Post by Marines Pocaterra

Planning and improving cities, has for a long time, been based on so/called master planning approaches, which were oriented towards land/use planning and often relatively static and unrealistic in their assessment of limited resources and rapid change.

We are slowly understanding that Master Plans very often remain in drawers within huge Urban Ministries, often waiting for Central Government grants until they become obsolete and a new minister once more actualizes old info. Lots of resources gone and urgent urban problems left unattended are associated with master plans.

Developed cities use general detailed plans as infrastructure, maintenance and governance tools. These have evolved into huge data bases for smoothly handling complex systems.   Planning is another matter and it must be part of the communitarian essence.  The wider and deeper the participatory base we achieve, the stronger urban sustainability will be. And this is a permanent issue not only for new or renovated areas.

We should have learned Sustainability is the key in urban development and whatever the problems to be faced in a city or sector, it is prepared with 3 ingredients: local commitment, capacity building and inclusion.

Local commitment of key actors is crucial, including local governments, civil society and private sector. We need to build an action trilogy to tackle urban problems locally instead of generally. Continuously, not sporadically, with short term results to reinforce the long term goals and build up optimism within communities so often let down.

Some professionals will have a bad impression of the private sector “because they only seek good business”. Others will doubt of governments who are politicians and thus liars. Others will blame failures on people who cannot possibly understand urban matters without a master’s degree.

Well, we have surely learned our urban conditions need them all and need them effectively interacting, if we are to succeed in the fast track urban development facing today world.

Some of the actors might need training and encouragement, true. It is urgent to supply it, preferably by on–action learning.

The zoning principle by category (industrial, commercial, high/ low cost) is obsolete, arid one- use areas are prone to risk when socio-economic changes occur, they might be abandoned and loose value. Cities thrive in the mix of difference. Multiple uses keep around the clock activities and are flexible enough to absorb changes better. Master Planning methods are mainly technical actions not adequate to address de socioeconomic aspects of city planning.

How to plan effectively?

A 4 cities studycase led by UN-Habitat and Localising Agenda 21 Programme 1994-2004 shows there are no easy recipes to sustainability (ref. 1)

This study was inspired on Strategic Structure planning. SSP can be defined as a social process aimed at designing a spatial development of a given area. Within it 4 sub-processes are identified:

First, leading to the design of a dynamic and sustainable long time perspective, second dealing with daily policy, trouble shooting and process supporting actions, third dealing with decision making process involving all possible actors and finally with a process to empower the people to improve their living conditions and participate in society. (Van den Broeck 1995)

Fig. 1 Vision during planning process for Nakura ref. 1

The case studies ran simultaneously on 3 tracks:

Vision: Work towards a long term shared vision of the desirable future and development path of your neighborhood/city.

Action: formulation and implementation of actions and projects, solving bottlenecks and feedback. Implement strategic projects with specific characteristics, structural impact and leverage effect; with capacity to link mediate and organize multiple actions and actors, based on feasibility visibility and innovation criteria. Short term actions are very important track because it rewards the participants trust and sustains support.


Fig.2 Visible mini projects in Urban Upgrade of Los Canjilones, Caracas 2004

Communication/participation: Involving actors in vision-building, planning and decision making processes resolving disputes between different levels of civic society, creating urban alliances and effective platforms for continuous programs. Communication is activated by debate. Some forms of debate, forums, workshops, demonstrative projects/actions, promotion of citizens initiatives.

The scarce ingredient is frequently the political will, which is basic for SSP to produce positive results. That is why I’ll include in this summary of urban planning resources a restricted form of urban strategy based on political will.

The political will of citizens organized into Community Land Trusts to protect the urban conditions they desire as a community. Community Land Trusts are nonprofit, community-based organizations designed to ensure community stewardship of land. Community land trusts can be used for many types of development (including commercial and retail), but are primarily used to ensure long-term housing affordability. To do so, the trust acquires land and maintains ownership of it permanently. With prospective homeowners, it enters into a long-term, renewable lease instead of a traditional sale. When the homeowner sells, the family earns only a portion of the increased property value. The remainder is kept by the trust, preserving the affordability for future low- to moderate-income families.

Community land trusts (CLTs) might become a model that effectively creates community control of property used for affordable housing and community development. The governance and membership structures are generally elected board members. Ref 2


Beyond its organizational structure, CLTs are also recognized for their practice of stewardship, which ensures that their properties provides lasting benefits to the community and that residents are engaged and supported beyond sale or occupancy to promote positive outcomes. These include: fostering leadership, betterment, and improved quality of life among residents; creating community control of land and neighborhoods; building community, promoting civic engagement, ensuring resident-driven organizational decision-making and strategic planning, and maintaining organizational sustainability.


Many CLT have initiated because their areas were in gentrification processes or being abandoned to insecurity. And shortly became blossoming neighborhoods, supporting hundreds of low cost tenant housing for artists, with tenants trained and included in community educational and l activities, which constitutes win-win situations for all.

And finally a political measure which has been implemented in Colombia. The voluntary tax contribution. A system in which citizens can choose their preferred urban projects and focuse a portion of their tax on them. This can promote political will, quite effectively, both from the local government stand and citizens.

REF.1 Urban Trialogues visions-projects_ coproductions. Authors Andre Loeckx, Kelly Shannon, Rafael Tuts, Han Verschure http://ww2.unhabitat.org/programmes/agenda21/

REF.2 Article by Emily Thaden, published  by Lincoln Institute http://www.lincolninstitute.edu

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