In the framework of “TransformAfrica” program, the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Rabat (HBS) organized a debate about the “Participative Urban Development” from 8 to 9 November 2019. In collaboration with Le Toit En Vert association and L’Uzine Foundation, the aim was to discuss and share the experience of civil society actors in developing a participative approach.
The main objective was to promote the initiatives of participative and sustainable urban development in Africa, encourage the creation of a network uniting active actors of civil society in the domain, and organize some activities to demonstrate some concrete examples of citizen participation. Thus, associations, professionals, organization, and researchers were invited to meet with the public at L’Uzine in Casablanca, Morocco.
Moreover, the title “Green Up Participative Urban Development” was meant to refer to the ecological approach that the HBS hopes to improve. The value of this purpose lies behind the fact that we live in an era characterized by massive urbanization, which affects the climate of our earth. On the other side, the theoretical background of questioning the participation of citizens in urban development finds its roots in the right to the city that every citizen should have.
Furthermore, these non-governmental actions are a valid instance to shift the paradigm that public policies have towards physical space. Paying attention to such efforts, the process of urban development will shift from a “top-down” to a “bottom-up” perspective. This idea is thought to be applied in Africa because the occurring urbanism in this continent is being supported by a neoliberal ideology that has had already marked all urban interventions. In this regard, bringing concrete projects from Morocco and Senegal is an opportunity to see how different initiatives from various socio-economic and political contexts are struggling for a participative urban development.
Toit En Vert was among the powerful models that participated in this debate. This association is interested in urban agriculture with a desire to sensitize people to the urgency of producing vegetables without chemicals products. It also works on increasing the awareness of living in an ecological milieu in harmony with nature.
In so doing, the members of this association materialize their ideas on the rooftop of the cultural building of L’Uzine. They grow tomatoes, puddings, peppers, olives, to say some, as well as conducting many workshops with local neighbours and those from other cities around the thematic of urban agriculture.
'Greening up' the rooftops of the city through the case of Toit En Vert has a symbolic message; Setting a green rooftop in an industrial area is a way to turn the camera to the factories that pollute the air of the Ain Sbaa area. Yet, it reveals how big companies dominate the export of seeds in Morocco, as the association finds it difficult to ship from Europe. However, there is hope to share on a large scale, and to push the local authorities and architects to keep in mind how useful it is to have a strong rooftop when planning a building.
In the same field, Enda Rup Dakar Foundation from Senegal contributes to grounding the urban development by working with subalterns and impoverished communities. The foundation has addressed food sovereignty to reinforce the right of communities to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through an ecological and sustainable method. It criticizes the way neoliberal urbanism separated rural space from urban areas. For it, our space should be mixed by favouring urban agriculture since it was the case for a long time. To achieve this, its members plan workshops and conduct empirical researches to gather as much data as possible from the concerned population. By this method, marginalized groups will vocalize their aspirations within an organized organism. Consequently, public policies will have rich data to consider when developing an area.
Away from urban agriculture, L'Atelier de L’Observatoire is engaged in saving the memory of the city. This observatory is a space for art and research that aims to develop participatory projects for an alternative memory of Casablanca. By collecting the works of residents, artists, and researchers, the intention is to encourage social groups to speak. L'Atelier argues that urban memory is not only urban experience but also speeches that emerge or disappear according to the position of actors. And in a big city like Casablanca, national and private galleries have always marginalized popular neighbourhoods, ordinary individuals, and artists of the community. As a result, the association established a collective museum to include different actors who've contributed to the creation of the city.
The conversation witnessed the presentation of the Urban Observatory of Salé of its experience with the convention of the rehabilitation of the Medina of Salé 2019-2023. The representant of the observatory pointed out that they have a horizontal perspective, through which all actors involved in this convention are supposed to share their attitudes towards the city. Whether it is rehabilitation or restructuration, the Sala Moustaqbal Association’s no-profit organization publishes a series of annual reports that give citizens the chance to take a look at the indicators of urban development in the city.
To follow the establishment of the rehabilitation convention, the observatory organized several meetings and workshops with residents, artisans, associations, as well as with local authorities, architects, and researchers. The outcome of these meetings was the birth of “the Associative Network of the Old Medina of Salé”. This group of associations supervised by the observatory is becoming an active civil power that enables local actors to participate and suggest.
As an example of this, the work done between the observatory, artisans, and architects led to the design of two commercial trajectories that are thought to promote tourism and traditional trade.
At the end of each talk, the audience was offered a space to interact with participants. The questions asked the possibility to generalize these experiences on a national scale, the nature of obstacles that may elude these cases from going further, and how to break through the challenges.
All in all, both these real instances and the public showed a serious will to develop a participative approach. This proves that people in Africa and Morocco, in particular, are ready to make a change, work with a democratic method, and to live within an ecological milieu.