post by Marines Pocaterra

How many people care about cities in Latin America (LA) and how they are run, designed, expanded? Sometimes the population cannot even understand the city mechanics much less read a blueprint of the city. Most people don’t know what urban planners do or what their City Majors duties are.
Multiple decisions have to be taken: should the downtown area be bigger, with city boulevards built in place of motorways? Should it be easier to use rail transport to get to work, nature or your hobbies? How can we fit enough housing into the growing city? What to do with informal areas?
Sometimes we admire urban planning methods in developed countries; and we reflect: not realistic for our countries, too much people with far poor education, low efficiency. Old bylaws are maintained for decades, but apply only to a small minority, because most construction is built illegally. Cities grow wildly over mountains, rivers, flooding areas, without control. Elected authorities put aside green parameters and irresponsibly ignore growth rates.


Why City Plans?
Cities need to have guidelines and Projections for decades ahead and study growth options. Implementing actions require definitions about transport needs, begin controlling climate change…and all themes related to city functionality: achieving compact community structure to reduce the need to move, set of guidelines to energy-efficiency, accommodating future housing units and recreation areas; reducing calculated carbon footprint and making neighborhoods accessible. Also about the character of the changing city: attracting specific business and satisfying new needs. Ensuring enough jobs and good services, for all, and affordable premises and locations for small industries, retail, workshops and small business facilities are themes that should be much closer to ordinary people not reserved to the archives of Ministries and politicians.
Ministries and politicians are responsible to make it happen, to gather support, to follow up, correct and continue the plans. Citizens should be the big client calling the shots.the citizen’s participation.

Let us take a look at what the developed world is doing to improve their cities, which are by the way not comparable to LA cities.
City plan
Helsinsky’s web page clarifies the approach for the new City plan which consists of three sections:

  1. Vision 2050 is a long-term land use target condition extending to 2050. Vision work is founded on the idea of Helsinki as a network city of rail traffic with an expanding strong main center – the city center. The vision also examines the city as part of the region.
  2. The City plan map and its markings guide City planning until approximately 2030, or until a new City plan is drawn up. The accuracy of the plan map will be determined during the planning. The City plan description includes large amounts of clarifying material.
  3. The implementation plan proposes how to reach the goals of the City plan.

Planning Process

  1. Reports, forecasts and studies have already been completed to begin the process.
  2. Participation, surveys precede Evaluation plan and Work program for City planning will be discussed publicly.
  3. Plans will be made publicly available.
  4. The City plan’s Vision 2050 and various land use plans will be drawn up.
  5. Refined City plan draft will be refined.
  6. City plan proposal based on the feedback received on the plan draft, effect evaluations, reports, etc.
  7. An Implementation Program for the plan will also be drawn up.
  8. The City plan proposal will be ready for processing by the City Planning Committee in 2015 and processing by the City Council during 2016.

All these steps are to be accomplished in less than 4 years.

Participants? Everybody

  • Residents, people who work in the area, students
  • Businesses
  • Residents’ associations and other non-governmental organisations
  • Various other communities
  • Departments and institutions of the City of Helsinki
  • Helsinki Region joint municipal authorities
  • Neighboring municipalities and the other municipalities of the Helsinki region
  • State authorities
  • Other officials and public communities.

We can probably check the web pages of every city in Europe and North America and see their Planning Boards hard at work to attract people to interact with planners.
Is it replicable in Latin America?
LA conditions often keep population in a state of immaturity in relation to urban maters, which is far worse than political immaturity because if citizens do not understanding their own urban problematic reflected on everyday life, it is difficult to presume their political choice will have meaning.
In Latin American countries we need to stimulate participation because informality has overtaken 50% of cities and this population is basically excluded from the benefits of the city and over stressing general urban functionality. It seems like the way to bring about the changes, is generating a broader understanding and support.

People will not feel obliged to the city or respect its normative. They’ll not think of the city as a unit or have an integral image of it; people turn blind eyes to urban problems which they suffer, but lack the capacity to comprehend or deal with. People’s point of view is a valuable imput, and so is their experience which, by the way, can be easily gathered with existing digital technology.
Smart cities would also make use of the latest technology to acquire citizen input, like CivicPlus, which offers a range of software and mobile tools for cities to communicate and engage citizens in a dialog about city projects (Castle Rock, Colorado used CivicPlus to get input on the plans for a new city park). B.Cohen “The 10 smartest cities in Latin America” http://www.fastcoexist.com

In Vancouver’s case, the city uses “social media and digital technologies to spark citizen-led public-engagement activities like kitchen table discussions at private homes, online discussion forums and workshops at community centers,” to spark participation.


