Today the Belize City Council hosted mayors and town council representatives from throughout the country, as well as city planners and urban development officials from around the region in the 7th annual Caribbean Urban Forum. The event is comprised of several events focused on sustainably developing cities and towns. Alex Courtenay spoke to some of the forum's presenters today, and found it what urban planning means for regular city and town dwellers:
The Caribbean Urban Forum brings experts from all over the world to discuss strategies for developing urban areas in a way that's not just sustainable, but addresses major problems such as climate change and poverty. Today, the Belize City Council hosted the 7th annual forum under the theme "Green Economy, Energy and Space - Pathways to Urban Sustainability"...
Carolyn Trench-Sandiford - President, Belize Association of Planners
"It's the seventh such forum that we're having the Caribbean. What happens is that as society and as communities within the Caribbean we get together once a year to discuss - what are some of the key historical contemporary and emerging issues that are addressing us in the Caribbean. There are 3 key things happening currently. One of course there is climate change which represents an existential threat to our society and our community. Two there is the process of urbanization where people are moving into urban spaces and that bring its own challenges but also opportunities and finally what is also happening within our urban spaces we are confronted with issues like poverty, crime and violence, urban sprawl, squatters settlement and you all know it because we all live in Belize City as we see it. So as Caribbean planners, policy makers, municipal managers we all get together to discuss these issues."
Climate change and the increase in the frequency of natural disasters highlight some of the vulnerabilities of cities in the region, but experts say that the real problem lies with inefficient urban planningÃ¢â‚¬¦
Dr. Asaad Mahmood - Director, Caribbean Network for Urban and Land Management
"What we've found out now is we found out the reason why the events are getting worse, more intense. Why the storm surges are more frequent, why the storms are more frequent, why the flooding is more frequent but the basic conditions we have of poverty, informal settlements, poor unplanned and haphazard development, low density development which is energy efficient; those are the fundamental issues of the Caribbean in which climate change then has a greater impact. So it is not climate change that is the problem the problem is all these underline issues, poverty, informality and so on and climate change just makes it worse."
One of the strategies that can be used to improve the sustainability of our cities is to build up. Instead of allowing our major urban areas to expand and take up of our natural resources, the next step may be to develop taller apartment complexes and office buildingsÃ¢â‚¬¦
Gilberto Chona - Urban Planning Specialist, IDB
"The effects of climate change are presenting a big challenge to cities in which you have to grow vertically in order to be able to avoid the risks that are related to natural disasters when you grow in a sprawling low density pattern. So we call that smart growth, smart sustainable growth."
This notion of compact urban development is not particularly new, and has been employed in most of the world's largest and most influential cities because it allows for more efficient use of resources...
Dr. Asaad Mahmood
"When you use land inefficiently energy cost you commute and time, all these things go up. So there is a long term cost on inefficient use of land. So the idea of compact development is one of the long term discussions that are going on right now with the urban agenda. Even if you have land it still makes sense to have your human settlements in a compact form. People can walk, they are healthier, they can use less energy, less foreign exchange, people can go from shopping to work so there are all these benefits of compact development."
Building up is just one of many strategies that can be used, along with others like improving public transportation and pedestrian routes, and ensuring that essential amenities like schools and police stations are available in every community. But these changes would be meaningless unless they are supported by the public
Darrell Bradley - Mayor, Belize City
"We have to really challenge ourselves and recognize if we want sustainability, if we want a city that is liveable and offers a high quality existence for residence; it's on the back of each and every one of us to develop the kinds of values and community spirit. Values for hard work, entrepreneurship, citizen engagement, civic pride, all of these things are a part of the conversation."
The forum will continue through to the end of the week.