Paris : “Think differently: Supporting local socioeconomic initiatives in the city for strengthening social cohesion?”

2-13 January 2009 – Paris

Organiser: European Institute for Solidarity based Economy INEES
Eric Lavilluniere lavilluniere[a] (INEES)

The SOCIAL POLIS workshop organised by INEES (L’Institut Européen de l’Economie Solidaire) in Paris on the 12th and 13 of January was structured in two stages: 1) a meeting attended by a small group of diverse and committed stakeholders aiming at sharing their reflections and practices on the place and impacts of social and solidarity-based economic initiatives on urban social cohesion; and 2) a public debate which was a part of the popular and citizen university cycle at CNAM (Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers) which attracted about 20 different speakers and 60 participants, mainly practitioners and grassroots actors.
The specific contribution of grassroots initiatives to urban social cohesion was highlighted with the presentation of various urban solidarity-based initiatives, such as “Régies de quartier” in France and “Objectif plein emploi” in Luxemburg. These initiatives not only create employment and provide urban services in deprived neighbourhoods, but also reinforce social links and inhabitants’ commitment to the notion of good citizenship.
From this perspective, social cohesion is considered by grassroots practitioners as a condition of local development rather than a consequence of economic growth. Then, the delegates from local authorities (Nantes, Lille, Brittany and Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur) presented their actions and programs dedicated to the social and solidarity-based economy at the local level. Most of these actions consider the solidarity-based economy as a specific economic model - a third pillar between the public and for-profit economy, for producing urban public goods. This global perspective is a condition for a cross-cutting integration of local initiatives in the main urban policies (economic development, transport, housing, waste recycling, education, culture, etc.) and not confining them to employment and social welfare ‘niches’.
Several participants expressed their concerns about the risk of reduction of social cohesion to a philanthropic and conservative vision where grassroots initiatives are used by public authorities as a tool for the integration of the unemployed, avoiding social conflicts in urban neighbourhoods. Finally, the opportunities and limits of European policies supporting local initiatives were raised. Doubts were expressed over the compatibility of an extension of the EU competition rules to social services of general interest with the bottom-up logics of solidarity-based initiatives which implement innovative strategies to meet local needs. Even if national and local governments are not obliged to adopt market rules and public procurement to support urban services, the European framework does not facilitate a model where grassroots initiatives could be considered as something more than one of producers, as co-producers of urban general interest.
The present financial and economic crisis is leading to the overthrow of so-called intangible market extension and competition rules which have partly failed to preserve urban social cohesion. Creative urban strategies and initiatives of European city dwellers are seen in this context as a chance for developing more sustainable, solidarity-based urban economies in Europe.

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