UNESCO Social and Human Sciences
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  Management of Social Transformation - MOST

Discussion Paper - No. 2

Managing Social Transformations in Cities

A Challenge to Social Sciences


Céline Sachs-Jeantet

Table of contents




  • The Global City
  • The Fragmented City
  • The Multi-cultural and Multi-ethnic City
  • The Governed City
  • The Ecological City
  • The Technological City


    The purpose of this paper is to explore the research theme “cities as arenas of accelerated social transformations” and to circumscribe the niche and the role of MOST in the urban landscape where numerous institutions are acting. The paper synthesizes discussions held at a regional meeting organized by UNESCO and supported by the City of Vienna, the Canadian Commission for UNESCO and the IDRC (Vienna, 10-12 February 1994) and the written contributions by experts in the field commissioned by UNESCO. It does not purport to review systematically the abundant literature on the theme.

    In framing priority research areas, participants suggested that MOST should be concerned with elaborating a broader conceptual framework on how social transformations now affect, and in the future will shape cities. Without pretending to be exhaustive, and with my own bias, this paper pursues the reflection initiated in Vienna and constitutes but a stage in the process of collectively defining the theme of “cities” in the MOST Programme, and an invitation to join the debate.

    The paper is organized in three parts. Part 1 sets the scene: the advent of an urban civilization. Part 2 attempts to sketch major social transformations that are shaping cities and condition their sustainable management now and in the future, presenting continuing challenges to decision-makers, and thereby to international transdisciplinary comparative research. Part 3 asserts challenges at stake for MOST.


    We are entering a new era, the era of cities, a major civilizational transition. By the year 2000, half of humanity - 3.2 billion people - will be living in cities. Seventy per cent of this urban population will be in developing countries. Eighteen cities in the developing world will have a population of more than ten million.

    Given the unprecedented urban explosion in the South, the magnitude of the task ahead is illustrated by the following figures. According to the United Nations estimates, the number of urban dwellers in the South will have doubled from 1980 to the year 2000: from one to two billion. A second doubling is likely to occur in the following twenty-five years, from two to four billion. In less than half a century, three billion people will be added to the urban population of the South. At the beginning of the 21st century, low-income people in Third World cities, many of them crowded in mega-cities, will become the new majority among the world's population.

    Each of the continents is affected in a somewhat different way. In several Latin American countries, the degree of urbanization has reached the levels of Europe and North America. In Africa, the rates of urban growth are excessively high. In Asia, the share size of the population involved is staggering. Nonetheless, this diversity of configurations provides an opportunity for internationally comparative research to gain insight into the contrasting patterns of accelerated social transformations going on in cities throughout the world.

    “By 1990, an estimated 1.4 billion people lived in urban centers in the Third World. Of these, at least 600 million are estimated to live in 'life and health threatening' homes and neighborhoods because of the inadequacies in the quality of the housing and in the provision of infrastructure and services associated with housing and residential areas (such as piped water supplies, provision for sanitation, garbage collection and site drainage, paved roads and pavements, schools and health clinics)”. (Arrossi, et al., 1994, p.3; see also Hardoy et al., 1990).

    Cities, mirrors of society, reflect maldevelopment and the price of modernity (Touraine, 1992). The predominant picture is one of fragmented or dual cities, characterized by phenomena of social exclusion, spatial segregation and mounting urban violence. The form that economic growth and social change have taken has been critical to the emergence of new problems in cities.

    This dismal picture is by no means exclusive to developing countries, even though scales are different between the South and the North, East and West. The focus of a recent OECD report is on the severe concentrations of disadvantage, unemployment, poverty and alienation in many cities throughout OECD Member countries and on the scope for policies to encourage urban regeneration, social integration and the development of more livable environments (OECD, 1994; also Jacquier, 1991; Wieviorka, 1994).

    A report of the Commission of the European Communities on the functions of cities in the European Community states that "during the next decade, as Europe moves towards greater economic and political integration, cities will be even more crucial players... They will also be the focus of many acute problems in the 1990s... The future of Europe will substantially reflect that of its cities. Their enormous economic, social and cultural energy must be harnessed to promote social and economic cohesion throughout the European Community. Cities demand a prominent place on its future agenda" (CEC, 1992). Cities are a major political challenge for both the North and the South.

