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Doc. 8811
17 July 2000

Amelioration of disadvantaged urban areas


Committee on the Environment, Regional Planning and Local Authorities

Rapporteur : Mr Latchezar Toshev, Bulgaria, Group of the European People's Party


This report reviews the situation and the problems of the disadvantaged urban areas and their inhabitants from the perspective of a feasible amelioration programme designed to generate interest and ensure the active involvement of the local population.

Such projects could be successfully implemented at the level of households, neighbourhoods and communities (that is to say, in residential quarters).

If people were to think carefully about the amelioration of their own habitations, they could overcome frustration, social isolation and marginalisation and thus achieve a higher degree of social cohesion. Such a positive social effect would contribute to fostering democratic citizenship and partnership.

Personal participation is extremely important, not only because it will induce people to appreciate and treasure their own achievements, but because it will ensure also a social impact.

To this end it is recommended that the Committee of Ministers draw up the programme on the basis of several pilot projects that have already produced satisfactory results in publicising the objective and exchanging ideas between all interested participants and stakeholders. For this purpose it is advisable to involve the media and non-governmental organisations by enlisting their co-operation.

1. Draft recommendation

1. Most of Europe’s inhabitants live in towns and in urban areas which are “disadvantaged” or “grey”, built according only to the principles of “efficiency” and “functionality”, without aesthetic design and aesthetic considerations being taken into account.

2. The residents of such areas are generally underprivileged and commonly unemployed. Frequently they do not own their residences, which is an additional cause for negative social phenomena such as frustration, high crime rate, lack of social cohesion, isolation and marginalisation.

3. The Assembly fully shares the opinion expressed by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE) it in its Recommendation19 (1996) on aspects of urban policies in Europe.

4. In the same spirit, it recalls that the heads of state and government "support the efforts of the Council of Europe and of local, regional and national authorities to improve the quality of life in disadvantaged areas: urban and industrialised”, as expressed in their Final Declaration adopted at the Second Council of Europe Summit (October 1997).

5. The Assembly is also of the opinion that the active involvement of such people in a campaign aimed at improving the appearance of the urban areas they inhabit, through their personal participation and in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity at three levels – families, neighbourhoods, and communities - would contribute to eliminating many negative social phenomena and at the same time produce a synergy effect in terms of fostering democratic citizenship through joint efforts and striving for decisions to improve the habitats.

6. Improvement of disadvantaged urban areas could be achieved at relatively low cost by using appropriate ideas put forward by architects or other specialists, such as designers, so that apartment-house façades, surrounding grounds, and common rooms (hallways and foyers, for example) would indeed be improved. Successes could then be publicised as examples of good practice by the media or by holding specialised seminars and meetings with the population.

7. Concerning the implementation of the projects, the Assembly considers that it should be promoted by the local authorities and by residence owners who rent the dwellings to tenants.

8. Having regard to the above, the Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers:

i.       carry through and bring to completion in the near future the ongoing work on drawing up a programme aimed at improving the appearance of disadvantaged urban areas;

ii.       ensure dialogue with the media and non-governmental organisations so that the programme and the good practices established by various pilot projects be advertised and brought to the attention of the citizens of Europe;

iii.       follow the outcome and progress of such programmes and inform both the Assembly and the CLRAE about the developments with a view to ensuring the understanding and support of national parliaments, local authorities and non-governmental organisations.

II. Draft order

The Assembly, referring to its Recommendation …. (2000) on the amelioration of disadvantaged urban areas in Europe instructs its Committee on Environment, Regional Planning and Local Authorities and its Committee on Agriculture, Rural Development and Food to follow the development of the programme of the Council of Europe on the subject and to report back to it in two years.

I. Explanatory memorandum by the Rappporteur


a) Introduction

b)       Aspects in issue

c)       Ways to attain the objective

d)       Role of the Council of Europe

e) Conclusion

a)       Introduction

1.       In 1992 and 1993 a non-paper and an aide-mémoire on the subject “Aesthetic Pollution of the Built-up Environment – Proposals for Its Amelioration” drawn up by H.E. Svetlozar Raev, Bulgaria’s Ambassador to the Council of Europe, were put forward to the Committee of Ministers.

2.       In 1993, Charles, prince of Wales, on his visit to the Council of Europe encouraged the research on the subject whereas his films and books have been employed to enrich various aspects of the project.

3.       At the First Council of Europe Summit in Vienna the text proposed by the Bulgarian delegation concerning “the improvement of the quality of life by improving the quality of the built-up environment” was incorporated into the Final Declaration.

