Events

Towards a Stable State: Urban Revitilization in the Americas, Quito, Ecuador

December 15, 2004 // 11:00pm

On December 16 and 17, 2005 the Comparative Urban Studies Project and FLACSO, Ecuador organized a two-day forum, Towards a Stable State: Urban Revitalization in the Americas in Quito, Ecuador. This forum, sponsored by the Urban Programs Team of USAID, explored issues of urban identity, governance, and revitalization in order to examine the role local government and civil society can play to encourage a more comprehensive and effective approach to urban development and national stability. The forum provided an opportunity to explore how strategies implemented in other regions can successfully be adapted in Latin American cities. Since economic development is crucial to local and national stability, this forum also explored issues of how urban revitalization can be a part of a solid economic development strategy that is both inclusive and culturally sensitive, how stronger municipal frameworks can contribute to state stability, and how improved urban public policy can strengthen states.
Fernando Carrion, Coordinator of the Program of Urban Studies at FLACSO (Ecuador), opened the forum with a brief discussion of the nexus between identity, memory, political participation, democracy, and economic development. Hector Rivera, Sr. of ARD3 (Ecuador) continued the opening ceremonies with a discussion of ARD's efforts to develop civil society and transportation projects in remote regions around Ecuador as part of the decentralization process that is taking place over the past two decades. Blair Ruble, Co-Director of the Comparative Urban Studies Project WWICS (USA), closed the session by outlining the ambitious intellectual agenda of the forum which will seek to bring together several subjects including economic revitalization, urban renewal, strengthening of the local and national state governments, the sustenance of civil society, and a societal ability to resist terrorism. Dr. Ruble, an expert in Russian and Ukrainian studies, spoke about recent events in Kyiv. He noted how the city streets of a once totalitarian city better known for its Stalinist architecture have become symbols of democratic national rebirth. He concluded noting that the Ukrainian word for plaza, maydan, has now become synonymous with democracy
The first panel, The Politics of Urban Identity: Patrimony and Memory in a Democratic System, began with Ana Maria Goetschel, of FLACSO (Ecuador). Ms. Goetschel presented a paper on heritage politics in Quito on behalf of herself and co-author Eduardo Kingman, a Professor at FLACSO (Ecuador). Heritage and preservation are never technical issues, she argued, but are always first and foremost political acts. The emphasis on historic preservation in Quito has been on the Spanish colonial city and ignores the diverse history of the city. Ms. Goetschel questions why we should legitimize Spanish urban history over other parts of urban history? What about the indigenous history of the city, for example? The past is dead but lives on within us and although the modernization of Quito is incomplete, the ghosts of the indigenous past, the Spanish colonial past, the lost wars with neighbors, and twentieth century political repression are all components of this diverse and complex history which lives on in the city and casts shadows over the decisions inherent in creating an urban historic preservation program. Ms. Goetschel concluded by emphasizing the need to balance and embrace the diversity of heritage that exists in the city of Quito, not just one aspect of it.
Joseph Subiros, of GAO, Idees i Proyectes (Spain), followed with a presentation on the "Barcelona model." Mr. Subiros began by reminding the audience that Barcelona was quite poor at the end of the Franco regime, and had not held democratic elections at the municipal level for over a half-century prior to 1979 and that the city was divided between Catalans and Castilians. Although the success of the preservation efforts in the central area of Barcelona is well know, Mr. Subiros's presentation also drew attention to the pattern of interventions in the peripheral neighborhoods. He stated that these projects made the biggest difference in eroding the divide that exists between the Catalans and Castilians, and helped to make the migrants from elsewhere in Spain feel as if they had a stake in Barcelona. He continued by cautioning that the "Barcelona myth" is just that, and has been enjoyed at considerable expense. The city has an array of complex planning issues including housing issues that were never tackled and slums that remain in the heart of the historic city behind the pretty facades. There are a number of rough edges along which the various components of Barcelona do not fit together comfortably. Barcelona's exceptional years during the 1980s and 1990s can be attributed to considerable focus on supporting small and mediums scale businesses and engaging citizens in local governance. Small and medium businesses are the key to success in historic urban revitalization, however it is important to note that Barcelona, unlike many Latin American cities, has always had an advantage of a highly educated population. Moreover, Spain joined the European Union during this period. The EU aided the city with considerable funds, as did the Olympics. More recently, there has been a focus on larger scale projects. Mr. Subiros closed by stating that the generation of 1979 did not set out to preserve or revitalize the city of Barcelona, but rather to build a democracy, "We sought democracy and got a great city in the process." This is a lesson which needs to be remembered in Latin America too.
