An urban policy, according to UN-Habitat, “provides an overarching coordinating framework to deal with the most pressing issues related to rapid urban development, including slum prevention and regularization, access to land, basic services and infrastructure, urban legislation, delegation of authority to sub-national and local governments, financial flows, urban planning regulations, urban mobility and urban energy requirements as well as job creation.” The traditional urban planning policy, while similar in its notion, concerns itself more with design and management of the physical environment, and is less concerned with being responsible as a driver of economic development
The Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) is in the process of developing an urban policy to support responsible urbanization strategies in the Caribbean organization. It convened a Regional Urban Policy Stakeholder meeting on 7th -8th March 2017 at CDB’s Conference Centre, Barbados with the assistance of the Caribbean Network for Urban and Land Management, represented by Dr. Asad Mohammed and Dr. Perry Polar, and Keios Development Consultants.
Seventeen of the Bank’s nineteen Borrowing Member Countries had representatives at the meeting. These were Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Island, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago and Turks and Caicos. Several international, regional and local organizations and individuals reflecting numerous sectors were also in attendance. These included the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), Pan American Health Organization and World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), The University of the West Indies (UWI), Barbados Tourism Investment Inc (BTI), Barbados Town Planning Society (BTCS), and Economic Commission of Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
The following were some key takeaways from the stakeholder meeting:
Recent changes in the international development agenda has emphasized the importance of the urban sector as signified in both the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2016 New Urban Agenda at Habitat III. SDG 11- the urban SDG, provides a clear linkage between the international development and urban agendas not evident with the preceding Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Critical to implementing the New Urban Agenda will be the localization of the SDG’s in the urban context.
In Latin America and in the Caribbean the urban sector is of growing importance with its 80% urbanization rate, the highest rate of any region in the world. There are salient differences in the urban context between the predominantly small and island countries of the Caribbean compared to the larger Latin American region, which is illustrated in the Caribbean Urban Agenda, being championed by the Caribbean Network for Urban and Land Management and the Caribbean planning fraternity. The issues to be addressed in the Caribbean region include a general lack of urban policy, small size, inequitable income distribution and dominant levels of informal settlements, limited human resources and institutional fragility and the continuous susceptibility to natural disasters.
There have been attempts at urban sector discussions in the Caribbean since the mid 1980’s –mid 1990s with the Caribbean Conference for Town and Country Planning and a revival with the Caribbean Urban Forum annually since 2011. This workshop organized by the CDB to support the development of their Urban Policy Framework helps to deepen that ongoing dialogue.
Governance issues are multiple and varied with the first being a lack of clarity of which ministry is responsible for Urban Policy. This applies to most countries in the region. While planning is a key element, the varied elements of urban policy often encompass many ministries which often have weak coordinating and integrating mechanisms. There also appears to be a separation between those planning for urban area and those implementing urban interventions. Guyana is an exception with a Ministry of Communities including housing, planning and municipal governance.
In the countries where municipal government exists in the region, many elements of urban policy and action exist together at that level. Urban policy and programmes could possibly benefit from the trends towards devolution and decentralization such as what was taking place in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Belize and Guyana. Particularly promising were measures to improve financial autonomy of local government and the direct election of Mayors in Jamaica and Belize.
However, many countries in the region have felt that small size militates against effective local government and have no second level of government. In such situations, development corporations, such as the St John Development Corporation of Antigua, can provide elements of integrated urban planning and implementation. Where neither formal local government nor development companies exist, interagency coordinating mechanism can support integrated urban policy. Good regional examples of such practice, which also includes civil society participation, can be found in Gros Islet, Soufriere and Vieux Fort in St Lucia. However, even where formal local government exists there appears to be critical need for integrating sectoral planning and implementation across silos within an urban development framework.
Informality and settlement planning is seen as an important intersection between planning and implementation. The Trinidad and Tobago experience was seen as a regional good practice with a statutory base, a dedicated agency and experimentation with appropriate regimes of infrastructure and site development standards. However, present approaches to informal/ illegal settlement regularization in the urban periphery which has perpetuated single-family solutions, are no longer tenable in the context of limited land space and energy inefficiency. This strongly suggests full urban interventions need to be addressed.
