A territorial perspective: towards the consolidation of human settlements in Latin America and the Caribbean
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Latin American and Caribbean Regional Preparatory Conference for the special session of the General Assembly for an overall review and appraisal of the implementation of the Habitat Agenda - Santiago, Chile, 25-27 October, 2000 Introduction The Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) was held in Istanbul, Turkey, from 3 to 14 June 1996. In Latin America and the Caribbean, this conference gave rise to a great deal of thought-provoking analysis of the enormous challenges that will be faced during this millennium in the field of land use and urban and housing development. In the mid-1990s, great efforts were made in the different countries of the region to update human settlements policies as part of the preparatory work for Habitat II. Following the guidelines laid down by the organizers of this world event, national preparatory committees were set up to ascertain the views and suggestions of different actors and sectors (public, private, academic, civil society and grassroots groups) and incorporate them into national plans of action, which were then submitted at the Habitat I Conference. By the end of the first half of the 1990s, the active efforts of these national preparatory committees, and the contents of the plans that had emerged from them, gave grounds for thinking that the urban and housing situation of this region would thenceforth be addressed by far more integrative and participatory human settlements policies than the ones generally applied up until then. These preparatory activities within the countries were supplemented by a process of consensus building at the regional level, culminating in the Regional Preparatory Conference held in Santiago, Chile, in 1995, which saw the drafting and approval of the Latin American and Caribbean Regional Plan of Action on Human Settlements that was eventually taken to Istanbul. On 16 December 1996, the General Assembly recognized the importance of regional and subregional activities and of the regional plans and declarations adopted during the preparatory process. The Regional Plan of Action made at least three important contributions to the urban and land use policies of Latin America and the Caribbean. Firstly, it laid the groundwork for a multifaceted understanding of settlement processes that would later permit these policies to make a greater contribution to the sustainable development of human settlements. (1) In addition, it identified relevant subject areas in which efforts to improve the urban and housing situation of Latin America and the Caribbean needed to be concentrated, and it produced a range of policy agreements that are still adhered to in the region. The Plan of Action's most important contribution, however, would appear to be that it increased the viability of the countries' efforts to forge a vision of the region's spatial dimension and a common approach to realizing the potentials of its territory and cities. The Plan set a series of goals for addressing the old problems and new challenges of urban and land use management in the region in a coordinated fashion, goals that were to be supplemented by the efforts that each country needs to make in the light of its own particular situation with regard to settlement policies. By its resolution 53/180, the United Nations General Assembly invited ECLAC to consider convening a high-level regional conference to review the progress made with regard to human settlements in the region. At this meeting, proposals and recommendations from Latin America and the Caribbean are to be debated with a view to their submission to the special session of the General Assembly to be held in 2001 in order to review and appraise the implementation of the outcome of Habitat II. As a preliminary assessment, we can expect to find that the Latin American and Caribbean region is still at an early stage in the process involved in building an integrative regional vision, as called for in the 1995 Regional Plan of Action. This may be due to a number of reasons. On the one hand, the field of human settlements has not yet been clearly established at the regional level as an intermediate sphere providing a link between what is happening at the world level and in the individual countries. Both the Habitat Agenda agreed on at the world meeting and the initiatives pursued to put it into effect were oriented towards the individual countries, and there was no sign of any explicit intention to create intermediate levels for dialogue and analysis, which is what the regional sphere would be. In fact, the countries of the region feel that the Regional Plan of Action which they presented at Habitat II did not make the impression they had hoped for there; nor were they successful in having it explicitly included in the world agenda as an intermediate level at which agreements could be reached, or in establishing it as an example of consensus-building to be adopted by the other regions of the world. Again, the high level of urbanization now obtaining in the countries means that all or most human settlement matters tend to be understood and dealt with as 'urban issues'. While this approach may have some justification in a continent as highly urbanized as this one, it nonetheless provides no more than a partial view, as it ignores basic issues that will be encountered throughout this document. Centring almost exclusively on the 'nodes' of the settlement system, it can lead to an undervaluation of the territory that serves as a container" for those nodes and for the interrelationships between them. As we shall see further on, this exclusively city-centred understanding of habitat is accompanied, in the region, by approaches that stem from the decentralization process, which is placing greater and greater weight on the local level in the analysis and management of habitat. This not only makes it harder to manage land use and urban problems consistently at the national level, but also undermines efforts to consolidate a regional sphere whose development is a task that is incumbent on all the countries alike. This document, which has been produced for the meeting by the secretariat of ECLAC, reviews different aspects of the land use, urban and housing situation of Latin America and the Caribbean with a view to identifying the main challenges that the region faces in seeking to consolidate the regional sphere as one in which national and local interests and efforts in the field of human settlements can be brought together and made to complement one another. Setting out from an interpretation of this regional sphere as the outcome of the territorially-based interaction of different social, economic, environmental, political and institutional processes taking place in the countries, it identifies the characteristics of this sphere fro each of these standpoints, along with the challenges involved in developing its potential in each case. First of all, the document reviews the continent's recent experience with urbanization, which has been and continues to be a powerful force in shaping this regional sphere. It then considers how social processes are expressed in the territory and examines what remains to be done in order for this territory to become a genuine sphere of social integration. Following on from this, it identifies the importance that economic forces now have in shaping the regional sphere and the challenges that will be involved in managing these forces in a more balanced way in the near future. It then looks at the subject from an environmental point of view, drawing attention to issues that need to be addressed urgently if People's quality of life is to be improved, particularly in the region's cities. Reference is also made to the fact that the need to support the development of citizenship in a continent that is seeking to put democracy on a firm footing entails additional tasks that need to be addressed from a regional perspective. The multifaceted approach that the document takes to the relevant endeavours at the regional level reveals the enormous potential of this sphere for supporting effective, balanced development in Latin America and the Caribbean. For this potential to be realized, habitat policies will have to reconcile and incorporate the numerous challenges that emerge from each of the viewpoints from which the regional sphere is considered here, and joint initiatives will be needed in order to optimize the efforts being made to construct it. The document therefore concludes with a series of proposals regarding joint measures that the countries could take in pursuit of the objective of consolidating the regional sphere. (1) Its thematic structure and contents were based on the approach suggested by ECLAC in the early 1990s for conceptualizing the sustainability of development in this region while incorporating its social, economic and environmental aspects into habitat planning and management in a balanced fashion."