    The urban explosion compounded with severe environmental degradation - the urban poor are the main victims of environmental disruption - will have to be dealt with in a world economy characterized by low rates of growth, mounting unemployment, the pains of structural adjustment and debt servicing, as well as the need in many countries to implement institutional reforms. The prospect for the cities will, to a great extent, depend on local solutions found for these global problems. It is clear, however, that the urban problem, as well as the environmental concerns, cannot be singled out from the broader context of social and economic styles of development. This puts the issue of political economy of development at the top of the urban agenda.

    Even in cities that play a pre-eminent role in the processes of globalization of the economy, economic progress often goes hand in hand with the persistence of pockets of destitution and ghettos. Hence the danger of paying too much attention to the economic role of cities, while underestimating the social, environmental, political, cultural, psychological and spatial dimensions of the ongoing transformations. The experience of several industrialized countries shows that provision of reasonable infrastructure and shelter is not sufficient to humanize the cities and to overcome the social tensions. Employment, social integration and effective grass-roots democracy are necessary to create a sense of belonging and co-responsibility - two ingredients of meaningful citizenship. Designing and implementing systemic public policies should not only aim at improving people's quality of life, but also bring social and political stability to our cities, and thereby to our societies.

    Nor is it reasonable to expect that complex and, in many cases, unique challenges will be met by merely copying ready-made models, even though these models may have shown their efficiency under other latitudes and in different contexts. “Cities are like people. They belong to the urban species but they have their unique personality. The response to the urban challenge must take into account the singular configurations of natural, cultural, and socio-political factors, as well as of the historical past and tradition of each city. Instead of proposing across-the-board, homogenizing solutions, the diversity of cities should be considered as a cultural value of paramount importance” (Sachs, I., 1994, p.332).

    The sheer magnitude of the urban explosion compounded by the backlog of unattended employment, housing, environmental, public health and educational needs - “the social debt” - means that the replication in the South of the solutions now existing in the North would only increase the prevailing inequality, benefiting a minority and marginalizing a majority of the urban dwellers. Given the scale and nature of urban change and its likely extent in the future, the conventional model for the development of urban residential areas within market or mixed economies, developed in the North, does not work in the vast majority of urban centers in the Third World, and proved its limits in the North. Hence the need to seek innovative approaches.

    The speed with which urban populations have grown in Third World nations has far outpaced the institutional capacity to manage it. The central characteristic of the urban problem is not the scale of population growth but the scale of the mismatch between demographic change and institutional change (Arrossi et al., 1994).

    Today, cities have emerged as strategic territories for a broad array of social, economic and political processes central to the current era: economic globalization, international migration, the emergence of the producer services and finance as the leading growth sector in advanced economies, the new poverty, among others, and as strategic sites for their theorization (Sassen, 1991 & 1994). This return of the city to the fore of the social sciences agenda can be seen as the representation of the social question in urban terms, the projection of the cleavage between marginalisation and integration (Dubet, 1994; Rosanvallon, 1995).

    However, cities are not just territories where social transformations take place, they are actors of this process. Hence it is necessary to determine how cities can play the role of economic, social and cultural driving forces - becoming incubators of innovation - and adapt to our rapidly changing, interdependent and uncertain world, as an alternative to the crisis of the nation-states.

    Cities are undergoing a profound metamorphosis, the full consequences of which are still to be completely fathomed. As Francis Godard puts it, "we may then ask ourselves the following question: does the crisis of previous urban development models simply reflect the inability of cities to cope with the new world situation, or are we now instead witnessing the dawn of a new urban civilization, based on new relationships between cities and labor, and between cities and regions?"

    In this turbulent sea of change, the urban challenge constitutes perhaps the most difficult, yet crucial, component of the sustainable human development agenda, and calls for finding concrete ways of harmonizing the criteria of social equity, ecological sustainability, economic efficiency, cultural pluralism and integration, and balanced spatial distribution of human activities and settlements, otherwise countries doomed to become one after another urban archipelagos in rural deserts. Meeting these criteria means translating them into a plurality of local ecosystem-specific, culture-specific and even site-specific solutions, devising new resource-use patterns and management procedures, requiring new mindsets, attitudes and values.


    In this newly emerging urban civilization, cities are the locus or crucibles, where major social problems are played out daily and magnified, but also locus of most creative change. The city is a territory that brings into focus and crystallizes the major conflicts and contradictions of a society undergoing a deep mutation, and its role is to increasingly manage these accelerated social transformations.

