Gonzalo Mosquera

Copyright © Gonzalo Mosquera 2000

A Master’s Report submitted to the Faculty of the



In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements

For the degree of


In the Graduate College








Gonzalo Mosquera

Copyright © Gonzalo Mosquera 2000

A Master’s Report submitted to the Faculty of the



In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements

For the degree of


In the Graduate College




This Master’s Report has been submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements for an advanced degree at the University of Arizona and is deposited in the Architectural

Library to be made available to borrowers under the rules of the library.

Brief quotations from this report are allowable without special permission, provided that accurate acknowledgment of source is made. Request for permission for extended quotation from or reproduction o f this manuscript in whole or in part may be granted by the head of the major department or the Dean of the Graduate College when in his or her judgement the proposed use of the material is the interest of scholarship.



This Master’s Report has been approved on the date shown below:

Professor of Planning

Maria Carmen Lemos, PhD

Assistant Research Social Scientist

Latin America Area Center

Gary Pivo, PhD

Dean, Graduate College




I wish to record a debt o f gratitude to individuals and institutions, each of which help me either with their academic or logistic support for this study. To Corky Poster in the

School o f Planning, Maria Lemos in the Latin America Area Center, and Gary Pivo in the

Graduate College, for their comprehension and guidance throughout the study. I also want to recognize the friendship offered to me by Kennneth Clark who was the Director of the School of Planning in the Interdisciplinary Planning Program at the University of

Arizona until 1997 when he died. Ken was my inspiration and encouraged me to do research about issues of Latin America.

I also want to distinguish the assistance and friendship of Georgia Ehlers in the Graduate

College and Richard Bribes, Dean of the College of Architecture, Planning, and

Landscape Architecture. I wish to acknowledge the knowledgeable and professional feedback provided by the staff of Metrovivienda in Bogota Colombia.

Finally, I am greatly indebted to the Inter-American Foundation for providing me with a full fellowship to complete my graduate studies in planning and the opportunity to do research in housing for the poor in Latin America.

“Yo no se lo que es el destino,

caminando fui lo que fui,

alia Dios que sera divino,

yo me muero como vivi”

Silvio Rodriguez


El Recreo in Bogota, Colombia, is an affordable housing project that has not emerged from the application of sustainable community planning principles. Yet, El Recreo can be interpreted as sustainable in that it has emerged out of the need to address the social, environmental, and economic problems affecting the entire city. Understanding El Recreo in the framework of sustainable development not only shows that sustainability may appear more “out of necessity” than as a planned approach, but it also shows that sound strategies to implement sustainable planning can originate from existing solutions that the poor have formulated for themselves. This master’s report further promotes ideas for better sustainable community planning in El Recreo based on “self-help housing,” as a community-based solution for housing of the very poor in



Table of Contents

Introduction............................................. ......................................................................................5

1. Global context of Colombia and opportunities for sustainable development................. 8

1.1 Colombian natural assets and importance of sustainability

1.2 Threat to Colombian natural assets and urban fabric

1.3 Environmental policy and planning in Colombia

1.4 Current crisis in Colombia: possibilities for sustainable development out of necessity

2. The community of El Recreo................................................................................... .............14

2.1 Unsustainable urban growth for Bogota: a historical overview

2.2 Location and planning process of El Recreo

2.3 Metrovivienda: the project’s official promoter

2.4 Metrovivienda’s mission: Enlarging housing supply for the poor via market

2.5 Housing finance system for low-income housing applicable in El Recreo

2.6 Existing supply and demand of low-income housing in Bogota

3. Urban sustainability: an environment-economy-social planning framework—adaptation in Latin America.................................................................................... .....................................22

3.1 Environmental sustainability..................................................................................24

3.1.1 In the context of North America

3.1.2 As interpreted in Latin America

• Transportation

• Land Use Controls


3.2 Social Sustainability.................................................................................................28

3.2.1 In the context of North America

3.2.2 As interpreted in Latin America

• Sense of Community: improvement of social interaction through provision of better built environment, especially for the poor.

• Social Equity: more relevant to improve the conditions of the very poor.

3.3 Economic Sustainability.........................................................................................32

3.3.1 In the context of North America

3.3.2 As interpreted in Latin America

• Reduce proliferation of marginalized communities through the provision of more affordable housing—removing market failures

• Supporting the “informal economy” action

• Grassroots development, resource mobilization, community organizations, and NGO’s.

4. Understanding El Recreo as a sustainable community planning approach................. 39

4.1 Environmental sustainability................................ ...............................................39

4.1.1 Land use controls

4.1.2 Management of land with potential for squatter settlement development

4.2 Social Sustainability................................................................................................ 41

4.2.1 Infrastructure planning: control of the built environment

4.2.2 Strategic provision of community services and transportation


4.3 Economic sustainability

4.3.1 Improving housing affordability

4.3.2 A Cost-benefit analysis approach.


5. Challenges and opportunities for sustainable community planning in Latin America:

ideas and strategies for El Recreo.............................................................................................. 47

5.1 Recession and reactivation of the building industry based on low-income housing production: market opportunity for El Recreo................................................................47

5.2 Community mobilization as a form of self-help housing—support of the building industry in the provision of affordable housing.............................................................. 49

5.3 Community-based partnerships: link between communities, the state, and NGOs.. 53

5.4 Physical planning: seeking affordability through design and planning.................... 55

5.5 Close application of environmental sustainability tailored to El Recreo needs.......59

5.6 Combination of housing products through mix of incomes improves affordability and distributes better cost and benefits for the entire community—social equity..................60




Sustainable community planning has been proposed as a better strategy to improve urban planning in the twenty first century. In fact, it has been proposed all over the world as one of the tools that could secure our survival on the planet earth in this millenium. In consequence, people in different latitudes look for strategies to implement it. But these strategies should be carefully analyzed before being applied to local problems. It has been argued that sustainable planning should emerge locally as an integrative strategy of thinking globally (Hawken, 1993), and not as a set of practices that can be used everywhere. This means that it is necessary for countries themselves to develop strategies tailored to their problems, capable of benefiting their people, but always observing the well being of the human race as a whole.

This master’s report introduces the community of El Recreo in Bogota Colombia, a planned community that follows the principles of sustainable community planning. The planning principles of El Recreo have not emerged from the application of the practices of sustainable urban planning developed elsewhere, hence, it is not a showcase of sustainable planning theory application. Instead, it is the result o f comprehensive planning efforts for the entire city, which has emerged from the necessity to address critical problems of Bogota, its economic recession, environmental concerns, and especially the quality of life of the very poor. It turns out that the need to address these issues in El Recreo has resulted in planning a community that follows some of the concepts of urban sustainability found in the literature. In other words, sustainable planning has emerged in El Recreo “out o f necessity” as opposed to an intentional planning effort based on sustainability concepts, as it has been approached in North America.

In North America including Canada there is an extensive literature about strategies and practices for sustainable community planning. Most of these practices have been formulated to solve major problems affecting cities in North America, borne in the specific socio-economic condition o f North America. In Latin America, the problems of the cities seem to be different and borne in another reality, informed by very distinct socio-economic conditions. And, although problems of cities in Latin America differ from one country to another, the general condition of these cities is more homogeneous and distinct compared to cities in North America.

Although locally-based, some of the principles and planning strategies in El Recreo can be interpreted as sustainable using the same conceptual framework in which sustainable community planning has been pursued in North America. Sustainable urban planning is understood in three different interrelated components: social, economic and environmental sustainability.

Nevertheless, urban planning efforts in El Recreo can be improved to help the community follow the urban sustainability planning criteria more closely. This is not to accommodate it to the prescription of sustainability developed in the US but rather to use the conceptual framework as a basis to obtain ideas that better achieve goals for El Recreo. This report attempts to provide some ideas in this direction. These ideas are based on concepts found in the literature review as well as in my professional housing experience in Bogota. These ideas have been selected as potential strategies capable o f being adapted to the reality of EL Recreo, and maybe, by extension, to housing problems found in other cities in Latin America.


This master’s report has been structured as follows:

First, there is a description of El Recreo, its planning process, the role of its promoter agency, and context for the market and financing system of low income housing in Bogota. Second, the conceptual framework of sustainable community planning is introduced and a comparison is made between its definition in North America and its possible application in Latin America to illustrate points in common and divergence. Third, the report presents an interpretation of the planning principles in El Recreo under the context of sustainable community planning. Finally, this master’s report concludes with a brief description of ideas that can further the goals of El

Recreo for better sustainable planning, and at the same time make them more faithful to the normative approach or theory of sustainable development. Again, although these ideas originate from the literature that describe what a sustainable community should be, they have been adapted to tailor them to the specific needs o f El Recreo.

The motivation for this master’s report emerge from the need to better understand the implications of sustainable design and planning in Latin America, and identify the possibility to develop future projects in the conceptual framework of sustainability. This is important because almost everyone in planning circles, government, and even citizens in the US and Latin America discuss and speculate about issues of sustainability, sometimes without knowing what it really means and how it can be achieved.

In addition, sustainable urban planning seems to be relevant especially for the urban poor and its interaction with the natural environment. The crisis and situation in Latin America “has led some researchers and policy makers to argue that any consideration of sustainable development in these regions must focus on improving the housing, living, and working environment of the urban poor” (Pezzoli, 1998). My motivation for focusing on sustainable communities then originates in the need for providing the poor in Bogota with a better quality o f life without disrupting the natural environment.

This report does not attempt to fully explain or provide all the steps necessary to achieve sustainability in Latin America. Instead, its purpose is to provide insight and ideas that are potentially applicable. In order to be more specific, this report uses El Recreo as a case study that already advances many of the principles of sustainable planning, intentionally or not. The report also strives to provide insight from the literature and from common sense that can help present El

Recreo under the line of thinking o f sustainable urban development.

This is not to make the project look good from outside Colombia but rather to suggest that

Metrovivienda, the promoter agency for the project, can be encouraged to adopt an approach that is receiving considerable strategic and economic support from international agencies like the

Inter American Foundation and the US AID funds. Also, by setting the project as a sustainable community, Metrovivienda and the local Bogota city government can outreach for Non-

Govemment Organizations (NGOs) and other external sources that may bring strategic and financial support for a project that is feasible and is aimed to address the critical problem of housing for the very poor in Latin America.


But before setting El Recreo in the context of sustainability, it is necessary to examine the current socio-economic and environmental situation of Colombia. This is relevant since it is important to visualize from the perspective of why implementation of sustainable development at this moment in the country’s history could be excellent timing—perhaps a necessary step for its immediate and long-term future. A description of the evolution of environmental planning in

Colombia is also included to show the origins of sustainable development from the policy perspective in this country.

1. Global context of Colombia and opportunities for sustainable development

The history of environmental planning in Colombia is rooted in the profound social, economic and political problems of the country during the last 50 years. The pressure for economic development, strongly influenced by foreign policies and sustained by the Colombian elite, has increased poverty and social injustice. Such conditions have facilitated the development of many forms of violence that have been used by the “guerrillas,” or subversive groups, to threaten the political system. This continuation o f violence has occurred at the expense of the environment.

The systems of violence in Colombia operate mainly in rural areas where much of the environmental problems originate and proliferate. The rapid destruction of the profuse natural capital in Colombia is caused by, among others, devastation of agriculture lands caused by the drug industry, environmental disasters caused by oil exploitation (essentially by spills of pipelines as product of terrorists attacks), and traditional forms of deforestation (Nature

Conservancy Colombia, 1998).

In recent years, the concern for the environment has intermingled with social and economic issues, constituting the framework for sustainable development. The new reformed constitution of Colombia itself recognizes that environmental protection can be only achieved if social and economic strategies are built in a holistic policy of sustainable development (Wilches-Chaux,

1994). Ironically, Colombia presents a crisis today that creates a historic opportunity to enforce sustainability at large. In fact, it has been recently argued that the profound crisis at all levels of the Colombian society and economy has framed the ideal conditions for the implementation and practical institutionalization of sustainable development. As O’Brien says: “surprisingly it was drugs, corruption and violence in Colombia which found it easier to institutionalize a participatory structure for issues dealing with sustainable development than socially stable countries like Costa Rica.”1

The social, political and economic problems o f Colombia, evidenced by increasing environmental degradation, have reached the point of an historic dilemma. It can be argued that the country has only two options: either Colombians recuperate their country by addressing all its problems comprehensively or Colombia falls into a state-of-even-worse crisis where democracy may collapse. Assuming that the first option will succeed, the opportunity to enforce sustainable development for the reactivation of the economy may, in turn, help to overcome social inequity and, together, bring environmental sustainability. In other words, implementing economic and social sustainability will result in environmental sustainability.

A historical overview of the environmental movement in Colombia illustrates how sustainable development has emerged as a rationale for the new Colombian constitution and strategically how it can better address the historical crisis of the country today. But first it is important to look at the existing natural assets in Colombia to understand why sustainable development has received so much attention.

1 Philip J. O’Brien in “Global Processes and the Politics of Sustainable Development in Colombia and Costa Rica.” edited by Richard M. Auty and Katrina Brown, Approaches to Sustainable Development, Global Development and

Environment Series, London, 1997, Pg. 170.


1.1 Colombian natural assets and importance of sustainability

Internationally recognized for its problems rather than attributes, Colombia is increasingly known as a country rich in natural resources and biodiversity. Sustainable development in

Colombia has emerged from the concern for its natural assets that constitute the future of its economic and social development in the next century. In fact, sustainable development in

Colombia can be a strategy to strengthen its political position in an arena of increasing competition for the world’s natural capital. The shift towards a stronger economic value for natural reserves is receiving political support from most international agencies. Colombia possesses unique geographic features and natural assets that make sustainable development a necessity to secure future economic stability.

Colombia has an area approximately the size o f Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico combined in the most complicated topography and geology present in South America. The Colombian territory has six different regions: Andean, Caribbean, Orinoco, Amazonian, Pacific, and Inter-

Andean, with an ethnic composition of 10% black, 2% indigenous, 88% Hispanic (Source:

Nature Conservancy Colombia, 1996). Its population will reach 35 million by the year 2000

(DANE, 1998). Following are some of its existing natural features:

• Colombia is one of the richest countries in biodiversity with 10% of the earth’s biodiversity in only 0.8% o f the world land mass, second only to Brazil in species o f flora and fauna

(Andrade, 1992).

• Colombia is a land o f contrasts; its geography ranges from the lowland Amazonian regions to

18,000 foot snowy Andean peaks. It is possible to find hot tropical coasts, wet chilly

“paramos”, a desert in the Guajira Peninsula on the Caribbean, and dense forests in Choco on the Pacific coast.

• The Caribbean coast is part of a huge arid belt along the continent’s northern coast, one in the driest areas in South America after the Acatama Desert of Chile and Peru. Many plants of this region are unique to Colombia.

• The Colombian Andean Mountains constitute topographically the most complex system in

South America. Composed of three chains of mountains or “cordilleras”, each one has different ecological origin, altitude and climate encompassing a great variety of biological systems, humid forests, intermountain valleys, dry enclaves o f xerophytic plants, high tablelands (paramos) both wet and dry, and lakes (Source: Nature Conservancy Colombia).

• The Orinoco region has vast savannas, both the well-drained plains of the west (Vichada and

Meta) and the flooded savannas of Arauca and Casanare, habitat for major concentrations of vertebrates in the verge of extinction.

• Eastern Colombia’s Amazon Region is part o f the delicate Amazon rainforest ecosystem, one of the great tropical reserves of the world.

• Natural forests cover about 132 million acres, almost 43% of the country’s land area. Over the past 20 years, 94 million hectares o f forests have been destroyed, 64,000 acres per year.

The depletion of this natural resource base is one of the main constraints that pose significant challenges to future economic and social development in Colombia, especially for the poor.


1.2 Threat to Colombian natural assets and urban fabric

Colombia is constantly under rapid social and economic transformation that puts tremendous pressure on its natural environment. First, the growth of its cities affects its natural surroundings and the environmental quality within the city itself. From colonial times, population was distributed in the Andes Mountains where most of the cities were founded and resource extraction took place. With a rapid human population growth combined with the necessity of industrialization in semi-populated areas close to big cities, the ecosystems located close to urban areas and productive land for agriculture became threatened. Four major cities over one million people and three major towns have 75% of the population, with their economic base dependent on mountainous ecological systems.

Profound social and environmental problems associated with violence and the drug industry have invaded urban areas, deteriorating its immediate and inclusive natural surroundings. The violence in Colombia has been the single most important factor o f migration to the big cities and state capitals in the last years (Vasquez, 1985). Common problems in urban areas such as noise and atmospheric pollution, traffic congestion, lack of public services, pollution o f rivers, and devastation of the natural environment in urban areas have been influenced by new settlements associated with migration trends.

The rise in the tide of violence in the rural areas has brought rapid uncontrolled and unplanned growth in urban areas. Violence generated by the drug industry added to the existing generalized violence caused by the war between subversive groups and the Colombian army. Squatter settlements appear in many medium size towns as well as in major cities as a result of profuse migration originated in the increasing levels o f violence in rural areas. In addition, enormous migration has substantially increased poverty, social instability and environmental risks for the existing squatter settlements already located at the urban periphery.

Generalized violence in Colombia has devastated rural areas, its people, cultures, and natural environment, resulting in the deepest agriculture crisis of the history of Colombian. Devastation of the agriculture has produced a strong impact on the economic base of survival of many

Colombians that occupy many rural regions o f the country. Symptoms of violence include widespread poverty in all major cities, worsening the situation of human settlements located at the city’s edge. Contamination of rivers, lack of public services and air pollution levels tend to increase in overpopulated areas, thus, aggravating the environmental problem and the social crisis that already exist in urban areas.

