September 21, 2007

The New Era of Latino Urbanism

By James Klein

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA (KPRENSA) – The first part of the 21st century will be dominated by cities. It will be urban. For the first time in the history of the humanity, more than the half of the population of the planet will live in cities.

In that historic context, urban development is more important than ever. Urban development involves diverse disciplines, from urban design to urban planning to urban management. All of these define how cities are planned and how those plans are executed.

Antonio Villaraigosa, the Mayor of Los Angeles, and Enrique Peñalosa, the former-Mayor of Bogota, Colombia, are Latin American leaders in North America and South America that are recognized as leading the new urban movement and they are developing new solutions to problems that confront the largest cities of the world.

Antonio Villaraigosa and Los Angeles, California

Antonio Villaraigosa is the current mayor of the city of Los Angeles, California. He is the first Latin American mayor of Los Angeles since 1872. Villaraigosa was elected mayor 2005. Before he was elected mayor, Villaraigosa was the Assembly Speaker of the State of California, as well as member of the City Council of Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is the second largest city in the United States. It was incorporated as city in 1850. By 2007, the population reached 4 million in the City alone, with a total of 9.8 million for the entire County of Los Angeles. Los Angeles is one of the leading economic, scientific and entertainment centers of the world. The city is also one of the most cosmopolitan places in the world and is the home to people of almost every nationality.

The Partnership for LA Schools

Villaraigosa believes that the low performing schools need new ideas, new leadership and more resources. That is why he created a nonprofit organization, the Partnership for LA Schools, to create alliances with prep schools of the LA school district. Most importantly, the program is designed to eliminate bureaucracy and give the community more resources and control of the schools in their area.

“We are talking about developing programs for the 20 prep schools with the lowest performance,” said Villaraigosa. The mayor will select the directors of Partnership for LA Schools. They will include a representative of the teachers, another of the parents, and one member of the local business community.

“The directors will be the responsible for administering their schools, the parents of family and teachers will have a real voice ,” the mayor said, adding that the administrators of the staffs will be able to decide with more liberty how to distribute the funds assigned to the school. This will be a significant innovation for the school system in Los Angeles.

Fighting Climate Change with “Green LA”

Villaraigosa has created a plan to convert the jungle of asphalt that is LA into a world model of ecological conscience and energy efficiency. With the name “Green LA”, the plan’s goal is to reduce the emissions of CO2 from the Los Angeles by 35% by the year 2030, continuing the steps of more than 200 American cities that have determined to go beyond the agreements of Kyoto.

Part of the “Green LA” plan of action is to transition 35% of the total electricity needs of the City to renewable sources by 2020. To reach this goal, the City will employ several strategies that include energy conservation, improving existing power stations, and investing in new sources of renewable energy.

Conservation is the most effective strategy decrease the demand for energy. LA has implemented programs to encourage conservation by commercial businesses and residences. Several power stations of LA are supplied of fuel by natural gas. Improving these plants with the latest technology will increase efficiency, reducing the amount of fuel necessary to produce an equal quantity of power. Finally, LA will invest to develop clean solar and wind energy sources from nearby desserts and windy mountain-tops.

Enrique Peñalosa and Bogota, Colombia

Enrique Peñalosa, former-mayor of Bogota, Colombia (from 1998 to 2000), is an economist and historian from Duke University in North Carolina with a Masters in Management and a doctorate in Administrative from University of Paris. As an expert in urban development, he has been a consultant to cities in Asia, United States, Africa, Australia, Latin America and Europe. Peñalosa is currently running for another term as Mayor of Bogota.

Bogota, capital of Colombia, is located in a plateau of the Cordillera Oriental of the Andes, some 2630 meters above sea level. The City was founded on August 6, 1538, and consolidated over time as the cultural, political, economic, and historic center of the country. The most recent census put the population of Bogota over 7 million inhabitants. Bogota has developed into one of the most important business, political, and cultural centers of Latin America.

Developing the TransMilenio System

In the decade of the 1990s, Bogota confronted many problems with its urban public transportation. The old buses were mostly obsolete and insufficient for a city of over seven million habitants people. Initiated by then-Mayor Enrique Peñalosa, TransMilenio is the mass transportation system that changed Bogota.

In general terms, the TransMilenio system of Bogota consists of large, articulated vehicles that run in dedicated lanes along predetermined routes. They only stop in a number of stations located in the center of a main avenue that is called a Troncal. Each station has an average distance of 500 meters from the next. The system functions like a Metro or Subway but with articulated buses instead of trains. Among transportation planners this type of system is called a BRT, or Bus Rapid Transit. The TransMilenio system has been a huge success since its opening and become the model for other BRT systems throughout the world.

Creating New Communities with MetroVivienda

MetroVivienda is a public benefit corporation of the City of Bogota that promotes the construction of housing and complete neighborhoods with all the public utilities and other necessary amenities. Created by Peñalosa during his first term as Mayor, the program operates as a land bank and clearing house for property similar to a real estate agency. It purchases and urbanizes large parcels of land and subsequently sells them to private construction companies for the further creation of housing units. It orients its efforts to the developing housing for low income families, including those that face difficulties in obtaining credit.

Their main objective of MetroVivienda is to create new communities and promote infrastructure development for low income residents of Bogota that replace unauthorized construction of inferior, and often unsafe, housing. MetroVivienda designs fortresses, urbanizes the land and creates plans of sale that permits builders to agree to built-up apples. Although MetroVivienda neither builds nor sells housing, it is in charge of organizing and qualifying the resources in the process of constructing communities.

Cities will continue to get larger and problems of urban development will increase. Villaraigosa and Peñalosa show that there are Latino leaders capable of meeting the challenges of the cities of the new century.

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