city planning and poverty reductionWhen Bogotá, Colombia, elected Enrique Peñalosa mayor in 1997, Mayor Peñalosa faced an uphill battle. Informal settlements, faulty public transportation and congested roads increased poverty and reduced the quality of life for Bogotá’s citizens. Mayor Peñalosa had a plan, though, and his success in fusing city planning and poverty reduction provides a blueprint for developing world mayors around the globe.

Bogotá’s Challenges in the 1990s

Bogotá faced many challenges as a city in the 1990s. With a lack of city planning, informal settlements dominated the landscape. Nearly 200,000 illegal water connections existed and only 60% of the population had access to the main sewer system. Fearing crime and the bustle of moving cars, many could not enjoy the streets on which they lived, with impoverished neighborhoods lacking accessible public spaces.

With these challenges, Peñalosa knew there was only so much he could do. He realized that in his one term as mayor, he would not be able to lift every citizen of Bogotá out of poverty. Thus, he decided to look at the implications of poverty. To him, development constituted a “better way of living, not being richer.” The lack of access to water, food, housing, transportation and green space, which the wealthy class enjoyed in plenty, constituted poverty, not just a low monthly income. By addressing those issues directly, Peñalosa could combine city planning and poverty reduction without aiming to increase wages.

Formalizing Informality

One of the biggest problems urban populations face in the 21st century is informality. As of 2019, according to the United Nations, nearly one billion people live in informal housing or slums. Informal housing commonly leads to community marginalization and decreased access to food and water distribution networks. Fortunately, city planning and poverty reduction strategies can rectify these situations, and, Peñalosa did just that.

During his tenure as mayor, Peñalosa formalized 322 neighborhoods and provided nearly 700 sewers for informal settlements, drastically improving the livelihoods of those living in these neighborhoods. Utilizing many city planning strategies, he also provided better transportation access so that those living in these neighborhoods could access the amenities of the wider city. His strategy of focusing on formalizing and connecting informal settlements rather than increasing wages allows for a greater return on investment as the wider access to the city will naturally boost the quality of life.

Sustainability and Public Spaces

Peñalosa entered his tenure as mayor with the goal of developing Bogotá around people and not cars. In a city where just about 30% of people drove cars, designing a city entirely around this vehicle would be illogical. He especially wanted public spaces suitable for the most vulnerable, the elderly and children, aiming to reduce poverty by increasing standards of living.

Peñalosa focused on three types of public spaces for reducing poverty. He first focused on a common city planning and poverty reduction strategy: transportation. In his tenure he built roughly 220 miles of protected bike lanes, opening up the streets to more than just cars. He also formalized the public transportation network to allow more equitable access.

His second strategy for city planning and poverty reduction covered educational space, building libraries and public schools to accommodate 200,000 new students. The educational infrastructure serves as one of the most important tools in fighting poverty and boosting literacy.

Third, he focused on leisure spaces, ordering the construction and restoration of public parks. Access to these three spaces combined —  transportation, educational facilities and leisure spaces — can greatly reduce the impacts of poverty. Furthermore, the public status of these amenities meant that access would not depend on an individual’s wage.

Implications for Fighting Poverty

Mayors around the world can use Peñalosa’s tenure as a blueprint for their own cities. The strategies for city planning and poverty reduction that Peñalosa used were innovative at the time, but further research has shown their efficacy worldwide. Formalizing informal areas and expanding green space has become a norm for urbanists across the globe. While not without its flaws, Peñalosa’s strategy to combine city planning and poverty reduction helped fight poverty by focusing on raising living standards rather than pure income measurements.

– Justin Morgan
Photo: Wikimedia

COVID-19 and Global Poverty
Since early 2020, the entire globe has been battling the COVID-19 pandemic and attempting to address the outbreak properly. Most of the world’s population is currently under some form of social distancing as a part of a response to the outbreak. From scientific research to increased travel restrictions, almost every country is working on ways to boost the economy while managing the spread of the virus. However, COVID-19 has affected much more than the economy. Here are four ways COVID-19 and global poverty connect:

4 Ways COVID-19 and Global Poverty Connect

  1. The Consumption of Goods and Services: For most developing countries struggling with poverty, much of their economies depend on commodities, such as exports. Food consumption represents the largest portion of household spending, and the increase in food prices and shortages of products affect low-income households. Countries that depend on imported food experience shortages. The increase in food prices could also affect the households’ inability to access other services such as healthcare, a major necessity during this time. These are two significant connections between COVID-19 and global poverty.
  2. Employment and Income: The self-employed or those working for small businesses represent a large portion of the employed in developing countries. Some of these workers depend on imported materials, farming lands or agriculture. This requires harvest workers and access to local farmers’ markets to sell produce. Others work in the fields of tourism and retail. These fields require travelers, tourists and consumers — all of which lessen as COVID-19 restrictions increase. Without this labor income, many of these families (now unemployed) must rely on savings or government payments.
  3. Weak Healthcare Systems: This pandemic poses a major threat to lower-middle-income developing countries. There is a strong correlation between healthcare and economic growth. The better and bigger the economy, the better the healthcare. Healthcare systems in developing countries tend to be weaker due to minimal resources including beds, ventilators, medicine and a below-average economy. Insurance is not always available for low-income families. All of this affects the quality of healthcare that those living within the poverty line receive. This is especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  4. Public Services: Low-income families and poor populations in developing countries depend on public services, such as school and public transportation. Some privatized urban schools, comprised of mainly higher-income families, are switching to online learning. However, many of the public rural schools receiving government funding do not have adequate resources to follow suit. This could increase the rate of drop out. Moreover, it will disproportionately affect poorer families since many consider education an essential incentive for escaping poverty. Aside from school, COVID-19 restrictions could prevent poorer families from accessing public transportation. For developing countries, public transportation could affect the ability of poorer families to access healthcare.

Moving Forward

There are many challenges that families across the globe face as a result of COVID-19. Notably, some organizations have stepped forward to help alleviate circumstances. The World Bank, Care International and the U.N. are among the organizations implementing programs and policies to directly target the four effects of COVID-19 mentioned above.

For example, the World Bank is continuously launching emergency support around the world to address the needs of various countries in response to COVID-19. By offering these financial packages, countries like Ethiopia, which should receive more than $82 million, can obtain essential medical equipment and support for establishing proper healthcare and treatment facilities. These financial packages constitute a total of $160 million over the next 15 months as a part of projects implemented in various countries, such as Mongolia, Kyrgyz Republic, Haiti, Yemen, Afghanistan and India.

Nada Abuasi
Photo: Flickr