Social cohesion in towns - CPL (5) 3 Part II


Mrs Yvette JAGGI (Switzerland)
Mr Louis ROPPE (Belgium)


Social cohesion in towns

1. Outline of problems and summary

Preserving, or if necessary restoring, the links that bind a society together must be an ongoing preoccupation for those that govern and run the society. If, today, this concern for social cohesion is being voiced on all sides, it is because the traditional imperative of social integration now appears to be the only means of stemming the process of division in national societies - simultaneously riven at the base, where social exclusion is growing, and strained by the pull of globalisation at the other extremity.

Towns have always been places of extremely diverse economic and social activity, education and culture, contact and exchange, progress and experiment – places of opportunity therefore, and also, of course, of risk. Consequently, it is in towns that social cohesion is most visibly threatened. At the same time, however, because in towns locality implies proximity, it is here that it would seem easiest to organise, achieve and control the construction, or reconstruction, of social cohesion.

Towns policy is not, therefore, confined to town planning, even in its broadest sense. Likewise, urban social policy cannot be reduced to the question of housing – albeit universally urgent – nor even to the increasingly vital matter of helping the poorest in society. While an effective towns policy certainly includes a range of sector-based and temporary initiatives designed to improve sub-standard conditions, it now extends well beyond reactive measures of this sort, because it must make such measures part of a longer-term strategy with the clear aim of prevention.

In towns, as elsewhere, social cohesion still depends largely on full employment. However, in a relatively unstable and anonymous urban environment, cohesion is also determined by the quality of institutions and by town-dwellers' relationships with one another and with the public authorities. There is therefore a need to promote the development of local democracy, to help various population groups living in towns to integrate, to improve the quality of urban life, to promote equality, particularly as regards access to benefits and public services, and to encourage all forms of education and training options, which are keys to inter-personnel tolerance as well as personal and career development.

2. Social cohesion in an urban environment – realities, aims and points of reference

In recent years the term "social cohesion" has been used increasingly in political circles, the media and even the social sciences to denote the vital bonds which, on the one hand, sustain the unique nature and identity of a society based on distinct common values and, on the other hand, bring people together by integrating them into that society.

It is clear that this dual welding action is generally considered essential when a society begins to come apart as a result of socio-economic inequalities (and some believe that insistence on cohesion obscures such inequalities), individualism cultivated in the bygone boom years and a plurality of standards and cultures which, in some areas, have become so diverse and numerous that they no longer form a system intelligible to the citizen.

Urban areas – more or less densely populated but always of limited size by comparison to the national territory – contain composite, pluralist societies, and what threatens social cohesion is neither distance nor dispersion but permissiveness and concentration. In a densely occupied space, fault lines show up more clearly, inequalities become glaring, and cultures clash.

These realities generate and sustain all sorts of anxieties which, in turn, spawn a fear of other people and of a future that the vulnerable in society perceive as uncertain. All these subjective views can, if not countered, create and feed a general climate of social insecurity and knee-jerk attitudes, where what is needed is a spirit of openness and solidarity.

Without wishing to resort to meaningless over-simplification, we must realise that social cohesion requires us to consider the spectrum of exclusion, just as integration, equality and education require us to face up to segregation, discrimination and ignorance in all its forms, from intolerance to reading and writing difficulties, not forgetting deep-seated prejudice.

Expressed positively, the aims and means of preserving social cohesion – in other words, our ability to live together and to be secure in doing so – are, in the urban context, as follows:

. developing local democracy and encouraging participation by citizens in public affairs;

. fostering integration, ie the ability to live together, in particular with immigrants, in a climate of mutual respect for different identities and cultures;

. improving the quality of urban life, particularly by means of a policy for housing and open space, and by encouraging the arts and artistic expression in the urban environment;

. promoting equality of opportunity between men and women and guaranteeing all citizens equal access to the benefits and services provided by the municipality;

. encouraging education and training at every level, with a view to contributing towards tolerance between citizens and to their individual personal and professional development.

