Post by Marines Pocaterra

In formation of cities the upgrade process to improve infrastructure happened in several generations thus consolidating urban structure because the slower pace of urbanization allowed learning and social organization to tag along.

Today’s pace in urban development requires big investments and has huge influence in environment. In 3 decades from today more than 2.5 billion people will become new urbanites, needing shelters, supplies, services, energy and water.

Several urban investigators assure the urban footprint is presently growing even faster than population and this by accommodating mainly poor rural migrants. (1)

It seems to me, new urban sectors have always been occupied by poor people in search of a better future; they are willing to adapt to harsh conditions because they believe in an urban future. If they keep believing, they can help make positive changes; but if they stop believing they’ll become uncomfortable residents and a threat to the city that has destroyed their hopes.

The control of associated problems, like deteriorating habitat, global warming, urban violence, segregation and lack of financing for infrastructure, for starters, might seem far out of reach for many developing countries, with higher population growth indexes.


The Challenges?

  • Flexible Planning

It is important to accept the city will grow, and plan ahead on the best choices in sustainability; to protect water reserves, nearby production, adequate variety of jobs. Smart agreements and joint planning with neighboring urban centers are of utmost importance. Having outgrown zoning/uses Plans, several multidimensional databases collected multidireccional (bottom up, top-down).  Those working tools could help local leaders and governments striving to reach practical to attain solutions for all. (3)

An example  STDM Social Tenure Domain Model “This commitment of communities and government partners to STDM is the primary driver for its sustainability, ensuring that its expansion is local demand, rather than as a donor project. Communities within the SDI movement conduct profiling and enumeration as part of standard practice, and the tool has become integrated into this work – which suggests high sustainability.” (4) another example from SDI Open Reblock, (5)

  • Educating for participation.-

Both the actual citizens and the incoming population have to train, in order to participate in change instead of rejecting it. Integration to urban networks will help fend against resentment and violence. Most citizens see division of urban areas by income, more walls, avoiding nearby public space to protect their privacy and other similar simplistic measures, as the only possible reaction to the predicted incoming urban avalanche.   But they fail to understand the backlash effect of these approaches. If participation is fostered, many will learn those principles which urban planners find so hard to explain and spread: the positive force that mixed-use, and mixed-income has on the urban tissue.

  • Opening opportunities to all

Every citizen should be interested in helping the newcomers jump the barriers of poverty into the middle classes transforming a problem into an asset for the city. Many experiences confirm that urban programs for accessible housing, connecting city sectors through public spaces, public transport to work centers, on the job training and others, will raise the life quality for all.

All these goals seem evident but their materialization requires that local governments become strong, well informed and assessed, and they positively connect to central governments. These factors are often not present and resources are spent sensationalist programs with plenty of political show  but dodging the real problems.

There is a great need of leaders dedicated to evaluate and solve problems for all citizens; looking beyond their election periods and getting the proper assessment teams. To influence the city this leaders have to boost participation, as wide and continuous as possible so that all viewpoints are reflected in the planning effort.

  • Internal Finance Resources

Usually attention to slums gets a special treatment from governments, but as we recognize this expansion as the new reality it certainly deserves main budgetary reserves in the cities programming. The concept of recovering revaluation of land might be helpful to charge the financial shortages; and  systems of payers-directed taxes can give participation a real face and keep governments checked by citizens.

Cities should function in superavit, the sources of income exceeding operational costs. Although international assistance constitutes a system of controls over their investments, excessive dependence on international assistance or central directed  government levels will affect  the capacity and autonomy of city’s leadership.

Systems of fair taxes are developing new fields of inclusion in real democratic conditions to citizens; inclusionary zoning where required  percentage of affordable homes have to be built in each development; are concepts which leaders have to develop in speed to prepare for 2050.



  1. In a presentation titled “The Case for Planning” at the Urban Age Shaping Cities conference at the Biennale, UN-Habitat executive director Joan Clos
  2. https://www.ted.com/talks/robert_neuwirth_on_our_shadow_cities#t-16776
  3. Crecimiento inclusivo en las ciudades: retos y oportunidades. Autores María Emilia Freire, Daniel Hoornweg, Enid Slack, Richard Stren and The Global Dialogue Institute.
  4. Cities Alliance in Action Promoting Land Rights for the Urban Poor with the Social Tenure Domain Model The software package can be downloaded for free at http://www.stdm.gltn.net/ 
  5. http://www.lincolninst.edu/publications/articles/tecnociudad-0
  6. Improving Slums: stories from Sao Paulo http://blogs.worldbank.org/sustainablecities/no-excuses-slum-upgrading


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