1.3 Environmental policy and planning in Colombia

Environmental legislation in Colombia has a long history and dates back to the colonial times

(Pombo, 1990). Its origins are rooted in geo-political division of the Colombian territories related to areas of agriculture and production, accessibility to rivers, and topography. Between 1948 and

1959 most of the wild territories including Amazonian, Pacific, and Andean forests were declared reserves.


The natural environment in Colombia, however, has faced degradation for many years. Due to insufficient financial resources, misguided political administration, and inconsistent policies, enforcement of environmental protection for the reserves was lacking. In 1978, various Regional

Autonomous Corporations were created similar to the USA Tennessee Valley Authority, with the intention of achieving better administration and control over the territories as well as better management of natural resources (O’Brien, 1997). In 1992, the Regional Corporations became part of the National Department of Planning (DNP), which established a separate Environmental

Policy Division within the same department. This shift was fundamental in order to bring environmental concerns into economic planning, since DNP had been working with issues of the national economy exclusively.

In Colombia, economic planning has traditionally been the most important type of planning.

Other forms of planning (e.g. physical planning and social planning) have had their own agencies but have worked primarily on a national economic planning strategy. The recent liberation of the economy in 1994 and other free market adjustments are evidence of priority on economic planning. In addition, priority on economic issues mandated by international monetary organizations has been undertaken with many environmental impacts and little concern on social costs. As a result, economic planning has augmented the social conflict and hindered the implementation of environmental policies.

However, the most important event that has set the path for environmental planning and implementation of sustainable development in Colombia is the Constitution for Colombia which became law in 1991 (Ritchy-Vance, 1991). A profound social and political crisis in the early

90’s pressured the reform of the old Constitution of 1886 that had ignored environmental issues in reference to economic planning and social grassroots development.

The new Constitution of 1991 includes a different philosophy with respect to environmental issues, incorporating sustainable development as an instrument o f the new constitution to pursue ecological wealth and quality of life for all (O’Brien, 1997). The new legislation opens the door for extensive democratic participation of the less well-off including indigenous and afro-

Colombian Communities whose territories are declared “Territorial Entities”. These entities are given their own language, culture, system of government, and most importantly, own autonomy in the administration of their natural environment. In fact, the new Constitution has 43 important progressive principles and laws that link environment and development (Velasquez, 1992).

In 1993, environmental planning reached a more important political step. Colombia became the first country in the world to appoint a Minister of the Environment after the creation of the

United Nations Council for Economic Development (UNCED). Responsibilities of this minister include the formulation of strategic environmental policies in a cross-multidisciplinary approach with the other ministries. Other tasks involve the establishment of regulations on the use, conservation and restoration o f the renewable natural resources, and the administration of natural parks. Perhaps, the most significant function of the minister is to grant, refuse or suspend environmental licenses for large strategic projects (Rodriguez, Becerra, 1994).

With the establishment of the Ministry of the Environment, Regional Autonomous Corporations received jurisdiction and responsibility over protected environments and policies. This


decentralization trend also has provisions for cities whose population is greater than 1 million, which also have their own environmental authority. More enforcement for environmental policies and programs has occurred since the new Ministry of the Environment and the

Autonomous Corporations are beneficiaries of a special fund system. This system works through the creation of new taxes that doubled the budget for environmental protection (Rodriguez -

Becerra, 1992). With the formed Ministry of the Environment and its political and economic support, the importance of environmental issues in Colombia has shifted from simple environmental protection to the development of strategic environmental planning enforced by efficient legal instruments, environmental polices, and education of the community.

1.4 C urrent crisis in Colombia: possibilities for sustainable development out of necessity

It can be argued that the future of Colombia may take only two directions. Either the government finds strategies to overcome the profound crisis or it drives the country to an even worse situation where revolution, civil war and economic devastation are unavoidable. Presumably, the

Colombian government would give anything to avoid a crisis, because the future of the political system and the democracy are already at risk. For a long time, social crisis and environmental problems were largely ignored at the cost of a false image of economic stability. Until 1995 there was a common belief that the economy in Colombia was going to continue in an steady economic growth (Ramirez, 1995). This false sense of stability was enough to render the political system untouchable (Ramirez, 1995).

However, the scandal created by the narco-dollar-financed 1994 campaign o f President Ernesto

Samper deteriorated the US-Colombia relationship, suspended the inflow of foreign investments, substantially weakened the credibility of the political system, and essentially exposed the real situation to public light. An economic recession was already imminent and unavoidable, the

Samper administration just accelerated its arrival. The situation was aggravated with the declaration of war against the drug cartels that not only intensified an economic crisis with the suspension of any investment activity but also brought social cost in the form o f deaths. Last, and perhaps more important, a 50 year-old war with “guerrilla” armed forces has caused the worst crisis in agriculture ever known, thus, threatening the present and future development of the economic scenario in Colombia.

Although the crisis could go to unprecedented limits, there is a reason to believe that the country as a whole is interested in the recuperation o f its economy, the solution o f the social conflict, and the concentration of efforts in the appropriate administration and utilization of its natural resources.2 The present political, social and economic crisis in Colombia has certainly weakened the long-term goals of sustainable development mandated in the constitution (O’Brien, 1997).

But at the same time, this phase of crisis has been an indicator of the consequences o f governing the country in the absence of a political structure that solves social, economic and environmental problems in a holistic manner. An awakening of the national interest in political conciliation, community work, and economic progress has reached all scales of the Colombian society.

However, such interest could not be channeled appropriately if the country lacks the right legislation that calls for public participation and involvement in issues dealing with the economy and natural capital.

2 This is the political plan of the recently elected President Pastrana in 1998.


Fortunately, the sustainable development concept built into the constitution sets the framework for strategic planning of the new Colombia, addressing economic, social, and environmental planning. It should be recognized that economy can not be rejuvenated unless a solution to the social conflict is addressed, including a peace process with insurgent groups, alleviation of poverty, protection of human rights, and citizen responsibility for the recuperation of the national well-being. The provision of the social conditions to improve the standard of living of

Colombians is imperative to engage them in productive work that recuperates the economy.

It should also be acknowledged that solving the social conflict and rejuvenation of the economy depends on the equilibrium and sustained growth provided by the rational utilization of natural resources. The constitution has provided an important step by incorporating the indigenous communities and minorities into Territorial Entities where they can manage and administer their own natural resources and pursue sustained development. In addition, the increasing decentralization of the administrative functions of the state facilitates the management of local natural resources in the regions. Such decentralization has been possible by the fact that

Colombia has four major cities that can have their own administration and sustained economic development over resources in their regions.

The equilibrium between better economy, improved social well-being and the environment seems to be the only and singular alternative to avoid a deeper future crisis in Colombia. There is a historic opportunity for the implementation of sustainable development to reach this equilibrium. At the hands of every Colombian (not only the government) is the chance to aid in such implementation for a better future. The present crisis has already reached all levels of

Colombian society and government, and has motivated an open discussion of possible strategies to overcome the situation.

The implementation of sustainable development can be an important step in channeling national interests for a better future. The present national crisis must serve as a cultural threshold to initiate such an important step. In many countries sustainable development has been pursued through isolated initiatives created in part by the interest o f academic groups and others. Since sustainability can better be achieved when it is pursued from the local community to the national level (Roseland, 1992), collaborative action of the nation can make implementation easier, consistent, and real. Colombia has been presented with the unique opportunity to make it successful.


2. The community of El Recreo

In order to better explain the basis and planning o f El Recreo, a planned community in Bogota, it is important to understand the history of housing for the poor in Bogota and its relationship within the context of sustainability. Essentially, it is important to look at the history of housing for the poor in relationship with the development of “squatter settlements” or “marginalized communities.” These settlements or communities can be defined as all the urban development

(residential and other land use) that has been built by the very poor people living in Bogota’s metropolitan area. This type of development occupies a significant part o f Bogota’s metro area— nearly two thirds o f the entire metropolitan area (Departamento Administrative the Planeacion

Distrital—Bogota, DAPD, 1997).

2.1 Unsustainable urban growth for Bogota: a historical overv iew

As in other cities in Latin America, it can be argued that pre-Hispanic indigenous sustainable land use systems were adapted to an unsustainable pattern of land exploitation at the national and regional scale as well as the urban scale. The pattern of growth that occurred during colonial times was instrumental in the economic development of Spain but at the expense of the exploitation of natural resources in Latin American cities. Land use patterns and socio-economic institutions during colonial times fostered the first expansion of Bogota as its labor force became permanently working and living in agriculture land within the city (Vasquez, 1985).

The relationship between environment and economic base that predominated during colonial times was again transformed in the twenty century, altering the urban character of Colombian cities. By the end of the nineteen century and early twenty century, Latin American cities began their process of industrialization and its expansion increased in an exponential form (Hardoy,

1964). The proliferation of industries completely changed the urban character of Bogota. As in other cities, modem Bogota became organized by the division of labor between rich and poor people, pre-established during colonial times and redefined with the industrialization process

(Vasquez, 1995).

During the 30’s, Bogota experienced fast urbanization as a result of the industrialization process.

Industrialization was responsible for the creation o f many urban jobs which substantially increased population growth and urban areas, exacerbating the pre-existing environmental problems created during colonial times. The first statistics of population growth in Bogota go back to the 1950’s and suggest that the problem had started during the 1930’s. Between 1951 and

1964 Bogota grew 12.7% yearly and later between 1964 and 1972 grew 9.9 % yearly. In practical terms, population growth in Bogota augmented 9 times between 1938 and 1972

(Arturo, 1994).

The first marginalized communities in Bogota appear during the 1950’s and 1960’s as poor people from many regions migrate to the capital. Bogota turned into an institutional, administrative, and political center that attracted thousands o f people looking for employment and a better life standard. Bogota became the national capital of a country embracing the new capitalist system, an expanding system adopted after the Second World War. By 1970, the


division of classes is clearly marked when the city’s size increased substantially. Housing became a huge need and workers accommodated where land was available: at the city’s periphery. Not until Bogota multiplied its size by two during the 1970’s and 1980’s and environmental problems grew exponentially, was the link between the environment and the socio-economic structure understood.

During the 1990’s, modem Bogota has a huge urban population which aggravated the environmental problems, including occupation of agriculture lands at the city edge and strong air pollution due to increase in car. ownership. In the early 1990’s President Gaviria’s administration opened the Colombian markets to the global economy. Inflow o f outside investments and money from the illegal drug business filtered into the economy, thus giving a tremendous boost to the real estate market. During 1994-1998 the biggest “boom” in the building industry in Bogota’s history occurred. As a result, enormous pressure was put on both land and public utilities, which resulted in land price speculation and the inability of the city to cope with demand and expansion of the infrastructure of public services. Limited infrastructure and high price of land makes

Bogota today one of the denser cities in Latin America with nearly 230 people per hectare

(Metro vivienda, 1999).

Despite its density, Bogota has experienced a continued expansion at the urban fringe, essentially caused by an increase in the number of squatter settlements or marginal communities. This increase in squatter settlements is due to high migration patterns as a result of violence and social unrest in the countryside. Today, there is a substantial deterioration of the natural environment around the city and within the city itself, including pollution of the main rivers Bogota, and San

Francisco. The density o f the marginalized communities at the city’s edge has escalated to reach inhumane living conditions, causing a massive loss of natural reserves and chaos in urban development.

Faced with this reality, the government of the City o f Bogota has launched aggressive planning strategies to overcome the problem of marginalized communities. The creation of Metrovivienda and its first project El Recreo attempts to provide a solution for this issue. While not a panacea, it would be a process of evolution towards better addressing the problem in the future, with the opportunity to learn from El Recreo and improve planning practices for the next community.

2.2 Location and planning process of El Recreo

The community of El Recreo is located in Bogota’s southeast urban periphery, adjacent to the

Rio Bogota. El Recreo’s gross area is 117.48 hectares (290 acres) from which 82.09 hectares

(203 acres) are net area for development. El Recreo is located on land in Bogota’s periphery that was selected after studying a broad range of possible options of areas with potential for development of low-income housing.

A study of 21 areas called “Unidades de Analisis” (Units of Analysis) was conducted by

Bogota’s Planning Department (Departamento Administrative de Planeacion Distrital, DAPD) within the metropolitan area limits. The general criteria to select these 21 units were:


settlements establishment. The idea is to control the problem from its roots: land location and its availability.

• Land located near city areas lacking community services such as school, hospitals, etc.

The idea is to “compensate” these areas with services provided by new projects located in the Unidades de Analisis.

• Areas should have water supply and sewer planning studies already completed. This is because the water department usually takes years just to plan the adequate infrastructure.

Based on these criteria, from the 21 Unidades de Analisis, four units were discarded due to environmental conditions such as soil instability, excessive short distance to solid waste, and sewer treatment plants. Two more units or areas were lacking studies and technical designs for infrastructure of utilities, thus, were excluded. There are 14 units that remain for project feasibility. El Recreo is located in one of the 14 Unidades de Analisis and is the first and most advanced project under construction stage.

2.3 Metrovivienda: the project’s official promoter

Metrovivienda is a City of Bogota government agency created to plan and develop economic feasibility studies for low-income housing aimed to substitute for marginalized communities living in subnormal housing developments.4 Metrovivienda’s objective is to reduce the establishment of squatter communities and subnormal urban growth by successfully enlarging and satisfying the housing demand of the poor.

To do this, Metrovivienda will first increase the supply of housing for low-income communities.

Second, it will create possibilities for the poor to buy a house via the market through affordable, planned, and viable solutions below the market’s lowest price benchmark for low-income housing.5 These two strategies will allow Metrovivienda to successfully operate in the housing market and discourage subnormal development by providing a better competitive alternative.

Metrovivienda is a public entity but operates under the private sector philosophy. It is independent from the city government, has its own budget, capital financing, and business mission. It is self-operated and managed by staff from the public sector but reports to the city council.

1 Subnormal development: housing development under minimum city standards, land use planning, and building regulations. Typically, the result o f “land invasions” or squatter settlements, informal development or subdivision of land by “pirate developers”. These are illegal developers, a person or persons who sells subdivided land, owned or not, with no planning whatsoever, thus, with no legal standing, no access to public services or utilities. Also, “pirate developers” are person or persons who speculates with land for this type o f housing when they own it. “Subnormal developments” are often normalized by the City of Bogota after 20 or 25 years of establishment due to pressure, whether political or not, from its residents. “Normalization” of these neighborhoods means the construction and pavement o f the streets, construction of the entire infrastructure for public utilities, and often, the provision of community services. Source: Metrovivienda, 1999.

4 “Exposicion de Motives v Provecto Acuerdo.” Metrovivienda, Alcaldia Mayor de Santafe de Bogota, 1998. Pg. 2

5 Low-income housing benchmark: The unit price for low income housing in Colombia has a maximum value o f 135 times the Monthly Minimum Wage (MMW). The minimum wage is about USS100 per month, roughly $200,000

Colombian pesos in 1999.


Metrovivienda operates in a three-step basic process.

1. First, they purchase the land and pay for its urban design according to city planning regulations and standards.

2. Second, they build the main network o f utility infrastructure. That is the macro construction work including major streets, water, sewer, electric, and telephone lines (“Urbanismo

Primario y Secundario”). Since Metro vivienda selects land with technical designs and plans already performed for a given piece of land, they only have to build the infrastructure. This strategy represents a form of public investment already in the land, thus, resulting in capturing future surpluses which add value to the housing product. This is how

Metrovivienda secures infrastructure planning in El Recreo. This is critical to the project because the economic rationale of the project lies in the no “normalization” of squatter settlements; that is avoid all the cost o f upgrading one of those settlements in the future.

3. Third, Metrovivienda sells the urbanized land to private developers at its cost value. That is, without any profits, hence, working as a form o f direct subsidy to the project. This is critical in low-income housing because the cost share o f infrastructure in the total price of the house can be up to 70%. Improved land (or land with infrastructure) is then sold in big lots or

“super-blocks” to developers who actually build the houses. These “super-blocks” have areas ranging from 1 to 4 hectareas (2.47 to 9.90 acres).

Metrovivienda does not give land or anything for free. Metrovivienda sells “improved or urbanized land” at its cost value. Hence, they recuperate costs o f investment only; there is no profit. Metrovivienda operates by circulating capital investments during the three-step process mentioned before.

2.4 Metrovivienda’s mission: Enlarging housing supply for the poor via market.

Metrovivienda is focused on providing solutions for the low-income housing. The housing market in Bogota is divided in six income groups or income ranges. The first group corresponds to people in the higher income range; this is the high-income housing. The second and third group corresponds to people in the middle income range; this is the middle-income housing. The remaining groups representing people in the three lower incomes represent the low-income housing market.

Low-income housing demand, that is people in all the three lower income ranges, represent 85% of the total deficit in housing in Bogota.6 However, the low-income housing produced in Bogota by the private or public sector, known as Vivienda de Interes Social VIS (Housing of Social

Interest), is typically built for people in the upper income group within the total three low-

income income ranges. In fact, it is estimated that 85% to 90% of the housing solutions via market for low-income is concentrated in the upper range o f the three, which is people earning from 3 to 4 times the monthly minimum wage.

6 “Exposicion de Motives v Provecto Acuerdo.” Metrovivienda, Alcaldia Mayor de Santafe de Bogota, 1998. Pg. 2.


This means that people in the two lower income ranges have no access to housing via market.

Metrovivienda is focused on providing solutions for all the groups in the low-income housing market, however, people in the two lower income ranges are a priority. In fact, the problem is that 43% of the total housing demand comes from people earning less than three times the monthly minimum wage (MMW).7 In other words, at least 43% o f the demand for low-income housing has no possibilities of solutions via the market.

