By Hanna Klein
Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) is one of the most urbanised regions of the planet. At the same time it is also the world’s most unequal region, a region where poverty and wealth coexist and antagonise each other daily, especially in urban spaces. Today, 80 per cent of the Latin American population lives in cities, with half of the urban population in LAC concentrated in rapidly growing intermediate cities (UN, 2014). The main challenges these cities have to face in their urban development processes are: accelerated population growth, space transformations, poverty and inequality, low productivity, precarious employment, low collection for public financing, effects of climate change and increase of vulnerabilities.
These challenges are addressed by international agreements such as the New Urban Agenda (NUA), the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change (COP21). Within this general framework the important role of integral urban management (understood as multi-actor and multi-level approach) is recognised, thus one of the main questions to be asked is: Do cities actually have the necessary competencies to promote the implementation of this approach to urban development?
Against this background, the recently published study “The integral implementation of the New Urban Agenda: Experiences and contribution from Latin America” (2016) provides significant contributions to a better understanding of urban processes in the region, especially addressing the need for integral mechanisms and tools, indispensable for the implementation of the NUA in the diverse urban realities in LAC. Therefore, the study seeks to identify the most relevant aspects concerning public policy that should be promoted in LAC cities to be able to develop the main directives derived from the NUA, the Paris Agreement and the SDGs. However, it is important to stress the high heterogeneity and complexity of the urban context in LAC. Therefore, specific case studies help to identify the main challenges and provide possible solutions for urban development in each unique context. The study was carried out by the CITE-FLACSO (Institute for Territorial Research at the Regional Faculty for Social Sciences in Ecuador) on behalf of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).
The selection of cases is based on their characteristics (e.g. location, demography, geography, specific eco-systems and urban development), each of them approaching specific topics which are treated in an integral way by the cities. Thus, the study includes an analysis of Providencia (Santiago de Chile) focusing on territorial planning, in particular on land distribution and management policies, land speculation and the relation between the community and the metropolitan region. The case of Bucaramanga (Colombia) essentially deals with the connection between social cohesion, land management and public policies regulating urban settlements. In the case of La Paz (Mexico) the work centres around urban resilience, especially on experiences with hurricanes. The Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte with its public transport system highlights some interesting considerations on land management, mobility and social cohesion. Finally, the intermediate city of Cuenca in Ecuador is a successful example of water cycle management systems, which led to a sustainable urban metabolism.
The diversity of the cases included in the study permits to understand important challenges and potentials of these cities. As the analysis seeks comparability, the topic for each case has been defined by establishing a convergence among three concepts: Integral Land Management, Climate Change and Resilience as well as Social Cohesion. This reflects the importance of an integral, multi- and inter-disciplinary approach, which characterises the study.
For instance, the Colombian city of Bucaramanga is located in the north-western part of the country, close to the border with Venezuela. Its location is key for understanding that Bucaramanga is one of the cities in LAC which has best reduced its levels of inequality and shows less income inequality than 20 years ago. This positive development is in part due to the coherent public policy, especially regarding the development and implementation of instruments and mechanisms which allow regulatory, planning and intervention management in different levels in irregular and dispersed settlements. For example, Bucaramanga has successfully created a Public Habitat and Housing Policy as well as a Territorial Ordering Plan. In addition, the Integral Metropolitan Development Plan of Bucaramanga can be seen as a successful example of the convergence between the application of concrete sets of instruments and their integration in a legal framework.
From the presented case studies there are some valuable lessons to be learned, which allow formulating some general recommendations for the implementation of the NUA, the Paris Agreement and the SDGs in intermediate cities of LAC:
- Promote the access of the population to an adequate habitat and land and guarantee a set of rights everybody should be able to exercise. This includes measures like the regularisation of irregular settlements and their incorporation to the city’s basic services, the promotion of land policies that limit land speculation and stimulate adequate regulation mechanisms for an equitable distribution of urban income as well as the production of habitable social housing located in safe and accessible areas, consistent with the social, cultural, and ethnical characteristics of their inhabitants.
- Strengthen public and social capacities, concepts and territorial and urban planning, in order to foster the integral and sustainable development of the cities. This can be achieved for example with the promotion of a polycentric urban structure with adequate population density and compactness, linking integral territorial planning to public budget to ensure territorial equality in the cities and develop planning processes that integrate urban stakeholders.
- Confront challenges of urban mobility: Cities should adopt an accessible and adequate public transport system according to both, social and environmental needs. In order to reach this aim, non-motorised transport can be encouraged, as well as the development of integrated, multi-modal and inclusive public transport systems.
- Sustainability of LAC intermediate cities is closely connected to their capacities for integral resource management, therefore the transformation of cities’ energy models and their orientation towards energy efficiency and the use of clean and renewable energies is vital.
- Another important factor is the cities’ capacity for risk management and resilience construction, as well as for creating coherent responses to challenges of climate change effects and their increasing vulnerability. For instance, specific environmental prevention and mitigation plans should be developed and the institutional and social system on disaster prevention and response should be strengthened.
Apart from these more general conclusions and recommendations, the study offers a concrete set of analytic tools for an integral understanding of the subject, which are transferable and applicable to future investigations and which support the implementation of international agenda at local level.