As regards how best to attain these aims, the first means is through participative democracy, which places a value on citizenship; in addition, a whole range of contractual arrangements are being developed, involving consultation and negotiation between public and private partners whose task it is to collaborate and co-operate in maintaining social bonds.

It should be noted that these aims reflect the options favoured by the Council of Europe and its Congress (formerly Standing Conference) of Local and Regional Authorities (CLRAE). This is evident, first and foremost, in the European Urban Charter, inspired by the European Campaign for the Renaissance of Cities, organised by the Council of Europe in 1980 to 1982.

There are further examples of the longstanding interest taken by the CLRAE in policies for urban community development and social integration, which have been the subject of a whole series of meetings and conferences: on Self-Help and Community Development in Towns (London, 1984), Health in Towns (Vienna, 1988), the Exclusion of Poverty through Citizenship (Charleroi, 1992) and Health and Citizenship (Strasbourg, 1996).

Much of its work on other aspects of urban policies also has a social dimension, eg., the social consequences of historic preservation, as emphasised in several Symposia of Historic Towns held over the last decade; on architectural subjects which, amongst other themes, examined the social consequences and objectives of urban and architectural planning, eg., Conferences on Open and public space (Durham, 1985); Strategies for European towns (Strasbourg, 1990); Role of the architects in urban development (1991); Towns at the Dawn on the 21st Century (Plovdiv, September 1995) and most recently, Urban management, Statue and Cooperation (Lausanne, April 1996).

Equally, a considerable amount of recent work by the CLRAE on policies for crime prevention and reduction have emphasised policies for social integration and tolerance as one of the inevitable corollaries of other policies for reducing urban insecurity (Conference on "Crime and Urban Insecurity in Europe: the role and responsibilities of local and regional authorities" (Erfurt, February 1997) and a Seminar on "Tackling crime and urban insecurity in Europe through cooperation between local authorities and the police" (Newcastle, April, 1998).

And in the Final Declaration of the Second Summit, held in Strasbourg last October, the Heads of State and Government of the member states of the Council of Europe explicitly recognised "that social cohesion is one of the foremost needs of the wider Europe and should be pursued as an essential complement to the promotion of human rights and dignity". Chapter II, entitled Social Cohesion, of the Action Plan accompanying the Declaration is concerned, in particular: (a) to promote social standards as embodied in the Social Charter and other Council of Europe instruments; (b) to instruct the Committee of Ministers to define a social strategy to respond to the challenges in contemporary society; (c) to carry out the appropriate structural reforms, to that end, within the Council of Europe, including the setting up of a "specialised unit for monitoring [¼] and handling issues linked to social cohesion".

In the hope that this monitoring unit will become operational in the very near future, we make the immediate gesture of dedicating this report to it. Otherwise, our only claim for the text is that it should remind some of those concerned of the constraints to be borne in mind, the objectives to be pursued and the methods to be followed by a municipal authority concerned to maintain social cohesion – the entire document being intended as a support to draft Recommendation and Resolution CPL(5)3, both of which are to be submitted to the Chamber of Local Authorities of the CLRAE on 26 May 1998.

3. Local democracy and citizens' participation

Even if, structurally, institutions often represent an uninspiring compromise between historic tradition and recent adaptation, their intrinsic quality and the style of the relationships that they entail with citizens and the other partners in the state can stimulate – or fail to stimulate - the adherence and respect of those with whom they deal. This phenomenon is recognised at national level and is even more apparent at local level where it is evident that, thanks to the effects of proximity, any movement of adherence to or identification with institutions - or, conversely, of explicit rejection or, worse still, bland indifference to them - is made in full awareness of the issues and individuals involved, particularly elected representatives.

This means that the development of local democracy can never be guaranteed without an effort and, once achieved, is never permanent. Even where it represents a longstanding tradition, as in Switzerland, the first mark of social cohesion – namely, participation in elections by those citizens entitled to vote – is less and less evident. The trend towards abstentionism indicates that citizens are stepping aside from a political society that they consider incapable of responding usefully to their various concerns, for example, as employees (or the unemployed), tenants or contributors to sickness insurance schemes.

