The Challenge of Urban Population Growth

In 2011, for the first time in history, the majority of the population lived in cities. It is estimated that within approximately 40 years, the urban population of our planet will have increased by 3 billion people and that the rural population will have decreased significantly. This growth demands the multiplication of urban and energy services, the expansion of the existing infrastructure and many other critical aspects that will impact the quality of life of the urban population. If cities are well managed, they can become a solution to the most significant human challenges of the future. Poor management, however, could make cities the epicenter of development failure.

Whether cities will become a problem or a solution will be first determined in Latin America, because the region leads the developing world in urbanization, as evidenced by the fact that 78% of the population of Latin America (445 million of its 570 million inhabitants) currently live in urban areas.

The high percentage of urbanization in Latin America walks hand in hand with inequality: 120 million people who reside in cities live below the poverty line. In the absence of effective mobilization and coordination between the different sectors of society, the combination of disproportionate growth with mounting inequality and poverty could have a very negative impact on the quality of life of the urban population of the region. Avina and its allies work with the belief that through participative management, both transparent and innovative, it is possible for Latin American cities to be leaders in the pursuit of sustainable development. The question that drives us is how best to promote urban management that multiplies opportunities and promises improved conditions for this and future generations.

 

Citizen Participation, the Key to Designing Solutions

Part of the solution is renewed civic commitment that promotes mobilization and coordination of different sectors of society. Experience demonstrates that citizen participation is more effective if it is supported by objective indicators and specific goals that encourage meaningful discussions and interactions between the municipal administration and the citizenry to achieve better quality of life through collaboration and shared responsibility. Inspired by this objective, Avina has supported the growing “Sustainable Cities” movement of Latin America since 2007. The Latin American Network for Just, Democratic and Sustainable Cities is made up of civic coalitions representing approximately 63 cities in ten countries. These groups promote mobilization, information sharing, policy initiatives, accountability monitoring and innovative projects to improve conditions for poor communities.

Avina collaborates with its allies to test new models of citizen participation that promise to increase political, social and economic inclusion. It lends its support, knowledge and network to raise the standards of citizen monitoring efforts and increase the effectiveness and transparency of performance indicators for city hall. At the same time, Avina encourages learning and the exchange of best practice among cities and countries, testing innovative urban practices by supporting pilot projects, and training civic leaders.

Following these strategies in 2011, we were pleased to observe several notable achievements by our allies which demonstrate that accountability and participation can make urban management more effective in creating increasingly sustainable cities.

 

 

The Bicentennial Park in Córdoba, Argentina. In 2011, Córdoba
was one of the seven cities in Latin America to approve the
Government Goals Plan, which allows direct citizen monitoring
of the development objectives of the city.

Direct and Citizen Monitoring

In 2011, seven Latin American cities approved ordinances requiring mayors to present a Government Management Plan with objective performance goals when taking office. The cities were Rio de Janeiro, Betim and Campinas in Brazil and Córdoba, San Martín de los Andes, Mendoza and Maipú in Argentina. This new urban policy standard means that each government must annually inform its citizens of progress toward the goals in their plans, thus allowing direct citizen monitoring of urban management in each city.

The approved regulation states that within 90 or 120 days after a new administration has begun, officials have to present a plan with concrete indicators for the different areas managed by city, and goals that will allow for monitoring.

The adoption of this regulation is a significant achievement, made possible in part by the mobilization of the Latin American Network for Just, Democratic and Sustainable Cities. The network hopes that widespread adoption of this policy will lead to a change in the political practices of mayoral candidates, who will have reason to present their proposals to voters in a more objective, transparent and pragmatic way.

It also allows citizens to assume responsibility for monitoring city government and participating in civic debates. The experience in cities such as Bogota, São Paulo and Lima shows that citizen participant mechanisms can be a powerful tool in the process of turning around a city and improving the quality of urban life.

Fundación Avina has accelerated this process, connecting civic associations, training civic leaders and sharing experiences and information regarding similar processes in other Latin American cities. We have supported the adoption of the management plan ordinance as a tool of public influence, encouraging the spread of this and other good ideas across the region. There are currently 29 cities in Latin America that have approved this mechanism in their Charters. The movement has also inspired similar proposals for constitutional amendments in Brazil and Chile.

 

 

A region at the northern border of the city of Bogota was declared a
forest reserve, which will benefit its ecosystems and improve the quality
of life of the city’s population.

Environmental Protection for Development

In July, a region on the northern outskirts of the city of Bogota, Colombia, was declared a forest reserve. Over three thousand five hundred acres will be directly protected, which will have a positive impact on the entire urban territory and will influence the quality of life of the city’s population. Different surface water sources originate here, and there is an altitudinal diversity that favors varied environments and ecosystems. The declaration of this reserve is the result of a complex process of discussion, study and consideration carried forward by several civil society institutions in a high degree of coordination with municipal authorities.

The forest, officially the “Reserva Forestal Regional Productora del Norte de Bogotá,” will be named after Thomas Van der Hammen, the Dutch scientist and environmentalist who contributed to an ecological appreciation of this area.

The region has been historically affected by the urban expansion process, but the declaration will protect its ecosystem, preserving the area between the city’s hills and the Bogota River. The declaration also increases the level of environmental protection of the fauna, flora and streams in the area. It also defines the parameters for sustainable activities in the region so that, for example, new construction in this region is now forbidden.

Studies of the soil, climate, quality and volume of water flow, as well as those of forests, the history of the land, the institutional structure and the recovering of water channels that were made by the ancient indigenous people, all make this reserve an innovative case for the sustainability of cities and a forum to reflect on the use of urban soil and areas with urban environmental protection, as well as on the influence of public policies of the cities.

Avina contributed to this achievement through its support of three factors: visible and participative action of the allies involved, impact on public opinion through the media, and the coordination among several organizations and the city regarding this innovative proposal for Bogota. It also added to the debate on environmental policies in the city, supporting the preparation of a study with a high level of technical information to contribute towards creating awareness and assisting the local authorities in making the case for the Reserve Management Plan as well as making decisions that benefit the surrounding population.

Our allies for this initiative were the Institute for Urban Studies of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia; Bogota Cómo Vamos; the Regional Autonomous Corporation; the Colombian Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences; the Geographic Institute Agustin Codazzi; the Universidad de Ciencias Aplicadas y Ambientales (UDCA), and the city’s private sector and Land Registry.

Our main regional allies and co-investors in this opportunity are:

Avina Americas and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are collaborating to strengthen the Sustainable Cities movement throughout the entire Latin American continent to benefit the urban poor. The proposal focuses on the strategic implementation of citizen participation and control, as well as on the effective impact of social, political and economic inclusion of the individuals usually excluded from civic discussion forums. Fundación Avina is responsible for accompanying the movement in Latin America, while Avina Americas seeks to establish new regional and global alliances.