New Urban Politics and the Right To The City

The Right to the City as a Human Right

Person walks along tracks in Kibera, Kenya, the largest urban slum in Africa

Our planet is becoming one of city-dwellers.  The boundaries between the “urban” and “not-urban” exist less in the present, in our lived experience, than in historical memory, literary invocation, and theoretical musings.  Yet as cities and their populations expand at dramatic rates, neither urban infrastructures (such as electricity, sanitation, housing, and transit) nor political and legal systems (such as democratic inclusion and the protection of human rights) have kept the pace.  Rather, our cities struggle with deepening poverty and inequality, ecological insecurity, and uneven economic development, all of which threaten our very existence.  Building from Henri Lefebvre’s concept of “right to the city,” Balakrishnan Rajagopal argues that we need to look to international human rights discourse for a new language and approach to this critical moment.  He also offers concrete examples of how this new orientation can work and how global social movements are offering visions for an inclusionary and sustainable urban future.

Balakrishnan Rajagopal is Associate Professor of Law and Development at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning and founding Director of the Program on Human Rights and Justice at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and the founder of the Displacement Research and Action Network.  He is recognized as a leading participant in the Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) Network of scholars and is one of its founders, and is recognized as a leading global commentator on issues concerning the global South.  He has been a member of the Executive Council and Executive Committee of the American Society of International Law, and is currently on the Asia Advisory Board of Human Rights Watch, the International Advisory Committee of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights and the International Rights Advocates.  He is a Faculty Associate at Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation and has been a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, DC, the Madras Institute of Development Studies and the Jawaharlal Nehru University in India, the Institute for Advanced Studies at Hebrew University and a Visiting Professor at the UN University for Peace, University of Melbourne Law School and the Washington College of Law, the American University.

Co-sponsored with the Gallatin Human Rights Initiative