Nonetheless, particularly where it is only recently established and needs to be consolidated, local democracy is undoubtedly one of the cornerstones of social cohesion. Its functioning - particularly fragile in the newly democratic countries - may be seen as an indicator of the strength of social bonds which, in many cases, have been worn thin by painful events.

Clearly, the institutions of local democracy represent collectively the best general means of preventing the disintegration of social bonds – all the more so because decisions taken on a simple majority basis by citizens or their elected representatives are more acceptable to the people concerned than choices made in conditions less transparent than public consultation and parliamentary debate.

The scope for citizens' participation in public affairs in general, and specifically in aspects of civic life that concern them more directly, has been extended with the development of contractual practices make room for proposals and initiatives by the inhabitants of a town (or more often a district), the members of an association or a recognised community. It is worth emphasising that contractual arrangements – with the various stages of consultation that precede the signature of a contract, and the different forms of collaboration that follow it and accompany its implementation – make for a shift from top-down democracy to citizens’ democracy, as intended and exercised by the citizens.

Such contractual arrangements exist at international level, eg., through the European Charter of Local Self-Government, which, once signed and ratified, implies a respect by signatory countries of a certain number of basic principles about local self-government - principles which can be effectively monitored through a series of national reports which have been prepared by the CLRAE over recent years and presented to annual Plenary Sessions.

Furthermore, the trends towards devolution and decentralisation in a range of different European countries have become markedly stronger in recent years - witness recent significant developments in the United Kingdom with a Parliament in Scotland and a Regional Assembly in Wales and a likelihood of direct elections for the position of Mayors of London and other major cities.

Such international and national trends towards increased answerability are reflected in more grass-roots policies within towns themselves, between local administrations and councils and their electorates.

All this may appear to be undeniable progress, but it is not in itself a guarantee of better social cohesion because, to achieve that, institutions and authorities must accord the same democratic rights to all citizens, irrespective of their social circumstances, race, religion or ethnic group.

Likewise, public authorities must support the voluntary sector and the various bodies within it, particularly in immigrant communities. These communities must have access to parliaments for foreigners or similar consultative bodies, the representative nature of which can only be assured – and their legitimacy confirmed – if they are elected on a basis of universal suffrage by the foreign populations.

Generally speaking, citizens must be able to become actively involved in all aspects of the civic, political and cultural life of the municipality. The same is true for all aspects of the development of built-up and other areas, urban development plans and projects, transport guidelines, environmental protection measures and health and education policy issues.

That said, it must be accepted that genuine participative democracy slows down or, indeed, blocks technocratic options, because it provides for wide-ranging consultation before any decision of importance is taken, and various possibilities of appeal at later stages. However, citizens are entitled to have democracy move at its own calm pace, just as those who come before the courts are entitled to have their cases examined without haste. This is the price of social cohesion: it is not compatible with rapid procedures and hasty decisions that offer no guarantees of independence or fairness.

Just like social cohesion, which is maintained only by constant vigilance, participative democracy can never be finally or universally taken for granted. It is said that democratic rights only wither from lack of use, and it might be added that the maintenance of social cohesion demands unflagging commitment.

4. Integration and multicultural society

In the face of persistent unemployment, the increase in migratory population movements is undoubtedly the main cause of the current debate about social cohesion in many European countries. The latent opposition or overt hostility shown in various countries to the advent of the multicultural society speaks volumes about the fragility of respect for difference. And far from bolstering that respect, so-called "politically correct" jargon does the opposite: the almost obsessive policing of language actually betrays a fear that the substance of what is said will lack conviction and therefore excessive attention is paid to the form, until it becomes bland and meaningless. Are we trying to salve our consciences?

If the real danger is to be tackled, it must be recognised. Studies and questionnaires have been carried out in virtually every country, revealing the deep-seated motivations and expectations of citizens with regard to a multicultural society, particular among urban populations. The conclusion everywhere is that, on the one hand, we need to combat the recurring temptation of seeking to assimilate new immigrants and, on the other, we must encourage proper integration of all the inhabitants of a town, whatever their origin or culture.

