Biblio 14- The quality of life in Latin American cities

The Interamerican Development Bank sponsored study on the quality of life in Latin American cities starts with a look at the lists of the cities with the best quality of life in the world. The rankings usally refer more to the quality of life for a reduced elite of highly mobile top notch executives than to a more day-to-day quality of life for most of the population. Altough there are other methodologies closer to the permanent resident’s needs, as the Urban Audit System of Eurostat, they also have some problems:

  • A variable combination of qualitative and quantitative data sources, whose interconexion is usually complex.
  • The inclusion of a large number of topics, which often lack priorization.

The book attempts a new method to combine objective and subjective information in a more coherent way, focusing on the most relevant dimensions of quality of life. Two basic criteria are used: the market price of housing (sale or rental) and the indidivual’s life satisfaction. These two approaches are used in a complementary manner to answer such questions as:

  • Urban problems with greatest impact on people’s opinion of city management
  • Improvement (or regresion) dynamics in areas that matter to the people
  • Gaps between perception of problems and objective indicators, and their distribution on the urban area
  • How to priorize investments in the cities, taking into acount well-being.
  • When can or should property taxes be used to finance the provision of certain services (or the solution of certain urban problems).

Using housing prices and indiviual’s life satisfaction as indicators means that the ranking of cities loses relevance, as these elements are much more interesting in an intra-city approach, comparing diferent areas (e.g., housing prices usually reflect somehow differences in the access to quality infrastructure or the safety level of neighborhoods). Besides, the point of rankings comparing diferent cities for the above-mentioned higly mobile top notch exective is clear, as they have a real chance to move from one city to another in a relatively short time lapse, but this is not what hapens to most city dwellers (even if these rankings are often relevant to foster evolution in urban management). There are tangential approaches to subjective satisfaction/ happiness studies, a rising field of research, albeit probably one subject to debate. The urban security issue, quite relevant in most of Latin America, and the quality of housing, are also debated.

The case studies focus on Buenos Aires, Bogotá, Medellin, San José, Lima, and Montevideo. As Latin America is the only region in the developing world where the majority of the population lives in urban areas (77%), the study is quite pertinent to the region, but many methodological aspects could possibly be translated to other geographical regions, as quality of life is a central issue for a good urban planning.

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