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Second, no democratic process is possible without State involvement. The emergence of neighbourhood organizations as actors in the democratic process is contingent upon the political context and its history, which are often marked by autocratic or nepotistic forms of government or by the weakness or even absence of the State. Furthermore, participation cannot develop without the formation of a broadly-based public arena in which the State’s function is irreplaceable.

Examination of the State/neighbourhood relationship (taking both above points into account) highlights what must be a core feature of any development policy: “Encouraging the State to fulfil its due functions” (Hermet, 2000). At this point, strategies to fight poverty necessarily become political, in the sense that they involve setting up mechanisms to produce legitimate authority.

III.1. Regulation. Solving problems in the urban environment necessarily calls for institutional regulation. Desirable though it is for people to play a part in improving their quality of life, it is clear that big cities cannot function without societal regulation that goes much further than the community-based framework of individual neighbourhoods.

The State’s role is highlighted “by default” when it fails to find a remedy for malfunctioning urban services12. It has often been noted that the sustainability of development projects in poor neighbourhoods depends on the water company (for standpipes) and the town hall (for refuse collection, emptying cesspools and latrines, etc). These examples illustrate a constraint that affects all development projects involving services and infrastructures in an urban environment. It is impossible for individual communities to solve problems in such fields as transport, drinking water, drainage, electricity, education and public health by taking unilateral action. In large cities with millions of inhabitants and a complex economic activity, social life requires a type of regulation that can only be provided by public institutions.

Technical problems such as a spasmodic water supply are an indication that standards and mechanisms for regulating social life are lacking. Urban services are dependent on institutions. This being so, policies to fight poverty must aim to strengthen relations between local actors and the institutions representing society as a whole, namely the State. The State is involved in its capacity as “a system of public institutions” (thus clearly distinguishing it from the government).

The situation regarding institutions leads us from the example of services on to another problem, namely the identity of the neediest people. In developing countries, institutions

12 We observed a remarkable situation in Jalousie, Haiti. Even though people were living in dire poverty, a cohesive community was managing to instil a certain degree of social “order” into the neighbourhood. On the other hand, chaos continued to prevail elsewhere in the city as a result of the State’s inadequacies.


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