governments as destabilising factors and by technocrats as an obstacle to planning, whilst political parties consider them merely as electoral instruments.
Neighbourhood organizations should be supported and recognised as actors in development policies and in policies to promote democratic culture. Experience has shown that they possess a large capacity for initiative in the context of development projects and that they constitute an excellent tool for the management of social policies. In a wide range of contexts, neighbourhood organizations have shown an often surprising capacity for improving human settlements and for social management. One instance is that of the asentamientos, squatter settlements in Buenos Aires and Montevideo, which have evolved into built neighbourhoods with high levels of collective facilities (Merklen (a), 2000). Similar developments have occurred in most big South American cities, e.g. the “Villa El Salvador” neighbourhood in Peru (Franco, 1993). These movements, which reflect the emergence of an autonomous collective acceptance of responsibility, usually fight for public recognition on the basis of a broad degree of participation and mobilisation. In Argentina, for example, neighbourhood organizations have provided backstop support for people coping with emergencies like the galloping inflation of the early 1990s and more recently the job crisis. They have also given impetus to numerous projects to provide access to drinking water and electricity supplies, build creches and community canteens and set up dispensaries. In its two interventions in Haiti and in Senegal, the Cities Project strengthened local organizations, considerably improving the local quality of life (drinking water supply, drainage, improvements to urban buildings) and encouraging the implementation of a participatory framework.
Despite the often manifest suspicion of governments and technocrats, for more than a decade voices have been raised to stress the potential of neighbourhood organizations. However, such attestations, especially those from NGOs and international organizations, have not so far led to any real recognition of this social capital, nor an acknowledgment of its true value.
FIRST RECOMMENDATION: Policies to fight poverty must draw on the considerable social capital that neighbourhood organizations represent. These organizations make significant contributions at four levels, which should underpin strategies in an urban environment. a. Initiative. Neighbourhood organizations possess a great capacity for initiative and creativity in implementing courses of action geared to their context and needs. This capacity is the fruit of people’s in-depth experience and knowledge of their own environment. Moreover, such organizations are not subject to institutional constraints and hence enjoy a large degree of flexibility. Lack of resources stimulates the imagination, often resulting in courses of action geared to the community’s needs and capabilities. Such initiatives need to be backed up by technical input and resources for their implementation. The first objective of development policies should be to support inhabitants’ initiatives.