This means that the authorities in towns whose population includes a variable but relatively high proportion of immigrants, must engage in thoroughgoing, long-term work to dismantle prejudices, facilitate contacts and mutual understanding between immigrants and other town-dwellers, prevent the concentration of foreign communities in certain enclaves or districts and avoid provocative and discriminatory behaviour from whatever quarter.

All this work of receiving new arrivals, maintaining contacts and exchanges and confidence-building falls to ad hoc administrative units and - where they have been mandated to do so or on their own initiative - to private associations or organisations working in the same field. However, these various activities, whatever their intrinsic usefulness, do not absolve the members of local authorities from becoming personally involved, giving an example and setting a tone of openness, contributing to a climate of tolerance so that the conditions for real integration can be created and sustained. One way of doing this is to involve town-dwellers of all nationalities in the work of the various committees and bodies responsible for urban development and planning, public services and transport, educational institutions and cultural and sporting facilities.

Mention should also be made of the potentially vital contribution of the police in towns and cities, particularly where police officers have received training to prepare them for the relationship of trust that all neighbourhood police forces need to have with the public. The police in the forefront of relations with the public can have a profound influence on community relations. There is more discussion than in the past about human rights and police, in order to build greater confidence in the police force. There is soon to be a legal obligation in the United Kingdom through the Crime and Disorder Bill for local authorities and police to cooperation in crime reduction and improving community relations. It is self-evident that it is more effective to combat crime through measures taken in advance which allow for anticipation and prevention of criminal behaviour, rather than punishment for offences after crimes have been committed.

It is clear from observation of the situation in various European towns and cities that, with regard to multicultural life and integration, there are no fatally insurmountable obstacles or guarantees of immediate success: a high proportion of foreigners or unemployed people does not necessarily serve to boost racist politics. On the other hand, a policy that tends to encourage the integration of newcomers augurs well if it is pursued with conviction and consistency – as indeed it should be, given that such policies are among the most effective mechanisms for reinforcing social cohesion.

5. Quality of life in towns – from housing to gardens

Unlike the natural environment and rural areas, which are largely idealised, the urban environment has a bad reputation: towns are seen as polluted, unhealthy places, noisy and stressful, overpopulated and, in certain areas, poverty-stricken, unsafe by day and downright dangerous at night. All these nightmarish associations still persist in the era of green towns and pedestrian zones – as if the image of the town must remain forever blemished by negative connotations.

And yet, more and more town councillors are concerned with the urban environment; their convictions are sincere and their awareness communicates itself to others. The projects that they are presenting and implementing are more and more worthwhile in terms of sustainability, solidarity and security. In areas such as housing policy or the provision of green space, where quantity used to come before quality – square or cubic metres before other measurements of satisfaction – different criteria are now at work. Efforts to combat the sort of pollution that is measurable, as carbon dioxide or acid rain, decibels or tons of waste etc, are being pursued alongside campaigns against insecurity, inconvenience and ugliness - or, to put it positively, alongside policies for security, ease of use and beauty. Thankfully, all these qualitative and aesthetic objectives, previously overlooked or regarded as luxuries, demand a different way of envisaging and designing housing and workplace capacity, open and built spaces, from a perspective that is more human and social than technocratic.

All the evidence is that this trend is helping to improve not only the image of towns but also the potential quality of town life – thus reinforcing social cohesion. Generally speaking, this qualitative improvement is of most benefit to the less well off, because richer town-dwellers already enjoy comfortable conditions and lifestyles which they seek, as a priority, to maintain. The gulf caused by social inequality is therefore narrowed.

This positive knock-on effect is most clearly demonstrable in the case of housing, an area of immediate relevance to town-dwellers' daily lives. Without disputing the primary importance of meeting the overall, quantitative demand for housing, there is also room for developing a varied range of housing in terms of needs, size and quality – all the more so, given that people’s aspirations in this area are sufficient to stimulate the market. Such an approach is also justified in terms of sound economics: better quality and more durable construction may be more expensive at the outset but mortgages will be taken out over longer periods, to say nothing of the stabilising effect that the quality of homes can have on the people who live in them - a further factor for sustainability.

