Globalization/metropolization : interest of a democratic management of the city

Georges Thill, Jean-Paul Leonis, octobre 2001

Dialogues, propositions, histoires pour une citoyenneté mondiale (DPH)

Today, we cannot help but take seriously the context of globalization, which is a truncated globalization, breaking down the processes of organization and communalization of cities. Through the two examples presented in this sheet, we discover both what weight represents, for the inhabitants of the city (Dakar), an instrumentalization guided by globalization and the new metropolisations that result from it ; but also to what extent (Porto Alegre) a democratic urban management, through the participation of the populations, is a possible way for a viable human urbanization and the elaboration of equitable, ecologically viable socio-economic dynamics, where scientific and participative co-expertise plays a central role.


The experiences of the cities of Dakar and Porto Alegre are very interesting if we want to understand the globalization/metropolization couple, not only for the South but also for the North: the situations and problems encountered in the South are often like a reflection in a mirror. This mirror reflects back to us, in a sometimes extreme and distorted way, our own situations and problems, as well as our intentions in the public policy interventions that we organize, sometimes in an experimental manner. In this respect, the pilot projects carried out in these cities are instructive: they allow us to understand the constraints and the socio-economic dynamics of sustainable urbanization.

As regards developing countries, at the end of the 1960s, public aid, both bilateral and multilateral, provided by the industrialized countries, was intended to bring the so-called underdeveloped countries into the game of a new globalization/metropolization at work in the so-called developed countries. The World Bank plays a decisive role in this process. Since the 1970s, the World Bank has held a hegemonic position in urban development.

A hegemony that is manifested at two levels

Firstly, the doctrine based on the search for maximum efficiency, understood in a very traditional way as the mobilization of a minimum of financial, technical and human resources for maximum results. The search for such efficiency generally implies an acceleration of the globalization process and a correlative increase in the rate of urbanization in all countries, with the large cities becoming the hoped-for locus of modernity and home to the factors most useful for development.

Then, in terms of the implementation of the doctrine, the World Bank, if we take the case of Dakar as an example, has been financing since 1970 a heavy construction project of low-cost housing (11,000 sanitized plots) intended to accommodate, among others, the population driven out of the intra-urban slums. It was also the time when, for a short period, from 1970 to 1975, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a subsidiary of the World Bank, provided support for projects that were completely extraverted, but all located in the Dakar region and intended to attract foreign private investors: industrial free zones, excessive tourism projects, industrial market gardening projects, and a giant refinery project. French cooperation and the European Development Fund (EDF) are providing support for the improvement of major infrastructure.

In terms of governance, the state must be modernized, and therefore reformed and adjusted. Structural adjustment programs are mobilizing 30% of World Bank loans and credits. Decentralization will become a major operational expression that will allow the privatization of urban services, the establishment or reinforcement of an institutional framework for urban management, mainly budgetary, and thus, following the example of Dakar, priority will be given to large economic metropolises likely to attract investors.

As far as social effects are concerned, only some of the inhabitants benefit from the unbridled modernization of the city, its activities and its infrastructure. This is why these metropolises today present a series of repeated crisis figures on a globalized planet.

What alternative ?

The case of Porto Alegre (we have heard about the participatory management of the municipal budget), represents an alternative through the democratic management of the city. It may be a form of social dissent from the State (society against unbridled neo-liberalism), but the experience of Porto Alegre was able to unfold thanks to the political will of the mayors who have succeeded one another since 1989, just after the vote on the new democratic constitution, which required cities with more than 20,000 inhabitants to draw up and adopt a fundamental municipal law in a context of the beginning of decentralization. The experience also benefited from the reflections of a large contingent of Brazilian intellectuals, known as the « Movement for Urban Reform », which has been active since 1988.

This means, in conclusion, that if the city is instrumentalized, metropolization has become the operational tool imagined by the markets, themselves relayed by the development aid institutions to reinforce and accelerate the process of globalization (economic, financial, technological). Porto Alegre shows, somewhat like a utopia, a more viable path for sustainable human urban development by valuing civil society against the institutional form of neo-liberalism, the «  governance ". The city is divided into sectors grouping a number of neighborhoods where general assemblies allow for the definition of investment priorities based on the expression of demand. Each sector has elected delegates who synthesize the priorities expressed. The priorities are ordered according to the scores, i.e., according to the evaluation criteria selected the previous year by the Participatory Budget Council, which works with the City Council and in particular with its planning office to draw up budget proposals submitted to the City Council for a vote. Here we find a practice of learning about democratically negotiated urban management and a broader solidarity that can also result from the act of participation.


OSMONT A. 2001. «  The consequences of globalization on urban policies and urban management ", Prelude , 41-43 , pp. 123-132 (ISSHO-CSEAS-PRELUDE International Symposium, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, March 9-12, 1999, «  Sustainable Urban Co-development. Higher education, research and management responsibilities ")

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The experience of the participatory budget of Porto Alegre in Brazil seen from Senegal