Currently, 55% of the world’s population lives in cities. According to UN-Habitat reports, this number is expected to increase by 13% by 2050. Latin America and the Caribbean are the most urbanized regions, with nearly 80% of their population living in cities, a percentage that will continue to grow to 89% by 2050. This process of urbanization in our region has a specific problem: the different impacts in terms of land use, access to services, pollution, access to adequate housing, urban coexistence, and levels of insecurity. There are two types of cities that we must consider in terms of these impacts.
The metropolitan areas, which are 12, with more than 5,000,000 inhabitants (Mexico Valley Metropolitan Area; Sao Paulo Metropolitan Region; Greater Buenos Aires; Rio de Janeiro Metropolitan Region; Metropolitan Lima; Bogotá Metropolitan Area; Santiago Metropolitan Region; Belo Horizonte Metropolitan Region; Greater Caracas; Guadalajara Metropolitan Area; Maracaibo Metropolitan Area; Guatemala Metropolitan Area).
Emerging cities. There are 242 cities, with less than 1,000,000 people, growing at higher rates than the countries in which they are located. Projections indicate that, by 2050, 184 of these cities will have between 1 and 5 million inhabitants.
THE TRANSFORMATION OF URBAN AREAS
The combination of population growth and some challenges –housing deficit and a lack of adequate housing, a lack of accessible/integrated public spaces, deterioration of urban centers- will require local governments, together with the community and the private sector, to design and plan transformations in urban centers. To this end, there are six basic aspects that require prior analysis and evaluation: availability of space and land; location; housing structures; access to basic and complementary services; State funds and economic resources of the citizens; and community capabilities.
Here, we present three central aspects that municipalities and/or mayors should consider in their public policies to help their cities adapt to this expansion:
The revitalization of urban centers. Many city centers or urban centers in cities have been transformed into “invaded cities”-“abandoned cities”. The high concentration of vehicles and human conglomeration for many hours of the day, leads to the migration of families to the peripheral areas. This particular process of temporary concentration of masses has saturated the capacity of the city center. On the other hand, in some average-sized cities, this process has generated two effects: the permanence in this part of the city of families of lower purchasing power and of older adults; and on the other hand the decline of activities and commerce, or the disappearance of life on the street. Some of the recovery alternatives are linked to the implementation of the pedestrianization of streets, the improvement or recovery of public squares, mobility in bicycles, the recovery and renovation of buildings, an urban design that favors the gathering of citizens, and the promotion of policies that improve the quality of life of the neighbors living in the city center or urban area.
Access to adequate housing. There is a 6% lack of housing in urban areas in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 94% that do not have good quality housing. Some Latin Americans and Caribbean residents lack basic services such as water (9%), sanitation (15%), and electricity (4%); they live in overcrowded conditions (6%), on dirt floors (6%), or with poor walls and roofs (5%). These countries have been significantly reducing their quantitative housing deficit. However, the problem of low quality and resilience of construction persists. According to the World Bank, two out of every three families that have a housing problem in Latin America need better housing conditions. On the other hand, there are situations of agglomeration or high housing density that saturate the capacity of the cities, amplifying inequalities and asymmetries. These realities require policies that advance in four steps: a housing census that is segmented and/or focused by neighborhoods; an assessment of the condition of buildings and services in the spaces detected as critical; a participatory process with the community to generate ideas for housing improvements, the construction of new homes in adjacent areas or relocation; the staggered management of the housing project based on the previous criteria.
The reconfiguration and expansion of public spaces. There are two vital components when we think of public spaces in cities: green spaces and social spaces (community and leisure). These spaces significantly improve the quality of life of citizens. But based on what standards can we establish that a city is sustainable from a spatial point of view? With regard to green spaces, there is a recommended approach that ranges from a minimum of 9 m2 to a maximum average of 50 m2. If we consider these reference values, Latin American cities are well below these numbers. On the other hand, in many cities there are problems of spatial fragmentation and segregation resulting from deep inequalities and asymmetries. That is why it is vital to advance in urban regeneration processes. New spaces may be repurposed from existing spaces that are empty, in disuse, or are failed spaces. Public spaces are places for gathering and coexisting, where citizens find different ways and activities to meet their need of participation in public life.
The challenge then is to stop the emergence of collapsed cities, and to intervene and build more adapted and sustainable cities. And this requires the confluence of political decision, urban design and development, participatory management, and adequacy of resources.