Challenges of Urban Growth

“There is a place where the sidewalk ends…and the dark street winds and bends; Past the pits where asphalt flowers grow…We’ll go where the chalk-white arrows grow,” wrote the late Shell Silverstein, a prolific poet and author whose kid-tailored poems inspired giggles galore in child readers unaware of the profundity of much of his writing. Whether “Where the Sidewalk Ends” was intended simply to entertain or whether it spoke to the challenges of urban growth I can’t say, but the reality is that the sidewalk often does end, and it shouldn’t.

In late July I participated in a one-week course on “Urban Sustainability: Models for Better Management and Planning” in Santander, organized by the IDB´s Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative (ESCI), Universidad Internacional Meléndez Pelayo and the City of Santander. The Course brought together more than 70 specialists from Canberra to Mar de la Plata to discuss the challenges of urban growth in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC)), and the cutting edge projects being implemented in response. Amidst these discussions, I thought back to my travels in the region and the uneven urban growth I’d seen there. Home to numerous bustling metropolises, some of LAC’s most spectacular cities lack the walkability Mr. Silverstein laments in his rhyme, along with other major components of urban sustainability that are so important to healthy metropolitan growth.

But where is the silver lining? In the solid water treatment, pedestrian-friendly streets, connected cities, safe neighborhoods, citizen participation, and pro-poor subsidies popping up in cities across Latin America and the Caribbean. Though these terms may sound unrelated, they are all indicators of a region moving toward a more sustainable urban model.

Sustainable urban development is critical around the world as developing countries urbanize at rapid, and sometimes unsustainable, rates. However, the existence of these indicators in LAC is particularly crucial due to the region’s standing as the second most urbanized on the planet. With over 80% of its population living in cities, much of LAC’s rapid growth took place with poor planning and little regard for environmental and climate issues. In light of these complicating factors, the emergence of these indicators is more than silver lining: it is good news, indeed.

It was interesting to note that many speakers at the course, regardless of area of expertise or background, placed the concept of the human being not as a resident, but as a citizen with rights, at the epicenter of urban management and planning. This enthusiasm to design livable cities guarantees a commitment to not only improving the future of LAC’s cities, but also improving the lives and health of the people who live in them. This places sustainable growth not only at the core of an urbanization agenda, but also at the core of any development agenda concerned with the wellbeing of people.

To ensure success to this end, we must acknowledge that that we need support to turn ideas into tangible public works and real investments. The IDB partners with organizations such as the Nordic Development Fund (NDF), which are pioneering new approaches that transform how we plan for urban growth and how we finance tried and tested models to face its challenges.

Challenges of Urban Growth

At the Urban Sustainability Course in Santander, NDF was joined by the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) and many other partners, including Colombia’s Findeter, Brazil’s Caixa Economica Federal, New York University, NEC, Philips, Microsoft, and others who have joined our quest to improve the quality of life of LAC’s urban dwellers. Their support is critical to ensuring sustainable urban growth, and critical to ensuring that when the sidewalk shouldn’t end, it doesn’t.

Esther Rodriguez Fernandez is a Senior Operations Associate with the IDB’s Office of Outreach and Partnership. After working at the World Bank and earning a Master’s in Business Administration from Harvard Business School, Esther joined the IDB Office in Europe in 2012.

This article was originally posted on the IDB’s Partnerships for Development blog.