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Documentation of best practices for sustainable urban development in Latin America and the Caribbean

The IUC-LAC project recently completed the documentation of more than 150 best practice case studies in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru. This documentation of sustainable urban development practices identified successes at the local, regional and national levels. Urban management and development practices can learn from these practices and apply their success in other local contexts. Through this documentation work, the European Union hopes to contribute to a better understanding of innovative urban practice and to provide inspiration to municipal managers and urban professionals [1]. Urban innovations such as those documented by the IUC-LAC project will be at the heart of the implementation of the New Urban Agenda for the global community that committed during Habitat III in 2016. The documented cases demonstrate progress in the following thematic areas:

Low-carbon urban planning: although there is a strong consensus among urban experts around the world that denser cities have a positive impact on reducing transport needs, they reduce carbon emissions and create the possibility for cleaner cities and low carbon. Therefore, any planning that promotes densities and less motorized transport can become “low carbon planning”. Unfortunately, the trend is for LAC cities to spread horizontally in an uncontrolled manner and, in general, the densities of LAC cities are decreasing. Instead of densifying, the trend is reversed. In particular, cases of this approach are still very scarce in the LAC region. Likewise, examples of ecological cities, as they exist in Asia, have not yet been created (for example, China, India, Japan, South Korea).

Clean energy systems: The clean energy revolution will reach the LAC region, albeit at a much slower pace than in other parts of the world. This is due to powerful pressure groups in the carbon energy sector and a conservative regulatory framework that inhibits, for example, small-scale renewable energies and the sale of their energy. While in countries like Brazil or Colombia the first larger photovoltaic energy schemes are being launched by the private sector, others have made more progress with renewable energies. Among all LAC countries, Chile is emerging as the new mecca for renewable energy. [2]


Sustainable transport: Considerable progress has been made in several large and medium-sized cities to introduce rapid mass transport systems. These transport innovations have spread to a large number of cities that lacked efficient mass transport. However, some of them (like Bogotá) are still struggling with the introduction of cleaner technologies. As electric mobility implies higher investment costs, this is more difficult to achieve. Several cities have succeeded in introducing the inclusive public transport system in their poor and marginalized residential areas, which has earned them great applause and political benefits. On the other hand, the private sector is preparing, to a large extent, the transition to electromobility (electric cars, scooters, electric bicycles, public and private charging stations), which will be more sustainable and will reach larger cities in a few years.

Green construction: Sustainable and efficient energy construction has been considered a privilege of the wealthiest, but with a growing awareness of high emissions from the construction sector, governments have started to sponsor energy efficiency in public buildings and residential complexes, including low cost housing. Although climates in most parts of the LAC region are much friendlier than in the coldest regions of Europe, cooling and ventilation requirements are more what make buildings energy efficient. Innovation in domestic technology makes energy efficiency an ubiquitous issue: the smart home of the future will be more environmentally friendly through automated comfort control, saving electricity and water.

Urban regeneration: Urban renewal and revitalization have been a longstanding issue in urban areas in Latin America and the Caribbean. However, in recent years, economic potentials and benefits have been offered on a larger scale. Governments realized that urban regeneration is less a technical exercise and more a social and economic one that involves building consensus among many urban actors (public and private). The participation of these actors, and in particular of the weakest economically, is relevant to reduce the threats of negative gentrification experiences. Urban regeneration areas can become the site of many urban reform initiatives that include inclusive transport, energy efficiency, participatory waste management and a territory for creating innovative places.

Water – wastewater – flood control: Although the vast majority of urban residents in LAC can already count on the supply of piped water (reliable), the quality and reliability of the water supply remains a problem and drinking water for homes and workplaces remains a challenge. But this is less than the wastewater treatment challenge that is lagging behind in coverage and which still requires the dissemination of environmentally friendly and economical wastewater treatment methods. Countries in the LAC region are working hard to overcome this backwardness in wastewater treatment capacity, but the lack of water revenues and populist attitudes to try cheap services have limited options for municipal administrations. Due to climate change, many cities have begun to face a third water challenge, the increase in rainwater and flooding. Technologies for water absorption and better drainage will absorb an increasing share of investments in the water sector, and this is also reflected in the growing number of innovative cases in this subsector.