Xavier Andrade, of The New School University, was the last panelist in the first session. He spoke about urban revitalization efforts in Guayaquil, Ecuador, the largest city with a population around 2 million people and the country's major port. Guayaquil has long been home to the drug mafia and a local government with a more traditional top-down approach to planning. Over the past decade, the city has tried to capitalize on its location as the main departure point for the Galapagos Islands to become a tourist center. The Malecon district, or waterfront, is currently being converted into a tourist-recreation center with major international companies involved and minimal local interaction. In order to control crime, private security forces have been contracted to maintain order in the various renovated areas. However, Andrade has indicated that the initiative to maintain order and reduce crime has resulted in a restriction of public space for local citizens. Dr. Andrade concluded with an unusual story about the Latin Kings, a globalized gang which has been exported to Guayaquil from Los Angeles. Andrade stated that a rumor began to circulate a couple of weeks ago that someone among the wealthy families in an enclosed community on islands just offshore from Guayaquil became angry with the Latin Kings. The Guayaquil resident put a contract out, and two Latin Kings were killed. Angered, the gang announced it would revenge the death of their comrades by killing ten members of the enclosed community for each gang member killed. Coincidentally, about the same time the rumor began to circulate, a local art student began painting pig graffiti around town. The pigs had some vague advertising purpose and were painted in black, white, or red. Rumors circulated and fueled by the media that the pig graffiti represented the slaughter to come. Black was for death, white for terror, and red for the blood that would flow on the streets of the enclosed community. Only the police were unconcerned, having already figured out what had happened. The entire enclosed community and much of Guayaquil was in a full panic before the art student finally came forward at a press conference to explain the meaning of the pigs. Xavier concluded that this sort of total hysteria is what happens when elements of society close in on themselves.
Paulo Ormindo de Azevedo, Universidade Federal da Bahia (Brazil), began the second panel, The Links between Historic Centers, Government, and Social Engagement, gave a presentation on the divided city. He stated that around $1,100,000,000 has been invested in historic centers in Latin American over the past half century. However, the policies and initiatives rely heavily on European models and the results are never meet the expectation or work as in Europe due to the lack of consideration of local conditions. The critical issues are a denial of the importance of access for all citizens to historical cities and of the critical need for meaningful political participation and inclusion in the process. Modern capital flows are only part of the picture for success. Again, the "cultural tourism model" of development was imported from Europe, but tourism in Latin America is different than in Europe. Unfortunately, these efforts have resulted in only partial success at revitalizing their cities due to poor community involvement and civil engagement.
Lisa Hanley and Meg Ruthenburg Woodrow Wilson Center, followed with presentation that traced the historical development of Quito. They followed the preservation process and policies from the time when Quito was declared a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1978 until recent efforts under the present mayor, Paco Moncayo, in order to examine the impacts of the historic revitalization project on the contemporary city and its citizens. Quito is a city that expanded dramatically in the 1970s due the oil boom and collapse of the rural economy and has been living with the consequences of a growing population. The result is an overcrowded historic center with deteriorating infrastructure and poor services. Recent attempts to revitalize and redevelop the colonial areas have not benefited all sectors of society, particularly the urban poor. The spatial shifting in public space in the historic center has had both positive and negative effects. On the positive side, there is more citizen security, land value and access to public space has increased, as well as better hygiene and more sanitary and safe working conditions, less urban congestion and traffic, and improved infrastructure. These positive effects benefit all of Quiteño society, including members of the urban poor. The economic impacts of the renovation projects, however, have not been as uniform. On one hand, the formalization of informal economies provides income to the municipality through taxes and fees for fixed stalls in the municipal market buildings. Formalizing the informal sector has also decreased the power of illegal trader associations and organized crime, which previously controlled the informal economy to a large extent. On the other hand, the wholesale elimination of the informal economy is problematic. The informal economy has traditionally been an area of the economy that is open and inclusive to the entire population. While the work available through the informal economy may not always provide a stable or sufficient income and may expose workers to unsafe conditions, it fills a necessary gap in the labor market and provides at least marginal income to social sectors that may be excluded from the formal economy. They concluded by noting that the municipality of Quito has been able to engage citizens and provide them with a higher level of satisfaction than that offered by the national government. Because local governments have been able to connect better with their constituents, they tend to provide a certain level of stability within the nation; here, Quito is no exception.