    Globalization, exclusion, multiculturalism and ethnicity, governance, ecology, science and technology, are driving social transformations at work in cities (in various forms and degrees of intensity), presenting a series of continuing challenges to people and to decision-makers. Taken together they condition cities' sustainable management, and frame the core of the MOST agenda for transdiciplinary comparative research.

    This is not to underestimate other crucial transformations with profound effect on cities such as demographic and migratory trends - gender struggles, family formation and dissolution patterns, fertility behaviour and sexuality, population structures and growth of the economically active population, international migration; changes in the structure of employment accompanied by growing unemployment and underemployment; fiscal restraint; changing equilibria between population and territory, among others.

    The Global City

    The last decade has seen a growing literature on the phenomenon known as 'globalization' and the impact on cities of the major structural trends of our epoch, that is, the formation of a global economy and of the new techno-economic paradigm. For Saskia Sassen (1994, p. 43) “we are seeing the emergence of a new type of urban system at the global and transnational regional levels: these are systems wherein cities are crucial nodes for international co-ordination and servicing of economies that are increasingly international”. Economic globalization promotes both integration and exclusion, decreases national sovereignty and increases autonomy of the market.

    “The combination of geographic dispersal of economic activities and integration which lies at the heart of the current economic era has contributed to a strategic role for major cities in the current phase of the world economy... These cities now function as command points in the organization of the world economy; as key locations and market-places for the leading industries of this period - finance and specialized services for firms - and as sites for the production of innovations in those industries. A limited number of cities emerge as transnational locations for investment, for firms, for the production of services and financial instruments, and for various international markets” (Sassen, 1994, p. 51). World cities perform a dual role at the intersection of the global economy and the nation-state.

    This process leads to competitive struggle between cities to get and to retain world city status. However, this world city status bears considerable social costs: the economic restructuring is accompanied by a growing social polarisation or dualisation in the occupational and income structure, which is paralleled by high levels of spatial and ethnic segregation. Sao Paulo is but one illustration of the contradiction between the "success" of being the world city and the human price that most of its inhabitants must endure to survive (Sachs, 1990). The struggles of people, caught in the trap of relative territorial immobility and the mobility of international capital, are a part of the dynamic which will shape both the world cities and the capitalist world economic system (Kowarick, 1994).

    The process of globalization not only changes the economic and social fabric, and the environment, of large urban areas, but remodel their spatial structure as well. The outcomes of this process will differ between particular countries and cities - the links are contingent, and depend to a significant extent on the scale and structure of the welfare state intervention, income distribution, planning policy and the mode of social regulation.

    The discrepancy between the rate of company expansion and the rate of urban development is a problem cities, and in particular world cities, have to face. In some cases, urban life is in danger of being stifled by the very high rate of economic growth; the opposite trend can be observed in cities deserted by companies. How can cities and firms reconcile their respective needs?

    How do major transformations taking place in the patterns of world economic interdependence manifest themselves in cities functioning as regional and global nodes? How are these processes of internationalization articulated with other components in the economic and social structure of a large city? What are the consequences of these developments for the general socio-economic conditions of city residents? Recent research shows sharp increases in socio-economic and spatial inequalities within major cities of the developed world: how do global processes affect the daily life in the cites in terms of values, consumption patterns, life styles and political behaviour?

    The Fragmented City

    Throughout the ages cities have been the crucibles for the advance of civilization, the melting-pots integrating people of different cultures, languages and creeds, the loci of tolerance and conviviality. Synonymous of democratic sociability, today they are too often synonymous of exclusion, racism, xenophobia and violence; a reversal in values ("une urbanité disloquée"). Across Europe, there is a profound unity of processes and logics that lead to hate, fear and growing incapacity to recognize and accept otherness (Baudrillard et al., 1981; Bourdieu, 1993; Donzelot, 1991; Delarue, 1991; Geindre, 1993; Lipovetsky, 1983; Noirot, 1994; Roman, 1993; Wieviorka, 1992 & 1993).

    Urban exclusion means that a shift has occurred between the paradigm of inequality within a cohesive social entity to the paradigm of fragmentation, isolation, poverty pockets, radical otherness. If nothing is done to stop this shift from integration to segregation, cities will break up into separate sectors: on the one hand, overprotected areas and on the other, dangerous, ghettos and "outlaw zones".

