Tag Archives: urban governance

Transforming Cities through Social Urbanism: Medellin, Colombia’s Alejandro Echeverri speaks to Lokniti

Lokniti Editors Sanjana Patro and Srilakshmi Nambiar in conversation with Mr. Alejandro Echeverri, on Medellin Colombia’s social urbanism. 

The city of Medellin in Colombia was a drug trafficking hub from the late 1960’s till the early 1990s. A contraband economy, paralysis of justice and a mismanagement of the security apparatus led to a rise in crime and violence, especially in the barrios (neighbourhoods) of the city. These unsafe barrios gave Medellin the tag of the ‘Most dangerous city in the world’. The city’s economy was also grappling with high levels of inequality.

However, things began to change for the better in the 1990’s, with the help of strategic policy intervention called ‘Social Urbanism’. This process included strengthening the state machinery and public services. Special thrust was given to improving public transportation in the city. The metro lines and cable cars provided the much needed  link between the northern hilly areas of the city to the plains. It also focused on active community engagement, along with bringing together academics, the government and experts from various fields.

An architect by training, Mr. Alejandro Echeverri was closely associated with this transformation of Medellin. He has served as the director general of the Urban Development Company from 2004- 2005 and the director of urban projects for the Mayor’s office of Medellin from 2005-2007 under Mayor Sergio Fajardo. He is currently a professor of architecture at Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana. Among his many architecture awards, his work with Mayor Fajardo in urban renewal won them both the Curry Stone Prize for Transformative Public Works from Architecture for Humanity in 2009. Their urban renewal projects have been praised not just for revitalizing poor neighborhoods but also for the quality and innovation of the architecture itself.

In this interview with Lokniti, Mr. Alejandro Echeverri shares his experience and answers our questions around the parallels that he sees between India and Colombia and the ideas that India can borrow.

 

Q1. What is social urbanism? How did this concept evolve in the case of Medellin? 

A1. The history of social urbanism is related to planning and urban design in Colombia. It is used to describe the process that happened in Medellin, after the crisis of the 1980’s and 1990’s which was dominated by high levels of inequalities in the barrios or the neighbourhood. The government was exploring policies which would work towards greater social justice to counter the high levels of inequity that was prevalent. In this context, social urbanism grew.

In 2004, the government was looking at methods to combine public policy and strategic implementation, particularly in conflict ridden areas. Issues such as ways to combine urban design, landscape design, with programs focusing on culture, education, and economic activities were also explored. Hence, they started the ‘URBAM Project’, to design and apply public policy in a specific territory. Inclusion was the most important part of the agenda, and leadership came from the government. The experience came from a practical reality and the experience they had initially in the government. Real transformation was achieved as a combination of several improvements like the physical space and lives of the people.

 

Q2. The “ambition to control” drives planning exercises which are centralised or top-down in nature. However, as you pointed out earlier, strategic planning and pragmatic efforts can counter such tendencies. How does this manifest itself in the frame of social urbanism?

A2. Social urbanism is more connected with action and implementation. It is a combination between the improvement of the physical space of the city with an improvement in the quality of the life of the people. It belongs more with the history of the people, their personal experiences, and how the people could be a part of those processes. So this is not a policy that came from far, or a top down approach. Since implementation is very important for any policy, one thing that is strategic is how to coordinate different institutions of the government in the strategic territories that they select.

It is improvement not only in housing, public space, and public transport system in terms of public transformation, they were also trying to improve the quality of education, focus on policies which improve  inclusion and diversity, and improve capacity of children and the people. Thus, it is a holistic approach.

 

Q3. In Colombia the ‘Empresas Públicas de Medellín’ (EPM) is a public utility company providing water, domestic gas and electricity in the city. However, in India we have seen public-private led partnership or private sector sharing space with the public sector. How has Medellin been able to sustain its public sector?

A3.In Colombia and Latin America, in the 1960’s and 1970’s all public services used to belong to the government. But in the 1980’s and 1990’s with the notion that everything has to be privatised, Latin America went through a vast change, where the public services went to private owners.  One of the reasons could be because many of the public services were very inefficient. However, in Medellin since the public sector was extremely efficient, they were never privatised. The main reason can be attributed to people. These public entities had really good managers and they managed to protect the companies from external politics. The public servants had technical capacity to deal with any crisis at hand.

 

Q4. What ideas or recommendations would you give for having the same model in India?

