Interview with Jonathan Malagón, Minister of Housing, City and Territory of Colombia, in the framework of the I Urban Forum of Spain, where EUROsociAL+ shared a panel on urban policies with representatives from the Ministries of Housing of Latin America.
What is the Urban Agenda?
The New Urban Agenda presents a paradigm shift based on the science of cities and has been the roadmap to guide efforts and generate strategies that lead to the sustainable urban development of cities in the world, adopting new principles in tackling the planning, construction, development, management and improvement of urban areas both through transformation commitments promoting sustainable urban development, and through the effective application thereof.
For the Government of Colombia, the 2030 Agenda has become the roadmap for the construction of a vision of sustainable development over the long term. One where its 17 Objectives and 169 targets show the magnitude and importance of this global agenda, and where the programmes and policies for the coming years will be aimed at building a vision that integrates economic, social and environmental dimensions, setting in motion a permanent dialogue between different levels of government, national, departmental and local, and between societal actors.
Within the framework of urban and territorial development, Colombia has been an innovator in urban planning and has set in motion efforts to create regulations and guidelines to tackle social, economic and environmental challenges in cities. However, there have been challenges in ensuring that the plans developed have the necessary transitional elements available to consolidate their implementation and achieve the different global sustainable development objectives. In the municipalities, urban investment needs have been identified which require the promotion of private participation. Likewise, there are challenges due to limited local financial capacity, outdated cadastral information, and a weakened technical and governance capacity over much of the Colombian territory.
This is where the challenge of achieving effective public management lies, in enabling economic challenges in cities to be dealt with and allowing the promotion of their development by strengthening development financing and managing to implement high-impact projects in terms of sustainable development with a multi-sectoral approach. To achieve this objective, as stated in the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs, it is necessary to build a long-term national vision in which the coordination of economic, social and environmental dimensions must be sought through inter-sectoral organisation and a dialogue and participatory process between all entities that make up the facets of government and civil society.
At the Ministry of Housing, City and Territory, together with the National Planning Department, we are in the process of preparing the main roadmap that will determine Colombia’s new National Urban Policy. This policy will be built on three main pillars: the recognition of our urban heterogeneity, the promotion of inter-sectoral coordination and a regional governance perspective to consolidate cities as the main engine of economic and social development.
This National Urban Policy 4.0 not only seeks to achieve productive, equitable and sustainable cities, but also to achieve a vision and a type of inter-sectoral coordination aimed at comprehensive urban development in Colombian cities, which responds effectively to the technical and administrative capacities of local governments, strategically and differentially addressing the challenges and potential of the different cities of the country. The implementation of this Policy requires a durable and effective process in the construction of regulatory frameworks, institutional capacities, administrative processes and financial instruments that enable the goals set at the national and international level to be met. Similarly, it requires reaching complex agreements to coordinate the action of the different actors and sectors involved, based on the guidelines that these international agendas can provide in order to guarantee the sustainability of the environment and the protection of ecosystems and their biological diversity, promoting the use of clean energy and the sustainable use of land and resources, strengthening urban resilience, reducing poverty, inequality and the risks in disasters, and implementing measures to adapt to climate change and mitigate its effects with the utmost urgency.
At the Ministry of Housing, City and Territory of Colombia, and in its capacity as president of MINURVI, how can urban and territorial policies contribute to the post-pandemic recovery?
The COVID-19 pandemic, along with the challenges posed by climate change, has forced Colombian cities to rethink their development policies to take on the new local realities and the enormous challenge of maintaining the balance between economic performance and the well-being of its citizens and the protection of the environment, with special attention paid to the most vulnerable. The pandemic has not only revealed, but has exacerbated, the limitations of our cities and their models of territorial development. The main problems are related to housing and poverty, given that this situation has a particular impact on our region, where 1 out of every 3 families lives in inadequate housing; secondly; the importance of public spaces in urban environments to develop social, economic and cultural activities; and thirdly; the need to rethink the way of building a city and accessing its benefits, given the new dynamics of work, travel and social restrictions that this situation has imposed.
