Sustainable Cities of Latin America - Dhvani Jain

Sustainable Cities of Latin America - Dhvani Jain

According to Demographia World Urban Areas, as of November 2019, 58 percent of the World’s Population resides in the urban cities. Scholars predict that the percentage of people migrating to urban cities will increase to more than 80 percent by 2050. This unequal distribution of population amongst the rural villages and urban cities has strained the resources of the latter. Overpopulation directly affects the number of slums in urban cities of the world, namely Tokyo, New Delhi and Mumbai. United Nations Environment Programme states that more than 700 million people currently live in urban slums. The problems faced by these people in urban areas are environmental degradation, lack of urban infrastructure, inadequacy of basic services like water supply, electricity and waste management for each section of the society, rising levels of carbon emissions and rising temperature. Hence, in order to tackle the evils caused by the rise in  migrating population, Goal 11 of the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations General Assembly talks about the necessity to invest in the development of more Sustainable Urban Cities and Sustainable Communities.

Sustainable Urban Cities are planned townships designed to provide socio-economic opportunities to the present population. They also ensure that similar resources would be available to the future population. The environmentalists, with the help of these cities, aim to protect the environment without hindering the economic growth of the societies. In the early 1970s, the age of rapid industrialization, Curitiba, a small city in southern Brazil became the first sustainable city of the World. Jamie Lerner, the former mayor of Curitiba was the architect of this revolution. Curitiba was an agricultural city, which was facing issues related to climate change and overpopulation. The rise in population resulted in excessive use of natural resources like fuel. The increasing number of automobiles on the road was a concern for the rising pollution level of Curitiba and hence Lerner’s first step towards building a sustainable city was to curb the use of private vehicles.  Furthermore, in 1974 he introduced pedestrian streets and popularized the use of public transport by Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). With the passage of time, public buses were proven to be the fastest and the cheapest way of transportation in Curitiba city, as a result of which today approximately 300 cities around the world use this BRT System.

The second step towards an eco-city was waste management. In 1989, Lerner’s assistant, Nicolau Klüppel developed aGreen Exchange Programme. Under this programme, the citizens of Curitiba exchanged garbage for tokens and this collected trash was further recycled. In order to earn tokens majority of the residents of Curitiba participated in the programme. Today 90 percent of the Curitiban Population is part of this programme and with the help of this recycling project, Curitiba recycles approximately 70 percent of its garbage.

The third step towards building a resilient city was to come up with the solution of managing floods. Lerner’s team, in order to deal with floods, began afforestation by constructing parks and gardens. With this plan of enhancing the green space, the then government not only aimed to channelize the excessive water breaking through the concrete city walls but also curb the growing carbon emissions. As a result of excessive plantations, today Curitiba has a green belt of approximately 50 sq metres per person. These three steps became the key to combat the problems of overpopulation and floods, making Curitiba not just a resilient city but the World’s first sustainable city. This Southern Brazilian city caught many eyeballs due to its revolutionary sustainable urban planning modules. It inspired many countries especially the major cities of Latin America namely, Santiago, São Paulo and Buenos Aires as they also felt the need to develop a resilient sustainable city to cope with the changing climatic conditions and population paradigms.

The Latin American region is the second-highest region in urbanization. It is also one of the regions which is most affected by climate change. Due to these reasons, even the people of the Latin American countries look forward to sustainable initiatives taken by their governments. In 2015, Costa Rica was able to generate and meet its required energy quota for 75 days through renewable energy sources by using the tropical climate to its advantage.  Most of their energy was generated by hydropower plants and hence the population is no longer dependent on fossil fuels for their economic development. Since the use of fossil fuels is less, the environmental degradation caused by them is also less, making it an eco-friendly city. The inhabitants of Mexico City have taken active initiatives in the creation of eco-friendly villages like the Rancho-Amigo Eco Village, in Lake Cajon de Peña, in Tomatlàn, Jalisco. In these sustainable villages they use solar energy for electricity, try to reuse water in numerous ways, and they also keep on shifting their habitats in order to keep looking for sustainable means to stay. Mexico City, one of the most populated cities of Latin America, was concerned about their increasing carbon emissions; hence the government of Mexico City introduced Plan Verde, which was a green initiative that especially encouraged the use of bicycles over automobiles. It was because of this plan that in the Siemens Green City Index of Latin America (2010) Mexico ranked first for its environmental governance.

Apart from rapid industrialization, Latin America also faces the consequences of rapid climate change. The countries of this region are trying their best to cope up with this problem. The Latin American countries have started using and investing in clean energy, they aim to invest USD 1 billion on renewable energy production. After Curitiba other Latin American cities also focused on using public transport. Approximately 40 countries including Bogota in Colombia, Buenos Aires in Argentina and Fortaleza in Brazil, have signed agreements to invest in the development of public transport systems. Despite being a developing region, Latin American countries have proven to provide resources like fresh drinking water and electricity to their residents without posing a threat to the environment. Investment in infrastructure to develop a Smart, Sustainable and Resilient City is the reason why the population of Latin American countries are enjoying facilities equivalent to the other developed countries of the world. There is a need for other developing countries like India, Japan and China to undertake similar initiatives in their urban towns, in order to develop sustainable cities and to provide equal socio-economic opportunities to their present as well as future populations without causing a threat to the environment.

(Dhvani Jain is a second year student of the MA International Studies Program batch of 2018-20 at the Symbiosis School of International Studies, Pune)

Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Indian Review of Global Affairs or of Symbiosis School of Iternational Studies.