regenerating metropolitan areas

In the coming years, one of the most important urban challenges in Latin American and Caribbean Cities will be the management of growth in metropolitan areas. A metropolitan region can be defined as an area comprising at least one big city of international or national importance, serving a variety of high-level centralized functions. As a rule, such a region encompasses, in addition to the urban agglomeration, further core settlements as well as rural zones that are closely linked to the regional center, e.g. by commuter traffic flows. As central nuclei of co-operation and competition, metropolitan areas are hubs of international networking. Metropolitan areas may be trans-boundary, are politically defined in a variety of ways and usually lack institutions of their own.

The uncontrolled, rapid settlement development in metropolitan areas has proven that urban growth does not stop at the administrational borders and geographical limits of the city, but spreads along the road infrastructure—where land is cheap and available for either formal or informal urban development. In many cases, two separate cities that are connected by road infrastructure are gradually merging into one big metropolitan area, so that the actual border is disappearing more and more.

A big problem of such urban development processes can be that such “twin cities”, as well as a central core city and its surrounding municipalities, often do not collaborate, but being in direct competition for federal funds, investment, and taxpayers instead. For a sustainable future urban development, it is necessary that city authorities of a metropolitan area cooperate and create a common vision. As precondition, the area cannot be perceived as two (or more) single, separated cities, but as one connected and interrelated region. Only by ignoring the administrative borders and putting formal responsibilities beside, it will be possible to perceive all the potentials of a metropolitan area. In order to manage urban growth and find sustainable solutions, infrastructure planning (public transport, road infrastructure, social facilities, health care, education etc.), housing development, the protection of nature, etc. must be tackled in a joint process of the two twin cities, resp. the core city with its surrounding municipalities.

In Chile we had the opportunity to work on two Metrolabs in parallel. The first one was in the twin cities La Serena and Coquimbo, which have grown together and share much of the same landscape, rivers, and natural resources. The second Metrolab was run in Puerto Montt and Puerto Varas, which are unlike in demographic composition and size. They share a satellite city inhabited by low-income families that were displaced by real-estate mechanisms. The third metropolitan project was developed for Santo Domingo (Este) where we developed a metropolitan development strategy that was linked to a local master plan for housing and mixed-use.  Without any regulation on the metropolitan scale, housing projects are emerged on the urban fringes, where land costs are low, but no social infrastructure or commercial offer is available.