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 aims to become
the ‘city for living in’ by 2020

By Vanessa Plihal, Central America Correspondent

22 October 2005: With an ambitious development plan, Guatemala City aims to become a thoroughly modern and organized city by 2020. Indeed, the municipal government under Mayor Alvaro Arzú is determined to make the Guatemalan capital ‘The city for living in’. The development plan, Guatemala 2020, has been designed to better the quality of life of citizens through the improvement of public services and creation of a culture based on respect and harmony.

Guatemala 2020 addresses a number of priorities such as environmental responsibility and awareness, economic competitiveness, urban security, development of a decentralized municipal government, protection of water resources, the productive use of land in an orderly fashion, social solidarity and traffic control.

As Guatemala’s population grows rapidly, so does the level of economical competition. Giving the citizens an opportunity for development, the city’s formal and informal economy will improve the quality of life of each citizen. Guatemala 2020 is already developing modern and efficient markets, where the vendors will optimize the use of communal space and respect it. Since the markets are mostly run by women, the municipality is planning to install clean and safe child- care centers inside the market place, allowing the women to freely work and to have their children near by. With the 2020 plan, the markets will function in a more productive and efficient way benefiting both the vendors and the consumers. The municipality will be in charge of maintaining the market’s infrastructure with decent security systems, communication and good hygiene.

Enforcing environmental responsibility and awareness in its citizens, the municipality plans to involve local residents in the administration and adequate control of public parks. At the same time, the residents will understand the importance of conservation and local empowerment. With the construction of these parks, children and young adults will have a place where they can practice sports and be close to nature.  These green areas will not only improve the aesthetics of the city but also help in the conservation of the environment and follow the plan of the Urban Ecological Belt Project. Guatemala City has become a highly industrialized city, where pollution and contamination area daily occurrence. Given this problem, the municipal government is approaching the private sector with the purpose of getting it involved in environmental projects and forcing it to respect for its surroundings.

As part of other environmental issues, the responsible and efficient use of water is a very serious task for the municipality. The local communities and the municipality are working together to educate their citizens in the proper and efficient use of water. This also involves the responsibility to maintain the infrastructure of the water plants.

In the past decade, Guatemala City has grown in an accelerated and disorganized way. The need to teach Guatemalans the productive use of land is the answer to a well-designed city, which will be able to grow together with its population. The municipality is setting up a department which will be in charge of identifying  and regulating the use of land. This department will also enforce a better and more efficient collection of property tax, making it continuous, transparent and proportional. With Guatemala 2020, the local committees will get involved in the participation of decision making in their neighbourhoods. These communities will participate in the choice of small projects for their communities, using a portion of the property tax to finance it.

Like all cities, Guatemala also faces security problems due to its rapid population growth. The municipality is trying to get communities involved in projects like neighborhood watch. The neighbors will acquire the ability to identify security problems, prevent criminal activity and gain confidence from the local authorities. This also goes hand in hand with a project to build various recreational centers for young people, to enable them to become part of respected society and prevent them from unsocial activities such as joining gangs. The communities will also carry out campaigns based on preventive measures against violence and the importance of neighboorhood watch.

Efficient public transportation and free-flowing traffic is part of one of the most important projects for Guatemala City. One of its largest infrastructure projects is the building of a ground level metro, which will alleviate traffic congestion by providing citizens with better public transport. The city’s traffic police has already implemented different solutions to the daily traffic problems by setting up exclusive lanes, which have reduced traveling time for the drivers. The police have also improved highway security and speed controls as well as created an environment where drivers show more respect for each other. By developing a more efficient public transport system, the city will reduce noise and air pollution as well as reduce fuel consumption.

Social solidarity is an aspect, which has to be part of all projects by the city administration. Without this solidarity, Guatemala will not be able to grow into a modern and efficient city. Guatemala is composed of a multicultural and multilingual culture, which makes its society are very complex one. With its social solidarity programme, the city hopes to create a more tolerable and respectful society.

The City of Guatemala showed this solidarity during Hurricane Stan, which devastated the southern part of the country in October 2005. The municipality installed shelters in the city for those who lived on the margins of the city and lost their homes. Guatemala City and its people also helped the hardest communities in the country’s interior. Mayor Alvaro Arzú, Guatemala’s former President, traveled to some of the most devastated towns and villages of the country to assist in rescue efforts. Hurricane Stan proved that Guatemalan different social communities can unite in crisis to help those most in need.

Guatemala city believes that Guatemala 2020 was a sustainable development plan, which would transform Guatemala into an efficient city, creating a harmonious society and guaranteeing a high quality of life for its citizens. “Guatemala will be ‘The City for Living In’ and maybe even serve as a role model for other cities to follow this plan. The Municipality of Guatemala, together with its 14 districts, 54 delegations and 660 neighborhoods, are working together to fulfill this dream and giving the example that the more involved a municipality gets its citizens in their projects, the more successful and productive the city becomes.”

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