In the preamble to its Recommendation 19 (1997) on Aspects of Urban Policies in Europe, the CLRAE devotes a series of points (Nos 31 to 35) to the relationship between the social fabric and the built environment. The text refers explicitly to the “adverse effects on human behaviour of a brutal or monotonous urban environment" and, on the other hand, to a whole series of elements that are important for the wellbeing of town-dwellers: good urban design, well planned, adequate space, adjustments to the built environment on a human scale, the preservation of local architectural styles and building traditions, and the development of green areas.

While green areas represent a more worthwhile use of land than, for example, vacant plots or waste ground, they are not of the same quality or beauty as gardens, particularly gardens laid out by landscape designers or sculptors familiar with the interplay of form and colour. The art of the urban garden is currently enjoying a welcome revival in Europe and new gardens are giving great pleasure to those who walk through and past them, however little artistic expertise they may have. Even people not in the habit of visiting museums or galleries can readily appreciate the beauty of garden scenery and plant forms.

Like the experience of living in a house that has been designed in the interests of its inhabitants, the experience of encountering art in the city, in the particularly attractive form of gardens, for example, is doubly valuable – at an educational and a social level. In the first place, familiarity with quality and beauty inspires a respect for the things that one sees (unlike the experiences of discomfort and ugliness which tend to provoke vandalism). And the pleasures, great and small, inspired by such familiarity also serve to reinforce, on the one hand, people's attachment to the interior and exterior urban environment and, on the other, their sense of belonging to the community living in that environment.

Social cohesion is thus a product of the effort to produce quality and beauty. This theory may, at first, seem controversial but we believe we have shown that it works in practice – always provided that the effort in question is accompanied by other measures designed to preserve social cohesion, for example by promoting quality.

6. Equality: access available to all, and individual freedom of choice

The equality of men and women before the law is part of the set of basic principles espoused by the Council of Europe and referred to, for example, in its key founding texts (the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Social Charter) as well as numerous resolutions and recommendations adopted by the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly. Incidentally, the very number of such texts is an indication of how long it is taking for the principle of equality to be accepted in practice.

For its part, the CLRAE has naturally been less active on this front, in as much as proclaiming and defending human rights is the responsibility of states rather than the local and regional authorities within them. That said, work is done on a regular basis to promote participation by women in public life and improve their representation on local and regional councils and authorities.

Clearly, the principle of equality as applied to men and women does not "only" refer to the formal, universal and indivisible rights of the individual human being, but also to the opportunities that everyone, male and female, should have to participate and be represented in the various sectors of society, according to the principle of partnership and the concept of sharing rights and responsibilities. In Recommendation 1269 (1995), on achieving real progress in women's rights as from 1995, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe stated it was "convinced that de jure and de facto equality between men and women is crucial for the very functioning of a democratic society".

Obviously, what is true of democratic society generally is also true in the particular context of urban society. In towns too, equality of rights and opportunities for men and women must become part of everyday reality. This requires that everyone who finds themselves in a similar situation must, without discrimination on the basis of sex (or race, colour, ethnicity or religion) enjoy the same possibilities of access to educational establishments, the services of public administrations and bodies, social benefits and assistance and, of course, job opportunities and housing.

Town and city authorities do not bear general responsibility for ensuring that the principle of the equality of men and women before the law is fully respected: this principle is normally enshrined in national constitutions rather than municipal regulations. However, there are at least two areas in which local authorities are responsible for promoting equality: in schools and in their own administrations.

Insofar as at least the early years of compulsory education are under the auspices of local authorities, those authorities hold one of the keys to equality in education: namely, equality between boys and girls at school – where stereotypes and prejudices may be formed that are likely to prevent or at least hinder individuals in adult life from practicing partnership and task-sharing.

