Biblio (17). The urban future of Latin America

Latin America is, for Spaniards, a close area in many aspects; what Québec is for the French, or Australia for the British, Argentina is for the Galicians, and in the Canary Islands they say that Venezuela is the eight island. To be honest, the colony was a dramatic experience for some populations. But it is equally true that sharing a language and some cultural basis, added to the great distance between the countries and the different degree of freedom or economic development between them has always led to people moving from one country to another, in a defining element of this transatlantic relationship. During the Franco dictature in Spain, books edited in Buenos Aires or Mexico City where a relevant cultural influx, and when Spain transitioned to democracy later it created an example for countries that later followed a similar path. Accent variations has never hampered a comunication in which we have to thank the Americans for having kept a language that is purer than what sometimes can be heard in Spain… and the economic, artistic and scientific relations are also relevant.

This biblio post is not about the work of a thid party, but about the results of my work with José María Ezquiaga for the Corporación Andina de Fomento, one of the big development banks in the region. The text is inscribed into a work that has been produced for the Heads of State and Government Sumit just held in Cádiz (Spain). The central thesis of this work is the central role of infrastructures in development, taking into acount three elements:

  • Infrastructure in the inclusive city
  • Infrastructure and added value in food commerce
  • Investmet indicators and implementation priorities

Our work has focused on the first part. Today’s Latin America is subject to:

  • A social landscape in which poverty and social segregation are dominant, despite the economic rise of some countries.
  • A trend towards urban growth forms that are oposed to a sustainable development; as often, the increase in income leads to more car ownership, and housing policies favor low land costs, even when the building lots are not suited to the purpose
  • Urban infrastructure deficits that touch not only illegal slums, but also the “legal” city.

The action proposals to adress these problems are guided by the idea of the central role of urban and metropolitan planning as guidelines for infrastructure and public facilities provision:

  • Clear and transparent rules regarding land ownership and land use regulations
  • Preservation of land crucial for environmental functions
  • Take into account climate change. As Sandy has sadly shown in New York City, climate change can be serious trouble even in a mighty “first world” city, even in one that seems to have a serious climate change policy
  • Balance the needs for sustainable renovation in existing urban areas and the need for urban extensions
  • Coordinate land use and transportation planning
  • Coordinate interurban and urban infrastructure planning tools
  • Energy and water economy
  • Sustainable waste policies
  • Effective rule enforcement
  • Quality public space; only when you feel safe walking in the city you can begin  talking about sustainable mobility
  • Quality of life

These issues can seem rather standard, valid from Tokyo to Casablanca, but it is the local implementation that can make a difference. The local approach is even more relevant, as from Manaus to Lima or from Tierra de Fuego to Tijuana the social, climatic and geographical difference is wide. And to us practitioners used to work in Europe or North America, there is a need to take into acount that the need to update the sources used in planning must extend here to the creation of such sources in many cases. The lack of certainties that climate change brings adds to that situation, but as always in urban planning, this must be combined with the urgency to act…

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