Recovery Dialogues in Latin America 6: Urban Parks and Public Spaces

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The cities that participated in this sixth dialogue are Bogota (Colombia), Colima (Mexico), and Puerto Escondido (Mexico), along with an invited project, Rutas Naturbanas from San José (Costa Rica) and accompanied by an expert in the field, Luis Román Diez, president of the National Association of Parks and Recreation in Mexico. The session was moderated by Emil Rodriguez Garabot, urban development specialist at the Vice Presidency of Sustainable Development at CAF.

The ongoing pandemic and the restrictions related to the lockdown measures have made us reevaluate our right to the city from an accessibility standpoint. The health emergency has profoundly transformed the relationship between citizens and their streets, services and public spaces. Therefore, contemporary public spaces should no longer be understood as isolated places but rather as a public and continuous network that provides access and connection to the different elements that shape cities. Taking this approach could limit the risks of transmission while promoting new forms of productivity, supply chains, recreation and wellbeing. The city of the future will require spaces designed by and for the well-being of citizens, promoting community development and harmony between the natural and built environment. Spaces where urban planning, public health and sustainable development are addressed jointly and integrally.

The main challenges and opportunities identified during this session are the following:

Socio-environmental

Institutions and citizens should develop the capacity to learn from their surroundings, redefining the relations between the society and the environment, in order to improve the resilience in cities and territories.

The sustainability of our urban ecosystems depends directly on human actions and, at the same time, the degradation and deteriorating conditions of these ecosystems put the wellbeing of people at risk. This synergy between man and nature, now more than ever, is key to guaranteeing the right to the city and the access to opportunities. In the context of climate change, one of the main challenges is to build green infrastructure with a resilience lens, developing capacity to mitigate risks while at the same time establishing the foundations for social interaction and wellbeing. The key takeaways from the session include:

1. Citizen participation and urban education as necessary components for the success of public spaces;

2. Generate a strategy for urban resilience and mitigation of risks;

3. Democratize public spaces with a focus on the most vulnerable; 

4. Create an ecosystemic network of public spaces; 

5. Provide safe public spaces for psychosocial well-being; 

6. Diversify and create a multifunctional public spaces.

For example, Colima, as part of its Resilience Strategy, has focused on designing public spaces that are prepared to respond to common shocks such as earthquakes, while at the same time, understanding the social importance of public spaces to an evolving city.

Economic

According to a study from the IADB, 1 in every 3 Latin-American families live in inadequate housing conditions, disconnected from basic services such as access to water, education, transportation and job opportunities. Therefore, public spaces need to go beyond their function as merely recreational spaces and offer multiple possibilities as productive spaces for informal workers, extending public and private activities of the entire society. An effective management of public spaces involves creating an equilibrium between public spaces that are economically profitable, socially desirable and environmentally sustainable. Furthermore, the Latin America and the Caribbean faces the additional challenge of developing new management and maintenance mechanisms that come as a product of the synergy between public management, private initiative and community ownership. The key takeaways from the session include:

1. Reformulate public spaces with a productivity focus; 

2.  Strengthen the economic-health nexus through public space use; 

3. Capture capital gains generated by public spaces; 

4. Diversify and increase public and private sources of financing ; 

5. Identify and quantify positive externalities of public spaces; 

6. Recognize and invest in development of the industry of parks and public spaces. 

For example, a former landfill and very insecure area of Puerto Escondido was transformed into a park called La Lagunita, improving the quality of life and health for citizens.

Institutional

The health crisis has prompted local governments to reconfigure urban management and planning departments of cities to serve more people than ever, particularly those that have been marginalized. Governments need agile tools to design, implement and finance a consensual strategy for public spaces, with a systemic approach, an inclusive view and strategic implementation. The key takeaways from the session include:

1. Innovate in the management of private land with public value; 

2. Have security protocols for the safe use of public spaces;

3. Identify public space as an opportunity for improving multi-level and multi-stakeholder governance; 

4. Implement technical and operational capacity building at the local level;

5. Collaborate between local governments and academia through multi-sectoral involvement and scientific investigation;

6. Incorporate non-profits and NGOs in the public space management framework.

For example, Colima, through and alliance with academia, has developed a set of indicators for the evaluation of resilience in public spaces. This model is proposed as a public and adaptable scheme to adjust to the inherited characteristics of each territory while allowing a multidimensional approach to resilience.


[1] IADB (2012). Available at: https://www.iadb.org/pt/noticias/estudo-do-bid-revela-que-america-latina-e-o-caribe-enfrentam-um-deficit-de-habitacao

This content is the product of a series of dialogues organized by the Resilient Cities Network and CAF, through the Cities with a Future Initiative, to exchange knowledge and good practices among municipalities and key actors in the regional urban ecosystem of Latin American and the Caribbean, aimed at mitigating the effects of the pandemic.

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Recovery Dialogues in Latin America 6: Urban Parks and Public Spaces