Characteristics of the URP Environment

In their recent history, Latin American societies have placed little value in the public, cultural, and humanitarian aspects of their cities. The state has little experience as a developer,7 and its tradition of public-private partnership is very young. Furthermore, the private sector has limited long-term social vision. The resulting environment is not favorable to the revitalization of Latin American city centers. This environment has been changing, but the challenges faced by URPs are a result of these persistent factors, as we will see shortly.

Alongside population drift and the degradation of urban centers, the cities underwent a process of weakening and deterioration of their values of citizenship. As the cities grew, people moved to the suburbs, and distance and travel time to the center increased; thus citizens’ links to the culture and traditions of the city center logically tended to weaken and disappear. These traditions include customs like strolls through the plazas, street performances, and visits to public gardens on weekends; they also highlight the importance placed on public and cultural spaces in the city. Modern society’s emphasis on introspection and the material does not create the ideal environment for city-center revitalization. Without social support, from residents of the center itself or inhabitants of the rest of the city, it is difficult to promote and feed urban revitalization.

Besides weak citizen commitment to the process, the public sector traditionally lacks experience in these kinds of tasks. URPs generally deal with a series of multisectorial components that depend on the participation or interest of different groups and actors. Hence URPs require a level of flexibility and ability to respond that often surpasses the state’s abilities or competencies. Local governments, especially, lack experience as URP developers, which has many implications. As efforts to decentralize the state have advanced, both at the political level and at the functional and fiscal levels, governments have acquired the tools to take on more ambitious URPs. But in terms of URPs, administrative capacity and budget management at the city government level, while necessary factors, are not alone sufficient for success.

The private sector, on the other hand, usually has the adaptability, flexibility, and ability to respond to various problems URPs may encounter. But they need the support of the public sector’s long-term vision, policies, and coordination ability, as well as start-up and key investments. Private Latin American companies have little experience cooperating on public- interest projects with either the government or civil society. Nor do they have the philanthropic tradition that North Americans or Europeans are known for. Of course, there are notable exceptions across the region— for instance, the extraordinary success of the revitalization of the port of Guayaquil, where the private sector, under the leadership of a charismatic local government, made important investments in public museums, monuments, and parks. Another case is Mexico City’s historic center, which received important philanthropic contributions not only for building and monument rehabilitation, but also to provide social services, equipment, and cultural services.

Public-private partnerships, also known as triparty alliances (Fox, 2005), are one tool that can trigger the synergies of cooperation between governments, civil society, and the business sector that URPs need. Still, there is relatively little tradition in the region for these kinds of partnerships, and where they do exist, the rules are unclear. Thus, corresponding social, governmental, and business limits inhibit the development and implementation of sustainable URPs.

 
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