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Latin America & Caribbean

Competitive cities for jobs, growth, poverty reduction and shared prosperity?

Soraya Goga's picture
Photo by ecuadorpostales via Shutterstock

We are all aware of the statistics: cities are home to more than 50% of the world’s population, and they are growing so fast that 66 out of 100 people on earth will be urban dwellers by 2050. This, of course, will have major implications for people and poverty, climate change, and service delivery.
But did you also know that cities are the key drivers of global and national economic growth?
Currently, cities generate more than 80% of global GDP. Since the early 2000s, three-quarters of the world’s 750 largest cities have grown faster than their national economies. One of the key reasons for those cities’ success is higher productivity—as a result of their ability to attract skilled workers—as well as a high concentration of productive entrepreneurs and firms.
For decades, national and city leaders have also taken actions to build competitive cities, increasingly facilitating firms and industries to create jobs, raise productivity, and increase incomes over time—especially for the urban poor. They see this as the pathway to eliminate extreme poverty and to promote shared prosperity. This is particularly important in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where most of the world’s extreme poor live.

Toward a “New Urban Agenda”: Join the World Bank at Habitat III in Quito

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
Cities are home to more than half of the world’s population, consume two-thirds of the world’s energy, and produce 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. And this trend will only continue: by 2050, 66% of the 10 billion people living on earth will be urban dwellers.
As we mark World Habitat Day, these numbers remind us of a serious fact: while rapid urbanization brings tremendous opportunities for growth and prosperity, it has also posed unprecedented challenges to our cities—and the people who live in them.

Chief among these challenges is meeting fast-growing demand for infrastructure and basic services such as affordable housing and well-connected transport systems, as well as jobs—especially for the nearly one billion urban poor who are disproportionately affected by climate change and adverse socioeconomic conditions.

So, what will it take to build inclusive, resilient, productive, and livable cities?

Retrofitting: A housing policy that saves lives

Luis Triveno's picture
Building earthquake-resistant housing in Peru. Photo: USAID/OFDA, Auriana Koutnik/Flickr
When a hurricane, earthquake or other natural disaster strikes a poor country, families too often suffer a double tragedy: the loss of loved ones and their most valuable (and sometimes only) asset, their home. In the aftermath of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti in 2010, which killed more than 260,000 people, 70% of asset losses were related to housing. Ecuador faces billions of dollars in reconstruction costs from last April’s 7.8 earthquake, which killed 900 and injured almost 28,000. If Peru were hit by an 8.0-degree earthquake, an estimated 80% of potential economic losses would involve housing.
And while nature’s fury does not distinguish between urban and rural areas, a large majority of disaster losses are concentrated in cities, where they disproportionately affect the poor. This creates a great challenge for low and middle-income countries.  In Latin America and the Caribbean, 200 million people—1/3 of the population—live in informal settlements, where most dwellings don’t comply with construction codes and home insurance is non-existent. Perhaps unsurprisingly, LAC’s informal districts also account for the majority of disaster-related deaths in the region.

Five reasons cities should take a leading role on food waste

John Morton's picture
Reported figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on food loss and food waste highlight its importance to the global environment. Food loss and waste annually contribute 3.3 gigagrams of CO2 equivalent, or over twice the total emissions of India; waste 250 cubic kilometers of water which is equivalent to 100 million Olympic-sized swimming pools; and 1.4 billion hectares of agricultural land, an area larger than China. Considering that, if only 1/4 of the food lost or wasted across the globe could be recovered, it could feed 750 million people, it is also shocking when presented in the context of global food insecurity and hunger.
These statistics highlight the need to address the problem as global citizens. But if you look at it closer, the incentives for action are indeed very local, making cities—as the centers of consumption in the world—important game changers with strong reasons to take action.

How Latin America’s housing policies are changing the lives of urban families

Luis Triveno's picture
Photo: Pierre-Yves Babelon/Shutterstock
In an effort to harness the benefits of urbanization and improve the living conditions of the urban poor, Latin American countries have experimented with housing subsidies. Now that the region has several decades of experience under its belt, it is time to look back and ask: Have subsidies worked? What kind of impact have they had on the lives of lower-income residents? Moving forward, how can cities pay for ongoing urban renewal?

