This lecture will introduce listeners to the role of law (including legislation, rights, and jurisprudence) in influencing our lives in cities, focusing primarily on its benefits, but also how it can marginalize people.


AUDIO: Thomas Coggin - The role of urban law in the New Urban Agenda



Issues which the lecture addresses
The lecture emerges from the pertinent and yet often ignored role of law in the city. It takes an interdisciplinary approach which seeks to understand the positive and negative spatial ramifications of law in the way we inhabit, appropriate, and participate in the city, its spaces, its governance, and its processes. It uses examples to demonstrate how government can enact the vision of the New Urban Agenda through legislative change, but also how inhabitants themselves can use the law to make and shape their own lives in the city.

Short analysis of the above issues
The presentation draws on examples of by-laws, national legislation, and case law. It uses real and hypothetical examples to demonstrate:
1. That law is used in a way that unfairly excludes people from inhabiting, appropriating, and participating in the city, its spaces, its governance, and its processes; however
2. That law can be used in a way that facilitates a broader access to the city, provided it is accessible and simple to understand; and indeed
3. That people are actually using the law in this way, particularly in the context of bringing contested claims to the city to court.
The basic premise is that as a tool of power, law can be debilitative, but it can also be empowering at both a governance as well as an activist/everyday level.

Propositions for addressing the issue
1. Through drawing on examples from around the world, it will be shown how law is one of the elements of a broader polity which has a pervasive influence on our lives in the city. Examples will be used to demonstrate how law is interweaved through the urban fabric.
2. This influence if often perceived as negative, and can indeed be negative in the way it unduly seeks to control and plan our lives in the city through debilitating and overly-technical legislation, and formalistic decisions by judges which are out of touch with lived realities.
3. But the influence can also be positive because of the way it provides a level of certainty in our interactions, which can lead to cities of equality, accountability, and opportunity.


Thomas Coggin is the editor of and an SJD Candidate at Fordham University, New York, where he is conducting a research project on rights-based claims to the city in India, South Africa, and the United States. Prior to joining Fordham, Thomas was a Lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, where he is originally from. Thomas has taught South African Property law for over four years, and writes in the interdisciplinary field of law, rights, and the city. Thomas was an expert in Policy Unit 1 on the Right to the City and Cities for All, and is the global co-coordinator of the International Research Group on Law & Urban Space.


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The Global Urban Lecture series is an initiative by UNI – UN-Habitat’s partnership with universities worldwide.