4.       In 1994 Ambassador Raev and Armin Maiwald (Flash-film, WDR, Köln) co-authored, by means of visual aids and ideas, the “Help for Self-help” pilot project to be used in the making of television films about the need for aesthetic sensitisation of the general public and promoting popular awareness at household, neighbourhood and community level of how every citizen’s habitat could be considerably ameliorated with minimum funds and effort.

5.       Concurrently, such project aimed to strengthen family and social ties through joint efforts designed to establish relevant ethical rules of conduct in respect to oneself and to the community, as well as to foster social cohesion, concern and protection of the ameliorated environment by means of personal involvement.

6.       The said project was presented to the International Conference European Towns at the Dawn of the 21st Century”, organised in Bulgaria in 1995 by the Council of Europe and the Forum of European Capital Cities. A recommendation was unanimously passed to have the project implemented, after the consideration of the report presented by Mr. Raev - "Education for amelioration of the urban aesthetics".

7.       In paragraph 5, of its Recommendation 19 (1996) on “Aspects of Urban Policies in Europe” CLRAE addressed the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers with a proposal to consider the subject. The recommendation was put on the 1998 agenda but was subsequently put off for an indefinite period of time.

8.       In 1997, at the Second Council of Europe Summit in Strasbourg, the Heads of State and Government included in the Final Declaration a text expressing their support for “the efforts of the Council of Europe and of local, regional and national authorities to improve the quality of life in disadvantaged areas: urban and industrialised”.

9.       In 1999 the Committee of Ministers included the topic in the Declaration on Education for Democratic Citizenship Based on the Rights and Responsibilities of the Citizens adopted on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Council of Europe.

10.       A motion for recommendation (Doc. 8559 of 30 September 1999 presented by Mr. Toshev and others) was signed and submitted to the PACE.

11.       Issues relating to urban environment have been brought up in various other institutions as well:

a) European Union: Green Paper on Urban Policies, Funding Programmes for Urban Areas – the European Sustainable Cities and Towns Campaign;

b) Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR);

c) OECD: Cities for the 21st Century Project, City Twinning Project;

d) United Nations: Agenda 21 (Chapter 28); Habitat II

b)       Aspects in issue

12.       The amelioration of one’s own home and neighbourhood (inclusive of condominiums or apartment buildings) is exclusively a question of personal decision and active citizen participation.

13.       Disadvantaged urban areas are normally inhabited by people of moderate means many of whom are unemployed, depressed by heavy burdens and the hardships of life which sink them into social isolation, marginalisation, including isolation from their neighbours and public life within their local community, frustration, discouragement dissatisfaction, apathy, inaction.

14.       Oftentimes “grey” area residents disregard their habitat and are unaware of the possibility to improve it with minimum resources and their own labour expended in just 2 or 3 weekends. Following such course of conduct they do not bother to protect the environment even inside their condominiums or around them. Consequently, the inaesthetic environment deepens their pessimism and renders them even more unable to cope with the challenges of life.

15.       In Western Europe, the buildings in the “grey” urban areas are often owned by people who rent them out to tenants. In most cases inhabitants are poverty-stricken people, minority group representatives (where isolation is even deeper), unemployed, etc.

16.       In Eastern Europe, the buildings in such “grey” areas are commonly owned by their occupants. In some countries of Eastern Europe the construction of privately-owned single houses was substituted for fabrication of apartment buildings. These are currently inhabited by various social groups, inclusive of the intelligentsia and a portion of the local elites, i.e. these are not marginal groups, hence expectations are that there the problem of involvement would prove easier to resolve.

17.       This is why account should be taken while drawing up programmes of the different situation in Eastern and Western Europe.

18.       Sporadic attempts of local authorities to improve the condition of such areas habitually fail because they constitute “outside intervention” and hardly ever involve the concerned inhabitants both in the decision-taking and in the implementation process.

19.       The Kosovo experience has indicated that the so called “art therapy” produces rather satisfactory results in the treatment of children traumatised by the horrors of war who have in result lapsed into depressions and psychiatric disorders.

20.       This is why the active involvement of all concerned residents of a particular urban area is of key importance not only for the amelioration of the “grey” areas but for reaching the desired social effect as well.

21.       The synergism effect – sharing and dissemination of best examples and practices, successful pilot projects, etc., is one anticipated outcome of such programme. Other people living in the neighbourhood might be inspired by their neighbours’ good example and induced to follow the pattern, whereas it will be their own decision as is required by the principle of subsidiarity.

22.       The art-therapy effect is another expected outcome, even if only in terms of the fact that certain people will be thinking how to render their habitat more attractive. Besides, there is no doubt that the products of one’s own labour will be treasured and preserved better.

23.       It is anticipated also that the successful implementation of this project will bring about enhanced social cohesion, will help eliminate isolation (by maintaining contacts with neighbours and at community level to discuss concerted actions), will do away with marginalisation and apathy towards social processes, and will also conduce to the emergence of active citizenship.