    This growing social and spatial polarization of cities goes hand in hand with mounting urban violence. Many forms of violence in the city are not only political, but are related to social, economic and cultural exclusion (Lapeyronnie, 1993). Teresa Caldeira (1992) shows how violent crime has increased in Sao Paulo in the last decade, so has the fear of crime and the talk of crime, materially embodied in the city's walls. She argues that "if the fear of crime and the spread of violence are real in Sao Paulo, and if crime is supplying a language to talk about and think of many other de-stabilizing processes, it is also the case that with the help of the talk of crime and crisis what is being forged is a much more segregated city and unequal society, and a polity in which the notions of justice and citizenship rights are fading away - for the sake of security and of the proper".

    The degree of social inequality, cultural conflict and political fragmentation in cities has sharpened over the last decade. The ghost of social, political and psychological fragmentation haunts our society. Social divisions tear apart the very fabric of urban life and are testimony to the fact that cities and urban life styles lead to conflict and suffering that may weaken society as a whole. Cities, as political entities, are faced with the following trade-off: will they develop into exclusion-generating systems or will they become promoters of citizenship and well-being, supported by local social contracts? The quest for citizenship seems to be universal. To enable and to guarantee the full exercise of citizenship could be seen as the guiding force of the forthcoming urban civilization (Sachs-Jeantet, 1993).

    The Multi-cultural and Multi-ethnic City

    Cities are by definition, and tradition, "cosmopolitan". Perhaps the most dramatic change which urbanization brings is the throwing together, in small, geographical areas, of people from different cultures and backgrounds. As underlined by Mario Polèse, this represents both the chief strength of the city, as a center for social innovation (urban culture), and its Achilles' heel. The collision of cultures can be both a source of creation and of conflict. The city is a powerful tool for promoting positive social change. However, by bringing strangers together, urbanization provokes tensions. Values and perceptions collide. How society deals with these tensions is perhaps the most difficult challenge of all. Few societies are immune to the specter of violence and ethnic strife.

    To counteract nationalist tendencies, consolidating social integration with respect to ethnic and cultural diversity, and yet inciting them to blossom, is a major public policy challenge facing cities today and tomorrow. What are the principles for an equitable quality of life in cities? What have we learnt from experience about the principles of multi-ethnic coexistence in urban areas and what are the strategies to be implemented to enhance cosmopolitanism of city dwellers?

    The Governed City

    Cities as magnifiers of general social problems have become crucibles of crises more or less amenable to governance. Changes in thestructure of contemporary urbanization raise the problem of social, economic and political governability, and in particular, of the emerging large metropolitan complexes.

    How did governance - involving the relationship between civil society and government institutions at different levels - become restructured, on one hand, as a consequence of globalization and, on the other, the search for greater local democracy, accountability and transparency? What empowerment policies are needed to seek new forms of partnership for development between the State, the city, civil society and the private sector to guarantee the right to the city and the full exercize of citizenship in terms of political, civil, economic, social, psychological and cultural rights which are indissoluble? What new imaginative systems of governance can be found to foster civic engagement and integration of ethnic minorities?

    States or markets? Processes of decentralization, municipalization and privatization of functions (urban services) previously carried out by central government, are part of the more general and structural transformations of the State, and the need to rethink local government.

    In which ways will urban management issues such as social policy, infrastructure investment, public transportation, land policy, municipal finance and administration, and responses to urban social crises, determine the future of cities, and their capacity to cope with social transformations and guide social change, including the management of desired transitions?

    According to Guido Martinotti, particularly in regions with millenary urban history such as Europe, changes in the structure of contemporary urbanization - strained by the new patterns of social relations emerging in time and space - raise the problem of social, economic and political governance of the large metropolitan complexes. Local governments are elected by residents, but the economic interests of the metropolis are increasingly dependent on agents, such as big financial and industrial corporations which are not politically accountable from the point of view of the city itself. Traditional municipal policies and institutions seem inadequate to achieve the aim of governing these new entities.

