There is a group of guidelines being proposed for legacy cities in North America. Referring to cities that have experienced population/jobs loss over decades, developed around big industrial centers which no longer exist, economic weight shifted to new areas.

Mall and Office buildings used as emergency dwellings
Mall used as refuge for 3000 persons and Torre de David office center turned into vertical favela

Cities in Venezuela differ a lot from legacy cities up North, but we certainly share their downward spiral and the challenges to reverse the forces contributing to it. The housing markets fall short of housing needs and marginal areas are main parts of the city, so it is hard to find vacant lots or properties. On the contrary, unfinished buildings are taken by the homeless very frequently even when built for totally different purposes.

While developed world measures sustainability in their urban centers from every possible angle: carbon print, walkability, productivity, educational levels, etc. we are far from benchmarking which is key to evaluating results.

A recent Policy Focus Report from Lincoln Institute of Land Policy by Alan Mallach & Lavea Brachman defines 9 strategies . First three are of part of the launch process of a good policy, like oiling up the machines to prepare for the action.

• Build stronger local governance and partnerships
• Rethink State and Federal Policy.
• Re-establish the central economic role of the city

Most successful urban policies have put great effort into these preparations, and it has paid off in successful implementation. Some Latin American cities have succeeded and keep advancing to consolidate goals.
In Venezuela’s scenario, partnerships with the private sector or NGOs (any sign of power sharing) are seen as political weakness blocking most proposals. We need rise above political interests, to bridge the public decisions, nonprofit and private sectors in a steady and long term common effort.

Venezuela, have lost valuable urban opportunities:
• 1999’s La Guaira’s landslides: if met by smart reconstruction would have triggered extensive redevelopment to consolidate international tourist infrastructure. Instead it remained in ruins for a decade. Many historic landmarks were lost.
• Guatire-Guarenas Satellite city 40 min East of Caracas: Smart planning and special facilities could transform relationship with underserviced metropolitan area, and overcome the present dormitory city condition.
• La Carlota Metropolitan park: an airport inside the metropolitan area which could be one of de green cores and rise the green space index from its present low value.
• Favelas Rehab: begun in 1999, halted in 2004

Projects in stock

Each one of these projects could have boosted the economy, with general benefits But was central government who chose to interrupt them. Incomplete urban policies used for electoral reasons accumulate problems; they bring time loss and unbalances, which grow until situations produces a state of general inefficiency in which violence appears. The reason for decay in our cities is not a consequence of economic evolution or changes in the industrial process; but the absence of urban consciousness. Cheap gift policies and theatrical statements are implemented in election campaigns as smoke curtains to the real duties of authorities.

YOU as urban activist
Everybody should feel their duty to strive for a better city. That it’s possible to achieve improvements. Open access to urban plans related to your daily routine, will create conscience, and more enthusiastic participation. An answer to the informal city can only be tackled with participation. If participation pays off, community will feel rewarded with improving conditions; a chain of change can reverse the decay. Up till now many disappointments mark rehab interventions.
The result of a methodical approach could be a generation of more ambitious citizens, ambition applied to improve our common ground. A collective follow/up will have City’s authorities running to meet deadlines.
Higher level metropolitan problems will require complex plans. Plans that should be approved by citizens, so public representatives and technicians will have to break it down to the level of common folk; explain and convince their constituents, make plans available to those committed citizens. This is the way to climb out of layers of unattended urban problems.
Want better cities? Activate urban discussion.
Six integrated strategies, conform the tool kit recommended to foster change in legacy cities maybe also for unkempt cities:

Practical tools to strategic incrementalism if applied to Caracas

  1. Rebuilding Central Core
    This aspect is not so bad even if not conceived in a strategic way but as publicity and is intermittent efforts have kept the core city acceptable not a brilliant plan but the unreliable operation is the worst part for visitors may find it in excellent conditions or not, if vendors have taken over.
    Maybe consider not only one core. Long cities like ours might need multi cores: green cultural, historic, etc
  2. Sustain Viable Neighborhoods
    We need to sustain even the risky ones. The upgrade of 50% of the city has been put down for so long that services have made crisis spreading risk and violence.
  3. Use Assets to Build Competitive Advantages
    There are many possible assets near Caracas but in very bad state most of them. Fishing lakes, beaches, sea port, mountain views, bird sanctuaries, Gondolas to the beach, canals, etc
  4. Repurpose Vacant Land for New Activities. Most vacant land has been misused in last decade. It is necessary to make good use of what is left, by establishing realistic urban goals, not political goals.
  5. Use Economic Growth to Increase Community and Resident Well-being.
    Disruptive displacements should be a thing of the past; emphasize inclusion of weaker income sectors by smart relocation and training.
  6. Increase the Ties Between “legacy” Cities and Their Regions
    In metropolitan areas these links strenghthen both the economy of center and suburbs, creating win-win situations. Our satellite cities, Teques, Guarenas, Charallave, Rio Chico, are important assets if we tackle Traffic congestion.

Citizens should be in a permanent quest for a better life. If given tools and access to government levels, they will participate with more enthusiasm and knowledge.

3 thoughts on “Our role in regenerating cities

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