Waste management: Solid waste occupies a prominent place in the urban management of many LAC cities. Ancient uncontrolled dumping practices prevail, and few cities have long-term waste management plans or technologies to manage their growing solid waste. Although private sector companies, here and there, have discovered the profitable side of recycling, the vast majority of cities appear to be unprepared for the onslaught of garbage that reaches them. The underinvestment in the waste sector is quite dramatic, and the fact that the considerable income potential of the innovative process of converting waste to energy is ignored impresses experts. The old corporate structures seem to impede innovation and ecological progress.

Environmental management: A considerable impact of urbanization can be felt in LAC cities, mainly in the form of air, water and soil pollution and CO2 emissions. The situation is so serious that cities like Medellín, which are otherwise classified as pioneers in the development of “smart cities”, have to stop all private transport a day to reduce pollution levels. Many countries are proud of their progressive environmental legislation. However, there are many bottlenecks and vested interests to decarbonize LAC economies. The general impression remains that there are few cases of environmental management, and it seems very difficult to overcome vested interests. However, the general public is seeing this issue as one of the biggest crises with the potential for more conflict. Colombia applied a temporary ban on driving cars (‘peak and license plate’) which restricts the use of cars according to license plates, but its effect on air pollution is considered to be quite limited, as real problems are not addressed, as the case of pollution control of buses and trucks. Instead, it would be necessary to have complementary means, such as cleaner energy sources, better filters for diesel cars and control of industrial emissions to reduce air pollution in the city.

Green industries – circular economy: Progressive and innovative entrepreneurs have started to voluntarily reduce their carbon footprint, and now they develop a production that respects the environment. This is sometimes favored by progressive legislation, but the creation of images and international standards and norms act on this type of innovation in the green industry. However, the concept of circular economy that is part of the “Industry 4.0” unit is less well known and is rarely seen as the main argument for industrial renewal along the lines of the circular economy. However, given that the LAC region wants to maintain its profile in the globalized international economy, green practices will become inevitable and multiply.

Smart city development: Smart city development is taking off in Latin America, with many European and American business partners trying to help drive it forward. The most important sectors are transport and construction, automation in the service sectors, security, the Internet of Things and the digitization of most aspects of public and domestic life. The local and international business community sees the development of smart cities as a promising new field of urban development, which allows the sale of new technologies without necessarily addressing the structural problems of urban management. It should be noted that there are still only a few selected cities, especially the largest, that have developed solid profiles as smart cities, but medium-sized cities are taking on the challenge of this agenda.

Green finance: As green growth, ecology and climate change initiatives are becoming the main trends for the future, an innovation related to financial sector instruments has also reached the LAC region. The introduction of green financial instruments is based on the need for tools exclusively oriented towards green development and offering preferential conditions for the benefit of green growth. In Latin America and the Caribbean, green financing is still in its infancy, but national banking institutions have begun to explore this segment of the market, and financial sector supervisors are aware of this new trend that will require regulation and forecasting. It is not surprising that green bonds as one of the most developed financial tools for green growth projects (public or private) appear in the LAC region, as well as in Asia (for example, China, India, Japan, Korea, South).

Other areas of NAU are yet to be explored and appear to show slow progress. This is particularly true for (a) social equality [3]; b) peace processes [4]; (v) gender balance [5], (iv) ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples [6].

This compilation of best practices is only a small contribution to a better understanding of progress in urban realities in the LAC region. Much needs to be done to shape the future of LAC cities and make them sustainable, resilient, safe and inclusive. You can access all 165 good practices mapped HERE.


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[6] [6]

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