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URBAN GOVERNANCE: community activism

Innovative practices in this field include self- provision and access to land, transport, infrastructure and basic services, the setup of community resource centres, neighbourhood action committees, the strengthening of asset management and the mobilisation by poor households and communities.

quick links

local level city level
  international level websites

local level

ACHR (2002) - Housing by People in Asia - Newsletter of the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights - Special Issue Community Funds - No 14, February 2002 [pdf]

To say that there’s a gap between poor people’s survival systems and formal development aid systems is putting it mildly. On one side of the gap are the poor, who are starved for resources and doing whatever they can to survive, breaking every rule and every standard in the book. And on the other side, are the development and finance sectors, swimming in resources but seemingly unable to crack the nut that is urban poverty with their rigid, disciplinary systems of development, which attempt to impose straight lines on a world that is all squiggles and zigzags. Again and again, we see development interventions that fail miserably, that don’t match realities, that squander resources and – much worse – that corrupt local processes and do more harm than good. Or we see no intervention at all. The absence of mechanisms to bridge these informal sector needs with formal sector finance has opened room for all sorts of slimy informal intermediaries – money lenders, agents, politicians who snatch money from the formal system and then pass it on to the poor, at triple the cost!

ACHR (2001) - "Building an urban poor people’s movement in Phnom Penh, Cambodia Asian Coalition for Housing Rights" - Environment & Urbanization, Vol 13 No 2, October 2001 - IIED [pdf]

Cambodia - This photo-essay shows how the urban poor and their organizations are working with government agencies, NGOs and international donors in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, to develop homes and neighbourhoods and income generation and, where needed, to manage relocation schemes. It also describes how the city’s urban poor developed their own Solidarity and Urban Poor Federation, drawing on the advice of similar federations from other countries. The process was much helped by the interchanges between urban poor groups within the city and by the visits by urban poor representatives and city officials to projects managed by urban poor federations in other countries. The Federation’s work centres on linking and supporting community savings groups that develop their own schemes.

Arévalo T, Pedro (1997) - "Huaycán self-managing urban community: may hope be realized" - Environment & Urbanization- Vol. 9 No. 1, April 1997 - IIED [pdf]

Peru - This paper tells the story of how the settlement of Huaycán in Lima (Peru) came into existence and how, from the outset, when the land invasion which was to form the settlement was first organized, the organizers sought to achieve a democratic, self-managed community. The author, who was one of the community leaders involved in the formation and development of Huaycán, also describes the complex political struggles they faced, especially with Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) but also with other political factions and parties. The article describes how in successive people’s congresses they achieved support for self-management and development and recounts the marches into Lima to demand that the politicians keep their promises. It also describes the improvements in basic infrastructure and services achieved in Huaycán with support from local, national and international sources.

Burra, Sundar (1999) - Co-operative Housing in Pune - SPARC [pdf]

India - This case-study is set in Pune, an important industrial and cultural centre of the State of Maharashtra located some 200 kilometres from Mumbai. With a population of 2.7 million people, it is estimated that close to half the population lives in slums with little access to the basic amenities of water, sanitation and so on. Houses in slums are small in area, more often than not made up of flimsy materials and always subject to the threat of demolition by the Municipal Corporation. While some slums are ‘authorised’ because they conform to certain standards of eligibility laid down by the Government of Maharashtra, many slums do not fit into this category.

Burra, Sundar (1999) - Resettlement and Rehabilitation of the Urban Poor: The story of Kanjur Marg - SPARC [pdf]

India - The case study shows how effectively collected and organised information and data about poor communities can be used as a tool for learning and lobbying, and how site visits can be a powerful means to bring about shifts in thinking and approach. The main lessons to emerge from the Kanjur Marg case study are the importance of a favourable policy environment to bring about change and enable new opportunities for CLIC processes; the importance of women’s involvement and leadership in community development; the viability of two-stage resettlement and rehabilitation; and the importance of strong (formal and informal) institutional networks for the replication of ideas and initiatives.

