The dense interconnectivity of the informational economy has made cities – once more – the nerves of international society. The economic prosperity of cities generates material wealth and job opportunities for their inhabitants, and it shapes the conditions, worldwide, for the continuing migration to cities, but it does not come without a price. Urban land is a current good in the hands of international capital. Nowhere else is the price of land increasing so rigorously as in the economically well-connected urban spaces. However, the ‘triumph of cities’ is a catastrophe for the ordinary inhabitants. Attracted by the potential of income and jobs, they are the first to be expulsed from the new urban affluence. There are enormous differences in the social and economic position of such cities as Rio de Janeiro, Addis Ababa, Istanbul or Amsterdam (cities to be analysed in this book) but they all feel the pressure and social expulsion of the selective economic processes. Yet, urban land is not just a resource of economic capital. Throughout the 20th century, low-income residents and social movements mobilised cities and states. They organised social resilience via public opinion, social organisation and political representation in order to provide opportunities for ordinary citizens to shape their access and their own qualities of ‘urban place’ rather than being dependent on the lone commercial exploitation of land.
This book posits the meaning of self-build initiatives within this field of tension between the selective processes of economic accretion on the one hand, and the social rights of participation in and the appropriation of the city on the other. Central attention goes to the commissioning role of the residents in shaping their own opportunities at the micro level and in their active shaping of favourable conditions at the level of urban regimes. This active social participation leads in our analyses but it cannot operate alone. The commissioning role of residents has to be manifested in the behaviour of the other involved actors in the processes of urban development: the public sector; organised social and commercial developers; and financial investors. Throughout the 20th century, cities navigated between the two poles: being dependent for their income generation on the increase of social and economic wealth at the one pole; and distributing social opportunities according to the
A considerable part of this publication has been enabled via the sponsoring of the research project ‘Between Self-Regulation and Formal Government’ (BESEFEGO), conducted by a research consortium consisting of the University of Amsterdam and the University of São Paulo. The editors would like to thank the scientific organisations of the Netherlands, Brazil and United Kingdom (Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek [now], Fundaçäo de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de Säo Paulo [FAPESP] and Economic and Social Research Council [(ESRC] for this contribution. We would also like to thank Maarten Sluiter for the superb editing of the manuscript.