    Indeed, the new form of urban morphology is largely the product of the progressive differentiation of several populations gravitating around metropolitan centers. With increased mobility of the population, the very relations between population and territory become highly dynamic. Many of the social problems of contemporary metropolitan societies depend on the coexistence, competition and superimposition of these "urban layers" - inhabitants, commuters, users, metropolitan businessmen - and lead to de facto disenfranchising of the urban dweller. Martinotti argues that a great deal of governance problems of the new metropolis can be approached more aptly by acknowledging this intertwinement of morphologies.

    The administrative borders of the traditional centers have often become obsolete in the course of the current urban dynamics. So far local democracy was largely understood in terms of some variation of the original idea of political community, but now the validity of this concept is increasingly submitted to erosion by the emerging social and physical morphology of the city (Martinotti, 1993).

    The Ecological City

    A city is a complex natural and social ecosystem, and should be managed accordingly. In terms of quality of life for the populations concerned, the disruption of the urban environment is one of the most difficult problems faced in the mega-cities of the South. A fundamental aspect of the urban environmental problem, emphasized by WHO (1992), is the prevalence of poor health and the premature death of millions of people (mostly infants and children) due to inadequate nutrition and pollution of water, air and soil (Hardoy et al., 1990; Hardoy & Satterthwaite, 1992). Even though the situation in the cities of the North is less dramatic, environmental degradation has long-term effects and prejudices the movement towards sustainable cities.

    How cities can play a crucial role in moving our societies toward a more environmentally sustainable future and environmentally sensitive local politics (Stren et al., 1992)? Designing socially responsive and environmentally sustainable urban strategies that respond to the diversity of ecosystems and their resource potentials, as well as of needs as perceived by local communities, calls to move away from ex-post remedial environmental management to ex-ante pro-active environmental policies. For this, to promote a more rational resource management so as to increase the efficiency of the urban economy by: (i) identifying and eliminating the wasteful uses of resources (financial, physical and human) and in this way releasing resources for development; (ii) extending the useful life of existing infrastructure, buildings, and equipment by better maintenance; and (iii) mobilizing latent, underused, misused or wasted resources, both in the 'legal' and in the 'illegal' city: vacant land, unoccupied public and private buildings, the potential for non-financial investment in self-help housing, waste recycling, energy and water saving (Alberti et al., 1994; Sachs, I. & Silk, 1991).

    The Technological City

    Science and technology are an essential component of the future of cities. In a highly interconnected world, in which competitiveness will depend largely on the capacity to generate and utilize knowledge, scientific and technological capabilities will strongly influence the pattern of urban development and amenities, and cities' sustainable management. Advances in science and technology have created unprecedented opportunities for improvements in standards of living. However, that progress in material well-being for a growing fraction of the world's population coexists with stagnation and even deterioration in standards of living for the majority of poor people. The clash between rising aspirations and the reality of widespread poverty has become a source of social tension.

    Cities of the future call for exploring and assessing the opportunities and threats of science and technology for their management under the new techno-economic paradigm, and in particular advances in new technologies (information technology, biotechnology, new and advanced materials). They call for urban innovations adapted to ecological, cultural and socio-economic contexts, and for designing resource-conserving cities, blending the most advanced and the traditional techniques (skillful management of technological pluralism), both affordable and accessible to developing countries. How to improve the overall cost-effectiveness of fixed capital investment in urban infrastructure, in services and in shelter by means of developing and demonstrating new cost-effective, resource-efficient, environmentally sustainable technological solutions? How can the trend towards flexible specialization and the concomitant communication revolution characteristic of the "second industrial divide" (Piore and Sabel, 1984) alter rural-urban configurations, by "diffuse industrialization" à l'italienne?

    Acknowledging the growing importance of science and technology should not lead to celebrate the marvels of what they offer to mankind and cities' future. Science and technology are a social process among others, hence the need to refute urban management anchored on the mystification of the “technological fate” (Salomon, 1992).

    "Development is an uncertain quest in which the seekers are doomed to rely more and more on science and technology. The quest is uncertain not only because there is no prior guarantee of success (nor that it will be lasting), but above all because it raises questions about the price of modernity: the benefits that a country can expect to derive from it, in political, economic, social, and cultural terms, as well as the sacrifices that it is prepared to make on its behalf... In short, despite what was promised by the rationalism of the Enlightenment and even more by positivism of the nineteenth century, scientific and technological progress does not necessarily coincide with social and moral progress... In the upheavals marking the end of the twentieth century... the whole world is in quest of new paths and alternatives leading to a better social order... Science and technology can contribute a great deal to development, but they cannot do everything, and above all they do not offer a ready-made solution to the problem of values that is raised by the clash between tradition and modernity... Development requires... a mastery of the consequences of scientific and technical change” (Salomon et al., 1994, pp.22-24).


