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Post by Marines Pocaterra[Proyectos Arqui 5] on Caracas

Classical urban theory prescribed strict centralized planning, containment and land use control. It seems new trends are evolving within urban science. But how fast, can they be implemented or come to bear fruit, is another story.

Underscoring the goals for this year’s World Urban Forum 6, Dr. Joan Clos, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN-Habitat, says:

“The cities of the future should be ones that are capable of integrating the tangible and more intangible aspects of prosperity, in the process shedding off the inefficient, unsustainable forms and functionalities of the city of the previous century or so and becoming the engine rooms of growth and development.”

The theme of the Naples Forum, The Urban Future, reminds us all how fast theworld is urbanizing. Year 2010 is the date urban dwellers beat 50% of total population. Cities will have to grow in the underdeveloped areas to accommodate 2.6 billion souls by 2050. Population is expected to double in 43 years, while urban land cover, will double in only 19 years. Not too far away, is it?

Darker areas mean higher % of urban population living in slums (data from 2005 – source: UN-HABITAT – http://www.unhabitat.org/stats

From the regular citizen point of view, cities are big enough as they are and in no way is it convenient to promote higher density or eliminate green areas. Municipal officials elected by these citizens, logically, tend to agree with their voters and will attend urgent matters before pushing budgets to plan ahead for future dwellers. Similarly, nobody wants a hurricane to reach their city but they agree it is better to be prepared.

An effort to explain expansion alternatives, to their dwellers is huge, but that discussion has to be raised from local levels to regional levels. Urban process must be explained and assimilated as it was with green concepts and global warming on the previous decade.

A valuable contribution by Shlomo Angel and his team Making Room for a Planet of Cities supports conclusions based on a wide research on urban expansion. Their first conclusion is that urban population growth cannot be contained and we must make adequate room to accommodate it. They recommend drastic measures:  buying land and conditioning it to basic urban levels in order to let self/construction spark.

The Expansion Plan for Manta, Ecuador, 2007. Note: The expansion plan shows the proposed arterial road grid and plots of 1 hectare each at intersections to be acquired for future public use. Project stalled because disagreement with World Bank.

Source: Provided to Shlomo Angel by the Department of City Planning, Municipality of Manta, Ecuador.

In the context of South America, these measures, interpreted by unprepared officials or politicians, could lead to uncontrolled urban sprawl, increasing undesirable conditions associated to informality: violence, risk, inadequate sanitation.

Great urban riddles arise. Will present techniques of consolidation and slum upgrade programs apply? Will countries accept rampant informality to cope with approaching emergency? Will these areas have the potential to eventually upgrade, into urban tissue of acceptable quality? Will citizens (old and new) accept an extended stage of development, where huge urban ghettos shape the urban extension areas? Lastly, will local governments be able to control these areas under a common set of rules?

Student intervention in barrios

Formal means of urbanization lag behind population needs in developing countries. Previous decade’s more controlled growth hasn’t yet been provided with proper urban infrastructure. Will dwellers continue to develop their own urban microcosm, surviving impervious to local laws, forced to self-protection? In spite of research and goodwill, is it possible to beat lack of urban land and curve the ejection of the poor from the city core because of rising price of land?

We are living a very important transition where classical, slow, detailed plan urbanism, cannot satisfy upcoming needs, but we can’t leave city growth to chance, recurring to a do-it-yourself plan, or to urban-squatter kits, which could be leading urban agendas in the developing world into chaotic scenarios.

Research and investigation on urban themes is done mainly in USA and Europe. Conscious that prescriptions to other developing areas are not directly applicable, many foundations and renowned study centers are willing to work locally with government officials and local professionals. Some Latin-American governments boast of anti-Americanism and reject ongoing urban projects or its funding with lame excuses which often seek to cover a purely populist approach.

Latin/America should aim higher in coping with the approaching population boom. Comparing urban issues to the global warming agenda, which has been spread worldwide and people begin to acquire conscience and knowledge related to carbon footprint, the challenge remains to increase the general concern over the urban problematic, still far from the understanding of common folk. Both issues are certainly part of the global agenda for sustainable development.

Nicolas Savary Caracas Barrios

Integration initiatives around shared interests, have to be discussed in higher technical levels,  before rising to the political agenda. Ej. South American Project (SAP) takes into account unique conditions like Amazonian hinterland forest, which has lost 17% of its surface in the last 50 years.

‘Initiated by former Brazilian president Fernando Enrique Cardoso in 2000 and rapidly endorsed by the eleven other South American nations, IIRSA—a comprehensive energy, transport, and communications network —is the most aggressive transcontinental integration project ever planned for South America. Through the systematic deployment of ten east-west infrastructural corridors, the initiative is sidelining the Americas’ time-honored north-south axis—exemplified by the Pan-American Highway—to provide Brazil, which occupies almost 50% of South America’s surface, access to ports along the Pacific and to give its flourishing economy stronger trading ties with Asia, while providing means of entering to remote regions that have untapped surface and subsurface natural resources’

Activating social mechanisms connected with urban techniques guided by both local and foreign teams would give good leads in building a balanced, sustainable and affordable urban tissue. Small or large urban experiments have been studied, implemented and learned upon. Colombia, Chile, Peru, Brazil and others, have plenty good urban practices. But South America cannot afford to ignore any source of support or research initiatives .

The State of World’s Cities Report 2012/2013. Titled ‘The Prosperity of Cities’, recommends that those engaged in development work need to explore a more inclusive notion of prosperity and development.In order to track the prosperity of cities the City Prosperity Index (CPI), measures five dimensions of prosperity: productivity, infrastructure, quality of life, equity and environmental sustainability. Together with a new conceptual matrix, the index aims to help decision makers identify opportunities for prosperity and design of clear policy interventions.

A crucial point for Latin-America’s urban policy is raising sustainable urban development issues above governmental periods, political power schemes and economic crisis (which I believe are consequence of urban mismanagement) until achieving a continuous drive to improve adequate access to adequate cites. It is urgent to start,  but the process has to continue until majorities internalize their role in urban media, making participation spark, rather than self-construction which could result very inefficient.

How?  Using scientific approach supported on existing research both local and foreign, empowering a technical generation to produce Latin-American team results. Widening participation to businessmen and scholars, dwellers and students; running live experiments with smart application of knowledge. Smart meaning continuous feedback, measuring, learning and correcting on every corner of the way until poverty fades away into a socially inclusive progress.

2 thoughts on “Urban propositions before populations boom

  1. Pingback: Economic Efficiency or Urban Quality of Life? «

  2. Pingback: Reviewing Rural/Urban Dycotomy | {FAVEL issues}

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