Local authorities also have a duty to monitor their employees' working conditions and salaries. With regard to equal pay for work of equal value, local authorities must obviously set an example, including in cases where implementing the emblematic principle of "equal pay for equal work" might seem problematic – for the problems are normally of a technical and statistical nature and therefore soluble, given the will to solve them.

If it is implemented at every level, the principle of equal rights and opportunities also contributes to social cohesion, which is incompatible with any form of discrimination contrary to fundamental freedoms. Just as democracy is non-existent if it does not entail parity, social cohesion cannot exist without equality between men and women.

Valid though it is, this assertion could give rise to a misunderstanding because, while equality of rights is certainly one of the ingredients in the glue that binds society together, it is not in itself sufficient to make it stick. Even when recognised throughout a society, equality of formal (legal and administrative) rights cannot counter the very real socio-economic inequalities that persist everywhere and are tending to increase in direct proportion to rising unemployment.

7. Education as an effort to combat intolerance and reading and writing difficulties

Just as the education of boys and girls helps to determine their future adult attitudes to people of the opposite sex, education also plays an important role in shaping the images that young people form of others, particularly children and adults of other races or ethnic origins, representing different cultures, from more or less distant places, more or less recently arrived.

It is no accident, therefore, that public authorities - following the example of associations set up to combat various forms of intolerance - are emphasising prevention and information, starting in schools. Moreover, young people are capable of showing great solidarity and generosity towards their peers in situations of discrimination – as demonstrated by campaigns such as "Touche pas à mon pote [Leave my mate alone]" or by their reaction in various cases where asylum policy has been considered too harsh. It is entirely natural that young people should frequently be involved in campaigns against discriminatory behaviour, such as the Council of Europe's recent campaign to combat intolerance, racism, xenophobia and anti-semitism.

The acquisition of knowledge, even that contained in the basic school curriculum, still represents a time of liberation for pupils, who stand to gain in every way, in terms of personal autonomy and by distancing themselves from the prejudices purveyed by those around them, whether at school or at home. Thus we can state, without fear of over-simplification, that the never-ending struggle to improve and extend education goes hand in hand with what is, regrettably, an equally endless struggle against obscurantism and ignorance – factors behind all forms of mistrust (including self-doubt) and intolerance (of one's neighbour).

In the previous section, education was seen as helping to build sense of equality. Here, however, what matters is recognising and valuing difference, and encouraging mutual respect between people of different colours, histories and cultures. It is worth recalling the theme of the European campaign mentioned above - "All different, all equal". This slogan, which encapsulates the thrust of all activities to combat intolerance, can equally well be turned around to mean "No discrimination, no prejudice".

As for efforts to tackle reading and writing difficulties – the necessity of which is at last apparent – they still have a long way to go to meet the educational needs of people who have only a very poor command of the written and spoken word, even in their mother tongue, od reading, writing and arithmetic. It is estimated that approximately one tenth of people in European towns and cities have serious problems when it comes to filling in forms, understanding even simple texts, consulting price lists or timetables, following basic lines of argument, carrying out simple arithmetic calculations etc – to say nothing of the difficulties posed by cash machines, ticket dispensers, personal computers or public information terminals, particularly where, as in Switzerland, these are widely used, often for complex tasks.

People who have reading and writing difficulties are more often ignorant of their handicap than embarrassed by it. While it may not always prevent them from "functioning", it is nonetheless real and can have serious consequences in professional and everyday life when specific circumstances require an ad hoc reaction or particular behaviour. It is, however, all the more difficult to identify those concerned and they often lack the motivation to make the dual effort necessary, first of all, to recognise their plight, and then to take steps to improve it.

There are undoubtedly other reasons for this lack of motivation: researchers cite the declining prestige of basic education – both in the eyes of the general public and, more surprisingly, among teachers.

Whatever the reasons, it is a fact that so-called modern life, particularly in an urban environment, contains innumerable mysteries for someone who, knowingly or otherwise, suffers from the handicap of reading and writing difficulties. In relative terms, the problem can – just like recognised illiteracy - become a serious subjective or objective factor in exclusion.

