Better city and better life for whom? UN expert asks on World Habitat Day

(09/2010) GENEVA -- The Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council on the Right to Adequate Housing, Raquel Rolnik emphasized on Saturday Better city, better life "must be translated into policies that respect and promote the enjoyment of human rights".

She noted that World Habitat Day on 4 September is an opportunity to highlight that adequate housing is a human right. "I call on all those involved in urban development to remember the obligation of States to respect and protect the right to adequate housing through sustainable development policies", she added in her press release. "The theme for World Habitat Day this year is 'Better city, better life.' Absolutely, but better for whom?".

"Too often, that refrain has led to urban renewal projects that have improved life for the middle class at the expense of the most vulnerable. Priority attention must go to improving the lives and housing of the poorest." "People living in poverty and the most vulnerable groups rarely benefit from urban renewal projects", noted Rolnik. "They do not live in the areas targeted and, if they do, they are often forcibly evicted. Alternatively, they are priced out of the market once the area is 'improved'".

"In addition, when limited public resources are concentrated in such projects, other urban development policies more useful to the poor are often sacrificed, contributing to housing crises" said Rolnik. "Around the world, many cities have promoted development through large-scale urban renewal projects" argued the Special Rapporteur.

"Local authorities try to attract private investment through a focus on strategically chosen urban areas. But these plans often do not explicitly consider and address human rights concerns, such as entrenched discrimination and socio-economic inequality. Tragically, the result exacerbates suffering and denial of rights." (end).

Pictures: Anderson Barbosa, Carlos Cazaliz e Guta Galli