The top Caribbean urban thinkers are gathering in Kingston, Jamaica, this week at the 8th Caribbean Urban Forum (CUF2018) to continue solving the toughest sustainability challenges in Caribbean cities. From June 27-29, 2018, the Forum will bring together land use practitioners, municipal managers, policy makers, academics and allied professionals to address urban issues in the region.

Sustainable urbanization in the Caribbean is a real and present development challenge. Caribbean cities are often small but not compact. They have immeasurable natural assets but are exposed to severe climate events. They have quality basic education, but struggle to prevent qualified professionals from migrating abroad. Grand hotels and beach resorts are juxtaposed by significant pockets of urban poverty. Caribbean cities also often lag in technological innovations and smart city solutions to efficiently manage water, energy, mobility, and connectivity.

But, wait! There is hope for Caribbean cities! With the technical support from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), facts, figures, ideas and actions are coming together in targeted action plans for urban sustainability in Port of Spain, Montego Bay, Nassau, Belize City, Paramaribo, Bridgetown, and Georgetown. The IDB supported series of diagnostic studies to identify solutions to the urban sustainability challenges in all these cities. The result in Nassau has been the Sustainable Nassau Action Plan (SNAP), which exemplifies how we can tackle urbanization challenges in the Caribbean.

Of the approximately 390,000 people living in The Bahamas, 84% live in urban areas, the highest urbanization rate in the English-speaking Caribbean. Nearly all this urban population lives in Nassau, New Providence Island (UN Habitat 2015). The IDB studies found that Nassau’s urban growth has reached the extents of the island; such urbanization has led to struggles with maintaining the quality and access to natural resources, infrastructure, and mobility. Ultimately, the IDB studies and methodology allowed for the prioritization of critical areas of action for Nassau: mobility, energy, vulnerability to natural disasters, security, solid waste management, and sanitation and drainage. These 6 priority areas allude to some of the key challenges facing Nassuvians today such as: traffic congestion and GHG emissions from high rates of car ownership and inadequate public transportation, lack of renewable energy solutions, negative health and economic impacts from natural disasters and extreme weather events (exacerbated by climate change), crime and perceptions of safety impacting quality of life, unreliable and poorly functioning solid waste management, and poor drainage as exacerbated by unplanned development.

The analysis rendered 4 strategic areas for short, medium and long-term urban sustainability actions:

  • Achieving a resilient and Sustainable Nassau/New Providence;
  • Achieving a revitalized, inclusive, and competitive Nassau;
  • Advancing towards a smart and transparent urban governance in Nassau; and
  • Putting people at the center of the required actions to achieve urban sustainability.

The 4 strategic areas include 10 investment projects and 37 actions , with each project aligned with the 6 critical areas and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

A snapshot of the recommendations contained in the SNAP include: climate change safeguards for sea level rise, productive land utilization to gain green spaces, improving logistics of transporting goods and people, modernization of the energy sector, urban revitalization to improve quality of life, resilient infrastructure, improving safety and reducing crime, developing an urban master plan and improving the housing sector, among others. The SNAP also emphasizes above all citizen and community engagement, bringing decision-making about quality of life in Nassau closer to the people.

The SNAP was developed in close consultation with stakeholders in Nassau. Therefore, it is not just the result of technical analysis, but also reflects the social and political sensitivities of the urban communities. The strategic areas and projects proposed in the SNAP aim to put Nassau on the track towards sustainability by emphasizing citizen safety, innovation, accountable local governance, inclusiveness and democratic urban spaces. Carrying out the identified actions, while also leveraging local natural and cultural assets, will enhance the quality of life for Nassau residents, improve the quality of coastal ecosystems, and reduce inequalities in access to housing and public space.

The essence of the SNAP stems from the premise that to revitalize the city, we need to empower its people to become the agents of change. That is why the title of the SNAP is Empowered People, Revitalized City.

The SNAP was launched last week at the 8th Caribbean Urban Forum, followed by a panel discussion on June 28th, offering a platform to discuss progress in implementation of similar IDB urban sustainability plans for Port of Spain, Montego Bay and Belize City, and the future action plans for Bridgetown, Paramaribo and Georgetown.

Coauthor and Editor
Sarah Benton
IDB Consultant for the Housing and Urban Development Division

Images Source: IDB Sustainable Nassau Action Plan