A4.There is no ideal model. However, Medellin could help like an example if you could understand how things and processes happen, and each case has different realities and singularities. Both countries share a lot of things- problems and opportunities. We have to understand how to work simultaneously to solve both formal and informal problems, and thus it is necessary to put intelligence into practice. This intelligence should have the capacity to innovate and give rise to the belief that problems can be solved.

Both countries have high levels of inequalities, there is a high process of migration, and they settle mainly in the periphery of the city, as a result of which informal rings appear. There is a need to have greater proximity with reality. Colombia has very fragile politics and there is a high complexity of things. Additionally, in the case of Colombia, they had the case of violence. These complexities permit us to innovate in a lot of things. We can reframe the concept of planning and give this concept more proximity to reality, and thus combine planning and action.

A lot can be learnt through pilot projects, which then can be implemented at the national level if required. It is necessary to engage the community at each point. Moreover, citizens participate in these things if they find spaces to collaborate and to develop dialogues and some processes. It is necessary to take impartial decisions and to improve the politics, as such a system will help to  sustain innovation.

(Sanjana Patro and Srilakshmi Nambiar are  2017-19 participants of the Master Public Policy programme at National Law School of India University. They can be reached at sanjanapatro@nls.ac.in and srilakshminambiar@nls.ac.in respectively)

 

A Participatory Integrated Urban Water Management Approach: Jakkur Lake

NAKULAN N

Jakkur is one of the largest lakes in the inter-connected grid of man-made lakes in the city of Bangalore. With a water spread of 50 Ha and a catchment area of 19.2 sq.km the lake is not only primarily responsible for recharging the groundwater in Yelahanka, Alasandra and Kogilu but also has historical and cultural significance.  Over the years, increased pace of urbanization and a transformation of land use pattern around the lake changed the lake from a scenic freshwater lake into a dump of the city’s domestic sewage and solid waste. The biodiversity around the lake was declining rapidly and lake was having a slow painful death. However, the timely intervention by the city and a concerted effort by citizen groups has not only resurrected the lake but has also opened the possibility of replicating this model in other parts of the country plagued with similar problems.

Jakkur – Participatory Approach

In 2005, the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewage Board constructed a 10 MLD (million litres per day) Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) in the northern corner of the lake (Srikantaiah 2016). The STP receives wastewater from neighbouring areas and releases the treated water into an artificially constructed wasteland adjacent to the lake. The wetland has natural vegetation that absorbs excess nutrients still present in water after treatment and the water flows into the lake.

The water quality has improved over the years with biodiversity in and around the lake steadily bringing the lake back to its pristine beauty and ecological function. In order to understand how and when a participatory approach was followed in the rejuvenation of the lake, it becomes imperative to understand the regulatory structure in place and the roles performed by these regulators over the years.

Organization Role
Bangalore Development Authority Built infrastructure around the lake
Bangalore Water Supply and Sewage Board Owns and operates the STP
Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagar Palike Owner of the Lake
Fisheries Department Regulates fishing in the lake
Forest Department Responsible for Vegetation around the lake
Groundwater Authority Supervises groundwater extraction
Karnataka Lake Development Authority Apex body for lake management
State Pollution Control Board Parent regulator of pollution and STPs

In 2005, the Bangalore Development Authority developed physical infrastructure around the lake including construction of bunds, pathway, lighting and barriers to prevent solid waste from entering the lake. In the same time, a citizen group with residents from the neighbouring areas was formed to assist and guide the authorities. The group slowly took a formal shape into ‘Jala Poshan’ and entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the BBMP to manage the lake.

Amidst the network of regulators and delegated authority between institutions, the citizens group has found greater efficiency in handling the day to day management of the lake. First, they see to that the infrastructure built around the lake is not damaged and sensitize local populace on how to best use the lake. Second, they try to have maximum vigilance over miscreants who try to pollute the lake. Cases of medical waste, farm waste and poultry waste being dumped into the lake have been spotted immediately. Though said actions could not be prevented by the group, the rapport shared between the group and the authority led to the timely intervention to clean up the mess and prevent it from harming the lake in the long run. Third, they try to build awareness about their activities and involve other people viz., students, activists etc. and organize lake walks and other leisure activities around the lake. In addition to increasing their visibility, it also breaks the perceptional barrier that people towards an urban lake where alpine like attributes are expected. Fourth, the group ensures the real stakeholders which includes the fishing community and adjacent peri-urban area that derive their water from the lake (though recharge wells) are integrated into the management process and their connection to the lake is maintained.

