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Rencontre Valmer "The Transforming Arab City. Local Empowerment and Urban Governance"

  • Essentially anchored in towns and cities, the protests synonymous with the Arab Spring reflected a population’s deep-rooted desire for political and social change across the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean region. Whilst access to jobs, along with the democratization of the political system, represented a primary concern, citizens also voiced the urgent need to address the issue of living conditions and particularly the provision of housing and urban services by the authorities. 


    The Arab Spring has opened channels for claims (often articulated by either urban planning associations or environmentalist groups) against the urban policies which have prevailed over recent decades. Such claims include: (i) a lack of strategic planning; (ii) an absence of dialogue during the planning and implementation phases of urban projects; (iii) the monopolization of urban land by elites; (iv) inability of housing provision to reflect resources or needs of local populations (which partly explains the resurgence of informal housing across the region since January 2011). In the context of political crisis, the decentralization of power has become a key objective of policy-makers who are seeking to build new ways of strengthening existing institutions and local associations. The latter have been assigned not only with greater responsibilities but also to be more accountable to citizens for their actions. Civil society representatives have been instrumental in the emergence of new urban themes such as participation of inhabitants in urban projects, or sustainable development. They have established channels of dialogue not only with the public local and national authorities, but also with international financial institutions in order to obtain their participation in redefining local governance processes, ultimately leading to new ways of shaping the Mediterranean city.

    Analysis, Engagement and Action
    The urban making in the Arab world is the subject of considerable analytic scrutiny. Analyzing the importance of key actors in the construction and the management of towns and cities across the region, studies have highlighted the key role of local population in the production of the urban space, as well as strong levels of interaction between formal and informal town. Specialists have also studied the complex relations between the growing number of actors in the process of defining and implementing the urban agenda, whether it be local elected representatives, private support, financial investors or developers. The protests of the Arab Spring have furthermore cast a light on the urban space providing a means to deepen our understanding of cities across the Mediterranean. The last two years have seen numerous comprehensive scientific events whilst contributing to the rise in published academic work.
    In line with such developments, the Center for Mediterranean Integration (CMI) has developed urban programs, through the implementation of national and regional activities in the region. Those activities provide tools that aim at facilitating decision processes and at leading to reforms of public policies (essentially urban policies) in order to promote strategic urban development. Changes which occurred in the region reinforced CMI’s role as a platform for knowledge sharing on these themes and for mobilizing the resources of the international community in order to promote an innovative and integrated approach.
    Organized on April 4 and 5, 2013, the next Rencontre Valmer event will be an opportunity to review the last two years, following the Arab Spring, and to shed a light on the evolving Arab city. Analytic work focusing on new urban development approaches, on the “Transforming Arab city, Local Empowerment and Urban Governance” will be presented by researchers (Southern and Eastern rims of the Mediterranean, France, Germany), to discuss, and to bring this knowledge closer to the CMI urban activities. The Rencontre will have three objectives:
    1. Present a state of the art of current analytic work on urban issues since the Arab Spring in the Southern Mediterranean, with a focus on urbanization processes and local urban governance.
    2. Discuss with regional counterparts the stakes and challenges that the Arab cities are facing.
    3. Compare and confront analytic work that will be presented with operational activities, in order to highlight what lessons CMI and international organizations can learn from those analyses.