Consequently, reading and writing difficulties – although still largely unrecognised and neglected – will constitute a major concern for political and educational authorities, in towns first and foremost, and not only in relation to immigrant communities. Although these communities are the most severely affected, they are far from being the only ones concerned, as has been shown in various tests and questionnaires carried out in recent years among young conscripts in different countries.

8. Conclusion: "The Year 2001 – the Springtime of Towns".

Earlier in this report, in the beginning of the chapter about quality of life of the people living in towns, I spoke of the misleading image which is still given of the town as a source of all evil. On the contrary, it is becoming increasingly apparent that towns are considered more attractive than they were; that in reality they are much improved and that opportunities abound.

In fact, there is now a general tendency for both town-dwellers and visitors to re-evaluate towns, as places to live and as tourist destinations. The restoration of a sort of civic pride and an upsurge in urban marketing has been accompanied by a wish – particularly on the part of locally elected representatives – to see towns and their dynamic role in society properly recognised. In institutional and political circles, the concept of a particular national status for towns – for example, the possibility that they could form direct links with central government – is gaining ground and there are increasing demands for this type of arrangement. As towns continue to develop demographically and socially, becoming increasingly multicultural, urban management is growing more and more complex. Major efforts are being made to preserve and reinforce social cohesion in the urban environment.

Convinced that it would be useful and stimulating to present these various problems and the attempts to address them, the Chamber of Local Authorities has agreed in principle that a campaign should be run in the year 2001, the purpose and objectives of which are described in the appendix to the recommendation based on the present report.

Essentially the idea would be, in the three months of spring 2001, to highlight pilot projects that demonstrate good practice; and member states would be encouraged to identify and promote such projects for the campaign, so that towns would be portrayed not only as places with problems, but also as arenas for experimentation and demonstrating solutions.

The pilot projects could involve initiatives designed to improve social cohesion, stimulate community development or make municipal administration more intelligent and humane and bring it closer to the public. The overall aim would be to foster integration, participation and co-operation – in other words, to prevent or put an end to exclusion, insecurity and intolerance.

With regard to methods of achieving these objectives, which are both necessary and ambitious, the most appropriate would seem to be through networks, both within towns (involving self-help organisations, social welfare systems, mediation organisations, modern telecommunication systems etc) and linking different towns (existing intra-town networks, exchanges of experience and support for local democracy etc).

If the principle of such a campaign were to be accepted by the Committee of Ministers, it would be a fitting beginning, at least in this area of the work of the Council of Europe and the CLRAE, to the new millenium. It would have the virtue of being a short but intensive campaign and help to mark the beginning of a Century of human and community development of quality and value, in contrast to a 20th Century often marked by significant urban problems.

It would be doubly satisfying if the Committee of Ministers were to accept the proposal, currently being examined by its Rapporteur Group on Environment and Local Authorities, to establish in the Council of Europe an Inter-Sectoral Commission on the Town.

For the moment, the Council of Europe has a diversity of urban related activities spread throughout the organisation, with the CLRAE having the primary but not the exclusive responsibility - but there is still no single coordinating mechanism.

If established, such a Commission would have a role of proposing new urban activities; coordinating programmes; giving an overall political direction; and bestowing on this aspect of the Council of Europe's work a recognisable imprimatur.

Such a Commission may also prove to serve a useful role in either the conduct or the coordination of some activities arising from the priorities established by the Committee of Ministers in the Final Declaration of the Second Summit.

The first step in the establishment of such a Commission could be the organisation of a Consultative Conference in Strasbourg in the last quarter of 1998 which brings together the partners likely to be involved in such a Commission, ie., CDLR, Cultural Heritage Committee, the Parliamentary Assembly, the CLRAE and representatives of a member of active and viable NGO's.

The objective of such a Conference would be to assess the approach of such a Commission; consider what urban work is being currently undertaken or planned by the Council of Europe; assess different roles; examine a possible contribution to the furthering of Council of Europe priorities and consider budgetary implications.