In 2010, Siemens and The Economist published the first reliable index ranking for green cities worldwide. Among many other indexes concerning this subject published in the past few years, this is the first one with a specific chapter for Latin America.
The result of this index showed a phenomenon that was clear to everyone but that had never been confirmed by a technical source. Cities in Latin America started to care more about sustainability, but the cities that didn't care are now in clear decline, development in this matter shifted towards Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, leaving once well-planned cities like Montevideo and Buenos Aires lagging in comparison.
The case of Buenos Aires was especially worrying, as it was earning a "below average" qualification for the entire region, which means that in almost every indicator of the index (Energy, Transport, Water, Air Quality, Land Use, Sanitation and Governance) Buenos Aires had really low scores.
But sometimes governments do listen to these types of publications, and people can be shocked into action to help and improve their cities.
And that’s how, in a period of two short years, there was a major change in the mentality of a population that is just now realizing that many small steps can be taken to achieve good results in terms of urban sustainability. Recycling centers, farmers markets, bike lanes, and the separation of residues are all incentives coming from a new path taken in environmental governance by the City of Buenos Aires. These incentives would all have been unsuccessful if there wasn’t a real paradigm shift coming from the people that, at the end of the day, are the main actors in the changes.
As recent as three years ago the subject of making a “Green City” wasn’t even on the table, not for the government, nor for the people.
But now everything has changed - people are interested and there has been a dramatic shift in the population psyche towards a subject that has been neglected for too long. Contributions made by regular citizens are the ones now raising the bar on government policies.
This shows that no big investment is needed (in the beginning at least) if you have a population that is willing to re-direct its course and do whatever it can to change things in a city.
We will see, eventually, if Buenos Aires will improve on this type of ranking in the near future, but, at least for now, culture has changed. This is the first and most important step towards real, sustainable development.
How influential do you think culture is in making a successful sustainable city? Do you think green infrastructure is enough? Can you make a city without incorporating its people into its design?
Credit: Images by Luis Lozano-Paredes. Data linked to sources.