In order to enlarge the housing market for the poor, the strategy o f Metrovivienda is to reduce the minimum house price benchmark from 135 MMW to 75 MMW per unit (a reduction of nearly

44%). Since 43% o f the total households who need houses are within the two lower income

range o f the low income housing, by lowering 44% o f the benchmark price, nearly 42% o f the

total housing deficit for low-income housing become capable to buy a house in the market.8 All the new houses built with this new benchmark are called the Vivienda de Interes Prioritaria

(VIP) or Priority-low-income housing.

It is estimated that El Recreo will combine a total of 180 units for Vivienda de Interes Social

(VIS) and 7,287 units for Vivienda de Interes Prioritaria (VIP), for a total projected number of

7,467dwelling units. Enlarging the housing supply (and at an affordable price) is crucial for

Metrovivienda since total low-income housing production needs to be increased from 11,000 to

47,000 dwelling units in order to match the needs o f total housing demand by the year 2010.

There are reasons to believe that this goal is viable.

First, based on the construction rate (total square meters) and total housing units produced by the building industry during the peak year of the 90’s boom (1994), it is considered that the building industry would have to produce only 13% more above the 1994 average to meet the demand expectations.

Second, since availability oUand and infrastructure are the two more important variables that determine house price for low-income housing, its provision and price control by Metrovivienda is critical. This is precisely the focus strategy of Metrovivienda to reduce the price and enlarge the housing supply for the poor. In addition, Metrovivienda’s strategy result tailored to the needs of the housing industry since the common barrier reported by the private sector to produce low income housing are also land and infrastructure.

2.5 Housing finance system for low-income housing applicable in El Recreo

The current housing finance system in Colombia, called “Unidad de Valor Real” UVR (or Unit of Real Value), was recently modified to correct all the deficiencies o f the old system called

UP AC. The UPAC system dominated the private housing finance market in Colombia from 1972 to 1999. This housing finance system was based on the UPAC, a multiplier that represents the value in currency of the mortgage. The UPAC variation was initially attached to the index of cost of living and the devaluation of the peso (Colombian currency).

7 “Exposicion de Motives v Provecto Acuerdo.” Metrovivienda, Alcaldia Mayor de Santafe de Bogota, 1998.

8 Idem.


The UP AC system was the core operation of National Corporations for Savings and Housing

(NCSH), financial institutions created to specifically finance housing in all incomes. Specific government policies and incentives were designed for the operation of the NCSHs. These companies captured savings from the public that allocated loans in the building industry. The

NCSHs became the principal support for the building industry and an important share of the national economy.

During the 1980’s and early 1990’s, other institutions such as national banks were allowed to participate in the housing finance market, which to that date, was under the exclusive dominion of those firms operating under the UP AC system. Banks started operating with the same government policies that applied to NCSHs, thus, competing for the allocation of money. Later, banks began offering better interest rates and financing mechanisms. But the NCSHs could not compete equally with banks.

As a result, the UP AC system was modified and it was no longer attached to the index of cost of living but rather to the average of the market interest rates. With the economic boom of the early

1990’s and the flourishing building industry, interest rates in general experienced a substantial increase.

Mortgages were not the exception in the increase of interest rates and its total value was also increased due to add-up cost of the UP AC. The outcome was disastrous for the building industry and the UPAC system. The UPAC became an obsolete housing finance mechanism since the increase in mortgages no longer matched the annual increase in salaries. Annual increase in mortgages exceeded by far price index of cost of living. Increase of the share of salary destined to housing sometimes doubled.

This situation was responsible in part for the crash of the building industry, which started in the mid-90’s and peaked at the end o f 1999. Last year, the Colombian government recognized the failure of the UPAC system and modified again the “ multiplier unit”. The UVR was created, again attached to the price index and cost o f living but now regulated and overseen by the government.

Housing finance companies working under the UPAC system were required by the government to allocate 23% of thier total annual credit budget for financing low-income projects.9 The

UPAC system successfully financed low-income housing for the upper two income ranges out of the three income ranges classified as low-income housing. For instance, between January and

August of 1997, Bogota’s planning department (Departamento Administrative de Planeacion

Distrital DAPD) approved building permits for 14,705 VIS dwelling units, 28% o f them for the upper two income ranges.10 It is expected that the UVR action will expand to sustain the proportion of housing finance for the market targeted in El Recreo

As an incentive to encourage private developers to build low income housing, financing institutions will offer lower interest rates for loans specifically designed to finance these projects

9 “Exposicion de Motives v Provecto Acuerdo.” Metrovivienda, Alcaldia Mayor de Santafe de Bogota, 1998.

10 Departamento Administrativo de Planeacion Distrital (DAPD), “Aspectos Socio-Economicos de Santafe de

Bogota.” 1991.


(this was also a government policy in the past). Loan rates for these projects were approximately two or three points below rates for other housing products.

In addition to low interest rates for construction loans, which allowed projects to remain viable in the market, homeowners received loans to buy houses with the same average reduction of interest rate. The net effect is dramatic savings in financing costs for both developers and buyers.

Low interest rates and lower financing costs end up representing some type of subsidies already described.

2.6 Existing supply and demand of low-income housing in Bogota

The condition of housing for the poor can be analyzed from two perspectives. First, by calculating the existing deficit. Second, estimating the future needs in housing based on demographic estimations. This is important to understand the complexity of the housing problem that projects like El Recreo should be able to help solving in the future, hence, its importance from the urban planning perspective.

First, it is important to determine the existing housing deficit (or accumulated housing demand).

In 1997, it was estimated that 1.1 million dwelling units were satisfying the needs of 5.9 million people, represented in a household ratio of 5.74 persons per dwelling unit.11 This condition evidences a crowded city where the quality o f life for the poor is substandard to say the least. In fact, it is estimated that at least 146,000 dwelling units (14% of total existing housing stock) have unhealthy or overcrowded human conditions (more than 3 people sleeping in a single bedroom).12

These estimated figures have not taken into account subnormal development or squatter settlements that completely lack infrastructure services. It is estimated that at least 400 neighborhoods with an average population o f 1.8 million people lack minimum sanitary conditions.13 Considering a minimum density of 1.51 households per dwelling unit (or 1.51 families per house) the total deficit in low-income housing for Bogota is 471,953 dwelling units.14 The deficit in housing for low-income communities represents 95% of the total housing deficit (See Table 2).15 In terms of the rate of consumption of land due to subnormal development of housing, it was estimated that 240 hectareas (595 acres) were occupied yearly between 1985 and 1993, accommodating 30,000 households annually.16

11 Idem.

12 Departamento Administrative Nacional de Estadistica (DANE), 1997.

13 “Exposicion de Motives v Provecto Acuerdo—Tamano del Problema.” Metrovivienda, Alcaldia Mayor de

Santafe de Bogota, 1998.

14 Idem.

15 Idem.

16 Departamento Administrative Nacional de Estadistica (DANE), 1997.





< 1

1 - 3

3 - 5

5 - 8

8 - 1 6

Total Housing Deficit

Population per







> 16 128



♦Monthly Minimum Wage (MMW)

♦♦ Vivienda de Interes Prioritaria (VIP)

♦♦♦ Vivienda de Interes Social (VIS)

Total Dwellings









3.3 %

48.6 %

44.0 %

2.2 %


- 0.8 %







High Income

Table 2 Summary of the housing deficit by income range.

Source: Departamento Admistrativo de Planeacion Distrital (DAPD), Subdireccion

Economica, and estimates of Metrovivienda, 1999.




V. I. P.**

V. I S.***


Second, it is important to estimate the total housing demand projections (or effective covered

demand). The forecast for total housing demand in Bogota by the year 2010 is about 700,000

households, which represents a rate o f 55,000 dwelling units per year. This figure means that the

housing market should build at least 55,000 units per year in order to “freeze” the existing

housing deficit.

If the government’s intention is to stop the proliferation o f squatter communities with very poor

quality o f life (or at least not augment the problem), the state should provide a mechanism to

facilitate the construction o f 55,000 units per year. This is basically the reason for which

Metrovivienda was created. Based on the existing pattern o f 85% housing deficit for low-income

communities, it can be concluded that 85% o f the total 55,000 housing demand per year (or

47,000 units) should be allocated for low income housing (Vivienda de Interes Social, VIS).


3. Urban sustainability: an environment-economy-social planning fram ew ork-

adaptation for Latin America

The concept of sustainability originated in 1987 in the Bruntland Commission’s Report “Our

Common Future.” In 1992, the United Nations’s Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro officially launched the concept of “sustainable development” as a strategy to meet the needs o f the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Lately, the concept o f sustainable development has been discussed in the realm of many professions, finally coming to the attention of citizens, planners and developers.

Within the field of urban design and planning, “sustainable community planning” is the new strategy to address, in a better way, the continuous growth of cities.17 This strategy focuses on the development of “sustainable communities” as the mechanism to provide growth, which incorporates social, economic, and environmental variables into the planning process o f urban settlements. Sustainable communities are proposed as an alternative formula to the existing pattern of city growth, which has been demonstrated to be unsustainable.

The pattern of the growth of modem cities represents the interaction between society and the natural environment18. It is precisely in the way humans conceive, plan, and build cities in which the relationship between human beings and nature is defined. The existing lifestyle of the modem society is represented in the permanent necessity to expand the city. The current expansion of the modem city presents a rate of consumption of natural resources that has exceeded the ‘carrying capacity’ of the ecosphere to sustain future generations.19

An unsustainable pattern of growth based on the extensive consumption of natural resources is represented in the built environment. In the case of North America, very spacious and low space- efficient cities are created with the assumption that cheap energy and land will always be available20. This belief has influenced tremendously the construction o f the urban fabric, creating a society that depends almost entirely o f the automobile. The result of this dependence is the construction of miles of highways to satisfy the increase of distances between places.

Particularly, the current pattern o f growth that characterizes many US cities is a phenomenon known as sprawl. Pressured by different socio-economic variables, but mainly also by the economic system, these cities find it difficult to control the expansion of the built environment, thus, to control the destruction of the natural environment.21 In fact, the availability of land at low cost and more wealth have been one of the more important factors to cause sprawl.22

17 William Rees, “Sustainable Communities: Planning for the 21st Century.” Plan Canada, Vol. 31, No. 3, May 1991.

18 Kevin Lynch, Good City Form, The MIT Press, 1984

19 William Rees “Achieving Sustainability: Reform or Transformation”. Journal o f the Planning Literature, Vol. 9,

No. 4, May 1995.

20 William Rees, “Sustainable Communities: Planning for the 21st Century.” Plan Canada, Vol. 31, No. 3, May 1991.

21 Reid Ewing, “Is Los Angeles-Stvle Sprawl Desirable?.” Journal o f the American Planning Association, Vol. 63,

No. 1

22 The Real Estate Research Corporation, “The Costs of Sprawl,” U.S. Government, 1974.


In the United States the phenomenon of sprawl is manifested in many social, economic, and environmental problems that exist in cities.23 First, it is argued that the most important problem caused by sprawl is the social decomposition o f the citizen’s life. The outcome of sprawl in suburbs means the disruption of community links, individualism, and isolation.24 Initially, suburbia was the solution for the needs o f privacy, mobility, security, and homeownership but today this suburban pattern may mean, in the long term, isolation, congestion, rising crime, and deterioration of the quality of life.25

Second, sprawl has demonstrated its enormous economic costs for the city, the building industry, and homeowners. For the city, sprawl is a very expensive formula because the expansion of the city increases the costs in infrastructure and public services26. This situation affects the building industry because in the suburbs “low income density adds costs by $30,000 to the cost of a new house,” 27 thus, limiting the commercialization of houses in the real estate market. For a family, the costs of sprawl are represented in the dependence of the automobile to satisfy immediate needs. Commonly, a family living in suburbia owns two cars which “cost upwards of $10,000 a year.”28

Third, deterioration of the environment is directly linked with sprawl because it not only fosters car dependence but also accelerates air pollution and energy consumption. Other environmental consequences include the reduction in percolation of water, fragmentation o f ecosystems, and the loss of resource lands. In fact, it is argued that sprawl will consume two and one half times more land than compact urban forms29. Sometimes the impact on the environment seems to be intangible due to the small market value for loss of farmlands or open spaces and also because private property owners frequently ignore the public interest in land use decisions at the city level30. However, the importance of resource lands lies in the availability of undisturbed areas for specific species to accomplish their life cycles. This is clear in fragile ecosystems existing near the limits of the city or within the city itself.

In summary, the modem city shows a pattern of growth with serious problems in terms of social, economic, and environmental impact which represents the interdependence between man and nature. In North America such pattern o f growth known as sprawl is the increasing concern of communities and government and subject of many studies that demonstrate the impossibility for the ecosphere to sustain it.31

23 Idem.

Z4Sym Van der Rym and Peter Calthorpe, Sustainable Communities: A New Design Synthesis fo r Cities, Suburbs,

and Towns, San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1986.

25 Todd W. Bresi, “Planning the American Dream” in Peter Katz, The New Urbanism: Towards an Architecture o f

Community, McGraw Hill, 1994

26 Arthur Silvers, Analysis o f Land Use Models, Gonzalo Mosquera: Class notes, University o f Arizona, 1997.

27 “Fees Cast Shadow on Affordable Housing,” Housing and Development Report, San Francisco: Bay Area

Council, October 1991.

28 Peter Calthorpe, The Next American Metropolis, Princeton Architectural Press, 1993.

29 Reid Ewing, “Is Los Anaeles-Stvle Sprawl Desirable?.” Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 63,

No. 1

30 Idem.

31 William Rees “Achieving Sustainability: Reform or Transformation”. Journal of the Planning Literature, Vol. 9,

No. 4, May 1995.


In Latin America, the pattern of growth is different but governments and global economic system have influenced cities to follow the consumerist model. Although the pattern o f unsustainable growth of Latin American cities precedes Neoliberal economic policies, globalization and free market economy expanded during the late 90s served as a very strong influence to mimic the

North American rate of growth, life styles and natural resource consumption in general. As a result, Latin American cities increase consumption of goods and services, including the struggle to accommodate more cars in the urban structure, a structure that used to be less auto-dependent, dense by nature, more pedestrian friendly. In the end, Latin America cities are experiencing similar problems to US cities: natural habitats within and around the cities are being destroyed, car usage has gained importance, air pollution is overwhelming, quality of life for people is diminishing.

The analytical framework defined to recognize urban problems in North America and measure them in terms of sustainability indicators, comprises three elements: social, economic, and environmental sustainability. 2 Since the urban problems in Latin America can also be identified within these three realms, it is valid to assume that the conceptual framework commonly recognized for sustainable development in North America can be also used to understand the situation of the city in Latin America.

In conclusion, the conceptual application o f sustainable development either for Latin America or

North America should emerge from the balance between social, environmental, and economic issues. City planning in Latin America that considers alternatives using this three-realm approach provides an insightful solution for the growth of cities. However, the practices and specific solutions must be defined locally in their practical implementation. Sustainable community planning for marginalized communities can be applied locally to address the problems of these communities, who most need sustainable development (Pezzoli, 1998).

3.1 Environmental sustainability

3.1.1 In the context of North America

In the global context of sustainable development, environmental sustainability can be defined as the sustainable utilization of the natural resources that secure the permanency o f the human race in the planet. The problem of whether the world consumes a lot of natural resources or not depends on the perspective of which society consumes more. It is estimated that North America consumes 40% of the global natural resources while the rest of the world the remaining 60%

(Rees, 1992).

This pattern of consumption seems to originate in the cities, particularly as world population increases and most people live in urban areas (Roseland, 1992). The way cities are conceived, planned (or not planned) and built is the by-product o f a society and its pattern of consumption of natural resources. The main elements that determine the pattern of growth of cities (and are

32 Virginia W. McLaren, Developing Indicators o f Urban Sustainability: A Focus on the Canadian Experience,

ICURR Press, Toronto, 1996.


energy consumption (Calthorpe, 1996). Each of these elements are linked to each other determining the consumption of natural resources. For instance, the more land is occupied at lower residential density, the more complicated transportation systems are required, and hence more energy is consumed (fossil fuels, etc).

Although management of energy as a non-renewable natural resource has become more important worldwide, availability and expenditure of energy have not been determinant issues in the pattern of growth and permanency of cities in North America (Van der Ryn & Calthorpe,

1986). As a result, land occupancy is not efficient (low dense cities) and transportation system is based on the automobile. The consequence is consumption of many natural resources such as pristine valuable land for agriculture, consumption of fossil fuels (energy), and depletion of oxygen in the atmosphere (air pollution).33

The relationship between land occupancy, transportation, and energy as a pattern of growth in

North America, also understood as the sprawl phenomenon, not only bring social costs as previously discussed (social sustainability), but also is linked to various types of economic costs and market failures. In fact, the unfeasibility of sprawl from the economic perspective is well documented.34 Although this sounds like a perspective from the “nature” approach, at the end, the pattern of growth of cities determines our relationship with the natural environment and will determine if we can afford it in economic terms.

As the debate between growth and no-growth progresses from the economic point of view, the necessity to use environmental sustainability in city planning seems clear (MacLaren, 1992). The purpose of environmental sustainability is to acknowledge that human growth is strongly linked with environmental issues and that survival of the human race is in jeopardy if the natural environment is ignored. Urban sustainable development should acknowledge the necessity for humans to co-live with other species of the natural environment, which helps to secure their own survival on the planet (Rees, 1991). In addition, the built environment in the human settlement should reflect an appropriate integration with environmental conditions (e.g. solar orientation, wind patterns, temperature, etc) as an efficient, more economical and viable solution to cohabit in the planet (McHarg, 1969).