A citizen-led approach diffuses the principal-agent problem and transfers ownership to the real stakeholders. The approach also diffuses the regulatory complexity and simplifies problems into simple variables upon which the concerned authorities can swiftly act. The reminder of ownership and the importance of the lake, helps local communities to have a strict vigil over the lake and they act as the first line of defense against miscreants. The cost of such enforcement techniques is much cheaper than centrally controlled techniques.

Integrated Urban Water Management and Jakkur Lake

“IUWM is described as the practice of managing freshwater, wastewater, and storm water as components of a basin-wide management plan. It builds on existing water supply and sanitation considerations within an urban settlement by incorporating urban water management within the scope of the entire river basin.” (Tucci and Goldenfum 2009)

In other words, integrated urban water management is an approach by which the city’s water resources are conceived as one single entity and managed towards satiating the water requirements in its entirety. The method enables a framework in which the true ecological cost of water is paid by all stakeholders who consume water.

In Jakkur, the freshwater the lake receives from rainfall, the sewage water received through BWSSB pipeline (from the STP) and the storm water received through the storm water drainage are all passed through the artificial wetland to the benefit of entire lake ecosystem. It does not differentiate between the source of water. Such an approach maintains the ecological flow of water in the lake.

Benefits

The approach has yielded rich benefits to various stakeholders over the past decade. The fish population in the lake has increased substantially with the catch reaching as high as 600 kg/day during season. In a rapidly urbanizing city, this provides direct employment to communities that have traditionally depended on the fish in the lake for livelihoods and maintains their historic connection and sense of responsibility to the lake. The recharge wells in the vicinity are regularly recharged and the peri-urban population outside the city jurisdiction are able to meet their domestic water requirements.

The increased recharge rate of groundwater around the lake has enabled the extraction of groundwater which is then transported to the city through tankers which reduces the water stress in the city. The ecological landscape around the lake has increased the usage of lake for leisure and cultural purposes which has modified the complexion of the lake. Such sustained benefits to various stakeholders has placed this model as a potential game changer to be replicated.

Problems

While the STP treats the sewage water, the storm water largely enters the artificial wetland untreated. Over time, this has eroded the capacity of the wetland to filter out nutrients and the lake is seeing an increased growth of algae with turbidity of water increasing. Unless this is corrected there is every chance that Jakkur might fade into oblivion.

The 370 MW Yelahanka Thermal Power Plant, which is currently under construction will receive 15 MLD water from the Jakkur STP (Joshi 2016). While the current capacity of the STP is 10 MLD, authorities are increasing the capacity to 15 MLD with funding from Karnataka Power Corporation Limited. In order to sustain the ecological flow and maintain its characteristic as an IUWM practice, the lake requires 7 MLD from the STP. Any reduction in this quantum will adversely affect health of the lake along with its biodiversity.

In this context, the limited role of a citizen’s group has been founded wanting as there is no resource and mobilizing capability for a citizens group to undo decisions that are taken by regulatory agencies with powers above the citizen.   

Future Prospects

As observed earlier, Jakkur is a model that has the potential to change the way we perceive the sustainability of urban water management. While there is a merit in arguments that claim replication of the model is not possible as water management cannot follow one-size-fits-all approach, there can be little doubt over the fact that there are attributes in the model that definitely warrant attention in a populous, rapidly urbanizing country.

In order to ensure the survival of the lake as well as to scale up the model, there are two immediate concerns that need to be addressed:

The proposed diversion of water from STP might have economic justification as most STPs are planned and operated as cost centers under both PPP and Government owned model. This is chiefly due to a lack of understanding of the revenue potential of waste water. The nutrient contents of the sludge and the irrigation potential of waste water is largely untapped. The moment a demand is created around them, the STPs have the potential to become ecologically-sustainable revenue generating entities. To operationalize such a scenario, the city immediately requires changes to its Waste Water Policy which can create a market around a STP.

The second concern is that participatory water management can become effective only when the movement gains traction and becomes visible to the larger population. This will not only ensure the sustainability of the movement but also place a caveat to the decision makers higher up the ladder that decisions taken against the collective interest of stakeholders cannot be sold in a democratic polity when there is a concerted voice of stakeholders.

(Nakulan is pursuing his Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the National Law School of India University. He can be reached at nakulan@nls.ac.in)

References

Tucci, C., & Goldenfum, J “Integrated Urban Water Managemet: Humid Tropics”,2009 .

Joshi, Bharath. “Yelahanka Power Plant Could Kill Jakkur Lake – The Economic Times“. The Economic Times. N.p., 2017. Web. 9 June 2017.

Srikantaiah, Viswanath. “Water for Sustainable and Inclusive Cities“. http://www.cseindia.org/. Web. 9 June 2017.

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