Two persons climbing up the stairs

Power dynamics are identified and dismantled for more equitable structures

#Power

In a sustainable and just city, harmful power relations are addressed for systematic and transformative change to take place. Power relations characterized by inequality, exclusion, exploitation and extractivism are acknowledged and questioned. People have the transformative capacity to challenge, alter and replace existing power relations. Transforming power is about dismantling existing structures and creating alternative practices while also being critical and transparent about new power dynamics that emerge. 

Related keys: #Solidarity  #Knowledge  #Translocal 

Besides the approach of participatory budgeting mentioned below, transformative power can be exercised through approaches that focus on exercising “prefigurative power.” This takes the form of developing alternative ways of doing, thinking and organizing that are more fair and equitable, such as crowdsourcing, community gardens,  co-working spaces, digital fabrication, cooperatives, urban commons and sharing initiatives. These approaches show that alternative ways of organizing are not only possible, but that they already exist and may help to make existing unsustainable and unjust structures obsolete. Other approaches are more explicitly focused on countervailing power, in other words, challenging and dismantling problematic power inequalities. This includes efforts such as the right to housing movement and civil disobedience initiatives. It is often the combination of different and intersectional approaches, and the strategic collaboration and complementarity between them, that can empower citizens to exercise transformative power. 

Governance, by definition, is inherently connected to power. All six governance arrangements identified by UrbanA can help to shift power relations, while at the same time, also involve new problematic power dynamics. The three most important governance arrangement for enabling transformative power are:

Injustice ultimately manifests in terms of power relations, meaning that the issue of power is inherent to the concept of injustice. Limited citizen participation in urban planning and Weakened civil society, for instance, are related to unequal power relations between citizens and civil society actors on the one hand, and policy-makers and commercial parties on the other hand. Many drivers of injustice, like exclusive access to the benefits of sustainability infrastructure, material and livelihood inequalities, racialized or ethnically exclusionary urbanization, uneven and exclusionary urban intensification and regeneration as well as uneven environmental health and pollution patterns, result from a structural and historical legacy of power asymmetries. This manifests across class, ethnicity, gender and generation. All drivers of injustice require us to recognize uneven power relations and make a commitment to changing those power relations.

Inspirational example

Participatory budgeting to re-distribute power, Amsterdam

Participatory budgeting is a democratic process in which community members decide how to spend part of a public budget. It has the potential to “give people real power over real money” and provide opportunities for experimentation in cities around the world. 

In Amsterdam (The Netherlands), for instance, Participatory Budgeting is implemented in the Indische Buurt neighbourhood. The City and a citizens’ initiative collaborated to make the municipal budget more transparent, the municipality more accountable and the public budget better aligned with the needs and ideas of residents. Participatory budgeting has the potential to challenge existing power between residents and local governments by empowering residents to (1) hold the municipality accountable for expenditures, while also (2) influencing how their neighbourhood is developed. In this way, participatory budgeting has the potential to shift decision-making power for municipal budget allocation, engaging hitherto neglected residents in this process. There is also mutual learning as residents understand more about the budget and budgeting process, and municipalities learn more about residents' concerns and issues.

Colourful statues

Avenues for action

You might be wondering, what everyday actions can I take to put all this theory into practice? Take a look at the avenues for action, below, for some practical guidance.

Get inspired!

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Drivers of Urban Injustice

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Environmental racism

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