What’s unique about the initiative?
In 2019, over 500 residents in a social housing development in La Villeneuve, Grenoble, France held a citizens’ referendum to protest against the planned demolition of their homes. While the result of the referendum was not accepted by the city mayor, the campaign drew significant public attention to the issue of social housing demolitions and the lack of democracy in urban planning. It has also highlighted how referenda can be used to collectively press for social housing to be rehabilitated rather than destroyed and rebuilt elsewhere, at greater environmental and social cost.
Most outstanding results
Our campaign grew out of the action of municipal groups and progressive urban planners, architects and landscapers during the 1970s. Our activities helped elect a new municipal coalition in 2014, but the decision to demolish the social housing development remained.
After we had exhausted all means to reverse the decision – including demonstrations, and a 2000-strong petition – we organised a local referendum (officially permitted under a municipal law of February 2014), and held debates, door-to-door campaigning, and a vote conducted on the premises of the social housing itself.
We held an intensive poster campaign in the neighbourhood in the months leading up to the referendum, shared our story on social networks and invited the press not only to report on the referendum but also to observe the voting process. This strategy resulted in the initiative being covered in multiple articles in the local and national press. We also called on experts and academics specialised in local democracy to strengthen the impact of our initiative with public authorities.
Our protest against social housing demolition is part of the fight to ensure that urban planning results in cities that enhance the local ecology and the right to the city. Our experience shows the importance of creating concrete mechanisms – such as citizen referenda – for the implementation of the principles of the right to the city, as it is not only a question of proclaiming rights but also of finding the means to implement them.
The campaign has aroused the interest of organisations elsewhere that may be able to draw inspiration from it, and consider setting up their own direct democracy mechanisms to protest against projects that, for example, do not respect the environment. So, while the results are relatively disappointing in the short term in Grenoble, it is likely that this initiative will lead to significant advances for direct democracy in the future.
QUOTE FROM THE EVALUATION COMMITTEE:
“Collective action against the demolition of social housing in the Villeneuve de Grenoble that challenges and so shines light upon a persistent lack of democracy in urban planning and development. Their triple strategy of a door-to-door campaign to mobilise residents, alliance with journalists writing in the local and national press and leveraging support of experts and academics specialised in local democracy issues, shows the need not only to proclaim rights but to find ways to assert them, It has already led to significant advances for direct democracy and wider community action to take ownership of the future of the city”.
– Tom Henfrey & Duncan Crowley