Urban management challenges facing Buenos Aires

Urbecon Volume 2 2013

The Metropolitan Region of Buenos Aires had over 14.8 million inhabitants in 2010 and like many other Metro regions of South America, has experienced rapid population growth in recent years. The MRBA has increased its population by approximately 3 million new inhabitants over the last 20 years. This exponential population growth, which has been absorbed mainly in the municipalities of the second and third ring beyond Buenos Aires City (see Figure 2), points to a series of urban problems that are not being addressed despite the great efforts that have been made in terms of public policy and infrastructure works.

The most important challenges relate to how to guide the urban growth, how to provide affordable housing for all income groups and what is the best way to provide and improve the quality of public services and infrastructure. Another important issue relates to the role of the different levels of government in urban management - particularly the big disparity between achieving long-term urban governance goals, for example to do with public services and infrastructure, and finding local financial resources.

The challenge of inter-jurisdictional urban governance is demonstrated through the example of the 2006 Strategic Plan for the Metropolitan Region of Buenos Aires (MRBA). The Plan entails very complex analysis, but it was not implemented. As a result, each local government is responsible for deciding how to address the development of its municipal area without an operational metropolitan planning strategy.

A basic zoning of the different urban and rural uses is the only support that most municipalities have. There is a lack of plans and schemes to determine the guidelines for development and how economic growth should be driven. Many local governments do not have an in-depth understanding of their economic base and are unable to stimulate growth through directed strategies.

Local governments do not have adequate financial resources and depend on contributions from higher levels of government, mostly from the national government, to achieve their policy goals. The lack of resources limits their actions, in relation to urban management, the administration of public offices and the development of public works and urban projects.

Regarding housing policies, most of the important programs are delivered by national government. Programs are mostly focused on the construction of social housing for low-income sectors. National government provides the resources to local governments to build new social housing. In order to receive the program resources, local government must buy and provide land. Because local governments do not have enough resources to buy well located land, the social housing is generally on the periphery, with poor infrastructure (for example in terms of access to public transport, increasing travel times and costs).

Last year, a new loan program (ProCREAR) was introduced to stimulate the building of new homes by first homeowners, and it includes a vast range of options for different income groups. This is a very promising approach as it targets issues of affordable housing for middle to low income groups.

Financial resources for public service and infrastructure works also rely on higher levels of government, with the greatest proportion coming from the national government. It should be noted that Argentina has a federal political system that divides the country into 24 provinces that are responsible for planning their territory (much like the states in Australia). This system implies three different levels of government: national, provincial and municipal. One important difference worth mentioning is the direct funding link between national and municipal governments for programs like social housing.

However, there are many challenges to a coordinated approach to metropolitan planning, Public transport provides a clear example of the need to implement new urban governance models. In MRBA, the rail system is under the control of the national government, the underground recently came under the control of the local government, and the bus system is under the control of either local or the provincial government. As a result, there is not a holistic public transport policy for the MRBA and each transport mode is separately coordinated.

Shared challenges

Argentina and Australia share much in common, including having vast land areas. The Australian experience demonstrates the results of having some metropolitan planning experiences and responses to the established vision through local government planning. In addition, there are some successful examples of public-private partnerships in the provision of public services and infrastructure, affordable housing for some parts of the population, and urban renewal developments.

Many of the challenges facing metropolitan planning across Argentina and Australia are similar in nature, although different in scale - integrated transportation planning, affordable housing, infrastructure provision, controlling urban sprawl, etc. The exchange of experiences and best practice might help the search for better solutions.

In this regard, Argentina has developed a National Strategic Plan (NSP), which is ongoing and which all provinces have signed up to. It determines planning guidelines for the whole country and the position that each city holds in terms of national economic development. This could be an interesting point of study for Australia considering the competitiveness within cities and issues of long term economic development. At the same time, this NSP could provide the first step for Argentina to apply the Australian experience and encourage urban management in terms of coordinated metropolitan planning and active municipal government participation.

This article was authored by Carolina Ipes, an architect and urban planner from Argentina who recently undertook an internship at SGS.

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