Rights-Based Urban Development

We partner with community organizations, leaders, and advocates in the fight for the right to participatory development that ensures decent housing, jobs and healthy and stable communities for all. 

Development is a broad term that can have specific meanings based on context. In the United States, it is seen as the tool to create employment, wealth, and tax revenues, and is often distinguished on the local level between economic and community development. In the last forty years, federal, state and local public policies generally have assisted private businesses and developers through tax breaks, cheap land, and other public subsidies hoping that the pursuit of individual profit by these private actors will result in wealth that evenrually trickles down to meet human need. For the most part, this approach has failed. 

In Baltimore, NESRI has partnered with the United Workers, to apply human rights principles to development:  

EQUITY means development policies must enable equality of opportunity and outcome by prioritizing populations and communities with the greatest need, which in most localities, means communities of color. The benefits of Development should be shared with workers, who shall get priority to jobs that pay living wages, protect the right to organize, guarantee workplace protections and benefits, and with city communities most in need, which shall get priority to resources for transportation, fire services, recreation, information technology, housing, health, social services, workforce development, and education. 

UNIVERSALITY means that the city's goals in development shall be to increase every resident's ability to access the resources required to meet their fundamental needs, and no single development goal shall be pursued to the detriment of other fundamental needs. Development shall benefit all and displace none.  For example, local development that produces jobs will, no doubt, also increase property values that will then raise housing costs. Work with dignity cannot come at the expense of our right to housing. Non-speculative and shared-equity housing is a means to fulfill each of these rights.  

PARTICIPATION—is the principle that government must engage people and support their participation in decisions about how their human rights are ensured.  Development decisions involving public subsidies and zoning changes for developers must involve meaningful input by residents, workers, and community stakeholders. 

TRANSPARENCY—is the principle that government must be open with regard to information and decision-making.  Development decisions such as public subsidies and zoning changes for developers must be discussed, decided, and monitored in an open, accessible manner. 

ACCOUNTABILITY—is the principle that mechanisms must exist to enable enforcement of human rights. It is not enough to merely recognize rights; there must be a means for holding government and private actors accountable for failing to meet human rights standards. Publicly subsidized developers must meet publicly set development targets on living wage jobs, health care, increased commerce, and public benefits. 

Economic growth and material wealth are mistaken for true development. Human rights based development is a participatory process that meets fundamental human need. The right to development is held by individuals and the community, and one that requires governments to crate participatory structures that produce policies to increase work with dignity, housing, education, health care, food, and income security. Governments must orient growth in a manner that prioritizes justice and equity. Increasing homelessness, overcrowding, the destruction and privatization of public housing, the prevalence of low wage jobs, obstacles to organizing, and and declining quality of life and health for families and individuals all painfully reflect the human costs of the speculative approach to development. In response, we work with our partners to advance a human rights based approach to development designed to produce permanently affordable housing, dignified jobs, and the stability to ensure the health of individuals and communities.



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