Alejandra Valdes, Hexagrama Consultores, gave a gender-oriented presentation, arguing that the perspective of women needs to be fully integrated into discussions about preservation planning and historic cities. The importance of cities in Latin America is a consequence of a two-decade long effort at decentralization and democratization. Decentralization became a means of breaking up corrupt clientalistic relationships institutionalized by the military-dominated corporatist regimes across the continent. Municipal empowerment has been a powerful means of pursuing democracy by undermining traditional institutions from below with the support of international funding. However, municipalities traditionally do not have the human, technical, or financial capability to take on the job; so all too often decentralization becomes a passing down of responsibility without sufficient resources to fulfill policy goals. Women have largely been left out of these discussions. This is of particular importance when 40-60% of the Latin American urban economy is "informal," and women, especially indigenous women, play very large roles in the informal economy making the issue of their inclusion into the policy process critical.
Monica Moreira, Secretaría de la Fundación Marcha Blanca por la Seguridad y la Vida, was the final speaker of the panel. Her presentation focused on the specific effort to revitalize Quito and argued that decentralization in the city is real. She noted that participation in and of itself is not a problem. For example, there have been over a thousand town hall discussions on the fate of historic Quito. Additionally, in May 2004, the city moved 8,000 vendors off the city streets of Quito into city-managed markets, without violence and with consultation. This was a major accomplishment for the Municipality of Quito. However, problems remain, particularly for the vendors, as sales have dropped. Ms. Moreira added that in addition to street vendors, there are 27,000 students attending schools and universities in the central city, and that religious institutions and residents are important as well. So there are many elements to the health of the central city, all of which must be balanced. The present participatory model is a step ahead of where Quito was a decade ago, however it is an insufficient solution in and of itself.
At the end of the first day, Deputy Mayor Andres Vallejo inaugurated the forum. He pointed out that viable and stable cities can provide a core stability in national systems which are inherently unstable. FLASCO Academic Sub-director Felipe Burbano de Lara announced the establishment of a new city studies program at FLASCO. Joseph S. Tulchin brought the session to a close with remarks about the importance of the process of citizen identity formation in old cities as a means for renewing concepts of democracy and about the difficult balance that must be struck in such discussions between individual rights and community rights.
On the second day of the forum, the first panel, Towards a Stable State: Cities, Central Government, and Globalization had a special emphasis on the role of cities in providing social stability. Gabriel Murillo, Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá-Colombia, gave a presentation on the critical political crossroads of Bogotá. He noted that so much of Latin America is now urban that cities must come to play a stabilizing role in order to provide the political space necessary for national regimes to gain legitimacy. Latin American countries, he continued, are fragmented so that nation-wide policy implementation is almost impossible. Cities, on the other hand, have an advantage of making the implementation of integrated policies possible. Even so, he countered, Latin American cities, despite two decades of decentralization, just don't command sufficient resources to accomplish the challenges of the urban environment. A continental tradition of hyper-presidential rule similarly undermines the ability of cities to act effectively. In theory, large Latin American cities should be governable and, if they are, they can provide some stability that should help to sustain society through the difficult times. However, formal structures – hyper-presidentalism, highly regressive tax regimes, undermine this governability of cities. Increased civic involvement in governance becomes the link that might enable Latin American cities to move toward governability. Urban policies, in the end, must meet the challenge of including all residents into a decent living and working environment. Dr. Murillo noted that the experience of Bogotá demonstrates many of these features. The Colombian state is weak with a virtual civil war raging for years. Still, the five most recent municipal administrations in Bogotá over the past decade-and-a-half have been models of urban governance. By the end of the 1980s, Bogotá, a city of 8 million, had one of the highest murder rates in the world, 40% of the population lived in poverty, and 15% in abject poverty. It was, in short, an urban nightmare. While hardly a paradise today, successive municipal administrations have turned it around. They have been able to act even as the national administration has been anything but viable. Participation by citizens in the management of the city increases, the murder rate dropped by 400%, and overall the city has become more manageable. The greatest change came in the early 1990s when the city was sub-divided into nine wards, each of which with real power and significant budgets. In short, despite the tragedy of Colombia, Bogotá has emerged as a model of urban citizenship. Citizen empowerment, he concluded, is the key to successful urban governability.
Fernando Carrion, FLASCO, examined the historic city, drawing upon the experience of Quito as the base for his remarks. He noted that first, we must view cities as solutions rather than as problems. The media is a major culprit in the negative image that cities have, although some North American social scientists have pitched in to promote this negative perspective as well. In fact, cities provide opportunity, with poverty rates being lower in Latin American cities than elsewhere on the continent. Observers have been declaring the imminent death of the city for the past 500 years, and yet cities are still with us. We should learn how to make the city work for us. Latin America needs to embrace the demographic reality that 80% of the continent's population lives in cities and conceive of public and economic policy accordingly. On the positive side, the explosive urban growth of the 1970s and 1980s has run its course so that cities should have more time to develop effective policies rather than trying to adjust to the inflow of thousands of new residents every day. However, historic cities are not idyllic leftovers from a glorious past; rather they are living urban organisms, which must be developed in the future if they are to be assets rather than drains. Quito's experience ever since its historic center was declared to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978 offers evidence about how city leaders can draw on historic cities as centers for innovation. It is important to note that cities are now multi-nucleic with no single center. The traditional city center is but one node in a broad metropolitan network extending dozens of miles. Quoting Manuel Castells, downtowns don't die but are redefined as "spaces of flows" rather than as "spaces of place," and building on Dr. Ruble's opening remarks, Carrion noted that the model of the future city is symbolic public spaces for civic interaction. Such an approach elevates central space to a new role, one of symbolic centrality even as its economic importance wanes. We must recapture the central city as a space of heterogeneity, he concluded.
