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Sophia Torres, Town Hall on Global Commons (Interview)

Sophia Torres, Global Platform for the Right to the City

Sophia Torres is a member of the Global Platform for the Right to the City and the Habitat International Coalition General Secretariat teams, working on issues related to global advocacy. Sophia has a degree in International Relations from PUC-SP and a master’s degree in Urban Policy from Sciences Po Paris, she is specialized in urban public policies with a focus on the right to housing and right to the city, mainly in the Latin America context.

What is your view on the Town Hall process and its progress so far?

We were lucky to have been part of the first Town Hall process in 2019 and to continue on the second round here in Daejeon. I see progress in the scaling up in the process itself. I think the experience of Durban was really good, but we are happy that is has been scaled up in a more ambitious way. In Durban, we added to the process with some key messages in the form of policy papers and have Town Hall; this time around, it was completely different. We had a 10-month process of discussions and debates that weren’t only between our organizations, which was the case in Durban, but with many others. The exchanges and alliances between organizations in our Town Hall but also with other Town Halls have been very powerful, so I am very happy with that.

Formal commitment for this to be a more qualified, more participatory process is another takeaway. One of our key messages is “going from participation to co-management” and the way the Town Hall is being done, we are slowly advancing towards that. The proof of it will be what comes after. We are very happy with what we presented and the collectively constructed ideas.

We are still seeing how this is aligned with the vision of the Pact for the future. We are convinced it is compatible, but what matters is for the whole UCLG ecosystem to embrace these ideas and put them into action. The ground has been set, we are excited and there is lots do.

What are your main conclusions of the Congress?

The first take-away from the debate before the congress was the debate on global and local commons, or whether we should find a middle ground for them to co-exist? What we developed in our Town Hall is a very much a localized vision of the commons; not only commons, but commoning as a process with the aim of guaranteeing the Right to the City for all through co-management of common resources and goods between civil society and local governments. That in itself is an exercise that changes the way decisions are made and that reinstated trust.

The second take-away is that this process of commoning or joint management, not just participation, is a key stepping stone of the idea of a renewed social contract: Our position is that there is no new social contract without people, government and planet; but that for the link between people and government to work, we have to go a step forward and think beyond representation and participation more towards co-management and joint work; these are our recommendations.

In our paper, we set concrete action steps for local and regional governments for commoning and perfecting their initiatives and act in a way that other commoning practices can flourish. This happens on the local level and the transformative way of how we make decisions and policy and find answers to live together – doing this at the local level puts a collective of civil society and local governments with a renewed legitimacy in the discussion of a renewed local multilateral governance.

How do you see the Pact for the Future?

I see the Pact as ambitious, but necessary. We need to have a common vision for this constituency to guide action locally and globally. What we really need is for the elements from the Town Halls to be fully represented in the Pact, including concrete recommendations for actions. The next step is how to articulate how to go from vision to action. I think the Pact sets the vision and it’s an ambitious vision. Something that’s been said quite a bit at the Congress is the idea of UCLG constituting the “coming of age of municipalist movement” – the Pact is a vision of this. But especially after the pandemic, it’s clear the capacity of action and the pressure for response from communities is massive, so the vision has to match with the responsibility that they have with communities.

The Pact sets a clear and diverse vision. Now we need to see how UCLG can articulate this vision in multiple ways into action. How can the local level act globally with direct action of local and regional governments, and as a constituency and with civil society?

This is my main takeaway from congress: There has been learning and there is capacity for action and a belief that we can act together. The pieces are there, and we just need to articulate this action.

What are the next steps for your organization?

Our organization is and will always be committed to fulfilment and recognition of the Right to the City. We hope to keep building this with UCLG and local and regional governments as key partners at the local level, but also coming together for a full recognition of the Right to the City with support of multilateral system, within the United Nations and human rights organizations, for example.

We will keep on working and do it even more with local governments to create R2C-aligned policies at local level and bridge gap between global commitments and discussions, influence them and take them back to local level, back and forth. This will be the continuation of our work. We want to set an agenda for municipal policies for R2C. we presented this today in a session.

On the other side, we are very excited to continue collaboration with UCL and local governments on recognising and fostering commons and commoning as a strategy to advance the R2C. The discussion yesterday in the Town Hall was really good and we see that governments understand what commoning is. But we still have to work more into how to implement commoning practices for real. Many cities are leading the way, but we need to have more exchanges and sustained and peer learning and use capacities that we have to support those actors to advance on implementing the recommendations.

“(Global) Commons” is the Policy Paper which resulted from the Town Hall process, a space for dialogue between internationally organized civil society and the political leadership of the local and regional governments constituency. The Global Platform for the Right to the City is one of the leading organizations which presented the conclusions at the UCLG World Congress and Summit of World Leaders. The Town Hall process was also supported by the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights, the Open Society Foundation, Accord, UNICEF and FAO. The final document is available here.