Comparing self-build experiences in city-regions over three continents, this book spans gigantic local differences. In order to make sense of comparison, a strict selection of paradigm is made to focus the analysis in all cases on the same relationships. The paradigm combines critical economic theory (coined by David Harvey) and cultural institutional analysis (inspired by Henri Lefebvre) in order to focus on the struggle between material and immaterial forces underlying the local performances. The analysis focuses both on the micro level performances and at the trans scalar social and political conditions to these practices. The commissioning role of residents vis-à-vis the role of the leading social movements focus on the social normalisation of moral ownership of the poor residents. The challenge is to sustain this active institutionalisation also in future processes of professionalization as the relationships on the lower segments of housing markets appear to be vulnerable for commercial economic exploitation.

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 directives of the electorate at the other. By focusing on the regime questions of contested urban governance, we hope to compare self-build initiatives from the extremely different cultures and social and economic circumstances of city-regions in three continents: Latin America, Europe and Africa.

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.

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