Editor's NoteThis post is the second in a two-part series exploring the challenges and progress being made in pursuit of the world-class city. Read the first post: Our Future: Urbanism and an Unequal World-Class City.

By Lauren Herman

After listening to Professor Ananya Roy’s TEDCity 2.0 2013 talk and researching the World Cup, I was left with the question that many TED enthusiasts have pondered: what change is happening now?

Can the current vision and implementation of the world-class city change?

Professor Ananya Roy, Professor of City and Regional Planning, Distinguished Chair in Global Poverty and Practice, UC Berkeley

Professor Ananya Roy, Professor of City and Regional Planning, Distinguished Chair in Global Poverty and Practice, UC Berkeley

I sat down with my former undergraduate advisor Professor Roy in her UC Berkeley office to gain a better understanding of her TED talk and how the urban marginalized are fighting for their right to the city. 

In our interview, Professor Roy pointed out that the following organizations are important to discuss on the TED stage because they illustrate the possibility of unmaking and remaking of current vision and practices of world-class city through acts of “solidarity, visibility and dwelling.”


Visibility: Sticky Situations in South Africa

To the eyes of an outsider, the community of Diepsloot, located outside of Johannesburg, is a former transit camp turned slum with informal housing and minimal services for its 138,000 residences.

But to its residences, Diepsloot is a vibrant community with a strong will to mold its community and city through the implementation of community driven projects with the help of the organization Sticky Situations.

Roy singles out the power of one project, the Diepsloot Arts and Culture Network. The project provides exposure for the community showcasing their creative works through singing, dancing, and reciting of poetry that elevate their views and opinions regarding the future of Johannesburg.

Such movement is vital in an age of continual construction and remodeling under the National Upgrading Support Programme (NUSP) of South Africa that continues to greatly affect the 1.4 million households living in informality.


Solidarity: Shack/Slum Dwellers International

In the tradition of Cities Alliance and National Urban Reform Movement, the Shack/Slum Dwellers (SDI) International for nearly 20 years has mobilized and organized as an international network of community-based organizations of slum and informal settlement communities in more than thirty countries.

Slum apartment complex, Dhaka, Bangladesh. August 25, 2012.  Photo by Zoriah .  Used with permission .

Slum apartment complex, Dhaka, Bangladesh. August 25, 2012. Photo by Zoriah. Used with permission.

It considers itself to be a “global network of the poor” throughout the Global South that elevates the voices and place the poor at the center of urban development, specifically the right to build homes on public land in an age of rising land prices of the world-class city.

Through their connectedness across global lines, SDI advocates and teaches “horizontal exchange” and community-to-community exchange in which members see themselves and each other as experts. This allows for the creation of a unified voice of the poor and opens doors for collaboration with government and academic urban planning policies.


Dwelling: Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign

It’s May 2012. The Housing Identification and Target unit of the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign is in Woodlawn, South Side of Chicago.

Describing their practice of identifying, occupying and improving foreclosed homes, one member writes, “...we cautiously ascend the staircase; the pitch black boarded-up house — unlike most of the other bank-owned buildings on the block — isn’t completely uninhabitable. It had been vacated, sealed and winterized in June 2010, according to a notice on the wall posted by BAC Field Services Corporation, a division of Bank of America...But Bank of America has clearly forgotten about the house...we have not.”

The efforts of the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign arose as part of the Take Back the Land Movement that aims to reclaim homes lost, but not forgotten, in the process of foreclosure and repossession during the subprime mortgage crisis of the Great Recession.

This movement is especially important because government assistance was limited compared to state funds used in the bail outs of Wall Street.

Roy explains that by matching “homeless people with peopleless homes” a new urban future for Chicago is created through the occupation and improvement of otherwise unused, vacant property. Property values improve, the pride of neighborhoods is renewed and the once homeless have a home to live and raise their children, the future generations of the city.


Our Future: Hope for An Equal World-Class City

Along with the urban social movements and organizations described above, there are state interventions and development practitioners advocating for inclusive urban policies. One, most recently praised in the American media, is the construction of an escalator connecting the shacks of slum dwellers with the commercial district of Medellin, Colombia.

Unfortunately, such a policy depoliticizes development and urban planning forcing these social movements to fight for their own systemic change that comes in the form of legal, social and economic rights, including social services, affordable housing and transportation, and free education. These rights enable citizens to uphold the right to the city -- to live, exist and thrive in their urban environment.

The right to the city is a unifying banner that challenges political processes deeply embedded in local governments and the international community that are married to the current vision of the world-class city. Through acts of visibility, solidarity and dwelling, the power struggle over the city, its present and future, has begun.

All of us have a place in their struggle because in cities around the world economic inequality is rising, gentrification causes displacement, urban mega-projects lead to the privatization of public funds, and the privatization of social services and public spaces leads to prioritizing profit over citizen welfare.

Professor Roy further broadens this idea by stating, “...While I like to think individuals make history and change, I am more concerned with how we are involved with structures of power that both enable and disable our abilities to act...change happens through collective action. Change happens when things are reframed.”

The collective actions of urban social movements and organizations allow us to believe that new visions of our world and the concepts of citizenship are tools that can be borrowed, reframed and molded to create new urban practices across the globe.

Professor Roy proves this by bringing these “change makers” of the urban 21st century to the TED stage. Let us join them in demanding and creating a city we are all proud to call home.

The author wishes to thank University of California, Berkeley Professor Ananya Roy for making herself available for an interview with TEDxSacramento and for years of personal and professional inspiration on and off the TED stage.