Legal Infrastructure is the Best MedicineThu, 01/11/2018 - 11:31
To bridge Mexico’s infrastructure gap, there should be less focus on creating structures and more on creating legal infrastructure, says Gabriel Ballesteros, Partner at Ballesteros y Mureddu. “Legal infrastructure is equally important to infrastructure itself but it is not being treated with the importance and value required for producing infrastructure development,” he says. “Planning is the great vaccination that prevents the epidemic of badly-planned projects.”
On the path to create urban and public works policies, Ballesteros says the first step would be to carry out a revision of Mexican legal structures without halting urban development. “The risk to development is the reason why neither the industry, the municipalities nor the government are working to address this problem,” he says. “We are focusing on continuing projects in the field and not on making public-planning policies.” He proposes a focus on coordinating the three levels of government, balancing municipal and state public works and transferring part of the urban planning to citizens.
On a municipal level especially, Ballesteros says Mexico needs to rescue its planning institutions. Between 2000 and 2010, the country founded 54 municipal institutes of planning, but Ballesteros says they lack bite. “All these agencies are merely empty gestures, as they look good for municipal presidents but do not have any substantial impact,” he says. “We must create effective institutions that coordinate the relationship between citizens and government.”
These institutions would prevent duplication in government efforts related to infrastructure planning, as the structure of who is responsible for infrastructure is not clear at the moment. “We must strive for a balance between municipal development and federal public works,” he says. “Municipal presidents are constantly begging for resources and recognition for municipal governance, while governors are not giving those rights.” Ballesteros explains that the lack of recognition worsens when the parties differ on a municipal and state level.
The legal infrastructure antidote prescribed by Ballesteros also demands a transfer of urban planning to citizens, because they are the ones living in cities. “If we do not give decision-making power to citizens, we will continue changing our urban planning strategies every six years, reinventing it in accordance with the new leader’s view,” he says. He suggests a city agenda that is drafted with citizen participation.
It is not only about the government transferring urban planning to citizens but about them taking ownership of it. “Citizens must raise their voices and challenge poor infrastructure decisions,” he says. “They should ask questions about the projects being carried out due to the urgency to inaugurate them before the administration leaves office.”
Urban settlements grow in three ways, according to Ballesteros: they either expand, become denser or regenerate. He says a strong urban development plan can help authorities keep abreast of changes and predict new needs. “The three processes can happen simultaneously. Urban development plans should estimate how many hectares cities need to regenerate, fill in and expand to better define the incentives and maintain balance. The outcome is a living, compact and working city.”
Ballesteros gives two examples of cities achieving this balance, Mexico City being the best. “Mexico City, with all its problems, has done a great job in rescuing, regenerating and reconnecting public spaces,” he says. “It has created the right amount of verticalization.” Another city working for connectivity and re-planning is Aguascalientes. Other cities Ballesteros highlights include Guadalajara, which he says has focused on rehabilitating and regenerating urban spaces.