Sustainable Urban Planing, When a change is needed: Caracas

This post will be in the context of the learning’s related to the sessions of Sustainability Urban Planning who i had on recent weeks.  The idea of this post will aimed to develop three major sustainable problems of my hometown and how improve the situation.

As some of you may know, Caracas is the capital of Venezuela, and is a city that as the years have passed has become in the backbone of the Venezuelan economy, as well as the main window of opportunities for Venezuelan citizens, also for the called Caraqueños (adjective used for those born in Caracas). Broadly speaking, it is important to note that in the last 20 years the city has received several impacts, that zhave deteriorated considerably quality of life in the city. I will describe three ideas to describe it along.

Population Growth and their effects

Caracas has 6.3 million of inhabitants in the big area of the city, and shares in common with many Latin American cities: densely populated and with limited space being surrounded by mountains. Because of this, the city has grown vertically. One aspect that i want to remark stands out is the number of people living in slum erected on the hillsides surrounding the city. These buildings are known as “Ranchos” (Aprox. 3,5 million of people lives under these conditions only in Caracas) built on the fly, without any formal planning, with deficiencies and inappropriate materials.

Additionally, Caracas is surrounded by other small towns where people live and commutes to the city, this effect has very important consequences, which are related to increase of  levels of traffic congestion, increase the of CO2 emissions from vehicles use to transportation coupled to traffic already generated within the city by its own inhabitants. Other aspect will be the deficit in the transportation system (Our rush hours can be the whole day). Based on this, the first conclusion i had, is that even taking into account the large investments on infrastructure made in recent years on subways, metrocables, transportation initiatives and massive sales of motorcycles, the measures taken does not meet the real needs of the city.

Tap Water?

Another aspect to consider is related to drinking water used by city inhabitants. Nowadays, a huge amount of inhabitants of Caracas do not have access to potable water service in their homes, and the tap water does not have the proper health conditions to be drinkable by people, due to high risk that could lead to ingestion.

This situation has two very powerful consequences, the first is the high consumption of bottled water (for those who has the economic feasibility to buy it), and the effect of increasing the levels of rubbish in Caracas (Waste Management Issues). Additionally of the increase in the amount of diseases as a result of unsafe drinking water by inhabitants, all this issues might  lead the population to a increase of mortality rates.

But the main concern for the city is the lack of policies and actions related to make sure that consumption of tap water becomes a reality.

Security Problems and their effects

The security problems that currently owns Caracas are well-known for their inhabitants, however many people does not know the size of the problem and its effect over the  life of its inhabitants. The 5,687 violent deaths recorded in the year 2012 (national record) positioned Caracas as the fifth city in the world with highest homicide rate in the world, , this situation leave us a grim picture if we consider the following statistics:

Weekly 113 homicides occur, Every day 16 homicides occur, Every 90 minutes a homicide. 

All this happens in Caracas, however this is not a timely phenomenon, because in the last year the total number of homicides in Venezuela reach 22,000 in 2012. In conclusion we could say that the security issue could be likened to a warfare, one that even taking into account their nature do not generate the number of deaths that the situation mentioned above.

The reasons for this situation are diverse, lack of education, social inequality, 15 million of illegal guns on streets, and sustained growth of organized gangs, drive us to do not have a vision of what to do to remediate the situation.

Change is needed and demanded

For all the above is important to note that Caracas needs change, certainly a radical change, one that can help improve the current traffic problems and their environmental effects, others related to the equality of all citizens, bringing a inequalities reduction among them, and allows them to have decent housing with health conditions that let access to potable water, waste dumps. And finally Caracas needs to put a stop to the violence that reigns in the city.

Cities of Tomorrow?  We have a bigger problem to solve…

After the end of the sessions Sustainability Urban Planning, I was reviewing a document that was develop by the European Union as a policy, for city development purposes Cities Of Tomorrow where you can enjoy a variety of items to European reality are quite achievable, however for the specific case to which I refer in this post (Caracas) seem pretty distant. The reason that leads me to this reflection has to do with the structure, and their tangible and intangible elements.

European cities have chord structure levels in most cases with the populations they have, as well as also with policies and programs that are carried out under strict control to ensure compliance with the goals, in the case Caracas it is not, and apparently will not be so until such time that the city planification is not this linked to a personal, political or individual goal or interest.

Real change demands much more than economic resources (tangible), real change demands commitment of everyone playing this game, and here we have to play all (intangible), the one who puts the economic resources, those who carry out the improvements, those who use and overall improvements that now are not aware that there is a game in which everyone can contribute to improve, and this last element is very important because it is a matter of all, the power to improve our city.


Engaging and Commitment

One of the most important actions to be performed for the process of transformation of a city, is to organize the transformation as a major project, in this case, we first must identify the problematic that we want to eradicate, understand its origins and analyze their impacts.(In this post I have clearly identified three ideas that could be the beginning of a transformation)

However, once this is done, it is essential to identify those involved in this game: the players, the supporting actors, supporting cast, extras, where will execute the actions, which  resources do we have, who will be the producers, who will lead the actions, and for those who are not in the first picture they will be integrated in the following phases according with the guidelines established. These project might be call “An Stakeholder Engagement for Caracas”, and would be the first step of many more, as long as these actions are binding on all that are within the initiative.

If we can achieve this and have the support and respect of all Civil Society, Venezuelan Private Sector and Venezuelan Government, we can make this movie becomes to a reality, actually. And if we achieve this we would be in the presence of a story that we will change all of us, forever.

A story to tell to our sons, and grandchildren.


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