3.1.2 As interpreted in Latin America

It is been argued that environmental sustainability is more critical in developing world cities than in industrialized nations (Lowe, 1991). One o f the reasons is that the majority of the world’s population is concentrated in developing countries where most o f the natural resources exist. For instance, Latin American countries like Colombia and Brazil have the highest reserves of biodiversity in the world (Nature Conservancy, 1998).

Recognizing the limits of the natural environment in cities of developing countries is crucial because current and future generations all over the world will depend on local effects on the

33 Lang, R. and A. Armour, Planning Land to Conserve Energy: 40 Case studies from Canada and the United

States, Ottawa: Environment Canada, 1982.

34 The Real Estate Research Corporation, “The Costs o f Sprawl,” U.S. Government, 1974.


environment. This is because local effects on the natural environment affect ecosystems worldwide (Miller, 1996). More important, because environmental sustainability in developing countries may secure the lives o f people living in other cities since most developed countries increasingly depend on the availability and conservation of natural resources in poor countries

(Pezzoli, 1998). Nevertheless, environmental sustainability in developing world cities is crucial for the survival of the people in their own cities.

The relationship between urban centers and its surrounding natural environment is particularly critical in Latin American cities, as most of them are located in fragile ecosystems (Hardoy &

Satterthwaite, 1997). As policies of “contention” of marginalized communities in the invasion of critical environmental areas have demonstrated to be impractical, the first approach to environmental sustainability is to incorporate land use patterns that allow the protection of the natural environment while facilitating shelter and economic means for families (Pezzoli, 1998).

For instance, there is documentation o f such integral rural-urban land use models for environmentally sensitive land protection within metropolitan areas of cities in Mexico.35

From the adaptation of environmental sustainability in Latin America, it can be argued that at least two critical elements play a key role in the possibilities to sustain cities for the future:

transportation and land use controls.


Transportation together with land use controls and built environment is one of the keys to environmental sustainability (Roseland, 1992). In metropolitan areas of Latin America where it is necessary to provide transportation for millions o f people going to work, the chosen transportation system is crucial to protect the environment. In addition, transportation determines energy use, natural resource consumption, air pollution levels, commuting time, maintenance costs of streets and vehicles, etc.

In Latin America, where compact and dense cities are mostly populated by people with low accessibility to the automobile, it is easier to promote alternative transportation systems to the car like bus, pedestrian, or bike. For the good of urban sustainability, the urban configuration o f these cities and the size of the population without a car are direct causes of an effective demand for mass transportation. At the moment in Colombia, demand is typically undeserved by a deficient public transportation system (DAPD, 1999). Ambitious projects of public transportation based on alternative modes (pedestrian-bus-car-bike) can be planned with high efficiency to mobilize thousands of people at an affordable cost.36

As recent studies in North America clearly demonstrate, expanding the network of streets and highways to accommodate more cars is more expensive than operating a mass transportation system (Urban Land Institute, 1998). There is no reason to repeat the same policy failure in Latin

America. As an alternative to expand the street network, future costs generated by construction

35 For a detailed explanation see the case of an "Colon ia Ecologica Productiva: El Caso de Aiusco in Mexico City.”

Pezzoli, 1998.

36 Examples of a combination of alternate transportation system work well in Curitiba, Brazil.


and maintenance of this expansion of the street network could be factored in cost-benefits analysis for mass transportation systems in order to show its feasibility.

In addition, it can be argued that sustainable transportation planning is more viable in Latin

America. First, since car ownership is low, there is a natural need for public transportation. The state should improve service and quality and encourage people to use it in order to capture existing demand. This will avoid the expensive costs in expanding the street network, which also helps to produce further environmental effects.37 Second, public transportation can be combined with a pedestrian-bike-bus system to complete the loop of human oriented urban form. The combination of different types of transportation is not only necessary for the function of each one separately but also brings enormous benefits like less pollution, less waste, less loss of valuable land at the periphery and so on. Further, the possibilities of having sustainable transportation planning are especially relevant for the poor since it is the labor force who typically uses the street as pedestrians and demand public transportation to go to work.

• Land use controls

Due to high migration and concentration o f job opportunities in urban areas, cities in Latin

America will continue, inevitably, to add population. Hence, it is likely that the city will have to expand in spite of its high densities. Environmental sustainability would have to deal with the creation of policies that provide for the appropriate expansion of the city while using high density strategies but with more creative land use patterns so the surrounding natural environment is not entirely destroyed.

First, management of high densities as a means to produce a compact urban form (not crowded) is important to protect environmentally sensitive areas at the city edge and within the city. Since the city in Latin America is rather dense, less density, more public and open space is important.

Therefore, the utilization of density as land use control should be carefully enforced. In other words, density management as an strategy should brings various outcomes: it should provide for more dense urban areas, but it should provide for more open space allocated for environmental protection, and it should not overcrowd the urban space so pedestrian interaction can occur safely and comfortably.

Second, more compact cities as a result o f high densities require mixed land uses, which is already present informally in Latin America. This strategy controls the expansion of the city, as distances are not as big as they could be. As a result, cars are less utilized and the possibility for efficient mass transportation increases. Since mass transit systems are more likely to be incorporated in Latin American cities than in North America due to proven demand (Burgess,

Carmona & Kolstee, 1997), it can be concluded that these cities are in a better position to have a more energy-efficient urban form with less air pollution.

37 Like the “Heat Island Effect,” common in large US and Latin American cities. The Heat Island Effect is produced by the absorption of solar energy through parking lot areas and streets paved with asphalt. The absorbed heat is released at night increasing city’s temperature up to 5 degree (NASA, 1999).


3.2 Social Sustainability

3.2.1 In the context of North America

The general idea of sustainable communities is that planning should be able to respond to the social concerns of the city while recognizing a balance within the regional, national, and global sustainability. Social sustainability requires social equity by meeting basic human needs, personal development, human health, and citizen aspirations.38 To accomplish such objectives, social sustainability requires fundamental changes in social structures, institutions, and individual behavior.

These fundamental changes may begin at the city level by fostering community interaction, improving community links, and creating more livable places. These concepts have been summarized in North America as the “sense of community,” which can be created by designing a supportive built environment. In particular, the improvement of the quality of life for American cities through architecture and design of the built environment has been addressed by a recent planning movement called New Urbanism. The “sense of community” is one o f the basic pillars of New Urbanism.39

New Urbanism has been identified as means to pursue social sustainability, which aims to improve the condition of people who live in the city. The movement argues that the current city planning practice disrupts the community because it disinvests in central cities, segregates sectors of population by race and income, augments environmental deterioration, endangers wilderness, reduces availability of productive agriculture lands, and, more importantly, increases decomposition of the society.40 The New Urbanism centers its efforts in the recuperation of urban centers, the reconfiguration of sprawling suburbs, the conservation of the natural environment, and the preservation of architectural legacy.

General principles of the New Urbanism include a social fostering built environment characterized by a mixed-used development that concentrates commercial activities in town centers, and distributes civic spaces and buildings throughout the neighborhoods to contribute to their character. Neighborhoods are planned on a quarter mile radius, which result in a five- minute walk from the neighborhood edge to its center41. The design principles emphasize the creation of public spaces including defined squares and parks that provide places for social activity and recreation. The final objective is to help citizens come to interact with neighbors and watch over their collective security, developing a sense o f community.

38 William Rees “Achieving Sustainability: Reform or Transformation”. Journal of the Planning Literature, Vol. 9,

No. 4, May 1995.

39 Peter Katz, The New Urbanism: Towards an Architecture o f Community, McGraw Hill, 1994

40 Ibid.

41 Andres Duany & Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Town & Town Making Principles, New York: Rizzoli International

Publications, Inc., 1991, Pg. 21.


Although broadly criticized42 as well as acclaimed,43 advocates of the movement have influenced the decisions o f developers regarding the design of new towns and cities. In fact. New Urbanism recognizes that “physical solutions by themselves will not solve social and economic problems, but neither can economic vitality, community stability, and environmental health be sustained without a coherent and supportive physical framework.” 44 The reality is that New Urbanism’s design principles have received the attention of many developers because of its clarity and success in the housing market.

In terms of sustainable community planning. New Urbanism principles coincide with many aspirations of sustainable development, but has its failures. The aspirations include the elimination of elements in the city that disrupt society such as: car dependence, zoning that separates uses, street design created for the automobile, lack of public spaces for community interaction, absence of open spaces, and deterioration of environmentally sensitive areas.45 These problems are the outcome of the sprawl phenomena already discussed. The failures include the lack of addressing social equity issues and extensive problem with actual implementation of planning and design. Perhaps the most critical failure is that New Urbanism projects become elitist and often exclude the possibility of offering affordable housing.

In North America, social equity is a popular issue in urban planning. In fact, suburbs in US cities are characterized by large subdivisions with uniformity of race, income, and age. Housing market mechanisms support this homogeneity resulting in segregation o f specific areas of the city, depriving neighborhoods of the rich and diverse urban form as well as urban character that are proper of socially healthy cities (Katz, 1994). It is considered that the suburban pattern of development hinders possibilities of distribution of benefits for the majority by avoiding neighborhood mixture and diversity and encouraging homogeneity and proliferation of enclaves by income and race (Calthorpe, 1992).

The New Urbanism movement attempts to address the issue of social equity but it is largely ignored. For many, projects developed under New Urbanism principles replicate suburbs despite their opposite intentions. The pattern of suburb development has also been adjudicated to cultural issues, the nature of the American dream to have a single-family house, which allow independence but also bring isolation and community disruption (Katz, 1994).

When subdivisions are planned for specific demographic groups, typically middle and upper classes, amenities and community services become available to the economic possibilities o f such groups only. As a consequence, poorer subdivisions lack open space and other community services. Segregation and gentrification is the common outcome. This circumstance affects especially groups like the young and the elderly (Duany & Plater-Zyberk, 1992). The lack of neighborhood diversity deprives the city from having richness and distribution of costs as well as benefits for most people.

42 See in particular: Ivonne Audirac and Anne H. Shermyen, “An Evaluation of Neotraditional Design’s Social

Prescription: Postmodern Placebo or Remedy for Suburban Malaise?.” Journal of Planning Education, Vol. 13, Pg.


43 See in particular: Jack Lessinger, “Penturbia: Where the real estate will boom after the crash o f suburbia?.”

Seattle: Socio-Economics, 1991.

44 Charter of New Urbanism,

45 Peter Katz, The New Urbanism: Towards an Architecture o f Community, McGraw Hill, 1994


In general, New Urbanists and sustainable community planners strive for the creation of new models of towns that pursue livability of cities through development of community interaction and sense of place.46 These principles include mix-use land and high-middle densities arguing that the compact urban form is economically feasible while it fosters a sense of community.

Although the achievement of their social objectives is still under discussion. New Urbanism principles in North America represent a big step towards change in community planning.47 In any case, the importance of this movement is based on the fact that it is an alternative in urban design to reverse the effects produced by sprawl.

3.2.2 As interpreted in Latin America

• Sense of Community: improvement of social interaction through provision of better

built environment, especially for the poor.

In general, the built environment that can be seen in North America does not support activities with the same degree o f intensity as the built environment of Latin America cities. Here, cities usually have more pedestrians on the streets; there is no need to look for mechanisms, as manipulation of the built environment (New Urbanism principles), to bring people on the street as in most cities in North America. The central issue is that the built environment needed to support pedestrian activity is often lacking in Latin America, whereas in North America there is a built environment but lack pedestrians. This is because the built environment sustains the car and not people.

In Latin American cities, social sustainability could be applied in different ramifications. The first one could be the improvement of the built environment as a fostering mechanism to improve quality of life, but with some variations. Some New Urbanism principles can be adapted to the needs for social interaction and improvement of livability at the local level but others may be irrelevant.

First, pursuing the sense of community through community interaction may not be as relevant in

Latin America as in North America since the urban structure and the Latin culture has favored such interaction for decades. The problem o f social interaction in some Latin American cities is that they lack planned public spaces, which provide for opportunities of safe and sustained citizen interaction.

Second, New Urbanism recommendations for higher density and mixed land use would not be applicable in Latin America. The typical city has a compact urban form, usually very dense, as a legacy of the colonial city. In addition, most Latin American cities have a generalized mixed land use due to the lack of planning and impossibility o f enforcing minimal city planning regulations.

46 Aberley, D., “Planning Sustainable Communities Workshop,” in W.E. Rees, ed.. Planning fo r Sustainable


A Resource Book, Vancouver: UBC Center for Human Settlements, 1989. Pg.122.

47 For more information see Michael Southworth, “Walkable Suburbs? An Evaluation o f the Neotraditional

Communities at the Urban Edge.” Journal American Planning Association, Vol. 63, No. 1, Winter 1997, Pg. 44.


While in North America recent land use planning is trying to promote a built environment with mixed uses and high densities to support pedestrian-oriented activities, subnormal developments in Latin America where the poor people live already have these activities but, again, lack the built environment which is conducive to safe social interaction. Most of the cities in Latin

America, hence, have grown “naturally" showing a land use pattern that seems to correspond to what is being planned in North America.

For marginal communities in Latin America, an extremely dense urban area leaves no room for citizen interaction, except directly on the street itself. Much o f the public realm and urban space is occupied by private land uses that maximize lot occupancy, thus reducing space to pedestrians.

The reduction of public space occurs by ignoring the law at large. The pressure for land occupancy and unplanned development usually hinders possibilities of having even modest open spaces, parks, and streets with enough space for comfortable pedestrian circulation, hence for social interaction:

The lack of public space in marginal communities is particularly an issue because the amount of pedestrians circulating on streets is generally high due to massive use of public transportation. In contrast to the US, people in marginal communities in Latin America rely almost entirely on public transportation. Although the number of cars in Latin American cities augmented substantially in the late 90’s, car ownership for the poor is still very low, thus increasing the need for public transportation and flow o f pedestrians on the streets.

In summary, Latin America cities and especially poor marginal communities have a deficient or lack a built environment with sufficient urban space and public realm to support a sense of community. There is a strong pedestrian activity that already facilitates citizen interaction but the build environment to support it is minimum or, put simply, does not exist. Whether there is urban sprawl or extremely dense cities, the bottom line is that poor planning or no planning is responsible for many ills attributed to the lack of social sustainability. A better planning that foster compact and denser development would lead typically to more sustainable and livable urban environments (Roseland, 1992), but an extremely dense and compact city will result in a not very livable place as well.

• Social Equity: more relevant to improve the conditions of the very poor.

Another ramification of social sustainability is the issue of social equity and the improvement of the living conditions for the less well off through a more equal distribution of costs and benefits for the population inhabiting the city.48 This is a valid approach for both Latin American cities and US cities. In Latin America, social equity is addressed from the perspective of improving the distributions of costs and benefits for the very poor. In particular, improving the living conditions of the population living under the poverty line (Hardoy & Satterthwaite, 1989), regardless of their race and ethnicity as could be the case in North America.

48 William Rees “Achieving Sustainability: Reform or Transformation”. Journal o f the Planning Literature, Vol. 9,

No. 4, May 1995.


The issue of having a more heterogeneous composition of the community by race, income, and age become less important in Latin America since poverty levels span to different groups of people. In fact, the demographic composition o f squatter settlements is quite diverse (Mathey,

1997). The issue in Latin America is that income level persists as a factor for marginalization and segregation regardless race and age. The typical Latin American city is characterized more by a sharp division of the poor and rich, represented in the contrast between urban from that exist in the middle of the city and the urban form that exist at the city edge.

In addition, the issue of social equity gains more importance in Latin America than in North

America precisely because the level of poverty in the south is far below the north baseline. It should be acknowledged that the poor in the north are not comparable with the poor in the south.

The needs of the poor in the south are mainly basic supply of infrastructure (sewer, water, and electricity) and ultimately community services to improve their quality of life whereas the needs o f the poor in the north are perhaps to have less racial segregation, more access to amenities and more open space and community services.

Finally, the strongest issue of social equity in Latin America is the provision of affordable housing. Although the need for affordable housing in North America exists, the proportion and quality of housing need for the Latin American poor is substantially bigger. In fact, through fimdraising activities, direct government support and in general a better economic base from the wealthy, the poor of the north can greatly improve its condition compared to the poor in Latin

America. Proof of this is that the poor in the north rarely lack the basic infrastructure of utilities and streets whereas in Latin America that is precisely the case.

3.3 Economic Sustainability

3.3.1 In the context of North America

Perhaps the most difficult challenge to achieving sustainability is in the economic realm. Indeed, for economic experts in the ecological sustainability a “transition to a Post Industrial economy requires a corresponding shift from consumption to efficiency;” in other words, “doing more with less.”49 Encouraging the reduction of consumption of natural resources, reducing waste, and recycling, can help to restore the balance between consumption and production.

This fact suggests that the society as a whole and the productive systems must be redefined. In the case of housing, the real estate market and the building industry are determined by the prevalent economic system. Therefore, the transformation of the city should begin in parallel with the transformation of the economic system. Although this is complex, sustainable community planning as a profession may contribute substantially to such a transformation. Until today, specific economic conditions have favored sprawl o f US cities, bringing economic growth in the short term. But, as discussed, the economic rationale that has fostered sprawl is economically inefficient in the long run.50

49 Paul Hawken, The Ecology o f Commerce: A Declaration o f Sustainability, Harper Collins, NY, 1993:

50 Van Vliet, W., “Human Settlements in the U.S.: Questions of Even and Sustainable Development.” University of

Toronto Center for Urban and Community Studies, Toronto, 1990.


