Put Urban Planning In The Front SeatThu, 01/11/2018 - 10:53
For many years, urban planning has taken a back seat on government agenda,s resulting in the uneven growth of Mexico’s cities. But Pablo Vaggione, Coordinator of the Mexico and Cuba Office of UN-Habitat, says that has to change. “Urban planning has been left pending for many political administrations,” he says. “It is complicated to change yet fundamental to re-think.”
UN-Habitat is a United Nations agency that works to improve urban structure and achieve adequate shelter for all. Vaggione points out that Mexico boasts a privileged geographic position between the Atlantic and Pacific and acts as a bridge between North America and Latin America. It has a large population with a young demographic that gives the country all the right tools to become a leading economy. But it all depends on how Mexico uses these features to its advantage. “Infrastructure allows a territory to function and coordinate all its activities, whether they are social, economic or environmental. It is a catalyst for development and can help boost Mexico’s many advantages.”
At the Habitat III summit in Quito in 2016, the 193 participating countries agreed to establish the New Urban Agenda and pledged to live by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to boost the development of more sustainable cities around the world. “There are 17 SDGs, each with their own specific actions,” Vaggione explains. “Two of every three actions within these goals are related to urban, territorial or local development.” These tools were created to help cities make the most of the resources they have.
Many of the issues Mexico is facing are a consequence of its fast urbanization that took place in the second half of the 20th Century, with little or poor planning of infrastructure projects. As a result, Mexico’s cities have grown spontaneously and without much structure but Vaggione stresses that the structural challenges cities face are not the consequence of one particular political mandate. According to Vaggione, eight of 10 Mexicans now live in cities.
Disparities in growth often cause a fragmented vision for cities, in effect limiting productivity and the quality of life. “The country must adapt a systematic view of how cities should work and create a network of cities within the country,” he says. “Cities should all have a specific role and complement each other if they are to grow as a whole.”
But establishing well-planned cities is little help if they all become islands within the country. Vaggione says they must be interconnected through the development of resilient infrastructure. “A territory works only when it has good infrastructure that is well-planned and is based on a global, state and national vision,” he says. “We are convinced that Mexico will significantly benefit from a new National Infrastructure Plan that considers the needs of not only the individual sectors but of the entire country. A strategic vision and the capacity to identify which projects are essential from an evidence-based approach will determine investments with the highest impact and the least risks.”
UN-Habitat is developing a City Prosperity Index (CPI), which measures infrastructure, quality of life, inclusion and environmental factors that impact the growth of cities. By end of 2018, Vaggione expects to have more than 305 municipalities measured, home to the majority of the Mexican population. “The GDP of the 59 metropolitan areas in Mexico is greater than that of Peru, Argentina and Colombia combined,” he says. “Adding in the number of opportunities in the territory, infrastructure should be taken into account as an investment and not an expense as it will further boost the country’s economic development.”
The UN has found that in general, the countries that have developed sustainably have done so due to a strong correlation between urban development and economic growth. Vaggione explains that Mexico’s current development model involves high land consumption, which in turn increases transportation and mobility costs, as well as social fragmentation. “Low density expansion has proven to be less efficient than compact development,” he says. “Compact urban development should be a priority for Mexico, which is one of the reasons why SEDATU was created. The purpose of the agency was to reconnect land use and housing policies.”