Downtown Eugene

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Urban Renewal vs. the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Urban Renewal, the scourge of living neighborhoods in Post-WW II US, is alive and well. While planners are becoming more sensitive to the scale of the abuses of 30 years ago, planning & development methodology has not changed significantly.

City governments across the country compete for large business to invade from outside, instead of supporting and incubating local business and citizenry. They spend public money on private profit for the wealthy, rather than on public service for everyone. The same approach is used to attract outside developers, and finance development. The level of suffering a City government is willing to inflict upon its constituency, knows few bounds.

In fact, City governments regularly violate their constituents' human rights, as expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an extraordinary but much-ignored document, adopted by the UN in 1948.

Article 1.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

When actors within a government interfere with the working operations of some members of the community, for the benefit of other members of the community, the government is violating basic principles of cooperation and human dignity. The government is not treating people equally. The government is not engaging people that will be effected by its processes. And, when they engage them one-on-one, they are not allowing them to assemble:

Article 20.
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

Political manipulation through closed, un-announced, one-on-one meetings, and through announced but heavily framed discussions of political possibility, violates the freedom implied Article 20. This article isn't just about allowing people to talk with each other -- that's only the worst case. It is a reference to a democratic approach to governing, and a true, open, free flow of ideas, as described hopefully in article 19:

Article 19.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 17.
(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

The insecurity of an Urban Renewal process that plans for tenant removal, is clearly an act aimed at depriving tenants of their property and livelihood. Tenants have property ... they have invested in the spaces they are in. And, lest the government complain that Urban Renewal is not "arbitrary", imagine any government's seizure of property, and the laws that have propped up that seizure. The arbitrariness is in the disdain for human dignity. Not the letter of the law. That's the main point of this document.

Article 21.
(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.

Of course, when "professionals" are given rights unavailable to victims of Urban Renewal, they are clearly getting preferential, unequal access to public service.

Article 22.
Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Social security, at the very least, means not worrying that your society is going to remove your small business, your neighborhood, your non-profit public service, in a mostly closed process, available only to elites.


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