Médecins sans Frontières estimates that there are one million people in Guatemala City living in the streets or in slum conditions. Many are victims of the civil war, which traumatised the country during the 1980s and early 90s as well refugees from rural poverty. (Photo: Pierre Violle)

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Guatemala City authorities push for
environmentally responsible growth

by Vanessa Plihal, Central America Correspondent

6 June 2007: After the devastating earthquake of 1773, Guatemala City was relocated to where it is today.  In 1776, after an arduous task of rebuilding, the new city was founded and dedicated to the Virgin of Asunción.  Guatemala de La Asunción, or “Guate” as the locals call it, is a city where the past and the future meet in equilibrium. Today Guatemala City is the largest and fastest growing city in Central America and one determined to avoid past planning  mistakes.

The statistical reports from the last population census, published in 2002, show that 1.7 million Guatemalans live and work in the city. This census includes the people of the three other nearby municipalities who commute to the City of Guatemala for various purposes. 

As the country’s population grows at an annual rate of 2.6 per cent, so does the need for living and working space. The result is an environment greatly affected by both gasoline emissions and migration from the rural and suburban areas.  Over the past 12 years, the living spatial area has grown at a rate of 4 per cent annually (2002 population census report).

In relation to residential and commercial areas, it is obviously necessary for growth to be planned in an orderly fashion. The Territorial Urban Plan seeks to undertake construction both efficiently and equitably, paving the way towards a ‘win-win’ situation for investors, the community and the environment.  This plan will prevent construction in high-risk areas and avoid damage both to the environment and social cohesion. The urban plan will come into effect in the ensuing months and will endeavour to involve the participation of most neighbourhoods, regardless of size or location. The essential objective is to create more pleasant spaces in which to live and work. 

Municipal authorities have stated that the whole project must be even more efficient and specific than the objectives that already exist under municipal land policies. The complex difficulties of Guatemala City cannot be resolved with only one actor. They require a united effort from all concerned with regard to territory, population and government planning. The intention is that the new Guatemala City will emerge as an environmentally responsible city with communities interested in, and partaking in, the objective of a culturally rich place where people will enjoy an improved quality of life.

The Municipality has gathered the essential information with which to implement this ambitious plan. Among other things, there will be controls on construction in high-risk areas and the protection of the natural environment and historic buildings, streets and squares. There will be sensible and planned construction, with the participation of citizens, in areas where adequate transportation systems exist. The project envisages public places with a high urban vitality, benefiting investors and property owners as well as economic competitiveness, urban security and social solidarity.

If the co-operation of all concerned is achieved, then all will benefit - especially in relation to land use and essential services such as water, sewerage, roads and public open spaces.

Clearly, since 1776 there have been great changes - from the noise of horse-drawn carriages and ringing church bells to the honking horns of modern transport. Now the way is open for this ‘brave new world’ ready to embrace the cultural diversity of a new and great Guatemala.

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