For almost 10 years, Serge Allou led the Habitat Solidarity programme, which aimed to support international cooperation between French NGOs and local authorities in the area of urban development. Subsequently he was managing director of GRET. Today he is on secondment from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the secretariat of Cities Alliance. The objective of this international platform is advocacy and action for cities, especially in the fight against urban poverty. In the run-up to the Habitat III summit in October 2016 in Quito, he replies to the questions put to him by In Touch on the issues at stake in this world summit that brings together urban players every 20 years.
What do you think of the Habitat III process and what can we expect from it?
20 years after the Habitat II conference, Habitat III will be the first conference called by the United Nations since the definition of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – goal 11 of which specifically concerns cities – and since Cop 21. The idea is to take stock of world urbanisation and work to make it a motor for development. One of the interesting points of this conference is the fact that it generates an extremely rich preparatory process: multiple international meetings, over 200 experts mobilised in Policy Units and invited to nourish reflections, countries who are seriously dealing with the urban question, donors redefining their support strategies, etc. The new urban agenda that will result from this process will make up a framework for the next 20 years. Although it is not binding, it will define shared directions. The challenge will be to ensure the recommendations are adhered to.
In your opinion, what should be the priority issue at Habitat III?
It is important that the role played by all players in the production and management of the city, locally and nationally, be definitively recognised. At State level, this issue must mobilise all public players, not just the Ministries of Housing and Urban Planning. Habitat II acknowledged the major role played by local authorities in managing territories and cities. But there is still much progress to be made in terms of decentralisation. Lastly, organised civil society must be a stakeholder in its own right in the debate on public policies and a ey player in their implementation. Dialogue and consultation between these players must become the norm at all levels.
What role can civil society play in this type of process and with what level of influence?
To date, the new urban agenda focuses on two points: improvement of the political and institutional environment of cities’ actions and operational priorities (local finances, strategic planning, access to basic services and infrastructures). Civil society can and must play a role at both these levels. At national level, it can participate in the definition of policies and the implementation of the corresponding institutional systems. At local level, it can lead innovations, promote citizenship and the right to the city for all, by being a stakeholder in its own right in urban management.