Burra, Sundar (1999) - The Jagjeevan Ram Nagar Housing Co-Operative Society in Hyderabad - SPARC [pdf]

India - To improve conditions in the slums of Hyderabad, the Urban Community Development cell of the Municipal Corporation implemented the slum improvement programme in over 600 slums in the city since the early 1980s, concentrating upon the upgrading and installation of basic infrastructure such as latrines, water, drainage and community halls, coupled with health education and economic support activities, such as training and credit for income generation schemes. The case study slum of Jagjeevan Ram Nagar is, in fact, a good example of a slum where improvements made earlier proved to be unsustainable, for while access to basic infrastructure was improved by government interventions in the settlement, the housing needs of the residents were neglected and remained an acute problem. How this need for secure and adequate shelter was addressed in Jagjeevan Ram Nagar is subject of this case study.

Burra, Sundar (1999) - SPARC Housing Exhibitions - SPARC [pdf]

India - SPARC Housing Exhibitions act as forums for information exchange, lobbying and the dissemination of innovative ideas that can improve access to housing, secure land tenure, and essential services. They frequently act as a forum for negotiation within and between communities, and between communities and government officials. They also act as a means to exchange experiences and stories, often between countries, as well as communities. Finally, housing exhibitions act as a vehicle for the celebration of the achievements to date of community and NGO organisations and movements.

Joshi, Pratima; Srinanda Sen & Jane Hobson (2002) - "Experiences with surveying and mapping Pune and Sangli slums on a geographical information system (GIS)" - Environment & Urbanization, Vol 14 No 2 Oct. 2002 - IIED [pdf]

India - This paper describes how the NGO Shelter Associates and an organization of women and men slum dwellers worked together to collect information on each household in slum settlements in Pune and Sangli and to map this, along with infrastructure and service provision and each slum’s position within the city. This permitted data on slums to be superimposed on these cities’ development plans using a geographical information system. This provides an important information base for improving infrastructure and services within slums and for integrating slums into city-wide planning.

Plummer, Janelle & Sean de Cleene (1999) - Community Learning Information and Communication, Case Study: Kerala Community Development Society, Allepy - Working Paper No. 105 - GHK [pdf]

India - The Community Development Society in Kerala is a system of organising women in poor communities to plan for their development. The case study examines the tiered structure of neighbourhood committees who prepare micro-plans, the area development societies who consolidate these into min-plans, and finally the community development societies who integrate these area plans into a municipal level action plan.

UN-Habitat (2002) - Best Practice - Urban Agriculture for Agroecological Development, Camilo Aldao [pdf]

Argentina - Theproject has its origin in the 1995 crisis that shook up the foundations of the locality's social structure. The crisis originated from the bankruptcy of the agricultural-stock farm cooperative and the closure of two mutual clubs, which functioned as small savings and loan banks. At the same time, the country was going through the so called "tequila effect".

UN-Habitat (2002) - Best Practice -Urban Oasis Programme, Hebden Bridge - UN-Habitat [pdf]

United Kingdom - Over 50% of the world's population is now living in cities, many condemned to permanent under-employment, social and economic deprivation in barren inner-city housing estates. A pioneering initiative, the Urban Oasis, has been established within such surroundings, to provide a practical demonstration and training facility of community-based, low-cost, self-help solutions to these problems.A self-help partnership made up of an international environmental and community development organisation (The Arid Lands Initiative), a high-rise tenant managed company (Apple Tree Court), local youth employment and probation services, with the support of the local church and schools, has documented the priority needs of local people and in response, created a green and productive 'inner-city oasis' around and within a typical inner-city high-rise and documented the experience with broadcast-quality video and photographs.

city level

Burra, Sundar (2000) - A Journey Towards Citizenship: The Byculla Area Resource Centre, Mumbai - SPARC [pdf]

India - The initiative grew out of the need to a centre and support the to the organisation of pavement dwellers, principally the women, to help them cope with and confront the regular demolition of their homes by the municipal authorities; support that was not provided by more traditional welfare-oriented NGOs. An alliance with the NSDF was formed and Mahila Milan (Women Together) was established. From this beginning the Byculla Centre has been central to the establishment of other area resource centres and to the process of promoting and supporting the full participation and partnership of urban low-income communities in the development their homes and neighbourhoods.

