- ''The Future is Urban'' The challenge for sustainable urban development in the Caribbean: The search for a sustainable urban forms   click here to open paper content376 kb
by    Thomas, Stacey | sthomas.ayin@gmail.com   click here to send an email to the auther(s) of this paper
Short Outline
Increasing urban populations coupled with the peculiarities of the
Caribbean urbanization process, leave governments and policy makers
grappling with how to manage and guide future urban development in a
sustainable manner. Will densification, decentralization or a mixed urban
form be the way forward?
In 1950 only 35.4 percent of Caribbean populations lived in urban areas. By
1970 the figure rose to 47.4 percent, and as of 2010 urban populations have
increased significantly to 70 percent (WUP, 2011). This trend suggests that
urbanity is therefore the present and future reality of Caribbean
development. While limited land space and small population sizes inhibit
the development of megacities as encountered in Asia and Latin America for
example, these cities must contend with many of the same problems
attributed to the urbanisation process elsewhere. Environmental
degradation, social and economic inequities are just some of the issues
manifested in the region’s urban areas (CEO, 2003). Susceptibility to
natural hazards and the impacts of climate change add yet another dimension
of complexity to planning for development. Given the peculiarities of
Caribbean urbanisation, governments, policy makers, land managers and
planners grapple with how to manage and guide future urban development in a
sustainable manner.

Whilst the sustainability debate has gained international academic and
policy attention, it is still a highly contested, vague and dynamic concept
(Jenks, 2000). Consensus on the un-sustainability of cities exist, yet the
complexities and differences in urban experiences make the search for
effective solutions overwhelming. In the quest for answers, the concept of
the ‘compact city’ has emerged as the hegemonic response to the goals of
sustainable development such as energy efficiency and environmental
conservation. Some academics are of the view, that there is a strong
relationship between urban form and sustainable development - making the
case for compaction – while others question whether there is even such a
thing as ‘sustainable urban form’. This last point is significant to the
Caribbean region since the concept of ‘sustainable urban form’ - and more
specifically - the ideal of compact cities, has found its way onto the
urban agendas of many Caribbean islands.

In the past however, the urgency of addressing many of the regions problems
has led to the indiscriminate adoption of policies created from a global
perspective, without an adequate understanding of their usefulness to the
Caribbean context. Considerable documentation exists which highlights the
importance of analysing, understanding and factoring in, complex contextual
characteristics (e.g. historical, social, cultural, economic, political),
before attempting to reshape or change development policy. Hence, this
paper seeks to investigate – via the literature and available data – how
models of ‘sustainable urban form’ may be translated to the Caribbean,
given their unique attributes and to assess whether ‘compactness’ will
actually be able to deliver anticipated benefits.

The research will show that the aggregate data for the Latin America and
Caribbean (LAC) aggregate on population trends are dominated by the larger
countries of the group, a fact which masks the diversity of the region.
This diversity translates to differences in both the nature of and response
to urbanisation and its problems. The research concludes that while
‘compaction’ may deliver some social, environmental and economic goals,
economic objectives still tend to dominate the planning agenda. Given the
physical and geographic constraints of the islands of the region, however,
the ‘ideal’ compact city may be un-attainable. While some degree of
densification will be beneficial, decentralisation of many activities
outside of the urban core will be a positive step in addressing some urban
problems. Individual choices, consumer behaviour and political environment
are also found to be significant factors which influence sustainability to
a greater extent than urban form. Urban sustainability for the region will
therefore require both a manipulation of the physical environmental and
behavioural changes.
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