One of the clear examples of the city’s economic rationale is the impact of sprawl in affordable housing in North America. The existing economic system has worked within the real estate market forcing households to live in less expensive communities located at the edge of the city or even further. The affordable housing available in these conditions has generated other costs that are not considered in the price of the house but reduce the income of the household. Households must have two cars to travel the long distances in order to meet basic needs, thus, reducing require high infrastructure costs (up to $30,000 per house)53 that are added to the final price of the house.54 This situation has further impacts at the larger scale such as additional commuting, traffic congestion, and air pollution that substantially diminish the quality of life.

Sustainable development proposes the creation o f communities that strive for better quality of life but the construction of sustainable homes may be expensive given the quantity of amenities, quality of construction, and additional technologies necessary to protect the environment. These technologies and amenities include the provision of a dual water system, more open space, waste disposal systems, and the utilization of sustainable building materials in the construction of houses. In North America, sustainable technologies and amenities added to the required energy efficiency principles bring substantial additional costs to the final price of the houses.

However, sustainable urban planning in cities of North America could ameliorate costs of expensive homes. In fact, pedestrian oriented communities intend to provide 50% of the jobs within a walkable distance to help reduce air pollution and automobile dependence for low- middle income families. This urban planning criterion brings savings for dwellers with the potential possibility of depending on one car exclusively. One car would be enough to meet the needs of traveling long distances and could help families save money to afford for a more expensive house. Although all these benefits derived from sustainable planning cannot totally diminish the expected initial price of homes with better quality and natural amenities, the concept suggests that it is through this approach that awareness about the possibilities for affordable ‘sustainable’ housing can be achieved.

Another solution is to address financial mechanisms that are available to take into account the benefits of sustainability. In North America, the Municipal Improvement District bond financing mechanism is being implemented successfully (e.g Civano in Tucson Arizona). Through this mechanism, dwellers of sustainable planning and design receive direct benefits in the form of low interest rates as part of the cost of the house. Those interest rates apply to the costs of infrastructure or off-site improvements, which is paid bi-annually in the form of taxes. When the benefits of more efficient land use form are demonstrated, then the financial mechanism can operate to bring affordability. North America has demonstrated that a more efficient urban form brings savings for the city in terms o f maintenance of infrastructure and public services. Those savings can be passed to consumers in the form o f lower finance rates or lower taxes.55

51 Peter Calthorpe, “New Strategies for Suburban Growth.” The New Pacific, N o.l, 1989, Pg. 44-54

52 Peter Calthorpe, The Next American Metropolis, Princeton Architectural Press, 1993.

53 “Fees Cast Shadow on Affordable Housing,” Housing and Development Report, San Francisco: Bay Area

Council, October 1991.

54 Prices of affordable housing are possible because of the low price o f the land existing at the city edge, however, the increasing number of additional costs borne by sprawl makes difficult to keep lower prices.

55 An example o f this approach is the Community of Civano in Tucson Arizona, currently under construction.


In North America there are also other advanced and innovative financial mechanisms that are rooted in the sustainable criteria. For instance, there are “Energy Efficient Mortgages” based on the special financing available from the Department O f Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for residential units meeting Energy Efficiency Home Guidelines56. Buyers meeting these guidelines are eligible for a two percent “stretch” in qualifying ratios. As a product o f the guidelines’ enforcement, households make savings in monthly energy bills that can be used to cover higher mortgage payments.

3.3.2 As interpreted in Latin America

The possibilities of economic sustainability in Latin America could lead to an endless discussion o f whether or not the worldwide economic order, global markets. Neo-liberal economies and the like interfere in the fair application o f the distribution of wealth and natural resources management (Burgess, et al 1997). In Latin America, many researchers (Brugger, Fairbanks,

Gutierrez, Holden Lindsay, Martinez,Sfeir-Younis, 1998; Guevara, 1996; Martins, 1995;

Mitchell, Passe-Smith, 1998) agree on the unfair competition of markets, dependency from international banks policies, and willingness from more developed countries to make possible any sustainability at the economic level.

However, economic sustainability could be possible if implemented in a gradual manner. For

Latin America, this means that incremental steps in policy making and case-by-case project development can open the door for the actual implementation o f economic sustainability. More specifically, economic sustainability can emerge with the support of feasible projects aimed for sustainable development, appropriate technology development, and other ideas that strengthen the local economy.

For instance, the proliferation of local NGOs and the support o f their projects by other international NGOs with funds show that at least some distribution o f wealth can be channeled for social equity and environmental protection efforts. The redistribution of wealth in poor countries has been explored by NGOs and wealthy nations, particularly after the failure o f local government to allocate direct monetary aid from wealthy countries, which is wasted in bureaucracy and corruption (Burgess, et al 1997).

• Reduce proliferation of marginalized communities through the provision of more

affordable housing—removing market failures

The interaction between housing supply and demand determines the total deficit in housing for the poor. Due to high patterns of migration from the countryside to the cities in Latin America, it is a fact that the demand of housing rises to a very high rate. As housing demand for the poor is typically greater than housing supply, it is difficult to completely stop the proliferation of marginalized communities. Further, there is a higher increase of households compared to the total production of houses, which worsens the problem.57

56 Energy Efficient Guidelines include minimum levels o f insulation in walls, roofs, floors or slabs, exterior doors and other for six climates in Arizona.

57 According to the DAPD in Bogota, development o f marginalized communities during the 1985-1993 period provided housing solutions for 30,000 families yearly, consuming 240 hectareas per year (595 acres). Bogota will


However, the difficulty of providing more housing solutions for the poor lies also in different types of “market failures.” When the production of houses via the market cannot meet the increase in demand and, simultaneously, when people who demand housing cannot afford the housing produced by the market, then, the phenomenon o f “market failure is produced.”58 Faced with the issue that providing a house for all the poor is a very elusive goal, local governments can at least work on reducing some of the market failures that exist in the building industry.

The first market failure lies in the fact that the poor population has no access to buy the affordable housing available in the market because of its income level. Since raising the income o f the poor is a macroeconomic problem difficult to solve, the first alternative is to reduce the cost of the dwelling unit as far as possible.59

Possibilities to reduce the cost of affordable housing deals with cost structure analysis, which essentially reduces the cost o f those items in the construction budget that represent the higher percentages of the total budget. For instance, for low-income housing projects in Latin America, the higher costs for a house are represented in the cost of the land and infrastructure. By subsidizing and controlling the costs in such issues, the benchmark for affordable housing price begins to fall.

The second market failure is the lack o f participation of builders in the production of affordable housing. This typically occurs because builders concentrate efforts on high-end products from which they can have a larger profit margin, which is precisely not the case of affordable housing.

Particularly in countries where the economy is strong, there is likely more concentration of housing production for high and middle-income people.

The third market failure occurs when the effects o f valuation on housing price increases the price o f the affordable housing product. This is due to a constant increase in land price, infrastructure cost, and lack of housing supply. For instance, past planning experiences for low-income housing for the poor have given good results in terms of physical improvement of the built environment by providing good qualify urban design and provision of services. However, valuation of these houses due to normal market behavior has restricted its access from poor communities, even though the goal has been to provide housing for the poor.

A strategy that has been implemented in North America to overcome different market failures is to improve the accessibility of affordable housing by developing housing finance mechanisms specifically tailored for the poor. This strategy may or may not work in Latin America as it will have 700,000 additional households by the year 2010, based on modest estimations. This means a rate of 55,000 households per year, from which the market based on current housing production would only effectively absorb

30%. Source: “Exposicion de Motivos v Provecto Acuerdo.” Metrovivienda, Alcaldia Mayor de Santafe de Bogota,


58 The concept o f “market failure” applies to different goods and services and it is directly linked to the elasticity of demand. Source: Weimer, D.L. & Vining, A.R., “Policy Analysis: Concepts and Practice.” Prentice Hall, New

Jersey, 1999. Also, based on concepts of demand and supply provided by Metrovivienda.

39 Metrovivienda in El Recreo has already addressed this issue o f reducing the cost of the dwelling unit at below the current benchmark for affordable housing.


depend ultimately on the housing finance mechanisms of each country. However, a general criterion suggests that mechanisms such as low interest rates for homeowners and builders and financing specially designed for low-income families can work successfully.

In addition, a tax exemption structure can be analyzed and incorporated as subsidies in the financing mechanisms using concepts of sustainability. In fact, energy efficient mortgages and water conservation tax-deductions implemented in the North America could be adapted to the

Latin American reality. For instance, low-income families in Latin America showing dependence o f mass transportation systems, demonstrated by having no cars, could see their taxes reduced on street improvements, air pollution and infrastructure of services.

In consequence, it is important to explore economic sustainability within the existing economic framework for housing project viability. That is, to study the economic opportunities that already exist in the structure of costs and market failures that are present in the building industry. The possibilities of affordable housing lie in a careful analysis of cost structure and budget distribution, including financing mechanisms and special private-public ventures and negotiations, subsidy structure, and market opportunities (Metrovivienda, 1999).

• Supporting the “informal economy” action

Another alternative that contributes to improve local economies is to support the “informal economy” that operates in most cities of Latin America (Pozos, 1996). This is the economy that is supported by thousands of individuals who use the public realm (the street) or their house to sell their products. In other words, there is a source of income that is generated neither at home or at the work place, and is “informal” in its behavior and output.

In marginalized communities that have been established for years, it is typical to find small businesses operating in the garage or entire first floor of the dwelling unit. The purpose is usually the production of some good or service that is an alternative source or the only source of income for the family. The production of goods or services at home either for family consumption or for commercial purposes helps to reduce the costs and expenditures that a family requires to meet living costs (Pozos, 1996). The informal economy helps substantially to generate income and contribute to the well-being of the family and the community as a whole.

On the other hand, there are complementary ideas for the informal economy such as concepts of permaculture, harvesting water and energy, recycling at home and the like are all in the same line of thinking, which allows a family to operate alternatively to the market but certainly involving it. These strategies can be promoted in Latin America cities which precisely need the use o f renewable natural resources in balance with the operating economic system.

The idea of “producing” at home through the incorporation of spaces in the dwelling that allow that purpose has been proposed for sustainable planned communities in North America. Having the dwelling units as place for production of energy and food, on-site jobs/self employment generation rather than a merely place of consumption is a key strategy toward sustainability and affordable housing (Van de Ryn, Calthorpe, 1986).


In Latin America, this is often a common practice in the dwellings of the urban poor.60 However, it has been manifested more as a negative characteristic of the self-help urban pattern than the planned urban development. Nevertheless, the incorporation o f the informal economy operation through land use planing and design of housing for the poor is a valid approach that strengthens economic sustainability.

• G rassroots development, resource mobilization, community organizations, and NGOs.

The phenomenon of marginal communities at the city fringe is seen as disorganized, chaotic, and poor in quality of life. Due to its magnitude o f growth and political importance, local governments in Latin America have tried to correct the “problem” o f marginal communities.

Governments argued that these communities are source o f proliferation of crime and low quality o f life.

During the 1970’s, the policy was to demolish and eradicate “invasions” of land as not acceptable for the government. This policy has been known as contention (Pezzoli, 1998).

During the 1980’s, governments tried several programs o f public housing without success and fought the “invasion” of land by human settlements through the use o f police force (Hardoy &

Satterthwaite, 1989). During the 1990’s, after failing in their efforts of the 1980’s, governments in Latin America decided to move away from the provision of housing and recognize self-help housing as a solution (although deficient) (Mathey, 1997).

More recently, marginal communities have been seen as an opportunity for the provision of self- help housing. Self-help housing forces have evolved to become solid organizations capable to produce affordable housing solutions, mobilizing human and economic resources to achieve results that are accessible to the majority (Pezzoli, 1998).

Ultimately, self-help housing could also contribute to enhance sense of community and social sustainability in general. Since sustainable development should deal with local solutions that help foster global solutions, improvement of self-help housing emerging locally as grassroots development could result in the origin o f globally accepted strategies that will improve the life of the poor elsewhere. The implementation o f these strategies could speed up social sustainability for the poor, globally speaking, since “the consequences are evident, the necessity to become involved is direct and motivated, and the benefit of action are immediate” (Stokes, 1981). As a matter o f fact, the key in social sustainability for the poor is resource mobilization of human, natural and economic capital toward local solutions (McLaren, 1992). But self-help housing efforts already imply that such resources are globally mobilized.

Social sustainability through resource mobilization can enhance self-help housing efforts by channeling and mobilizing more efficiently the human, natural, and economic capital for strategic support of the sense of community. Strategic support can be done working at the core of resource mobilization through technical support in local production of hosing, low-cost technology development, community self-help organizational strategies, and identification of political tools that empower people to help themselves (REIN’s, 1981).

60 Mary C. Froehle, “The Informal Sector, the Popular, and Public Policy. ” in Globalization, Urbanization, and the

State, Pattnayak, Sayta, University Press of America, Inc., 1996, Pg. 179.


Another important boost for strategic support of self-housing efforts in a more planned approach is through Non-Government Organizations (NGOs). The strategic importance ofNGOs is that they can help mobilize economic resources (from international funds) and sometimes highly qualified human resources that local governments can hardly obtain. In fact, after the UNCED conference held in 1992 many rich developed countries decided to fund NGOs rather than government bureaucracies in order to ensure environmental protection (O’Brien, 1997).

After three decades of debate about the benefits of self-help housing, it can be concluded that participation ofNGOs and citizen based organization (CBOs) as facilitators of self-help housing is by far the most successful strategy from the policy perspective (Mathey, 1997). In consequence, many international NGOs working in Latin America are receiving funds from wealthy countries interested in stopping environmental degradation, which is commonly associated with the actions of the very poor.61

In summary, the provision of housing through community organizational efforts borne in grassroots development and sense of community can receive support from non-profit organizations, NGOs and the like. The idea is to be more efficient and mobilize more resources effectively, doing more with less, and bring results which otherwise could be obtained exclusively via market (Mathey, 1997). Self-help housing efforts can be converted into better- planned human settlements with better life standard. Social sustainability adapted to Latin

America implies the usage of the inner forces that make possible housing solutions in marginal communities. Self-help housing can be reshaped to accommodate minimum city planning standards that guarantee a decent quality of life (Pezzoli, 1998).

61 In the case of Colombia, by 1994 nearly 100 Colombian NGOs created “Ecofondo”, “the largest participative and democratic environmental organization of the Americas” (O’Brien, 1997). Ecofondo is a national conservation fund designated to assist in the establishment of long term financing for conservation strategies (Natural Conservancy,

1996). This fund directed mainly by NGOs (only two government representatives), has received so far $500,000 from USAID, $16 million from the Government o f Canada, and $41.6 million from the Enterprise for the Americas

Initiative, which will be disbursed in ten-year period. Ecofondo has approved 38 environmental projects which will be supervised by NGOs in all over Colombia (Natural Conservancy, 1996).


4. Understanding El Recreo as a sustainable community planning approach

As mentioned in the Introduction of this Master’s Report, the community of El Recreo in

Bogota, Colombia is examined here as an approach in sustainable community planning in Latin

America. However, it is important to say again that the concepts of sustainability—as the literature elsewhere has formulated—were not used in this project as a basis for project planning.

The interpretation of El Recreo as a sustainable community has been done by the author of this

Master’s Report, who has found correspondance of many principles of the sustainability planning theory with the planning efforts pursued in El Recreo by Metrovivienda.

The following is a comparison of the principles of sustainable community planning and the urban planning elements of El Recreo. The comparison is structured using the conceptual framework to address sustainable development issues. Basically, sustainable planning is understood in the three different but interrelated components: social, economic, and environmental sustainability.

4.1 Environmental sustainability

4.1.1 Land use controls

The first connection of planning in El Recreo with environmental sustainability is the strategy that was used by Metrovivienda to select the land for the project. As mentioned before, the land is part of the 21 “Units of Analysis’’ (Unidades de Analisis) for low income housing, which were selected following specific criteria. This criteria specifically agrees with many environmental planning principles.

First, the selected parcels have a very low environmental risk for human occupancy, which is critical because squatter settlements usually occupy these lands ignoring this risk. Some of the risks include land with the potential for flooding. When occupied by these settlements, the City has to assume all the problems dealing with flooding such as infections, destruction of houses, etc. Another risk comes from the location o f people close to areas with potential contamination from waste treatment plants. Finally, areas in close proximity to the west and south mountains have a high potential for landslides and seismic hazards.

Second, only land within the perimeter of the planned infrastructure of utilities was considered.

The idea was to locate these projects in cheap land available at the city’s periphery but within the area covered by planned infrastructure. Sufficiency and availability of infrastructure has usually determined expansion of Bogota. But more important has been the Bogota River, which sets a limit for the planned infrastructure and works as a natural urban growth boundary in the east. In fact, all land beyond the Rio Bogota watershed has been declared a preservation area. El Recreo is located adjacent to the Bogota River watershed and contiguous to its floodplain area. Its urban design involves the protection of the watershed including fauna and flora corridor habitats. All other projects developed by Metrovivienda in the future will retain the same criteria, hence, controlling the expansion o f the city in the east.


Third, El Recreo is not a project planned in isolation but rather the result of comprehensive planning efforts for the city of Bogota as a whole. These planning efforts are summarized in the

Plan de Ordenamiento Territorial POT (Territorial Organizing Plan); a plan proposed as a solution for the social, economic, and environmental problems of Bogota evidenced in the

1990’s. The POT is a planning tool designed to regulate and physically organize the urban expansion of Bogota by the year 2009. The POT is designed to channel public and private investment alike in the solution of city problems originated by fast and conflictive urban sprawl.62 Last, the POT and Metrovivienda are circumscribed within the Colombian Legislation of 1992, which deal with national goals towards environmental planning and sustainable development.

