A feature of the People-Centered Development Forum, Release Date April 13, 1995

The Kuantan Conference -- A Citizens' Agenda

Meeting for the Asia Pacific Regional NGO Consultation on "Our Cities, Our Homes" held in Kuantan, Malaysia from April 9-13, 1995 as members of citizen organizations and networks representing a diverse range of interests--including the environment, health, media and communications, youth, children, women's development, housing, consumers, human rights, and development--we find that we share a common vision of a world of socially just, ecologically sustainable, politically participatory, economically productive, and culturally vibrant communities in which all people--women and men, people with disabilities, children, youth, adults, and the elderly live productive lives and prosper in peace and harmony. During this consultation we have affirmed our shared commitment, forged new friendships and alliances, and built an agenda towards the realization of our vision.

The world's cities have historically been centers of great human enterprise, culture, learning, and innovation. For many, they have offered places of opportunity and refuge. They have also had their dark and painful sides, sides that have become increasingly visible, even dominant in these closing years of the twentieth century. An explosion of unconscionable poverty is juxtaposed with a dehumanizing implosion of deepening alienation, anger, and social breakdown that manifests itself in urban violence, a loss of compassion for the weak, and a disregard of the environmental and human consequences of economic activity. For the marginalized and excluded the law has lost its legitimacy, because in their experience it serves only to protect the privileged. We see more of our cities becoming the battlefields of the 21st century on which class is pitted against class, race against race, religion against religion, and individual against individual in a competitive battle that depletes our resources and diminishes our sense of humanity. Those with wealth detach themselves from responsibility for the vulnerable human victims of these battles, withdrawing behind the physical walls of affluent suburban enclaves protected by private security guards and behind the legal walls of corporate charters protected by legions of corporate lawyers.

This disturbing reality is in large part a legacy of the ideologies and institutions of the twentieth century, and in particular of the dominant neoliberal economic development model of unfettered economic growth, unregulated markets, privatization of public assets and functions, and global economic integration that has become the guiding philosophy of our most powerful institutions. This model spawns projects that displace the poor to benefit those already better off, diverts resources to export production that might otherwise be used by the less advantaged to produce for their own needs, destroys livelihoods in the name of creating jobs, and legitimates policies that deprive persons in need of essential public services. The model advances institutional changes that shift the power to govern from people and governments to unaccountable global corporations and financial institutions devoted to a single goal--maximizing their own short-term financial gains. Its values honor a compassionless Darwinian struggle in which the strong consume the weak to capture wealth beyond reasonable need. It creates a system in which a few make decisions on behalf of the whole that return to themselves great rewards while passing the costs to others. For them the system works and they see no need for change. The many who bear the burden have no meaningful voice.

The decline and decay of our cities has become a highly visible consequence of these destructive forces--a metaphor for a global system that has set human societies on a path toward self-destruction. We take the plight of our cities to be a wake-up call for people everywhere, calling us to forge local, national, regional, and global alliances through which we will reclaim our power from the institutions that have abandoned us. We will use this power to rebuild our cities, towns, and villages--socially, ecologically, politically, economically, culturally, and physically--in line with our vision and with the needs of people living in a twenty-first century world. We look to the Habitat II conference to be held in Istanbul in June 1996 as a focusing event at which the world's people will share their visions of the future they want for themselves and their children and join in common cause to create their desired future through creative local, national, and global action. We approach it not as the last global conference of the twentieth-century, but rather as the first global conference of an emergent twenty-first century--a global conference at which the world's people will come forward to give new meaning to the opening words of the UN Charter, "We the people...."

Human habitats join together built spaces, movement spaces, social spaces, and ecological spaces into living spaces for people. The balance and synergy achieved among these four uses of space substantially determines the quality of our lives. In traditional communities these functions came together naturally and holistically. In modern cities they have become fragmented and disconnected. We must restore the sense of wholeness and balance--while simultaneously recognizing the essential interdependence of our cities, towns, villages, and rural spaces.

Two great issues inform our efforts to rebuild our habitats, our living spaces:

1) the need to transform our ways of living to bring them into balance with the natural ecosystems of our planet while assuring the right of all people to a good and decent means of livelihood as productive contributors to secure and vibrant communities; and

2) the need to transform our institutions to restore to people the power to govern their own lives. We recognize that meeting these needs will require that we transform the values and institutions of the existing global system to one that places life ahead of money, the basic needs of the many ahead of the extravagant consumption of the few, and the rights of people ahead of the rights of corporations. This transformation must be people driven, growing out of the aspirations, needs, and life experiences of people everywhere. We recognize that the issues are political and that change will require effective political action.

To this end we will work to:

  • Build public awareness of the links between the dominant development model and the social, environmental, and economic crisis of our cities, towns, and villages.
  • Encourage and support the efforts of people to articulate their own visions of the future and build their own agendas for achieving those visions.
  • Facilitate the linkage of these efforts into local, national, regional, and global alliances.
  • Transform existing systems of governance to assure that the decisions regarding the structures and functions of our habitats center on improving living for people rather than on increasing profits for corporations.
  • Assure adequate access to the built environment for all people, including children, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
  • End the dominance of our living spaces by automobiles in order to increase both the livability and sustainability of our cities and towns.
  • Achieve local food security based on sustainable methods of agriculture and the recycling of food and agricultural wastes.
  • Make the transition to meeting energy requirements from renewable, ecologically sound, and socially just sources.
  • Establish a harmonious relationship among people, animals, and plants within human settlement areas through the use of adequate green spaces.
  • Seek humanistic, nonmilitaristic approaches to dealing with social problems such as drug abuse.
  • Reduce the extractive burden that our cities impose on the world's rural areas.
  • Recognize and support the initiatives of women's groups in communities.

We commit ourselves, through the Plan of Action adopted at this meeting, to promote this agenda among our networks and through the processes of Habitat II and beyond.

For further information contact: The Asian Coalition on Housing Rights (ACHR), 73 Soi Sonthiwattana 4, Ladprao 110, Ladprao Road, Bangkok 10310, Thailand, fax (66-2) 539-9950; or Asia Pacific 2000, c/o United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Wisma UN, Block C, Kompleks Pejabat Kerajaan, Jalan Dungun, Damansara Heights, 50490 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, fax (60-3) 253-2361.

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