In Latin America we probably have to go beyond that and include special urban workshops and maybe follow on the line of Curitiba’s system of hiring youths from favelas to cooperate in data collection.
We have all heard of the pyramid of Maslow which explains how basic needs are progressive; until one need level isn’t satisfied next level has little meaning. Participatory urban projects, find participants who find it hard to put aside their private needs (house, land) to focus on the needs of the community (group responsability, infrastructure, etc.). Some of these people have been recruited in failed projects and have lost faith.

Urban Pyramid


We could draw a similar pyramid to reflect how a person could progressively develop knowledge and interest in a layered system of urban interests ranking from the individual aspects and ascends to more general concerns.
A strategy is needed for wide and varied participation, passing information in ways accessible to different levels of education, leading to a better urban practice. This would promote real citizenship in a democratic way and would be training better citizens; aware of their rights and better prepared to improve their habitat.
If authorities want to reach positive leadership in a community they have to earn their trust. Working with them is the path. If low income population has trouble on Family level it is difficult to get their attention for community level challenges.

Smart City
The concept of Smart City is still being built on, but climate strategist Boyd Cohen has created a methodology Smart Cities Wheel, which hopefully will help city planning stakeholders speak a common language.


Latin American cities have a bad track record in proper land use and urban planning; most cities have major problems with traffic, contamination, government inefficiency, and much less transparency than developed regions citizens could imagine. But I want to stress on Smart People Area.
We have to recognize big achievements, considering the very low benchmarking this cities started from, there are only a few cities in Latin America that have good records to show the world. Big players in the region are:
Mexico City promoting smart and green buildings, one of the first cities in the world to experiment with technology allowing buildings to absorb nearby smog.
Bogota, with its system of dedicated bike lanes interconnected with their BRT system, Transmilenio a large bike share program, and the first city in the region to begin introducing an EV taxi fleet, also announced plans to construct an electric underground metro system within the decade.

Buenos Aires has expanded their own network of BRT lines and also begun supporting enhanced cycling infrastructure and bike sharing. It has an entire ministry devoted to becoming smarter which has been responsible for some projects such as an expansive public Wi-Fi network. The advances materialized in spite of current policies which disincentive entrepreneurship, contributing to inflation and talent/ capital flight.
Rio is also on the path: trying to address its issues with inequality and using smart solutions to enhance the quality of life for its citizens. An integrated operations center developed with support from IBM, allows for real-time monitoring of meteorological, crime, traffic, live camera feeds, and emergency data. Another project involving local teenagers to take digital images of problem areas in the favelas to create a digital map of hot spots and enabling city staff to begin tackling challenges such as removing accumulated trash which contributed to higher epidemic rates.
Curitiba, considered the greenest city in Latin America was honored in the regional Green Cities ranking by Siemens. It has also addressed climate resilience by creating green spaces which to absorb water runoff and in dry season, convert to beautiful parks.

Col 101Col 153Quoting Boyd Cohen “The smart city movement has picked up in Latin America, and with Smartcity Santiago we can observe how a pilot project leveraging the latest smart city technology can function and be embraced in the Latin American context. If this development goes well, it could open a huge market opportunity for smart cities entrepreneurs and multinational companies. After all, Latin America and the Caribbean have a total population of nearly 600 million people–twice the size of the U.S.–and they are home to several megacities in desperate need of solutions.”
These urban achievements are, sometimes, due to visionary majors, but to even begin their quest, silent work, investigation and planning needed to be done previously. Data has to be collected and wide support is vital to sustain the actions until goals are met.
Working toward the SMART CITY is not only PROFITABLE but the SMART THING to DO.

http://www.fastcoexist.com/homepage Boyd Cohen, Ph.D., LEED AP, is a climate strategist helping to lead communities, cities and companies on the journey towards the low carbon economy. Dr. Cohen is the co-author of Climate Capitalism: Capitalism in the Age of Climate Change
http://www.yleiskaava.fi/en/ City Planning Department of Helsinki has opened a map-based survey

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