To address those questions and share their experiences, officials in charge of designing and implementing national housing policies in eight countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, and Peru) recently met in Washington DC, along with representatives from the World Bank, Cities Alliance, the Urban Institute, and Wharton's International Housing Finance Program.

Resilient Communities: What does it take to curb violence in cities?

Paula Rossiasco's picture

Photo: Make Noise not Art/Flickr
Almost five years ago in a discussion with urban experts from several Latin American and African countries, an important question was asked: how do we curb increasing levels of crime and violence in some of the fastest urbanizing countries in the world?
To explore this query, we embarked on a cross-country analysis of cities in West, Central and East Africa, seeking to not only better our understanding of urban fragility, crime, and violence, but also identify critical entry points to curb the challenges we would find. In the report Urban Fragility and Violence in Africa: A Cross-country Analysis, we explored one of the most recently relevant but less explored dimensions of fragility and violence in Africa: urbanization.
The world is urbanizing at staggering, unprecedented rates. By 2014, 54% of the world’s population was residing in urban areas. This number is projected to grow to 66% by 2050. Today’s large cities are concentrated in developing countries, with medium-sized African and Asian cities as the fastest growing urban agglomerations. People migrate fervently to urban areas with hopes of higher per capita incomes, increased employment levels, improved living conditions and well-being, and better chances to integrate into the national territorial economy.
Unfortunately, this promise has yet to be fulfilled in many cities. Often, the urbanization process is poorly managed and the mismatch between the growing number of migrants and the institutional and infrastructural capacity of cities is large. Experts argue that “the pace of urbanization, together with its sheer scale, is likely to stress national and urban institutions in many developing countries to their breaking point."

The "starchitect" of the poor: the keys to Alejandro Aravena's work

Luis Triveno's picture

Pritzker Prize winner Alejandro Aravena’s Elemental firm designed the “half a good house”, which includes gaps between the houses for residents to fill according to their own needs.
Cities are the world’s factories of progress and prosperity. Eighty-percent of all production takes place in our urban areas; it’s where most economic opportunities are. People know it, and this is why five million people migrate to cities all over the world. Every month.
The problem is that most cities are not prepared to absorb these numbers. The tragic result is chaos, inequality and environmental damage. One clear manifestation of the mismatch between people’s demand for opportunities to prosper and the inability of cities to maximize the benefits of agglomeration while minimizing the costs of congestion is the omnipresence of slums throughout the world. Today, one billion people live in slums; worse still, many of those settlements are in areas highly vulnerable to natural disasters. By 2030, this figure is expected to double.
To absorb this ever-increasing demand for affordable urban housing, would require creating, in effect, a new city capable of housing 1 million people – every week during the next 15 years. Governments are already overwhelmed. The private solution of reducing the size of dwellings and relocating them to the peripheries of cities has produced economic and social segregation, which has become a ticking bomb for unrest.
During the past 12 years, the Chilean architect, Alejandro Aravena, 48, has offered solutions to the global housing crisis that are so creative, speedy, budget-conscious and scalable that he has been awarded the 2016 Pritzker Prize, considered the Nobel for architecture. His work—and the prize—challenge architects to envision innovative buildings not just for businesses and other wealthy clients but for all the people.

From garbage to music: Inspiring creative waste management

Yara Salem's picture
The young musicians in this orchestra from Paraguay built their instruments from recycled materials (photo courtesy of the U.S. Embassy in Paraguay used through a Creative Commons license.)
The young musicians in this orchestra from Paraguay built their instruments from recycled materials (photo courtesy of the U.S. Embassy in Paraguay used through a Creative Commons license.)

I started working in solid waste management only a few months before I heard the story of the children’s orchestra in Paraguay, called the Orchestra of Recycled Instruments of Cateura. 
These talented and driven children, all from poor families, had the creativity to construct musical instruments from recycled materials and use them to play classical music (check out the video “Landfill Harmonic”).  The passion of these musicians, inspired by their unique social, educational and artistic influences – as well as constraints – and their ability to create art from limited resources strengthened my commitment to the work we do in solid waste management.