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Sustainable cities in Latin America, a challenge or an opportunity?

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Can sensible planning and better governance keep Latin American cities from falling through the cracks of social inclusion?

In the last two decades, rural to urban migration has caused Latin America’s and Caribbean’s cities to grow at unprecedented rates. Today, more than 80 percent of the region’s residentslive in towns and cities, making Latin America one of the world’s most urbanized regions.

Although most Latin American economies depend on agricultural and mining for an estimated 65 percent of its Gross National Product (GNP), most of the region’s inhabitants have been drawn to the region’s large cities with the promise of a better life withaccess to clean water, electricity, and other necessary infrastructure. However, many have encountered that their only option is to end up in the large shantytowns, thefavelas and villas miserias, surrounding these urban areas.

The number of cities has grownsixfold in the last 50 years. Half of the region’s population, or 222 million people, now live in cities of 500,000 residents or less while another 65 million concentrate in megalopolies, according to the 2012 UN-Habitat report. The good news, according to the study, isthat the process has almost reached its limit and it is now irreversible, creating some kind of demographic stability –although migration among cities and regions is still active. The bad news are the challenges –and, in a way, opportunities – that local and national governments face in dealing  with problems originated from high levels of human concentration.

In 2010, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) announced a new initiative that would help midsize or emerging cities to avoid the mistakes made by large metropolitan areas. The Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative (ESCI) was born: an ambitious plan to impact 50 cities in the ALC region within five years.

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