Díaz, Andrés Cabanas Emma Grant, Paula Irene del Cid Vargas and Verónica Sajbin Velásquez (2000), "El Mezquital - a community's struggle for development in Guatemala City", Environment and Urbanization, Vol. 12, No. 1, pages 87-106. [pdf]

Guatemala - This paper describes the history of the community in El Mezquital, from the land invasion in the mid 1980s, through its consolidation and growth, until the present, drawing principally on interviews with the inhabitants and staff from supporting agencies. It analyzes the development of the different, and sometimes conflicting, community organizations and compares their different mandates and objectives. It shows important processes of community empowerment, the changing role of women and community self-help initiatives. It also describes how, in much of the settlement, basic infrastructure and services were in place and of good quality.

URC (2001) - The Karachi Urban Resource Centre: Work, vision and impact - URC [pdf]

Pakistan - The Urban Resource Centre (URC) was set up in early 1989 at the Department of Architecture and Planning of the Dawood College in Karachi. The objective of the Centre was to collect all available material on Karachi and update it through newspaper clipping and analysis. After a few months of its setting up, the URC became an independent registered organization and its governing body expanded to include urban planning related professionals, representatives of NGOs and community organizations from low and lower income areas, and activists from the Orangi Pilot Project-Research & Training Institute (OPP-RTI). The direction of the Centre also changed. The new members felt that Karachi’s official development plans ignored the larger socio-economic reality of the city and as such were unworkable and environmentally disastrous. They further felt that workable alternatives were required and these were possible only with the involvement of informed communities and interest groups.

Soma, Soekmana (s.d.) - Solid Waste Neighbourhood Self-Management: A Case Study in Bogor, Indonesia - PUSTRA
Ministry of Public Works [pdf]

Indonesia - This paper reports on the results of a pilot project case study entitled "Solid Waste Neighbourhood Self-Management" (SWNSM) in Bogor, Indonesia. As a case study project on "Practical Policy Innovations in Urban Infrastructure Development and Management in Asian Metropolitan Areas and Large Cities," it is associated with the United Nations Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD) and Urban Management Programme - Asia.

Patel, Sheela & Kalpana Sharma - Mumbai transport case study - One David and Three Goliaths- SPARC [pdf]

India -This is the story of David and Goliath, except that the David in this story had to encounter three Goliaths. Whether he won in the end cannot be determined as yet. But the chances look good. When organisations commit themselves to work with urban poor communities, they are often faced with difficult choices. Should they confront and challenge the powers that determine and rule their lives or should they work around the problem and negotiate? What do they need themselves to be in a position of strength, should they choose the latter path? Can their interests be served if they choose to confront without fashioning their own solutions?

international level

Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR - 1998) - About ACHR [pdf]

Before the emergence of ACHR there was no common forum or facility for NGO’s, professionals and grassroots groups working in Asian cities to exchange ideas, despite an expressed need to share experiences, tackle the large problem of forced evictions in the regions cities, develop opportunities for organisations of the poor and consider their place in city planning. It was with these intentions in mind that ACHR was formed in 1988. Since then, the links between coalition members have matured, regional programmes have been formalised and ACHR has become recognized as one of the most important players in urban poor development in the region by international agencies and urban actors.

web sites


Habitat Agenda:
Paragraph 44

We commit ourselves to the strategy of enabling all key actors in the public, private and community sectors to play an effective role — at the national, state/provincial, metropolitan and local levels — in human settlements and shelter development.