Given the widespread nature of informality combined with poverty in the urban area makes enforcement challenging and regulatory agencies are practically bystanders. Meaningful interventions are more appropriately focused on improving access to infrastructure and services, and economic activity.
Supplying basic Urban Services and infrastructure seems to be pivotal activities when implementing urban policy in the Caribbean. The rate of urbanization seems to be constantly ahead of the ability of the State to provide the infrastructure and service backbone to urban growth. Given the high susceptibility to natural disasters in our urban areas, these would be critical elements of improving the resilience of urban populations. Haiti provides some useful illustrations. While this may be the extreme case in the region, the issues were symptomatic of the region. The Cayman Islands would be at the other extreme.
Water supply, sanitation, solid waste management, public transportation and even accessibility are serious challenges in almost all the Borrowing Member Countries of the CDB. However in planning such interventions the role of municipal government, cost recovery mechanisms and the proper targeting of subsidies remain important issues.
Environment and Climate Change are real underlying issues of urban policy and programmes that are not always tangible to affected communities and politicians. The issues around Disasters Risk Management may provide a better focus for planning and policy. The discourse between low density development and the “cultural preference” to single family detached housing in both private and social housing is critical and recurring. Some countries are finally focusing on limiting the urban footprint, and addressing vacant lots and buildings. The issues of inland flooding and coastal inundation remain critical in a region where approximately 65% of the population lives on the coastal zone. Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) and resilience are thus important crosscutting issues.
Social Issues remain mostly a matter of rhetoric rather than policy form in the urban sector. Recognition and stating of these issues are important steps but more needs to be done to deal with mainstreaming the interconnected social issues in urban policy. There is an assumption that gender is not a major problem because we have “strong women”, however, there remains severe inequalities between women and men. Further, other gender issues have social impacts, as in the case of Jamaica, the ostracising of homosexuals have led to the development of informal/illegal settlements in “gullies”. Issues such as vending, livelihoods, harassment, gender, poor infrastructure, crime, public space policy and housing need to be addressed in the context of the “right to the city” as espoused in the New Urban Agenda. The urban context must be recognized not only as the location of these many social issues but as the place where the economic dynamic allows us to find solutions.
Monitoring and reporting frameworks are key to the successful development, prioritization and implementation of any urban policy agenda in the Caribbean but relevant data for those exercises are limited and often does not extend beyond the project life. The deliverables of the project tend to be monitored but not whether the project has achieved its original objectives. It is thus difficult to know if the impacts are being sustained after the project is completed. There are also critical definitional issues to be sorted out in the urban sector of the Caribbean such as the meaning of urban and rural.
There has been ongoing discussions at the Caribbean Urban Forum on the establishment of a smaller set of focused Caribbean Urban Indicators but no specific agreements. Everyone wants a just a few indicators, but everyone wants their indicator included. There are good reasons that, while data and indicators are collected by countries, they should be interpreted within a comparative Caribbean Framework that is related to international frameworks. Urban indicator frameworks should also be linked to national indicator frameworks as was being done in some countries with the MDGs, and localising the SDGs provide a good opportunity to do that. Finally, monitoring and reporting frameworks are not only for public agencies and quantitative data. Urban policy can also be monitored by quality of life indicators, civil society actions such as the Bogota Como Vamos programme in Columbia and participatory budgeting and management systems at municipalities.
Cross-cutting urban issues were raised in most session. Three are worth mentioning. The first is that third party rights, the ability to challenge decision making of the State, are being introduced through public engagement and participatory planning and governance in the urban sector. However, statutory requirements for such engagement, is very limited. This may be related to the second issue of low civil society engagement in the urban sector and weak civil society generally. The final issue is the need to connect urban policy and planning with implementation. Some useful areas where this can happen in the urban sector of the Caribbean include regularization of the informal urban areas, revitalization and redevelopment of blighted areas and urban design improvements in pedestrian access and walkability, open space and heritage tourism.