World Habitat Day 2011 and Sustainability of Latin American Cities


Yesterday, the annual Habitat Day was commemorated throughout the world, with many conferences and events hosted under the theme “Cities and Climate Change”. This is an initiative of United Nations-Habitat with the goal of “reminding the world of its collective responsibility for the future of the human habitat”.

During the main event, the Habitat Scroll of Honour was awarded (allegedly, the most prestigious human settlements recognition). The only Latin American project in the list was the Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo de Estructuras y Materiales (CIDEM) in Cuba, recognized for “blazing a new trail in low cost, low-energy, eco-friendly building materials”. Another project acknowledged as best practice was the strategy to promote the use of bicycle in Mexico City, including the highly successful shared-bike system known as Ecobici.

Last year, The Economist released a Latin American Green City Index, which analyzes the environmental performance of seventeen of the biggest metropolitan areas in the continent. Main results show that across different criteria, including waste management, water, sanitation, transportation and air quality, Curitiba (Brazil) performs well above the average while Guadalajara (Mexico) and Lima (Peru) appear on the opposite side of the range.

Since results are expressed in relative terms comparing cities to each other, it is easier to see how one city can benefit from learning from others’ experience. The Bus Rapid Transit (RBT) model from Curitiba has been exported to cities all over the world, including Bogotá, Mexico City and Guadalajara. Recently, the Metropolitan Planning Council issued a recommendation to implement an RBT system in Chicago.

The process of urbanization in Latin America is expected to maintain its pace. According to the report, as of 2010, 81% of people in LA were already living in cities, which makes it the most urbanized developing region. By 2030, this figure will be as high as in Western Europe countries.

As this pattern continues, sustainability should not be seen only as the main challenge for urban development, but also as an opportunity to drastically alter inertial trends in housing, transportation and zoning and improve the quality of life of their habitants.

Latin American Green Cities Index

Image collection: Latin American Green Cities Index

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