    Cities, a multi-faceted problem, are confronting daunting challenges continuously altered by the constellation of political, economic, social, cultural, environmental, scientific, and technological changes. The choices and challenges are many. To face these formidable challenges cities are faced with a dilemma: either to reaffirm blind faith in the power of economic growth, synonymous of modernization and progress, and the hidden assumption that the gains of economic growth will "trickle down" to the poor and make cities fit to live in; or cities strive for explicit societal development subordinated to values of social equity, ecological sustainability, economic efficiency, political participation , and cultural pluralism and integration. The specter of social, political and psychological fragmentation haunts our society; to halt it constitutes the real challenge as we approach the twenty-first century. To fight exclusion and discrimination, and to promote human rights and peace, are the motto.

    The ongoing process of globalization can be seen as “a narrative of eviction” (Sassen, 1994) of the symbolic meaning of places and people's quality of life, as if the place where we live no longer matters. On the contrary, the process of social (re)construction of spaces - public spaces - by enabling citizenship, as opposed to this loss of the place-boundedness, is not only complementary, but crucial, to the globalization of capital if we do not want to move towards a world of "non-lieux" (Augé, 1992).

    To resume with the art of the city and its symbolic meaning is crucial. Augustin Berque (1993) offers a beautiful journey across Japanese cities illustrating the intertwining of social link and places, that is, in fact, to nature. Manuel Castells (1989) pleads in favor of "a series of political, economic and technological strategies that could contribute to the reconstruction of the social meaning in the new historical reality characterized by the formation of the space of flows as the space of power and functional organizations... The new techno-economic paradigm imposes the space of flows as the irreversible spatial logic of economic and functional organizations. The issue then becomes how to articulate the meaning of places to this new functional space. The reconstruction of place-based social meaning requires the simultaneous articulation of alternative social and spatial projects at three levels: cultural, economic, and political..."

    The ethics of the city is to serve people and not the economy, hence the need to depart from an economicist vision of the city, the urban economy and macroeconomic performance framework, and explicitly assert the coronation of the citizen ("le sacre du citoyen”, Rosanvallon, 1992) and, as a corollary, the process of expansion of citizenship rights - civil, political, and social (Marshall, 1977). This principle must be upheld if cities are to become safe and democratic places to live.

    The search for socially and environmentally sustainable urban development strategies should be guided by the principles outlined in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (June 1992), and in particular Principle 1: "Human beings are at the center of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature."

    Hence, managing social transformations in cities should become a process of expanding people's capabilities and entitlements, of enlarging the range of people's choices. This shift in development thinking towards the concept of human development, that is development of people, for people, including the creation of economic opportunities for all, and by people, requiring participatory approaches, should become the driving force of urban management, and, thus, elevate “city governance and democracy” to the forefront of urban futures.

    The challenge ahead is to promote alternative urban futures towards:

    • cities, managers of social transformations and guides of deliberate social change;
    • cities of solidarity and multiculturalism, capable to nurture an environment of tolerance and social sustainability;
    • cities, promoters of citizenship and well-being;
    • resourceful cities, designed to use natural resources sustainably.
    In this imagined future of modernism, the right to the city, vector of social integration and humanism, can be fostered through:
    • Fighting the fragmented city and struggle against social exclusion before its territorial crystallisation - the French urban policy illustrates the limits of the territorial management of exclusion (Belorgey, 1994) - by policies to alleviate urban poverty, promote social integration and generate employment. Unemployment is often the trigger of exclusion, however exclusion is not only economic and social, but political, cultural, and symbolic - the question then becomes how to satisfy the claim for dignity of the marginalized population (Lapeyronnie, 1993).
    • Building partnerships for change between the civil society, the State and the market in the context of 'mixed economies' with special emphasis on participatory management and increased citizen involvement.
    • Empowering of local communities through enablement strategies for urban self-reliance by making available the resources and techniques that cannot be mobilized locally, in particular funding community initiatives (Arrossi et al., 1994); even if not easy, community involvement is indispensable for social cohesion.
    • Strengthening of local capabilities to cope with the rapidly changing environment, and therefore changing priorities.
    • Implementing a holistic and multi-sectoral approach to urban regeneration, targeted at neighborhoods, as the essential building block of urban change.
    Beyond the conceptual challenge of envisioning cities as the enhancement of human capabilities, and hence endorsing an ethical stand - the right to the city, vector of social integration and humanism, by enabling the exercise of citizenship -, there is an urgent need for a very profound reconceptualization of the intellectual and empirical tools for the study of urban social facts and processes because many of the established intellectual tools used to depict the urban phenomenon were built on a radically different urban morphology, and are strained by the new patterns of social relations emerging in time and space. Scholars of urban phenomena, and social scientists in general, are faced with the challenging task of radically redefining the object of our field, and its conceptual representation. To appreciate fully the challenges and options available it is necessary to develop new conceptual frameworks, habits of thought and willingness to move to highly disaggregated modes of thinking, as well as to reinterpret past experience in a rapidly changing context.

