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Using Lima as an example, the author analyses the meaning of sustainable development and how grassroots community-based organisations can contribute to its achievement in megacities. Demands are today made of cities and countries of the South to develop in a sustainable way, although Northern nations did not themselves do so. ‘Sustainability’ on a global scale is thus attainable only at the cost of the urban poor in the South. The paper argues that the recent shift towards placing the problems and concerns of Third World megacities back on national and international agendas is founded on environmental preoccupations, rather than being an attempt to address poverty and the lack of basic services. The fragmentation of issues and people in urban environments is seen as a threat to genuine development, while community-based organisations may suggest some ways towards achieving a form of development that integrates social and political concerns and is, therefore, sustainable. The paper asserts that ‘public spaces’ are a way of achieving a decentralised approach to development and democracy in the megacity, provided these are informed by an understanding of the individual and the community, and by a vision of development and politics.

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