Challenges and Opportunities in Latin American Cities

By Eugene Zapata, Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean for 100 Resilient Cities

The Challenges Facing Latin American Cities

Latin America’s urbanization rate is one of the fastest in the world. The region is undergoing profound changes with the emergence of hundreds of mid-sized cities that are becoming powerhouses for job creation and economic growth. Consequently, local governments are facing an increasing demand for quality public services, like sustainable and clean transport, water and sanitation, and health and housing.

One of the biggest challenges is turning this rapid growth into an opportunity to lessen the dramatic differences in income and quality of life that we still see in almost every country across the region.

Additionally, Latin America has been subject to a wave of decentralization policies since the 1970s. Many municipalities are still trying to figure out how to deal with a varied range of competencies without the proper funding or the adequate capacities.

Two other big challenges arise in this context: first, there is a strong need to review local fiscal policies and find new ways to finance urban development; second, city leaders have to widen their scope of planning beyond the strict time period of their own political mandates. Inter-municipal cooperation is a good way to address local development in the long run. This will be critical for the development of Latin American metropolitan areas in the years to come.

Why 100RC’s approach is unique

Latin American cities have historically been governed through the traditional administrative model of sectoral policies and yearly budgets. City governments try solve problems with thematic solutions — for example, the Transportation Department creates solutions solely focused on transportation and mobility. However, resilience is about taking a transversal approach to a city’s challenges.

100RC offers the city the possibility to think in a more holistic way that goes beyond sectoral and thematic planning and allows for “cross pollination” among departments, policies and budgets.

It’s crucial to understand that a transportation project is not only a mobility issue but a cultural, social, economic and environmental opportunity. By applying a resilience lens to planning, cities break sectoral borders and create a more ambitious agenda for their future. 100RC not only caters to address the specific needs of one hundred cities, but builds on them to catalyze a global practice of resilience.

Our Future in Latin America

100RC works closely with 17 cities in the region, from small and medium sized municipalities like Colima or San Juan to metropolitan giants like Rio de Janeiro. Regardless of their size, cities in the region are known hubs for social innovation and creative participatory policies. Going forward, 100RC will have a strong presence in the region, working with partners and allies, committed to the future of Latin America.