    According to Guido Martinotti, if we want to understand the current urban dynamics and related social problems, we must adopt a new visual angle based on the idea that the study of cities is systemic in character and that at present the system we have to consider tends to have planetary extension. One of the aspects of our conceptual apparatus that needs radical reconsideration has to do with the implicit or explicit intellectual heritage of social ecology where the residential function is largely prominent.

    Another one has to do with the challenge of change and policy relevance, that is to cope with uncertainty and change; to enhance "organizational learning" (Argyris & Schön, 1978); to bridge the gap between theory and practice by fostering reflection-in-action (Schön, 1983); to implement the socially desirable futures through the strategic planning process viewed "as a loose co-operative learning process that involves a multiplicity of actors throughout the whole fabric of society, that seeks to attain increasing levels of shared perceptions on objectives and goals, and that aims at agreeing on specific anticipatory and actual decision on the basis of temporary consensus" (Sagasti, 1988), and to foster innovation (more flexible capacity to respond and adapt).

    Furthermore, a methodological reflection on empirical categories is called for: the history of concepts - distinction between universal tendencies versus local phenomena - and their specific meanings in given cultural contexts, through a multicultural viewpoint examining how spaces and urban territories are categorized in various linguistic areas and different countries (semantic problems, conceptual, terminological and empirical data issues).

    As territories where social transformations take place, cities need to be monitored and studied from a broad social science perspective. In this context the following three major tasks for MOST are to be underlined:

    • to study simultaneously the different facets of the social transformations at work, that is, to study the city as a territory where the global city, the fragmented city, the multicultural and multi-ethnic city, the governed city, the ecological city, and the technological city concert, but also as a territory mastering many of the social transformations of the future;
    • to build a transdisciplinary knowledge base involving urban studies and planning, sociology, geography, political science, political economy of development, anthropology, economics, organization theory, sociology of organizations, history, behavioral sciences, linguistics, and architecture, and to reflect on the specificity of the urban research nowadays - the territorial-theoretical nexus;
    • to foster international, transdisciplinary comparative research and co-operation between urban research communities, as well as to convey scientific information and knowledge to users (policy-makers, citizen movements, NGOs, trade unions, etc.).
    Of the necessity to renew research methods: the challenges are not only conceptual, but concern research philosophy and goals, elaboration of proposals and the process of policy change (the essence of decision and the implementation game). The question today is not (or less) what to do, but how to do it, and rather than producing normative discourses on what ought to be done, get people actively involved in charting their own destinies and construct cities, territories of desire(s) - individual and collective, conscious and unconscious -, territories of utopia, territories of democracy, where the coronation of the citizen and citizenship is corollary to rely on the competence of the town-dweller (Sachs-Jeantet, 1994).


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    About the author

    Céline Sachs-Jeantet, urban planner, was educated at the Institut d'Urbanisme de Paris and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earned a PhD in urban studies from the University of Paris XII in 1987. She has served as a consultant for urban affairs to the World Bank, Unesco, the United Nations University and the French Government. She is the author of São Paulo. Politiques publiques et habitat populaire (Paris. 1990. Editions Maison des Sciences de l'Homme) and co-editor of The Uncertain Quest. Science, Technology, Development (Tokyo. 1994. United Nations University Press).

    The facts and opinions expressed in this series are those of the authors and do not engage the responsibility of UNESCO.

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