Introduction to the special issue « Whose right to the city ? / Le droit à la ville, pour qui? »[Notice]

  • Antonin Margier et
  • Lucas Melgaço

Today, the ‘right to the city’ has become a key concept, a motto, not only in academic circles, but also in civil society movements and in public policy. The so-called accessibility of the city for all has become a fundamental concern to institutions dealing with citizens’ movements that reclaim urban space. In developing the concept of the right to the city, Lefebvre (1968) referred to a reappropriation of the decision process and the city’s production facilities by its inhabitants. In this sense, “the right to the city cannot be conceived as a simple visiting right or as a return to traditional cities. It can only be formulated as a transformed and renewed right to urban life ” (Lefebvre, 1968: 108). The affirmation and participation of citizens in the future of the city should reduce the gaps between citizens, should limit segregation and foster the emergence of a more inclusive and democratic city. Now, more than 40 years after the publication of The Right to the City , it is clear that inequalities, conflicts and injustices in public spaces have not declined. An important part of the global urban population, both north and south, continues to be sidelined from urban amenities. Urban production tends to be directed by logics of enclosure and exclusivity (Donzelot, 2004), being fragmented into a multitude of enclaves, hence classifying individuals according to their social status. Some minorities have ever less access to public spaces, whether they are the homeless (Mitchell, 1997; Zeneidi-Henry, 2002), street vendors (Crossa, 2009), prostitutes (Hubbard, 2004) or youth (Malone, 2002). Moreover, the idea of being a citizen has made way for that of being a consumer, as pointed out by Santos (1987). In order to critically address these phenomena, many researchers have mobilized the concept of the right to the city, either in a more orthodox way or by diverting, distorting, or adapting it to local contexts. Furthermore, many politicians have used the term as a slogan, legitimizing practices often distant from the Lefebvrian ideal (Costes, 2010; Souza, 2010; Attoh, 2011). Since its emergence, this concept has acquired varying meanings as a result of its flexibility and the many possible interpretations. This has gradually reduced its clarity and analytical power. Even more so because the quest for the right to the city often becomes a pretext for bypassing those considered a burden to the urban experience. Indeed, as soon as certain groups start defending their right to the city, they come into conflict with the right of other groups to occupy the urban space. If the right to the city is often mobilized from a critical perspective by researchers, its use by citizens often evokes rights only guaranteed to the dominant groups. By launching this call, we had the ambition to clarify these ambiguities in relation to the right to the city and see how researchers today seize, divert or even reject the concept. In this regard, the authors of this issue are not only concerned with Lefebvre's approach, but also with updating his concept of the right to the city and in testing it in light of the complexity of the contemporary urban realm. By emphasizing the notion of class, Lefebvre tended to treat the urban citizen as a member of the working class (Purcell, 2002), which may reduce the diversity of the urban population and the importance of issues related to gender, racism, age, which are fundamental to everyone’s accessibility to the city. It is this “class bias” (ibid.), often referred to as a limitation, that the diversity of urban identities studied in this issue aims to overcome. The variety …

Parties annexes