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POLICIES TO FIGHT URBAN POVERTY - page 13 / 30

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III. Public institutions and the State: regulation and the public arena

The Cities Project experiment sheds a searching light on the State’s role in development projects, corroborating observations made elsewhere9. The first step in Cities Project action strategy was to provide support for neighbourhood organizations. This initiative was followed up by awareness-raising among government authorities and by bringing together neighbourhood organizations and the State. This second stage was vitally important since it involved institutional recognition of the experiment and marked the start of commitment by the public authorities10. The process tested in this way is satisfactory and appears as an innovative alternative. It is a process that starts at grassroots level with support for initiatives originating with local organizations, leads in the first instance to the empowerment of these organizations and then aims to involve the government and the State. The process does not, of course, rule out the development of a relational framework initiated by the government.

The State has a pivotal role to play in the protection of citizens, for ethical and other reasons11. A strategy to fight poverty, especially in an urban environment, must take account of State involvement in two areas: the regulation of social life and the institutionalization of the public arena.

In big cities today, institutions perform an indispensable regulatory function, irrespective of the specific form they possess in different countries. State involvement is vitally important for development projects in an urban environment for two reasons. First, improving the quality of life depends on resources (such as drinking water) that are managed or need to be regulated by public institutions. More generally, the development of a poor neighbourhood cannot be organized by a community acting unilaterally; it must be part of an integrated economic and political urban blueprint.

9 See, for example, GRET/IRD: Pour des politiques publiques de lutte contre la pauvreté et les inégalités, Paris, Mimeograph, May 2000. This document provides an overview of development experiments carried out in Africa by GRET with support from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. See also HERMET, Guy: Culture et développement, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po, 2000. This book presents an overview of contributions to the “Culture and development Forum” – BID, UNESCO, Sciences Po, Paris, 1999, based on experiments in Latin America.

10 This process took different forms in Haiti and Senegal. In Haiti, the establishment of stable links between local organizations and the State was disturbed by turbulence in the political process which made the entire institutional system extremely fragile. In Senegal, the county boroughs joined in the Project and initiatives arising from it are integrated into discussions about the urban policies of Pikine municipality (population 1 million).

11 Many authors point to the need to appeal to supra-national institutions capable of executing a “domestic policy at the planetary level without world government” in order to fill the gap left by nation-States confronted with globalization (Habermas, 2000). Supranational institutions notwithstanding, nation-States continue to have, at their level, a non-transferable role conferred by the norms governing the construction of legitimate authority.

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