24.       According to the Council of Europe’s definition, each citizen is an autonomous person aware of his/her rights and the responsibilities stemming from such rights. A citizen is actively involved in establishing the rules of organising public life, in determining the framework wherein each person’s rights and freedoms should be exercised and where election of and control over decision-makers in power is supervised by all other citizens. A citizen regards society not as environment but as a common organism of which he or she is a part. This requires awareness and exercise of one’s own rights while respecting and protecting other people’s rights. The programme for amelioration of “grey” urban areas could contribute to establishing democratic citizenship and attitudes of participatory democracy amongst those citizens who have currently lost interest in social processes.

c)       Ways to attain the objective

25.       One way to attain the programme’s objective is to draw up, with the help of consultants (architects, designers, etc.), several pilot projects. Such projects must be well documented – both prior to and upon completion of project activities. A series of films could be produced to explain how the results have been achieved, whereas the purpose will be to ensure personal participation, to demonstrate that both the materials and labour expended are affordable for anyone. Other media could also be involved – newspapers, magazines, as well as the non-governmental organisations.

26.       Another possibility is to organise discussions with groups of interested stakeholders thus supporting them with ideas, consultancy and examples of good practices. Such activities could be set up and carried out by the NGOs since they require no special funding.

27.       Enlisting the support of local authorities and building owners is also instrumental in attaining the project objective. Since active personal involvement is crucial for such project, it should not be substituted for activities carried out by local authorities. It is possible, say, to provide the materials for the most destitute inhabitants under a social assistance programme. Building owners could deduct the cost of purchased materials from the rental price should they be willing to support the programme. Any work, however, must be done in person.

28. This is how such programme could bring about the aesthetic amelioration of building façades, balconies, common areas, i.e. hallways and foyers inside apartment buildings, green areas and parks outside the residential units, etc.

d)       Role of the Council of Europe

29.       The Council of Europe has an important role to play in the implementation of such programme as a pan-European framework of co-operation. A programme could be realised under the aegis of the Council of Europe aimed at sharing experiences and disseminating ideas amongst Member States at national, local and non-governmental (voluntary) level. The elaboration of a programme promoting best practices and generating interest in local-level involvement is entirely within the competence and capacity of the Council of Europe. The fulfilment of such programme would contribute to the attainment of the Council of Europe’s objective to foster democratic citizenship based on partnership, social cohesion and participatory democracy.

e)       Conclusion

30.       The Parliamentary Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe draw up a programme aimed at amelioration of disadvantaged urban areas.

31.       It is recommended also to all Member States that they should participate in such programme by promoting the ideas laid down in it and exchange experiences resulting from good practices, as well as relevant information about emerging problems.

32.       The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe will follow the development of the programme, will organise debates and conduct hearings on the subject at regular intervals of time with a view to maintaining the interest of PACE parliamentarians in this extremely significant issue of disadvantaged urban areas.

Reporting committee : Committee on the Environment, Regional Planning and Local Authorities.

Budgetary implications for the Assembly : None.

Reference to committee : Doc. 8559 and Reference No. 2449 of 4 November 1999

Draft recommendation and draft order adopted by the committee on 29 June 2000.

Members of the committee : Mr. Akçali (Chairman), MM Besostri, Hoeffel, Haraldsson, (Vice-Chairmen), Andreoli, Bianchi, Bockel, Briane, Browne, Budisa, Mrs Burataeva, Sir Sydney Chapman, MM Ciupaila, Cox (alternate : Meale), Diana, Duivesteijn, Mrs Dromberg, MM Frunda, Graas, Mrs Granlund, Mrs Herczog, Mrs Hornikova, Mrs Hren-Vencelj, Mr Kalkan, Mrs Kanelli, Mrs Kestelijn-Sierens, MM Kieres, Kittis, Kurucsai, Kurykin, Lachat, Linzer, Luczak, Martinez Casan (alternate: Uriarte), Melo, Mezeckis, Mrs Mikaelsson, MM Minkov, Monteiro, Mota Amaral, Müller, Mme Nagy, MM Pollozhani, Prokes, Prosser (alternate : O’Hara), Rakhansky, Reimann, Rise, Salaridze, Mrs Schicker, Mr Schütz, Mrs Sehnalova, Mrs Severinsen, MM Sobyanin, Steolea, Stepaniuc, Mrs Terpstra, MM Toshev, Truu, Vella, Zierer, Mrs Zissi.

N.B.       The names of those who took part in the meeting are printed in italics.

Secretaries to the committee : Mrs Cagnolati, Mr Chevtchenko, Mrs Karanjac.