austérité et des États dans l’impasse. Mouvements, 2(94), pp.11-23.

Charter for the Right to the City of the city of Mexico 2010. [Online]. [Accessed 19 August 2019]. Available from:

UCLG 2011. Global Charter Agenda for Human Rights in the City. [Online]. [Accessed 19 August 2019]. Available from: https://www.uclgcisdp. org/en/right-to-the-city/world-charter-agenda

World Charter for the Right to the City 2005. [Online]. [Accessed 19 August 2019]. Available from:

UN World Cities Report 2016. [Online]. [Accessed 19 August 2019].
Available from:


1 UN-Habitat is based in Nairobi and addresses the impacts of human settlement. The agency executes the UN General Assembly agenda on human settlement and habitat adopted at the Habitat international conference. The first conference, Habitat I, took place in Vancouver in 1976 and the most recent, Habitat III, led to the adoption of the New Urban Agenda, in Quito in October 2016.

2 According to UN World Cities Report 2016, inequalities increased in 75 per cent of cities between 1996 and 2016.

3 Translation by the author. Originally: “le droit à la vie urbaine, à la centralité rénovée, aux lieux de rencontres et d’échanges, aux rythmes de vie et emplois du temps permettant l’usage plein et entier de ces moments et lieux”, Henri Lefebvre, Le Droit à la ville Economica, 1967, p.133.

4 Lefebvre wrote The Right to the City in 1967, 100 years after Capital.

5 Translation by the author. Originally: “Comme il y a un siècle, la classe ouvrière rassemble les intérêts (dépassant l’immédiat et le superficiel), de la société entière et d’abord de tous ceux qui habitent.”

6 See

7 Lefebvre denounced the State and the companies that were grabbing the city. But we cannot say that he was an anarchist, as he believes that the urban revolution has to be based on an economic revolution (planning oriented towards the satisfaction of social needs) and political (democratic control of the state apparatus and self-organization) and also on a permanent cultural one where arts play a key role (Henri Lefebvre, Le Droit à la ville, Economica, 1967, p. 134).

8 Interview with Henri Lefebvre, Urbanose, Office National du film du Canada,

9 Translation by the author. Originally: “…dans mais souvent contre la société, par mais souvent contre la culture” (Henri Lefebvre, Le Droit à la ville, Economica, 1967, p.134).

10 United Cities and Local Government is the International Organization of Local Governments funded in 2001 and recognized by the UN. Its headquarters is in Barcelona.


12 Translation by the author. Originally: “Certes, la possibilité d’un effondrement ferme des avenirs qui nous sont chers, et c’est violent, mais il en ouvre une infinité d’autres, dont certains étonnamment rieurs. Tout l’enjeu est donc d’apprivoiser ces nouveaux avenirs, et de les rendre vivables” (in Comment tout peut s’effondrer: Petit manuel de collapsologie à l’usage des générations présentes, Pablo Servigne, Raphael Stevens, Seuil, 2015).

This text is an excerpt from the book “Social Ecology and the Right to the City: Towards Ecological and Democratic Cities”, containing the proceedings from our 2017 conference in Thessaloniki. Read more about the book here.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.