The POT is based on the concept of the “Modelo Territorial” (Territorial Model), which was designed to subdivide and organize Bogota’s metropolitan area into “territorial entities.” These territorial entities are “cities within the city” or areas with employment generation, all commercial and community services, as well as self-administrative function. Some of these

“territorial entities” are large master planned communities with all services, housing and jobs, mimicking the “Ciudadela El Salitre,” a government initiative planned and built in the 90’s with huge market and planning success.63 Located in specific planned areas with mix-used land zoning according to the POT, the Bogota’s Planning Department incorporated limited expansion areas for low-income and marginal communities. El Recreo is located in one of those areas.

In general, the POT incorporates a strong environmental criterion to plan future expansion o f the city, which is expected to accommodate 1.8 million people by the year 2010. The POT is designed to protect all ecosystems included within the projected urban expansion areas through the preservation and sustainable use of the Main Ecological Structure (Estructura Ecologica

Principal). This structure is articulated


the metropolitan park system, the natural preserved areas, and the management of the Bogota River watershed.

4.1.2 Management of land with potential for squatter settlement development

Metrovivienda recognizes that acquiring land in a piece-by-piece basis for its projects would generate speculation in price after public awareness o f their plans and POT goals, but more critically, it could not effectively control the proliferation of squatter settlements. In addition, market trends would force higher prices for land, as landowners are aware of the existence of infrastructure or zoning. Hence, Metrovivienda has decided to buy all land with the potential for squatter settlement development. Also, this strategy allows the government to control, organize

62 Alcaldia Mayor de Santafe de Bogota, “El plan de Ordenamiento Territorial. Una Oportunidad para Santafe de


63 Source: Metrovivienda, 1999. The “Modelo Territorial” (Territorial Model) is a keystone for future planning in

Bogota due to the success of Ciudad Salitre, a built example of the model. The basic rationale of the territorial model is that growth of the city can be successfully oriented and controlled when large tracks of land are planned and receive license for construction. Bogota’s history demonstrates that the growth of the city based on approval of projects on case-by-case basis end up being often conflicting and difficult to manage. By creating these large territorial entities, the city adjudicate comprehensive planning, design guidelines, and construction licenses to specific group of people who is responsible for its enforcement.

63 Alcaldia Mayor de Santafe de Bogota, “El Plan de Ordenamiento Territorial POT. Una Oportunidad para Santafe de Bogota.”


or plan to some extent the growth o f the city, which until now has been chaotic. Metrovivienda will effectively control land supply for projects like El Recreo by:

1. Buying large tracks of land to create “Land Banks” (Buncos de Tierras), strategically located with potential for establishment of squatter settlements, subnormal development or invasions.

The creation of “Land Banks” is a state mechanism by which the city selects and acquires land strategically located for low-income housing. This is a direct intervention in the market of land and works as a strategy to avoid speculation, regulate land value, and capture future

“surpluses” from planned infrastructure. The creation of this mechanism allows the city to expropriate land (occupied or not) by administrative action to assemble “territorial units” of land aimed for project development o f low-income housing. El Recreo’s is part of the first

“Land bank” with actual potential for project development.

2. Retaining the ownership of a large proportion of this type of land (in parcels of 100 to 300 hectareas or approximately 250 to 740 acres), which allows for the control of supply of land, hence, its price under normal market conditions. In fact, the idea is to “freeze” or keep the cost of land stable over time, even before building the infrastructure.65

Finally, by controlling land supply and by offering “planned and legal” housing solutions at a lower price, Metrovivienda not only keeps land prices low and discourages “pirate” developers from participating in the land market supply but it also provides for a sustainable use of all the land that is needed for the poor and critical in the expansion of the city.66 This is because by offering planned and legal communities, Metrovivienda competes in a more favorable position

(price and opportunity cost) with people sponsoring subnormal developments.

4.2 Social Sustainability

4.2.1 Infrastructure planning: control of the built environment

Basic infrastructure of utilities in subnormal developments (water, sewer, and electricity) is sometimes built over a 20-year period informally, most o f the time lacking the minimum technical standards for its normal operation. Typically, pipe diameters, condition o f electric lines, and building materials in general make connection to the city’s main infrastructure network impossible. In these cases, the infrastructure requires its complete replacement at usually 2.6 times higher its normal cost if built from the beginning.67

The POT includes the construction of the main network o f infrastructure city wide (“Sistemas

Generales”), specifically for water, sewer, electricity, and main streets. The provision of this infrastructure includes the expansion areas for low-income housing under the POT criteria, which includes El Recreo within its Units of Analysis. The infrastructure of services follows technical standards in size, capacity and quality of building materials.

65 “Exposicion de Motivos v Provecto Acuerdo.'

Metrovivienda, Alcaldia Mayor de Santafe de Bogota, 1998.

66 Idem.


Politica de Vivienda de Interes Social.” Metrovivienda, Alcaldia Mayor de Santafe de Bogota, 1998.


The POT planned infrastructure also includes the construction of the street network with minimum transportation standards, which is also included in the planned areas for low-income communities. Streets are crucial in these communities since the typical subnormal development has street widths that make it impossible to operate public services such as waste recollection, ambulance service, police protection, etc. Street “normalization” is physically impossible due to overbuilt lots, which leave no room for street widening.

The provision of this main infrastructure network is crucial for the POT because it is a powerful tool to consolidate and organize the expansion of the city. Once the infrastructure is built the

City can better manipulate densities, deal with the rate of housing development.

But more importantly, the provision and construction of infrastructure by the POT is critical for

Metrovivienda as well as the development of organized low-income housing. When land remains undeveloped, waiting for final construction of streets and freeways, human settlements end up occupying it despite the high risk of building there.

4.2.2 Strategic provision of community services and transportation

One of the primary goals of Metrovivienda is to improve the living condition of the poor in

Bogota not only in terms of its basic sanitary conditions but also from the social well-being standpoint. Metrovivienda will improve the quality of life by providing the poor with community services such as libraries, hospitals, parks and other public amenities, which they usually lack.

The intention to provide public services for the poor includes not only the ones for future communities but also the improvement of the existing subnormal developments when possible.

The strategy focuses on locating new community services in strategic places of the city, adjacent to future low-income communities, so the new services can compensate for that lack of them in already established communities.

There is a deficiency in open space in marginalized communities due to disorganized development and huge pressure for land occupancy. Once squatter settlements are established there is physically no room available for any open space. The city cannot provide for it and,

“normalizing” human settlement is impossible from this standpoint.68 Hence, the provision of sufficient open space areas in new projects such as El Recreo is a necessary planning component.

The POT establishes as a mandatory planning element in projects like El Recreo that there should be areas not only for open space and parks but also for hospitals, libraries, etc. that will benefit residents within and outside the community. The development of other master plans for low-income people will have to consider open space for other communities, as well as for future generations.

Community services in El Recreo include four schools, 50 acres of open space and parks, a bike path system, 10 childcare centers, an informal market place (“Plaza de Mercado”), a shopping center, and a connection with the metropolitan transportation system “Transmilenio”. The

68 “Politica de Vivienda de Interes Social.” Metrovivienda, Alcaldia Mayor de Santafe de Bogota, 1998.


provision o f community services for future communities and well as for existing ones is a key planning element in El Recreo. In fact, it serves as one of the three basic criteria (together with location of land and infrastructure plans), in land selection for the study of the Unidades de

Analisis aimed to allocate low-income housing.

Finally, the transportation element in the POT has been carefully analyzed. This is critical because the low-income housing market is very susceptible to the provision of adequate public transportation. This is essentially because car ownership is very low in poor communities, hence the need for quick and easy access to other transportation modes. In general, the POT involves the reorganization of the city’s street network and the improvement of public transportation. In order to accomplish this objective, the POT combines different transportation modes into a metropolitan system. The transportation modes include: the “Transmilenio” project, the “Metro” project, and the suburban train.

The Transmilenio project consists of a network of multi-modal transportation corridors, called

“Troncales.” These corridors combine bike, pedestrian, car, and bus lines flowing as one system.

Different interconnected “Troncales” are dispersed throughout the city in order to serve all income levels but essentially, it aims to serve the poor population living in the periphery. The new Metro for Bogota (subway) will include only a few lines in the main transportation routes due to its cost, but the “Troncales” will serve the entire Metro system. The joined Transmilenio-

Metro system will connect employment centers with Bogota’s downtown and also with the territorial entities. El Recreo has one of the Transmilenio corridors in the southeast of Bogota crossing the site.

4.3 Economic sustainability

4.3.1 Improving housing affordability

Economic sustainability is the keystone accomplishment in El Recreo. Essentially this is true because its financial structure allows more poor people to have access to a planned house that not only will meet their basic needs but it will also help improve their quality of life with the offered community services. It is important to note that El Recreo is borne first in a careful financial analysis by Metrovivienda (rather than in exclusively planning principles), which also takes advantage of many community planning principles to contribute to its feasibility.

In order to offer the poor population more accessibility to buy a house via the market, the financing and cost structure designed by Metrovivienda for El Recreo has been to offer dwelling units below the market’s lowest price benchmarkfor low-income housing. This is possible due to the combination of a series of strategies and subsidies to reduce the cost o f the dwelling unit.

The central goal is that dwelling units will be sold at its cost value. This is being done primarily by controlling the cost o f land and infrastructure, which represents nearly 70% of the total cost.69

69 Source: Based on estimates of the financial structure “Altemativa 1: Gestion Privada Dirigida a Maximizar

Utilidades, Anexo 1- Modelos de Evaluacion Cuantitativa.” The 70% is calculated fora “profit generating” financial structure. Metrovivienda has considered other three financial structures in which the 70% cost share may


Since Metrovivienda will use the Land Banks strategy for supply of land and they build the main infrastructure for public utilities, they can acquire and retain a low cost for both land and infrastructure. Then, Metrovivienda sells improved big lots (also called “super blocks”) to private builders who finish subdivision of lots and actually build the houses.

Private builders make hook ups to the primary and secondary infrastructure network, which represents a minimum infrastructure cost.

It is also important to note that builders interested in El Recreo will have the commitment (deed agreement) to retain profits exclusively from the house construction cost and minimum infrastructure provided by them. Since land and infrastructure already represents about 70% of the total cost value, the profit margin obtained by builders is minimized and the dwelling unit is practically sold at its total cost. After many careful economic feasibility studies, Metrovivienda has estimated that this strategy will allow for the effective reduction of the house price compared to the current benchmark for affordable housing.

Metrovivienda’s estimations show that in order to produce affordable housing solutions capable of being absorbed by the housing market production, the standard low-income housing VIS should not exceed 135 times the monthly minimum wage, and the VIP should not exceed 75 times the monthly minimum wage. In other words, the price range should be between US$ 8,400

(COL$15’000,000) and US$15,000 (COL$27’000,000).

In combination with the goal of selling houses at its cost value, and in order to secure investment and willingness to pay from the buyer, a variety of subsidies has been added to allow even more affordability of the dwelling units (See Table 1). This subsidy structure, of course, includes controls in land and infrastructure costs already mentioned. These subsidies are necessary in order to sustain the range of prices, hence, allowing Metrovivienda to effectively reduce and control a lower housing price.

In addition to the subsidies and control in house price, the financial structure as well as the amount of credit assumed by the homeowner is designed to effectively compete with values of renting a house.70 This is important because many families in marginal communities are forced to rent houses when they cannot buy one or do not want to be involved in the squatter settlement process. Since “pirate” developers typically control the rental of housing stock, Metrovivienda creates a disincentive for the creation o f these subnormal rental developments.

Finally, it is important to note that direct government subsidies to the house price will no longer be allocated by state agencies, which in the past were used to patronize corruption and political interests. The subsidies will be administered by the housing finance and mortgage company directly who will receive the subsidies from the government or non-profit organizations. Housing finance and mortgage companies will study credit applications and then deduct from the total augment dramatically because there is no profit; future payback in avoided costs for “normalizing” a typical squatter settlement plus more social benefits are considered more important that actual profits. Source: “Seleccion de

Provectos: Procedimientos v Criterios.” Metrovivienda, Alcaldia Mayor de Santafe de Bogota, Abril 1999.

70 Idem.


price house price the amount o f direct subsidy, only if the transaction buyer-builder is qualified

or meets the minimum criteria.71

Subsidy S tru c tu re fo r Low -incom e H ousing by M etrov ivien da


In fra s tru c tu re

Building C o n stru ctio n

Create Land Banks (Bancos de Tierra): control supply & demand o f potential land, hence, “ freezing" land price

Level o f subsidy: High

Build main infrastructure (“Urbanism o Primario y Securndario” ) and sell improved lots as “ super-blocks” to developers. Improved lots are sold at its cost value.

Provide allowance / incentive profit margin for developers, but in exchange secure efficiency in results o f housing production and quality that state rarely can make.

Level o f subsidy: Low

F in ancial C ost

M a rk e t co n tro ls to

H ouse Price

By law, secure low rates in financing for buyers and builders o f low income housing

Level o f subsidy: M edium

M etrovivienda secure a guaranteed fix e d house price o f the house by the builder: loss o f potential valorization due to market behavior

Level o f subsidy: High

Q u ality in housing design

& am enities

Enforce different housing product availability within the three low- income range. Distribute o f costs and benefits from amenities represented in better quality o f life.

D irect subsidy to house price

Level o f subsidy: High

Direct subsidy to house price, ranging from US$ 1,800 to US$ 3,500,* either by governm ent through CAVs or by N on-profit organization

NGOs through C C F?s.**

Level o f su bsidy: High

♦Source: Metrovivienda. Price in Colombian pesos $ 3.6 to $6.8 million Price in US dollar calculated by the author.

The C A V ’s are Corporaciones de Ahorro y Vivienda, (National Corporation o f Sav ings and Housing). The CCF's are Cajas

de Compensacion Familiar (no equivalent organization exist in the US).

Table I Subsidy structure to keep house price below market benchmark for low-income housing.

Source: Prepared by the Author, based on data provided by Metrovivienda.

4.3.2 A Cost-benefit analysis approach.

One o f the concerns for the strategy o f Metrovivienda in selling land and adding infrastructure to

its cost value is how to sustain the agency’s capital growth throughout the years, especially since

there is a constant devaluation o f the Colombian Peso.72 It is precisely from a cost-benefit

analysis approach applied to the project throughout the years that the answer appears.

1 Idem.

72 Metrovivienda incur in higher financing costs selling houses at “cost value.” This results in less incoming cash flow, which means loss of capital in about 22% of total initial investment. Source: “Seleccion de Provectos:

Procedimientos v Criterios.” Metrovivienda, Alcaldia Mayor de Santafe de Bogota. Abril 1999, Pg. 6.


One of the pillars in the cost-benefit analysis, and in fact the approach that makes El Recreo feasible, is that Metrovivienda takes into account the payback or savings in costs generated by the “normalization” of 20-year-old squatter settlements. In other words, to lose some capital at the net present value represents less than the total costs that would be necessary for

“normalization” that the City incur if more squatter settlements continue to develop.73

In terms o f economic sustainability it becomes more affordable to sponsor sustainable planned communities today than putting the pressure on future generations to assume the cost. For El

Recreo, in particular, the estimation o f future costs that the city will have to assume due to

“normalizing” a squatter settlement with a similar size and bring it into compliance with minimum city standards represents more than the total project’s cash flow if the dwelling units were actually to be sold at today’s market value.74

Future costs that the city saves by selling houses at their cost value includes street improvements costs, provision of community services, upgrading informal utility connections and operation of water supply and other utilities. Other derived costs are social, such as health related costs resulting from unhealthy urban environments; crime and deficiently built environment.

It can finally be inferred that economic sustainability is derived from social benefits for the community represented in the improvement of the quality of life. Hence, improving life conditions is an equally “economic” important variable for city’s decision-making towards project viability.

73 Costs of “normalizing” a squatter development, which ascends approximately to US$150,000 per hectarea or

US$5,000 per unit, represent 25% of total house price. Source: “Seleccion de Provectos: Procedimientos v Criterios.

Anexo 2.” Metrovivienda, Alcaldia Mayor de Santafe de Bogota, Abril 1999. And estimations based on VIS current house price calculated by the author.

74 Idem, Pg.7.


5. Challenges and opportunities for sustainable community planning in Latin

America: ideas and strategies for El Recreo

After a careful analysis and comparison of El Recreo planning principles and the concepts of sustainable development, this master’s report concludes with the formulation of challenges opportunities for El Recreo to become a sustainable planned community.

5.1 Recession and reactivation of the building industry based on low-income housing

production: market opportunity for El Recreo

One of the most important aspects of El Recreo is the macro economic policy that can be derived from its viability, essentially a policy that can improve the local economy and act as a catalyst for sustainable development. Taking advantage o f a particular housing market momentum, the sponsorship of low-income housing production by Metrovivienda could reactivate the building industry in Bogota, which is experiencing its worst recession in history (Metrovivienda, 1999).

In general, the recent status of the building industry in Bogota shows a housing market saturated in the middle and high income ranges, as a result of the “boom” of this industry in the early 90’s.

The current recession in the building industry is a national concern and is not only in Bogota but also in all the six major metropolitan areas in Colombia.

With the mass development of projects like El Recreo, the industry creates an inertia that can actually transform economic activities of design, planning, and construction into a dynamic and powerful economic vehicle. The strategy consists of using the housing production and building industry potential to transform the structure of the housing demand and supply from high and middle income housing to low-income housing

In particular, the idea consists o f concentrating 85% of the total potential housing production in

Bogota to build affordable housing. This strategy would be feasible because the demand for other income levels are saturated and the building industry is in its fifth consecutive year of recession, which would force builders to engage in any type o f construction if they desire to stay in production.

In addition, it is clear that the demand for low-income housing is by far the highest demand in the housing market, which would create and incentive for low-income housing production. But the building industry would need the institutional support and facilitation of the state to become involved in building for such housing market. This is precisely the mission of Metrovivienda.

