Post by Marines Pocaterra

The urban policy has been so neglected in many countries, that it has become a mockery of urban planning. Sometimes based on rigid zoning restrictions that respond to old concepts of separation of functions but stubbornly remaining for decades, the only valid guide to development, as well as sole legal frame of cities. In real time citizens ignore those bylaws and governments lack the capacity to enforce them.

The result seems to rely on informal development but squatter areas tend to transform into lawless territory.

During years or even decades they follow a pattern with positive aspects The members know each other, forming very resilient groups. Through early stages of squat process they have enough room to build and satisfy their needs. Sanitation network is built by neighbors themselves; storm water has ample ground and vegetation to absorb excess. Later, construction will grow into a dense pattern, units multiply in area and height, modifying natural ground conditions excavating, filling or occupying river beds. Risk conditions build up, along social anonymity, as community grows. If there is unoccupied land around the original plot it will be built upon, no matter how steep or risky, the occupants already know the area, feel comfortable in it and have their relatives nearby.

At this stage the cost of formalizing or upgrading is probably higher than developing new land and building new homes, but inhabitants will not accept relocation even in presence of hazard. But the area is doomed: packed constructions obstruct ventilation, pipe lines are built upon, always branched to make new connections. Water is scarce, leaks have debilitated soil for a time, garbage piles uncollected, blocking streets. Gangs fight for domains, using the sector as shelter for drug business.

toma favelas

Police take over dangerous favelas in Rio. press El Comercio

Last decades have shown the world urban anarchy being promoted by political leaders to seek notoriety and power p.e. Venezuela, Bolivia.

At the same time we have seen success stories in urban projects like Curitiva, Medellin and Bogota that have been able to make substantial change on cities in a short period. In this process, laws, funding and urban plans have aligned for the necessary scope of time to obtain results and evaluate them. These are corrective plans applied to cities that have reached critical levels in social or infrastructure problems and decide to change.

Mikeli Competition to boost City Center Mikkeli, Finland.

In developed countries like USA, Finland, Canada, urban interventions are of Promotional nature rather than Corrective nature. When a city with slow development, receding population and little interest to young dwellers, they launch a competition of ideas, thus corrections happen before facing crisis. Costs are covered by private sector receiving return value of the economic boost, increased value of properties, new jobs and international image.

yleiskuva_jatkasaari puerto 1Jatksaari_havainnekuva2

Urban Project http://www.portofhelsinski.fi   

The present generation of urban planners is to play a role in preventing, before large corrections accumulate. I believe we need to gather extensive support and participation of common folk. Urban planners can help strengthen a community force, both to counterbalance economic pressure on land and to fend for their needs before political forces.

Urban planning in politics is a matter that links the social and economic balance goals of a nation. As a tool, it can be used to correct, unbalance or exacerbate these relations, to increase or eliminate jobs, to promote sustainability or block it, to generate common goals for territories despite colliding political views.

Organizations like UN Habitat, gather enough urban data from multiple countries to evaluate their policies. Some governments are working FOR the people others are working ON the people and must be unmasked of their faux claims of success when necessary. The world is very small after all. Turning the other way will not help.

Projects like The South America Project http://www.sap-network.org with the issue of the Amazonian Reserve and infrastructure needed to connect border countries, after incubator stage, usually remain in academic circles not reaching the common folk and are also kept far from political summits. They are not in the news urban planners must seek stage space for them. Regular neighbors have to become assets in daily urban practice. Control and supervision can be better a responsibility of neighbors. In developed communities the supervisory function is on community members: garbage recycling, not allowing junkyards, lack of maintenance, dangerous industrial practice or any compromise to a healthy livelihood.

It’s understandable that dwellers are surely more interested in prevention of trouble than functionaries not familiar with their everyday plight. If they are helped do their job, most obsolete, traditional costly bylaw systems will evolve into more interactive processes.

Maybe some of our readers can fill in about their interaction with communities and even of production of urban manuals that help boost neighborhood understanding of urban practice. If we can interest communities to study and understand the complexity of  their city we are sure to have better levels of demands and requirements to top level politicians.

Meanwhile, could public servers please, read some Manual of Urban Planning for Dummies?


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