Continental Front of Communal Organizations (CFCO) 2003 - World Social Forum [pdf]

We want to build a society with rights, we want dwellers with the right to their city, enduring cities that take part in maintaining our land, forests,
water, air, and our cultures, so that our social works and initiatives will never die out.


List of documents highlighting DFID/IUDD's work in support of community activism and capacity blg.

Baumann, Ted, Joel Bolnick & Diana Mitlin (2001) - The age of cities and organizations of the urban poor: the work of the South African Homeless People’s Federation and the
People’s Dialogue on Land and Shelter
- IIED / DFID [pdf]

South Africa - The South African Homeless People’s Federation was established in 1994 to represent autonomous local organizations that had developed savings and credit schemes and were developing their own housing schemes. Its national character, active membership, autonomy and
high level of participation make it one of the most significant housing movements in Africa. With
over 80,000 households within its member groups, power and decision making are highly decentralized with individual organizations responsible for their own development activity and

Cotton, A.P - M. Sohail & W.K. Tayler (1998) - Community Initiatives in Urban Infrastructure - WEDC / DFID - Table of Content [pdf] & Text [pdf]

This manual investigates the extent and nature of the involvement of low-income urban communities in the provision of their local infrastructure. It also provides guidance for policy-makers and professional staff of urban government, development agencies, non-government organisations, and small to medium enterprises for promoting increased involvement of communities in the procurement of neighbourhood (tertiary level) infrastructure.

Dávila, Julio D. (2001) - Urban Poverty Reduction Experiences in Cali, Colombia: Lessons from the work of Local Non-profit Organizations - IIED / DFID [pdf]

Colombia - This paper discusses the role of local non-profit foundations in poverty reduction in Cali, Colombia's third largest city. These foundations (of which the Carvajal Foundation is the best known) are funded by local businesses. The paper describes how, from the 1960s to the 1980s, these pioneered interventions to provide basic services and support self build and micro-enterprise development in informal settlements where government agencies would not enter.

"The Neighbourhood Doctors in Peripheral Lima" - Wakely, Patrick; Nicholas You (2001) – Implementing the Habitat Agenda: In Search of Urban Sustainability - DPU [pdf]

Peru - 'Ayni' is a word from the Indian language Quechua. It refers to a special form of mutual support: "by helping you, I may enable you to help someone else". It is in this spirit that the team of the
'Neighbourhood Doctors' from Aynimundo started their work in Pampas de San Juan, a sector of the poor district San Juan de Miraflores in the Southern part of Lima.

"The Union de Vecinos" (2001) - Implementing the Habitat Agenda: In Search of Urban Sustainability - DFID / DPU [pdf]

U.S.A - The Union de Vecinos demonstrates the influence a well-run community organisation can have, not only in empowering its members, but also in affecting decisions made at municipal level.

Patel, Sheela; Diana Mitlin & Mahila Milan (2001) - The work of SPARC, the National Slum Dwellers Federation - IIED / DFID [pdf]

India - This paper describes the work of an Indian NGO, SPARC and its Alliance with the women’s cooperatives (Mahila Milan) formed by pavement dwellers and the National Slum Dwellers Federation. This Alliance has shown how work in many different areas such as community-based savings and credit groups, pilot projects, housing construction, the development of toilet blocks and the management of resettlement can contribute to poverty reduction, as long as these are based on what communities can do for themselves and the communities retain control.

Theis, Michael & Ripin Kalra - Communities manage their assets - Lessons learnt from experience - Max Lock Centre / DFID [PDF]

Timely maintenance of Community buildings is vital. Maintenance and management of these assets through the community is cheaper than through external contractors. The community, where everyone knows everybody else, is more open to accounting than remote state or district budgets. Awareness of faults, damage and maintenance in the building is immediate to the user. The sooner these are identified, then, with appropriate technical advice, the more cheaply they can be remedied through community action.

2003 Development Planning Unit | Sikandar Hasan | Anna Soave | Khanh Tran-Thanh || Tina Simon