In order to make this idea more feasible, Metrovivienda has already considered its role in the recuperation o f the building industry based on some estimates. In particular, the strategy is to leave only 32% of the total potential of construction that the building industry has for the supply of the remaining housing market segments.75 This approach literally restructures the housing

75 Idem.


supply and demand structure that exist today (See Figure 1). The problem is in fact that this structure comes from the boom cycle that was responsible for the recession of the industry.

60,000 —

50,000 —

40,000 —

30,000 —

M iddle/High income housing

Middle / High income housing

Vivienda dt Intents Social


Vivienda de In teres Priori taria



Vivienda de Interes Social


Viv. de Interes Priori taria (VIP)

Current structure

Total housing production structure

(2,5 million

Expected structure

Total housing production structure

(3,8 million sq.mUyear)

Figure 1 C urrent and expected structure of housing demand and supply for Bogota based on Metrovivienda’s strategy to foster low-income housing production.

Source: Metrovivienda, 1999.

The necessity of developers to find economic opportunities combined with a saturated housing market in the middle and upper incomes can lead to the concentration of efforts towards the mass construction of low-income housing. Both factors, willingness of the private sector and market opportunity, favor immensely the planning process and actually building dwelling units for the poor.

Usually, lacking of these two variables has remained as the most important cause for the building industry to refrain from producing low-income housing, as occurred during the boom of the early


For instance, during this boom a total of 33,400 dwelling units were produced by the market, from which only 10,700 units (32%) were for low-income housing due to market behavior and builder’s lack of interest for doing affordable housing. Another fact that supports this assumption is that only a total of 13,500 dwelling units in low-income housing market range were under construction during 1992. That was the best year for low-income housing production in


76 “Exposicion de Motives v Provecto Acuerdo.” Metrovivienda, Alcaldia Mayor de Santafe de Bogota, 1998.


In conclusion, if El Recreo becomes a successful project at build out, private and public efforts can be channeled to build low-income housing in mass following its model. With the combined efforts of the building industry community and Metrovivienda, the production of low-income housing can serve as a singular and unique strategy to reactivate the building industry in many

Colombian cities, hence, serving as a crucial boost for the national economy. Since the building industry usually generates thousands of low-skilled labor jobs absorbed by a large segment of the entire population, essentially the poor, this macro economic policy could work as a tremendous opportunity for sustainable development—improve the local economy. This production would be a unique opportunity to improve the living conditions o f the poor through the development o f sustainable planned communities.

5.2 Community mobilization as form of self-help housing—support of the building industry in the provision of affordable housing

One of the central issues for economic sustainability in Latin America is how to strengthen local economies to obtain sustained growth. The issue of developing strategies for affordable housing production becomes critical for local economies. An alternative for sustainable affordable housing production is to validate the “self-help” housing activities and improve its efforts.77 The basis for this alternative lies on the fact that self-help housing has been the only type of housing production able to cope with a large share of the demand. The problem is that self-help housing has been disorganized and without direction, which has brought more costs than benefits in the long term.

Academic researchers have extensively discussed the impact of lending better support to self- help housing as means to produce affordable housing and even more as means to pursue economic sustainability. For instance, it has been argued that the facilitation of self-housing projects by the government is nothing less than political manipulation of community’s interests

(Mathey, 1997). It has also been argued, that accepting self-housing is just convenient for the

Neoliberal macro economic policy because markets are excluded of all responsibility in its provision (Mathey, 1997). Finally, although it has been argued that enabling the building industry to improve efforts of self-housing production is an alternative solution, some still believe that this would be just another way to allow the expansion of markets. And, since markets ultimately operate under the capitalistic criteria, the exploitation of the poor is inevitable

(Hardoy & Satterthwaite, 1997).

In any case, regardless of the philosophical implications o f supporting self-help housing, any effort that can help multiply its production capacity and contribute to solving the problem of housing in Latin America should be considered. Although the market has disadvantages and failures, most of its mechanisms often work and represent evident benefits. Hence, they could be used to improve self-help housing efforts, understood here as the participation of the building industry to improve self-help efforts.

77 Self-help housing activities are the force that creates squatter settlements, also called marginalized communities.


One of the main advantages of housing production by the market lies in the ability of the building industry to actually plan and build housing solutions under technical standards that help secure safe conditions for living. In addition, housing is often produced retaining efficiency in building materials, costs, and time of construction. But more importantly, houses are actually built with some construction quality. The effects in construction quality and living conditions when the market has been absent from housing production can be seen in the failures o f government programs for affordable housing o f the 80’s (See Mathey and others, 1997).

Another argument is that more thoughtful construction techniques can be developed by the building industry for making more efficient and safe constructions, which means savings in costs of materials and a direct improvement o f the efforts of the self-help housing. In general the value of self-help housing lies in the ability of people to build a significant amount of houses, but the problem is that the final product is deficient in quality o f construction and often materials are over-dimensioned which is ultimately very expensive. The building industry could play a key role here in applying appropriate technology concepts to make the efforts o f the community more efficient.

Faced with the fact that although self-help housing provides many housing solutions for the poor, it results in the creation of subnormal developments that require a “normalization” process that is often expensive. A better structured strategy could be the improvement of self-help housing activities that channels its efforts in a more organized and planned way so built environment that results secures the living conditions in the long term. The participation of the building industry in this objective could be an option.

In order to encourage the participation o f the building industry in the support for self-help housing, the first step of the strategy is to convey this type of housing production as a form of

community mobilization that is able to play a role in project development. Community mobilization can be defined as mass assemblage o f very poor people into community organizations, which use their human and limited financial resources to engage in plans and activities that will secure benefits for the majority, essentially the provision of housing and public utilities but it can also deal with education and public health issues.78

In terms of sustainable community planning, the provision of housing for the poor as a form of community mobilization may represent one of the more practical and efficient applications of the sense of community, essential for social sustainability.

Community mobilization is not only an appropriate solution for the provision of housing for the very poor who might otherwise believe it is impossible to achieve, but community mobilization is also a form to strengthen many other social links and feed family and community values in the process. Through community mobilization people may be forced to talk to neighbors, think collectively, and define goals that will benefit the majority, not only minority groups. Faced with the issue that the market cannot provide for housing for everyone, members of the community are encouraged to work cooperatively to remove market barriers and obtain results.

78 In Bogota, basically people earning between US $120 and $360 a month, or, 98.5% of the group living under the poverty line. That is the minimum amount to afford basic goods and services (Alfonso, et al. 1997).


It can be argued that a sense o f community has been borne more “out o f the necessity" o f the

poor to meet their basic needs and obtain services while receiving legal recognition by the

government. It has been rarely seen as a valuable “social" accomplishment. In fact, community

mobilization has not been well received by the local governments, since it represents a non-

traditional approach and, for a long time, it was even considered as an illegal strategy to obtain

housing. This is also, o f course, because it has been used by politicians to gain constituency and

for unscrupulous people (“pirate" developers) to secure economic interests. For years,

community mobilization has been the subject o f strict government control through formulation o f

different “contentious policies" from central governments, particularly in the face o f

environmental disruption in the city (Pezzoli, 1998).

But after consistent failure o f the market to provide housing for the very poor, (considering the

inefficiency and impossibility o f government policy in Latin America to address the issue o f

housing, and recognizing that community mobilization has produced housing solutions for

many), a new perspective has emerged. Community mobilization as a type o f self-help has been

validated as the single and most important type o f housing production (Mathey, 1997).

Acknowledgment o f this fact is evidenced by the history o f housing production for the poor, at

least in Bogota (See Table 3)


1938 - 51

1951 -64


1973 - 85

Types of housing production

Market Custom

By government programs

23.3 %

23.8 %







4.6 %




Self-help construction

55.2 %

42.1 %

49.9 %

49.9 %

Table 3 Proportion o f total dw elling units built in Bogota between 1 9 3 8 - 1 9 8 5 , classified

by the different types o f housing production (% o f total dw elling units)

Source: S. Jaram illo, La V ivienda en Bogota, C ED E, 1992.

Community mobilization is perhaps the only alternative that the poor have to solve their housing

problem. Its major importance lies in the fact that it combines the efforts o f many individuals and

thousands o f people to achieve collective benefits: a mass “sweat equity" effort that allows

people to afford a house. As a result, community mobilization has received increasing attention

as a valid and effective strategy for housing solutions that can be channeled and guided to

multiply its results (Inter American Foundation, 1997).

The second step o f the strategy to support efforts o f self-help housing consists o f actually linking

the building industry with organizations created from community mobilization forces.

Community mobilization has rarely been seen as able to play a key role in planned communities,

however, it is recognized today as an important mechanism in the provision o f housing. The idea

is to explore possible partnerships between the community and the industry to develop projects

that follow technical standards and minimal planning regulations.


Traditionally, community mobilization shapes organizations that deal with governments directly and has rarely been considered in projects via the market. But it is possible for developers to work with these organizations directly to tailor architectural design and planning products, secure absorption rates in sales, and ultimately encourage more developers to produce affordable housing.

Strategies for El Recreo:

• Community mobilization can play a key role in the planning process and success of El

Recreo. Organizations representing the interests of many could be invited to provide feedback in architectural design, project feasibility, and financial structure, which would be tailored to their actual needs that represent feasible options for future residents.

• Parts of the project can be built by the organizations themselves through sweat equity but always maintaining the design and planning parameters establish by the planners o f the project and meeting the standards that the city government requires. It is important to remember that the city will support the project because it is more cost-effective for them to sponsor these type of projects than “upgrading” or “normalizing” squatter settlements after

20 years of establishment.

• Sweat equity from communities can be used in massive construction o f dwellings by the direction of private and public professionals, who through collaborative efforts can cut construction costs and provide a more affordable housing product. In addition, more quality in construction can be expected as the labor force works for themselves as well as for other future residents.

• The city government would be interested in playing the strategic role of “facilitator” of the efforts of the community in building housing (Alfonso, et al. 1997). This can be done by providing technical supervision of construction plans, which must meet legal and minimal technical regulations required by the city. This strategy is known also as “assisted self-help housing,” which is defined as an efficient government intervention in housing production

(Mathey, 1997).

• The role of the city as “facilitator” can also work as a subsidy to the indirect costs of construction, which are typically paid by the developer and charged to the consumer.

In essence, community mobilization represents a potential stakeholder able to be involved in housing production via the market without losing its essence and purpose. In fact, the history o f squatter settlements in Bogota show that these communities are increasingly more organized and more capable of getting involved gradually in housing projects via the market. Community organizations have better organized themselves, improved their income force, developed fundraising strategies, and, in general, established conditions that reduce the risk involved in market driven projects (Alfonso, et al. 1997).

The city government should work more with the community as a mobilizing force to improve their efforts, rather than fight or deter their intentions. In addition, the government should channel those efforts to achieve planning objectives, such as guiding a more organized and controlled expansion of the city through the provision of housing for the poor. In this sense, the government can create an important mechanism able to compete effectively against other forms


o f housing productions, like disorganized squatter settlements and housing built by “pirate” developers, which are expensive to maintain and difficult to otherwise control.

In terms o f sustainable community planning, multiple forms of community mobilization incorporated on project development help secure more affordable products, ultimately an economic sustainability goal for communities. More affordability is always a concern for housing the poor, but its impacts are greater on projects like El Recreo that attempt to be inclusive in amenities as well as community services which could potentially result in more expensive products.

5.3 Community-based partnerships: link between communities, the state, and NGOs.

Starting with the premise that community mobilization is a tremendous mechanism to meet basic needs of housing and services, the idea is to strengthen its possibilities of participation in housing production in a more regularized and planned strategy. That is, to have a less spontaneous urban force and more a mechanism that can shape the city form adequately. It is also, to make community efforts more efficient, and look for alternatives that allow the growth of Bogota without jeopardizing the natural environment at the city’s fringe. In order to do this the government can explore possibilities of involving these organizations in partnerships with state agencies, facilitated by the participation of NGOs.

Community-based partnerships with state agencies and supported by NGOs have already been explored in Bogota, Mexico City, Santiago de Chile, and Lima with success (Alfonso, et al.

1997; Pezzoli, 1998, Mathey, 1997). NGOs assisting citizen-based organizations have played a key role in international cooperation, bringing strategic support for the poor to become better organized and engaged in planning activities for housing. In particular, the external support of the NGO has been very important in the negotiation between public and private entities and the community itself to solve critical issues of project implementation. In fact, many NGOs have already participated in the process of planning and conflict resolution of self-help housing dilemmas by request from the community organization or by the government (Mathey, 1997).

In addition, partnerships between community organizations and NGOs can be explored for housing production via the market. Traditionally, production of affordable housing for the very poor has been difficult via the market. Reasons vary from risk of investment, to financial barriers or simply to allocation of resources in other housing products more reliable and profitable. With the progress in grassroots development and better community organization and its ability to get involved in economic activities, the trend strongly suggest that the momentum is there to explore alternatives of linking community mobilization with NGOs to produce housing. The recent history of self-help housing development in Bogota illustrate this possible partnership with

N G O s

(Alfonso, et al. 1997).

Strategies for El Recreo:


• Considering that squatter settlements in Bogota tend to be less “spontaneous” and communities now show a higher degree of organization (Alfonso, et al. 1997), the search for

“external” support from NGOs for formal construction of housing is likely. The community- based organization representing a pool of individuals can work as a single client with specific needs and possibilities that can be studied by NGOs looking to support future housing development. Projects like El Recreo provide the institutional framework for such partnerships to be explored and operated under the market mechanisms.

• El Recreo also provides for the opportunity to explore any partnership between developers and the state or NGOs with community-based organizations as clients to build housing tailored to their specific needs. This is not only convenient for Metrovivienda who has proposed a market-driven approach for housing production to make the project work, but also for the future developers themselves who would be very interested in participation in such partnerships in the future to secure home sales. This partnership also reduces the economic risk and facilitate involvement of the financial institutions who are ultimately the ones giving construction loans, assuming credit obligations from the community, and finally the ones that make the project real.

A further strategy for Metrovivienda in the development o f other future projects like El Recreo, could be the facilitation o f partnerships between landowners and community based organizations in the production of housing (this would be an alternative to land supply using Land Banks).

Land ownership status in Bogota recently presents a tendency in which large tracts of land that are available or the interest of poor people have become less “invaded” (creating squatter settlements) and more legally occupied. This fact is supported by a tendency in the last years for communities to become organized to secure land for their housing and actually reach a deal with the owner of the land. In this deal, often economic in nature, ownership and future of land are negotiated and the owner plays an active role because he is less interested in a potential

“invasion” with all the implied litigation consequences and more in reaching an economic deal with the community (Alfonso, et al. 1997). With landowners involved in project development through partnerships, the housing market can more easily operate and Metrovivienda can facilitate this process.

With the landowners, the community-based organizations, the institutional support of the government, and the market involved in the production of sound housing for the poor, is likely to have a feasible mechanism that better competes with the traditional forms of squatter settlement such as land invasion and “pirate” housing developments. This is also possible because a trend shows that the poor find it more convenient to try to live in a housing development that is legal, that has necessary technical standards, and whose ownership is known, rather than trying to risk in an “invasion” of land and struggle in the future to become legal and obtain utilities and services through the “normalization” process by the government (Alfonso, et al. 1997).

In conclusion, the approach of Metrovivienda in making El Recreo economically feasible for developers to become involved may need strategic participation of various stakeholders. Such participation can be done through the creation of various types of partnerships with the community and other external entities. The involvement o f the housing industry can be a critical one, but it is necessary before the empowerment of the community to participate in decision­


making of housing product type. Involvement of the community in determining housing product types is important because housing for the poor must be designed and produced for their specific needs, otherwise the building industry would not be able to reduce the risk involved. But this is also critical because it is the community, after all, who will purchase and occupy the dwellings.

5.4 Physical planning: seeking affordability through design and planning

The house price as a first issue in sustainable affordable housing has already been addressed by the economical and feasibility structure in which Metrovivienda is founded and is making possible in El Recreo. Essentially, Metrovivienda will offer dwelling units with a reduced price compared to the current affordable house price benchmark. As discussed elsewhere in this report, although the reduction in price is not substantial, the amount of people that can aspire to have a house via market increases substantially with a minimum reduction in the house price.

The idea of seeking affordability through design and planning consists of looking for complementary strategies to make it even more affordable to live in El Recreo. The idea is to be able to design a housing development that helps the poor sustain life and work activities in the most affordable way possible. That is, to reduce living costs typically borne in the consequences of living in a built environment that is expensive. Costs in transportation necessary to go to work and buy basic goods, and monthly costs of basic public utilities (water, electricity, and waste disposal) are essentially those costs that most affect the monthly income and ultimately the purchasing power of the poor. The design and conceptual definition of the built environment may be the responsible for the increase or generation of high costs.

This is critical in El Recreo because the sector of the population that it is desired to be involved in the project is precisely the one who would live in squatter settlements, where water and electricity are frequently stolen and not paid in monthly bills, until 20 years later when the neighborhood is “normalized.” With substantial savings in transportation and utilities, the poor will have more income to spend in monthly mortgage bills rather than on living costs. As a result, that portion of the poor population who would still think that they could not afford a house via market in El Recreo can now start thinking about qualifying for a house.

In order to obtain these savings in transportation and public utilities, a fine-tuned built environment is necessary. This can be the result of adequate site planning and architectural design dealing with transportation and land use issues, which play a significant role. Public utilities can be addressed from the perspective o f sustainable design, which at the scale of the house uses resource conservation measures like energy efficient design, water conservation techniques, and waste disposal systems to recycle garbage.

