regenerating central areas

Until the first half of the twentieth century, the vast majority of Latin American and Caribbean Cities was made up of historical centers and some planned extensions. At that time, the urbanization rate in the region was below 50% and the expression “urban sprawl” had not yet been invented. Traditionally, central areas had fulfilled the function as public gathering spaces, where residents could meet and communicate and as central market places, where you could get everything you needed in daily life. Today, these traditional functioning of urban centers is lost in most of these cities. Many Latin American and Caribbean Cities are lacking a vivid central area with high quality public spaces, market places, lively ground floor areas, etc. Over the last decades – in the course of an increasing urbanization process – rapid motorization and social-spatial segregation had left city centers vacant and with a monofunctional character. Instead of a variety of shops, cafés, ateliers or other facilities attracting pedestrians and vitalizing the streets, you find offices, administration and government uses and services in the central areas. Facilities like these don´t have any public appeal and – if not accompanied by with other uses – create abandoned centers without any significant urban life after office hours. In this way, urban centers had lost all their residential functions. This loss of urban life and mono-functionalization of the historic centers is the case for the Caribbean cities of Nassau, Paramaribo, Santiago de Caballeros and Montego Bay.

Not only the lack of multifunctional uses in the ground floor areas causing empty streets after office hours, is currently a challenge of Latin American and Caribbean Cities. Rapid urbanization, population growth and missing planning strategies led to uncontrolled settling not only on the outskirts of the cities, but also in central areas. In Managua and Montego Bay informal settlements and very bad living conditions for inhabitants in the center are critical issues that need to be set on the agenda. Further challenges become visible in the centers of the Colombian cities of Monteria and Pasto: They do not offer enough public space and the river has failed to be integrated into the cityscape. All this is the result of unplanned city development.

The regeneration of central areas is a very complex issue that embraces many different aspects and has to be considered on different scales. Building attractive public squares are a good start but must go hand in hand with offering a mix of uses in the ground floor areas. In the centers, there should neither be offices only, nor residential places only – a right balance between living and working can create vivid streets at day and night time. Most importantly, a city center should be a place, which residents can identify with, where they get the feeling of being able to be active citizens and where they can just feel “home”.