The formulation of the next National Urban Policy constitutes a vision aimed at the sustainable development of the current system of cities in Colombia, and its objective is to establish a general framework of coordination and implementation to be able to provide, from the national government, assistance and support to different municipalities to strengthen technical, financial and governance capacities, so that they manage to implement sustainable strategic projects through technical support strategies in the regulation and structuring of local projects, which incorporate financing instruments for urban and territorial development and the issue of regulations for alternative urban financing instruments. The latter, recognising, both in international and national debates, the different dynamics and challenges that have arisen as a consequence of the pandemic. Some of the strategies identified as ones to be addressed in the next urban policy, which have been identified as essential when contributing to the post-pandemic recovery, will be focused on the new dynamics of location and displacement, the dynamics of digital connectivity and the importance of public space and its environmental, social and economic contributions to cities.
Faced with the dynamics of location and displacement, we find that working from home has changed the priorities of households when choosing a home. Characteristics such as size, access to outdoor areas, facilities, have become more important than location. Reflecting on these new dynamics from a medium and long-term perspective will help to identify and evaluate the urban policy interventions necessary to guarantee sustainable dynamics that do not harm urban competitiveness or urban markets.
The shift from suburban areas to the city centre, and possible changes in location patterns, have led to alternative hypotheses about the future of offices, rented premises, and many other spaces that have ceased to function due to this new normality. A new Urban Policy, such as the one we are drafting, should consider these changes in urban structures and in the real estate market to explore possible transitions from one activity to other uses. For example: new types of housing in central areas where large offices used to be located and which may now be disused.
On the other hand, regarding the dynamics of digital connectivity, during the first quarter of 2021, more than 270,000 new broadband subscribers were registered in Colombia, bringing the total to over 8 million. Regarding mobile internet, 400,000 new subscribers were registered between January and March 2021, bringing the figure to a total of 32.9 million in the country. Working from home and quarantines have demonstrated the importance of internet connectivity in our urban and social context. The provision of this service has become an essential public service for all households in Colombia and therefore an essential issue to address in Urban Policy.
In addition to the above, and given the local repercussions of the pandemic, questions arise about the opportunities public space will provide during the social, economic and cultural recovery phase. Undoubtedly, this period is turning into an opportunity to prepare public spaces as a tool for environmental mitigation and adaptation, as well as a tool for economic recovery. From a social and environmental point of view, one of its objectives of our work on the new National Urban Policy is the harmonisation of previous national policies and strategies with the relevant international agendas for urban environmental sustainability. In relation to the above, in conjunction with the Ministry of the Environment, it is currently aiming at the consolidation of the green infrastructure network in Colombian cities, which integrates nature-based solutions in the public space as part of climate change adaptation and mitigation actions, greening urban environments and highlighting the importance of the environmental quality of these spaces.
What is the relevance of a Programme that promotes social cohesion such as EUROsociAL+, for the challenges of the Governments of Latin America in terms of sustainable urban and territorial development?
EUROsociAL+ acquires significant relevance in the various challenges that Latin American governments are facing in terms of sustainable urban and territorial development, as it is a programme that supports, from a social cohesion perspective, the strengthening of institutional capacities and the reform and adequate implementation of public policies. The generation of spaces for learning and exchanging experiences between entities from different countries and regions strongly strengthens the frameworks of action and coordination vis-à-vis a multidimensional type of understanding of problems that different countries are currently facing in environmental, social and economic aspects.
As an example, the webinar: “Post-COVID-19 socio-economic recovery strategies:Urban and territorial development for social cohesion ”, carried out in May this year, aimed at exchanging experiences between the two regions to face the socio-economic crisis derived from the pandemic, highlighting the importance of the territorial approach in policies and actions to establish a strategic framework that promotes sustainable economic development. Exchanges regarding the various strategies for urban management and financing, the enhancement of urban development information systems, recommendations for Housing and Urban Development Programmes, urban environmental management (Interrelationships between ‘built’ space, natural surroundings, biodiversity and its benefits in urban planning), climate change management, sustainable mobility infrastructures and public space, are some of the themes and aspects in urban and territorial environments that have an indispensable role when it comes to exploring post-covid socio-economic recovery strategies that should be of vital importance in urban agendas for both Latin American and European governments.
In accordance with the above, the comprehensive approach in the construction of a long-term national vision implies, on the one hand, evaluating and learning from success stories and invaluable experiences that other countries can offer, as well as coherence between the different levels at national scale when addressing the policies of each country. This exchange is an indispensable tool in the indication both of common public policy challenges and differences between the two regions and the countries of Latin America, thus identifying areas of importance, sectoral priorities, and possible opportunities to work together to address common challenges.