The cost associated with the collection and disposal of solid waste produced by the poor may be significantly reduced or even eliminated. As acquiring raw materials is expensive in Latin

America, it is likely that industries would be willing to collect classified garbage that can be recycled, essentially at no cost for the poor. Following the line of thinking of resource efficient communities, the government can launch a sustainable program in partnership with the industry to make this possible. The city government could even subsidize the transportation cost since it


results in a savings in solid waste disposal. The poor would contribute to the program by classifying the different types of waste, which can be facilitated through an appropriated device included in the design of the kitchen in the house.

Strategies for El Recreo: e The first strategy is affordability by providing better transportation planning and urban design adjusted for pedestrian-oriented developments. Transportation costs can be reduced first by facilitating housing for the poor along the main axis where the metropolitan transportation systems operate (already addressed in El Recreo). The second step is to articulate such transportation systems with the internal multi-use circulation systems, bike- trail-pedestrian-car, operating within the project (not determined in El Recreo yet). These two strategies will work as determinant variables to define site planning and urban design issues.

• The transportation element should carefully merge with land use decisions. The first strategy to reduce transportation costs completely is to provide most of the sources of employment within or adjacent to the project itself (not addressed in El Recreo). Land use planning can facilitate this strategy and the city government can formulate tax incentives for businesses locating close to projects like El Recreo. This strategy brings two direct benefits for the poor.

First, they can walk or bike to attend their daily work so no money is spent on transportation.

Second, the poor would not spend commuting time, which can be used in having a parallel job or alternate source o f income (or even disposable time for the family). This is particularly important in Bogota because the average time of commuting from the city’s fringe to the major sources of employment is about two hours (four hours total daily, 20 hours per week).

• In terms of meeting the needs of the residents to have access to goods and services elsewhere in Bogota, the location of El Recreo is privileged. It is strategically located along one corridor of the metropolitan transportation system. This will include in the future rehabilitation of the old train lines as regional-suburban trains, the mass transportation system Metro in Bogota, and the “Transmilenio Project.” This project combines the

“Troncales” (bus-car shared system, used with success in Brazil), public buses, light rail, and pedestrian-bike metropolitan routes, all articulated to the metropolitan transportation system.

However, within El Recreo, site planning should be structured to better connect the internal circulation of the project with the metropolitan transportation system. The site plan should address explicitly this connection, which is critical to reinforce the pedestrian oriented character that the project should show. Using circulation elements that combine multi-use transportation options (bike-pedestrian-car path corridors) can enhance the connection. The idea of enhancing the pedestrian-oriented character is not to preclude the poor from using the automobile but rather to discourage the necessity of having one to meet their basic needs. In fact, El Recreo already provides space for automobile parking but in form of a collective parking area used by the entire community.


It can be argued that all the mentioned transportation concepts are consistent with some US strategies aimed in sustainable planning, essentially the Transit Oriented Development

(TOD) used in the West Coast. From this TOD concept, an internal circulation element that connects the city circulation element can be adapted. But in addition, this element, that is a combination of different transportation modes, can be utilized to guide the site design of housing. This is critical in high-density projects.

In general, the urban fabric of housing in Bogota shows high densities and is by far less auto- oriented compared to the US cities. In fact, it is precisely the residential areas where the poor in Bogota live that are more pedestrian-oriented. But they just need a city form able to support rather than discourage pedestrian transportation. In summary, the urban fabric in

Bogota shows conditions that make it easier to implement sustainable planning strategies, such as pedestrian oriented and high-density residential areas, aspired but difficult to implement in US cities.

• Affordability can be also pursued by better land use planning and tailored zoning for the poor. The typical land use pattern in subnormal developments in Latin America is mixed and presents a direct correlation between land price, density, activity, and privacy levels. It is typical in a “normalized” human settlement in Latin America that the high-intensity land use is located along the streets where higher costs tend to be and most of the pedestrian activity occurs. Commercial, high density residential, and mix uses (first floor commercial, three floors of residential) are high intensity uses that are usually accommodated along streets. As a result, land prices along main streets and avenues rise and the market has responded to price trends. At the interior of the block, away from streets, residential uses are frequently less dense with less intensity, and with less pedestrian activity, thus resulting more privacy.

Although this mixed land use pattern has worked well for years and has demonstrated its benefits in reducing transportation needs (as well as being consistent with land cost structure), it has been largely ignored in planned housing projects. The few housing projects for the poor done by the private or public sector typically concentrate large tracks of residential use, which at the end is modified by the residents to incorporate more uses. The mixed use land pattern can be evaluated by planners and adapted to work through zoning in a more organized way. For instance, community services such as schools can be allocated using urban design after zoning is known. Mixed land uses have the enormous benefit of serving as an employment generation mechanism, which provides jobs for the residents within the project.

• Following the pattern of land use developed and empirically improved in many “normalized” squatter settlements, the possibility of having a mix agrarian-residential land use emerges.

This land use is rooted in the agrarian traditions of the dwellers that are typically migrants from the countryside and want to have livestock and grow some vegetables in the backyard.

Although this sounds awkward, the truth is that sustainable design principles in fact suggest the possibility to incorporate such activities not only in the yards of the dwellings but also as a strategy to encourage people to interact with others when becoming involved in such activities. As problematic and difficult as it sounds, for the urban poor it results in a land use


that makes a lot of sense since it results in a savings in living costs. In fact, appropriate technology and tropical agriculture research demonstrate that natural products, which can be developed in very small space in the yards, can yield highly productive rates (Weisman,

1998). Other alternatives that have been explored in the US and probably can be adapted in

Latin America are “community gardens” maintained by residents of poor neighborhoods who use “sweat equity” to produce basic vegetables for the entire community.

• Finally, a strategy recommended in El Recreo is to include “Life-Work units” as a form of mixed land use. Life-work units are nothing different than providing a space in the house that can be used to develop an economic activity, which can generate an alternative source of income for the poor. This idea also comes from observing the land use pattern that exits in subnormal housing. It is clear that most of the dwelling units have some sort of economic activity operating usually in the garage of the house. This type of economic activity is tied to the idea of fostering the “informal economy” operating in Latin American cities at large, which was mentioned in economic sustainability for Latin America elsewhere in this report.

The idea of “Live-Work” also means to advance the implementation of resource efficiency concepts addressed by the economic sustainability criteria. For the poor, the dwelling unit is often the most important and only resource they own. Hence, they are forced somewhat to take advantage of it as far as possible to improve their living conditions. Usually, the poor are looking for ways to increase their income and are often skilled in hand labor jobs. But these jobs have to be developed in a room and they cannot afford to rent a space to do it. Hence, the availability of a house that can be fully used for living as well as for working activities is an important issue that can be adapted for El Recreo.

In summary, the recognition of some of the patterns in the land use of subnormal development can be incorporated in urban design plans for affordable housing. Later, they can be supported through the development of zoning according to such land use patterns. By using urban design and master plans based on these concepts, community efforts as well as cultural values are channeled to produce an urban environment less detrimental for the poor, more culturally identifiable, and more practically enforceable from the policy perspective. This strategy, in addition, is a local response to global problems, which agree with the entire concept of urban sustainability.

The idea then is to plan and channel the growth o f the city using trends (cultural and economic) that are easier to enforce and apply. The role of urban design is to organize and provide spatial quality for the built environment so that the activities that already take place are developed safely. The role of architecture and urban design is to support the activities that already exist in the culture and that agree with the basic concepts of sustainable development.

As land uses in subnormal developments present a correlation of those uses with land prices, and the market ultimately absorb such land use pattern, the possibility for urban sustainability lies in the recognition of such forces (market and community forces) and, in the adaptation of them to propose new housing developments aimed at satisfying the needs of low income people. As

Pezzoli argues, the idea of sustainable development is not to impose foreign models but rather to


recognize, retake, and reutilize ideas and concepts that have emerged from marginal communities that have demonstrated its validity because they work in the long term.

5.5 Close application of environmental sustainability tailored to El Recreo needs

The ultimate mechanism for land use control is that cities should not grow to the point they exceed their “carrying capacity.” This is relevant in Latin America since the abundance and , fragility o f ecosystems surrounding most cities is invaluable. Carrying capacity is defined as the possibilities for an ecosystem to sustain a human settlement over time.79 Sustainable urban development supposes that the city is a living organism where humans and environment interact with each other. The cities in Latin America should not exceed the carrying capacity of the ecosystems that support them and sustainable urban planning should estimate this capacity to measure its impact in the natural environment.

This last strategy is critical in the evaluation of the problem of proliferation of marginal communities in Latin America. The carrying capacity concept is important as a reference to control and foresee the survival of human settlements at the city fringe. Since more urban area demands more natural resources and these are typically supplied by the surrounding countryside ecosystem, the carrying capacity could be exceeded thus putting pressure on more distant ecosystems to supply resources (Brown and Jacobson, 1990).

The ultimate impact in the carrying capacity of an ecosystem could be estimated by the pattern of urban development developed over time and the resources necessary to maintain it. The pattern of growth should observe quality rather than quantity, the integration of land use and transportation planning, the possibilities to expand infrastructure of services, and the natural urban growth boundaries like rivers and mountains.

Strategies for El Recreo:

• Macro issues of land use planning can be considered for the assurance of the permanency of the poor living in projects like El Recreo. That is, trying to retain an affordable way of living throughout the years. Although there are variables difficult to forecast in the future (e.g. interest rates, etc. as the market is involved), the city government can strive to secure water and energy supplies at an affordable cost in the future.

Here, the concept of sustainable urban living known as “carrying capacity” plays an important role. As the city will expand in the future (1.8 million people in the next five years), the government should look for means to measure the carrying capacity of the surrounding ecosystem to maintain the supply of energy and water. Since this type of indicator is still under research, a good approach is to establish the total consumption of energy and resources that the poor will need in the future, particularly those that have to be drawn from the immediate ecosystem of the “Savanna de Bogota.” Once the needs are

79 Aberley, D., “Planning Sustainable Communities Workshop.” in W.E. Rees, ed., Planning fo r Sustainable

Development: A Resource Book, Vancouver: UBC Center for Human Settlements, 1989. Pg.122.


determined, the government can develop plans to sustain and maintain the supply of those resources so they can still be offered at an affordable price for the poor.

• As an extension of the carrying capacity application, future projects developed by

Metrovivienda can be studied considering the amount of people that will occupy a potential area and establish its impact on the ecosystem, that is, their basic needs in terms of natural resources such as water, energy, waste disposal, etc. Then, Metrovivienda can search and select strategic locations in the urban periphery that can support this population without critically disturbing the ecosystem.

To date, Metrovivienda has done substantial planning studies, but they are more tied to land ownership and its availability to have housing for the poor rather than actually measuring the impact of El Recreo and other future projects on the surrounding ecosystem. In the meantime, the alarms have sounded and the Minister o f the Environment has just recently limited the expansion o f Bogota in the north due to its impact on the ecosystem of the Bogota

River watershed.

In order to improve the carrying capacity of the nearby ecosystem to support the poor; the idea is to produce a built environment that is as efficient as possible in the consumption of natural resources. For instance, an energy efficient urban form results in an efficient system for the provision of public utilities. Metrovivienda can use this concept to measure better the impact of their communities in the environment.

In summary, since meeting basic needs for affordable housing typically means the provision of water, sewer, and electricity, environmental sustainability should be seen in El Recreo not only as management of land and infrastructure but also in terms of a resource-efficient built environment. Strategies for resource conservation should be implemented beginning in the house design itself through sustainable design practices.80 The combination of sustainable strategies for the house as well as for the entire urban fabric is crucial for the City of Bogota, since they should be able to provide public services at a reasonable cost in the future.

5.6 Combination of housing products through mix of incomes improves affordability and distributes better cost and benefits for the entire community—social equity

The final strategy proposed here improves the sense of community and at the same time brings more affordability for the poor. The strategy consists of combining different housing products in

El Recreo, targeted to different incomes within the affordable housing range. This is possible since the population included under the affordable housing group is large in Bogota. In fact, as mentioned elsewhere in this report, three out of the six income ranges that constitute the housing market are considered for affordable housing.

80 Sustainable building design can also be incorporated in development o f low income housing through energy efficient-appropriate technologies, solar technologies, for tropical and non-tropical climates such those developed by

El Centro Las Gaviotas in Colombia, which has produced low cost water heaters for 12,000 dwelling units in the low income housing development of El Tuna! southwest Bogota (Weisman, 1998).


The different housing diversity achieved by offering dwelling units at a price accessible for the three lowest income ranges (Vivienda de Interes Social VIS price range), would be complemented with the incorporation of the new housing market range (Vivienda de Interes

Prioritaria VIP).81 This mix of incomes, even though it is within the low-income range, brings subsidies and affordability for the very poor. This is because people with higher incomes would be moderately charged more for the house price in order to pay for the amenities. That money is used to subsidize the cost of open space and other community buildings that cannot be covered by people earning the lowest income, even less by the people that represent the marginal community group.

The idea of fostering housing diversity has multiple benefits for projects o f low-income housing with a large amount of dwelling units, such as El Recreo (7,000 units approximately).

Traditionally, affordable housing developed by the private or public sector in Latin America is very monotonous in nature because a large amount of houses built for the same income level are concentrated in one place, hence, the housing product look the same.

In addition, when affordable housing has been concentrated for a specific income level, further negative consequences emerge. Since it is typical that a low-income family is struggling to survive and has to spend their limited income in living costs, the poor usually lack the funds to afford maintenance or repair costs. This applies equally for in-door maintenance as well as for the maintenance of the community services such as parks. The ultimate consequence of this situation is a strong deterioration of the public space that results in a decrease o f the quality of life. More dramatically, it results in a decrease of the market value which is a disincentive for the market, the building industry, and the city to sustain more projects o f affordable housing.

Strategies for El Recreo:

• A careful site planning design and project planning can organize various housing products located in different places within the same development. The mixture of housing products can be spatially organized by groups through the use open space, pedestrian corridors and other site plan elements to separate them if necessary. Hence, a potential clash of social classes are less likely to emerge. On the contrary, it is expected that adequate site planning brings social interaction and strengthens diverse community values. This can be possible since the idea in El Recreo would be that different housing products could retain a more or less homogenous demographic group.

• Another strategy to actually eliminate maintenance costs of amenities and compensate people in the higher income groups for being charged more for the cost of amenities is to organize sweat equity efforts of the people in the lower income groups to provide for this maintenance. The cost can be 90% assumed by the higher income groups whereas the lower income groups with sweat equity assume the maintenance. Nevertheless, the enjoyment of

*' See all the relevant information in this mater’s report section titled “Metrovivienda’s mission: Enlarging housing supply for the poor via market.”


the amenities such as open space, parks, probably childcare centers, and other basic service centers is for everyone. This strategy would work as a source of job generation within the same development beneficial for everyone.

Finally, given the size of the projects like El Recreo that Metrovivienda will develop, we could argue that the mixture of housing products is nothing other than the replication o f the complexity and density of the urban fabric in Bogota. The incorporation of different low-income groups in

El Recreo brings housing diversity to the project, which is a value recognized in healthy neighborhoods.



• Not all-sustainable theory developed in North America can be applied in Latin America.

However, sustainable community planning offers the conceptual framework to formulate local solutions in the context of sustainable development. Local solutions are the perfect approach for thinking globally and acting locally.

• El Recreo can be seen as a gradual approach in the participation of the market system into the formulation of solutions that are economically sustainable and sound. The planning experience in El Recreo shows that there are more feasible means to make this participation if the willingness of the state and the market are present. More importantly, projects like El

Recreo allow for the development of sustainable communities despite existing market barriers.

In addition, although removing those market barriers is complicated from the macro- economic standpoint due to the operation of a global market system (which to a large extent creates more poverty), experiences like El Recreo are improvements to a small degree that can take place in local economies and are not necessarily affected by the operation of big market forces.

• After seeing that sustainability in El Recreo has emerged more from an “out of necessity” situation in Bogota rather than a sustainable planning approach (as it could have been the US approach), it can be argued that sustainable development emerges and is implemented more easily when the environmental, social, and economic problems are so evident that there are few alternatives. In addition, many feasible ideas for sustainability emerge from solving those critical problems and should actually be extracted from observing how people in Latin

America survive facing those problems.

When the problems of the city and its country reach a critical point, a further conclusion would be that it is likely that sustainable development will emerge and can be implemented more easily because people feel the need to change—extremely adverse problems force people to create alternative solutions.

• Local governments should be able to work on mechanisms that discourage the creation of subnormal development. Although it is impossible to completely meet the demand and needs of affordable housing for the poor it does not necessarily mean that something cannot be done to at least improve the lives of many. A community like El Recreo is a clear example of what can be done to make an impact and create an inertia that could help solve the problem of housing in Latin America.

• Although the consequences of the development o f squatter settlements are still negative, what is important to see is that such forces have evolved into community mobilization efforts that make self-help housing possible. Community mobilization has evolved to create community-based organizations that are more willing to get organized and do self-help housing assisted by the market than rather work completely in isolation from the community and continuing the process of “invasions” that shape marginal communities.


• The use of market mechanisms such as the building industry to promote sustainable communities may sound contradictory if the implications of market operation are considered.

However, it is perhaps working within the market that sustainable design and planning can be pursued with significant impact. The promotion of showcases like El Recreo under this perspective may help sustainable community planning actually use the market to influence public opinion about the importance of the concept and the implications in today’s pattern of living.

• Physical planning should be tied to environmental planning and economic rejuvenation when solutions are formulated for the poor. Sustainable communities should be designed to provide a space where the poor have the opportunity to protect the environment and interact with it by using its resources in a sustained way, including sources of income that allow the alleviation of poverty without destroying the environment.



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