United Nations Environment Programme

Creating cities for people

A paradigm shift towards a model for sustainable urban development and eco-efficiency
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Despite problems including poor public services, socio-economic inequality and environmental degradation, these cities present opportunities for a paradigm shift in how to plan, develop and manage urban development.

Latin American cities are going through accelerated urbanisation and reflect high levels of inequality. The continent is the world's most urbanised developing region, with eight out of ten people living in cities. Conditions are often unfavourable for rapid expansion because of problems including poor public services, socio-economic inequality and environmental degradation. Yet these cities present opportunities for a paradigm shift in how to plan, develop and manage urban development.

Our cities need to move toward transforming urban policies, legal frameworks, levels of management and local action in order to change forms of government and promote a new model of cooperation between local and national levels, under a scheme of strategic partnership.

As local leaders, it is our responsibility to promote a model of balanced spatial development in cities, in which they produce in a sustainable manner, protect ecosystems, and develop their capacity in adaptation, mitigation and resilience to climate change.

Over the last decade, Bolivia has made significant progress in designing macro-policies and strategies aimed at mitigating and adapting to climate change.

In the city of La Paz, the strategy and vision for developing the environmental and climate change component in the comprehensive plan "Peace 2040" directs the municipality's efforts towards resilient development and adaptation to climate change, based on comprehensive management for the future.
Municipal policy needs to:
• establish a municipal and regional ecological context for urban development planning;
• generate more specific rules, in addition to those already established, on land occupation and use, so as to reduce uncertainty in private and public decision-making, and to encourage investment and sustainable development; and
• develop more specific strategies that balance environmental impact and overall resilience in the municipality.

La Paz is a wonderful and biodiverse city of some 900,000 people. It sits in an Andean valley about 4,000 metres above sea level. The area has 12 glaciers, who act as witnesses of climate change, five watersheds and 364 rivers. Its forests and rural areas are home to 1,800 varieties of higher plants and 204 species of fauna.

However the city, with its mountain ecosystems, is highly vulnerable to climate change, mainly due to its effects on lakes, ponds, rivers, glaciers and snowy peaks, on which the provision of water and the maintenance of wetlands depend. In the last 10 years, there have been changes in rainfall patterns and the water cycle: glaciers have lost 40 per cent of their mass, with adverse effects on power generation and food production. It is also vulnerable to disaster in the form of avalanches, landslides, droughts and floods.

As a result, the current municipal administration is focused on establishing tools and mechanisms that contribute strategically to integrated environmental management, promoting the consolidation of eco-efficient planning models. The Autonomous Municipal Government of La Paz has proposed a development model, called "Centralidades Urbanas", to make it a "compact, polycentric and integrated" city. This will develop sites for modern, affordable, eco-efficient and intelligent infrastructure, with better social services and facilities available to citizens. Nineteen such ‘centralidades’ have already been identified as new hubs in the city.

This will allow the municipality to:
• Bring goods and services closer to city dwellers and decentralise the historical centre, reducing greenhouse gases emissions;
• Rearrange the structure of the city, reducing distances and travel times to the centre;
• Transform urban areas with potential for renewal, providing a better habitat for the inhabitants and layers of the city;
• Reduce consumption of energy and fuel in the city's public spaces, through implementing eco-efficient systems and services;
• Recover and renew the city's green spaces with trees that deliver environmental functions and services;
• Generate synergies and new market niches for entrepreneurship, dynamism and competitiveness in areas of the city;
• Promote social encounters, urban life and human development and the traditions of each area, revaluing and recovering neighbourhoods;
• Promote participation, ownership and citizen involvement so as to generate greater social identity and collective self-esteem, and;
• Develop new mechanisms for self-financing projects of great social impact.

This model of urban and strategic spatial planning is proposed as an effective mechanism for meeting the challenges of urbanisation and sustainability, and strengthening urban-rural links to a compact, connected, comprehensive, sustainable and resilient city.

The municipal government has accepted the challenge of leading a city with features that are both complex and ambitious, in the context of the new models of urban development. In short, of developing a city for its people.