Right to the City

At its heart, the Right to the City is more than just improving people’s neighbourhoods and housing, or improving the city and its surroundings. It is about democratic control over the city, with the right to access, occupy and use urban space.

Over half the world’s population lives in cities, with our relationships, environment and daily lives intimately shaped and formed by our urban surroundings. And yet, most of us have no power over these surroundings.

The Right to the City means:

  • Buildings are no longer vacant whilst tens of thousands of people are left homeless
  • Everyone can decide how our community, including our schools, hospitals and transport systems, are run and developed
  • All of us have the opportunity to live in housing that is affordable, secure and that we control regardless of tenure.

Whose streets? Our streets!

It's time to come together to fight for the Right to the City and take back our streets. Now is the time to start a new urban revolution.

British urban life

Margaret Thatcher’s policy of Right to Buy sold social housing into private hands, removed collective control of cities, increased inequality and ultimately made affordable, decent housing a scarce commodity. It violated any notion of a Right to the City and continues to have a crippling effect on people hoping to have a home of their own.

The policies of the recent governments have only worsened this, with measures including benefit caps and the ‘bedroom tax’, forcing people out of housing. In London, there is a lack of legislation controlling private landlords and letting agents from profiting from the shortage of rental properties. The Right to the City is denied to the poorest and most vulnerable, whilst making the rich richer.


South African shack dwellers reclaiming their cities

In South Africa, the constitution states everyone must have access to housing. Yet, just like under apartheid planning, cities continue to centralise wealth and opportunity for a few, whilst most are shut out, living in appalling conditions, miles from public services or work opportunities. In the world’s second most unequal country, one in four people live in metal shacks, lacking basic services like water, electricity and toilets.

War on Want’s partner, Abahlali baseMjondolo (meaning people living in shacks), is South Africa’s largest social movement and campaigns for everyone to have a life of dignity based on equal access to land, housing and basic services. Abahlali baseMjondolo has won numerous successes in their fight for the Right to the City, including a Constitutional Court battle against a law to demolish homes as part of a clean-up campaign ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. However, such victories have come at a heavy cost, with violence and intimidation all too common.

Taking back the streets in Brazil

Despite being the sixth largest economy in the world, Brazil is among the top 10 most unequal countries, with over a fifth of the population living below the poverty line. Rapid urbanisation over the last few decades has led to 8 in 10 Brazilians living in highly unequal urban areas.

In response, social movements mobilised and civil society lobbied for urban reform. In 2001, the Right to the City was inserted into the Brazilian Constitution. For the first time ever, the Right to the City moved beyond an abstract concept to a legal right. Again in 2013, ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympics, civil society claimed their Right to the City. This time it was through mass public demonstrations across the country, calling for improvements to services, including education, healthcare and transport. 

Street vendors and market traders in Zambia

CLICK HERE to see an exhibition by award-winning photographer Tina Remiz, showcasing the daily lives of street vendors and market traders in Zambia struggling for their right to work in the city.

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