Alfredo Rodriguez, SUR Corporación de Estudios Sociales y Educación Chile, spoke about the importance of local citizen action in shaping urban life and policy. He noted that Santiago is known for having managed one of the most successful public housing programs in the world. However, when these projects are plotted on a map it becomes clear that they are concentrated on the periphery of the city. Rodriguez, questions whether success evidently means pushing poor people away from the rich and out of the city to the periphery. Recently, the program has been turned over to private companies to make it more "efficient" and therefore, consultation with citizens and design have been sacrificed to save on costs. For example, fewer windows are being put into the units as windows cost more. Tellingly, he plotted domestic violence complaints against public housing units and discovered there is almost a perfect one-to-one correlation. Rodriguez noted, how "successful" can this public housing program be if people are so frustrated and unhappy that there is such a strong relationship between the two. He added that wealthy people cover up domestic complaints so that there is a lot more going on here than a simple direct correlation. Yet, the point is not to be overlooked. Santiago's public housing program might have been more successful if poor people had been consulted about what sort of housing they needed. Such participation does not fit into the efficiency models of the pro-market Chilean government and various international financial institutions. To underscore the point that housing authorities need more information to make appropriate programmatic decisions he noted that there are several excellent urban anthropologists working on housing issues in Santiago.
Silvia Fajre, Assistant Secretary of Patrimony and Secretary of Culture, Buenos Aires City Government, gave a presentation entitled Cultural Patrimony and Urban Identity: Shared Management for Economic Development. She argued that heritage need not solely be about saving major monuments. For example, her department has identified 36 bars and cafes of special social, architectural, or historic significance and launched a program to publicize them. Books were published, posters made, and small subsidies were given. The bars had to promise to maintain their historic decor and to allow city-sponsored musicians to perform in return for the city's support. The result has been an enlivening of the city even during a period of intense economic distress. She continued on by adding that the bars and cafes are located throughout the city and not just downtown. They represent a range of socio-economic milieu with grand cafes downtown mixed in the program together with small neighborhood watering holes. The important feature of this program is that, no matter how grand or modest, the bar or cafe in questions plays an important social, cultural, or historic role in the city or in a given neighborhood. In other words, they anchor the urban social environment in some profound way. Silvia continued on to note that the San Telmo and La Boca neighborhoods together with downtown Buenos Aires now have over 300 restaurants among them. Municipal authorities need to think about such modest venues as bars and cafes as central to a vital city.
In the final presentation of the foum, Diego Carrion, of Municipality of the Metropolitan District of Quito, outlined various planning goals for the city, proposing that any city faces ever more difficult challenges coordinating all the increasing level of activity that takes place within its boundaries. He noted that among projects under way in Quito at present are the renewal of the old airport, construction of a new airport with Canadian assistance, building a cable car up the tallest mountain, opening up bus ways throughout town, programs to expand tourism, a number of environmental projects, plans to upgrade health care, and efforts to encourage investment in the historic center as well as in other in-town neighborhoods. All of these efforts involve town hall meetings, to ensure citizen participation. Unfortunately, however he conceded, the poor tend to get left out of planning discussions.
During the closing session, Fernando Carrion, emphasized the theme of cities as sources of stability in systems dominated by weak national states. He made a strong case for urban anthropology, finding that the insights of anthropologist are critical to understanding the twenty-first century urban condition. Most importantly, he concluded, we need to learn to think about cities holistically and not just as a series of discrete problems, economic sectors, social groups, or neighborhoods. Joseph S. Tulchin, stressed the symbolic power of public spaces and the importance of engendering a sense of citizenship among residents. He drew on the recent experiences of Kyiv, mentioned by Dr. Ruble in the open ceremonies, to underscore just how important a sense of democratic equality is for the sustenance of a healthy city. Successful cities need to discover mechanisms to make them inclusive, to bridge the various gaps of fragmentation. The goal of municipal administration must be to promote a common, shared sense of well-being.

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