Community, Immigration, Right to the City

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Use the below contact form to send me an email and I’d be happy to meet you and see how our interests collide! noun_766494-1


Mexico City elected its first female mayor in July. Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo is a scientist and was the former governor of Tlalpan, one of the 22 delegations/districts of Mexico City.  Tlalpan is one of the poorest districts of the city, and was especially vulnerable to the 7.1 earthquake that struck the city last September. The mayor-elect received a lot of criticism for the destruction in Tlalpan that was caused by the earthquake, especially for the collapse of the Enrique Rébsamen school, which killed 300 people, including 19 children. Some are concerned that the lack of provision over building maintenance and infrastructure in Tlalpan will impact her ability to govern an entire city of 22 districts. Many families want justice for their dead children and loved ones, and justice brought to officials who approved the inferior construction permits.

Sheinbaum will not be able to ignore these demands as mayor if she is going to win favor over her skeptics. She will have to focus on crime, pollution, water shortages, and corruption, especially in terms of building and development processes. During her administration, and with the new Congress and Planning Institute, it is imperative that Mexico City establishes a formal planning process that is professionalized and legitimate. Developers will have to be held accountable, the permit process will have to be re-evaluated, and stronger monitoring and evaluation mechanisms must be enforced on building infrastructure.

Sheinbaum has her work cut out for her over the next 6 years as mayor, but what she was able to accomplish in Tlalpan should not go unnoticed, either, especially considering capacity for development is very low at the delegational level. For instance, as governor of Tlalpan, Sheinbaum supported local water management projects despite having no specific budget for water management. These projects, such as rainwater capture and filtration systems, developed and built by Isla Urbana, provide thousands of households access to running water that were disconnected from the main network. This is a small, household level project that, since Isla Urbana first began, has helped a very small portion of the city – some 8,000 households (approximately 250 thousand households are without running water in Mexico City), but it serves as a viable solution that avoided political red tape, got people what they needed – and quickly. Plus, this particular project avoids taking a scarce resource (water) from one interest group to give it to another, which was a win-win for all residents. 

To me, this says the mayor-elect knows how to  problem solve and fund innovative solutions that make progress, which is a skill-set that Mexico City probably needs most in its next mayor if it is going to combat long-standing issues. With good counsel by her side that has a similar affinity for progress, Sheinbaum may be able to get a lot done as mayor. Let’s see if she can upscale small projects that work, scrap the old ones that don’t, and test alternative approaches. There’s a lot more to unpack from that last statement, but I’ll just leave it there. For now. 

Aside: Preliminary thoughts on Mexico City’s new mayor-elect, Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo

Community, Right to the City

“Shaping urbanization for children”: A handbook for planners – created with UNICEF

I had the honor of working with Jens Aerts, an Urban Planning Specialist at UNICEF, to create a handbook for urban planners to better plan cities for and with children. The general idea is that if cities are planned with children in mind, the most vulnerable population, then cities are made safer for all, and more conducive for a more productive, healthier, and enjoyable life. Below is an introduction to the handbook, its purpose, a list of the 10 guiding principles for children’s rights and urban planning, as well as the essential “Why, What, How” to plan cities for children.

November 26, 2018 UPDATE: If you are in the United States, I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving with family and friends. Today is Cyber Monday, and I am pleased to announce that the handbook is now available online on the UNICEF website, and as always, it’s free to download! Please click on the link below to download your very own copy. Enjoy, and happy readying!

August 29th, 2018 UPDATE: Unfortunately, the handbook has not officially launched yet to the UNICEF website. Below is a brief description of the handbook. Stay tuned for the official launch! noun_766494-1

Image credit: UNICEF/UNI123447/Pirozzi

Purpose of the Handbook

Shaping urbanization for children, a handbook on child-responsive urban planning, presents concepts, evidence and technical strategies to bring children to the foreground of urban planning. By focusing on children, this publication provides guidance on the central role that urban planning should play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), from a global perspective to a local context, by creating thriving and equitable cities where children live in healthy, safe, inclusive, green and prosperous communities.

The handbook aims to inspire everyone involved in planning, designing, transforming, building and managing the built environment:

  • Urban planning professionals that use different tools in spatial planning and stakeholder engagement on a daily basis to help shape the built environment;
  • City governments that are responsible for city development and management decisions;
  • Private sector, such as developers, investors, service providers and technology companies that build the large majority of urban infrastructure;
  • Civil society organizations that support local communities in raising their voices to define which spaces, services and land are needed.


The 10 Children’s Rights and Urban Planning Principles

The handbook is structured along 10 Children’s Rights and Urban Planning Principles that cities should commit to so they will not only support children’s development, but thrive as homes for future generations:

Principle 1: Investments – Respect children’s rights and invest in child-responsive urban planning that ensures a safe and clean environment for children and involves children’s participation in area-based interventions, stakeholder engagement and evidence-based decision making, securing children’s health, safety, citizenship, environmental sustainability and prosperity, from early childhood to adolescent life.

Principle 2: Housing and Land Tenure – Provide affordable and adequate housing and secure land tenure for children and the community, where they feel safe and secure, to live, to sleep, to play and to learn.

Principle 3: Public Amenities – Provide infrastructure for health, educational and social services for children and the community, which they have access to, to thrive and to develop life skills.

Principle 4: Public Spaces – Provide safe and inclusive public and green spaces for children and the community, where they can meet and engage in outdoor activities.

Principle 5: Transportation Systems – Develop active transportation and public transit systems and ensure independent mobility for children and the community, so they have equal and safe access to all services and opportunities in their city.

Principle 6: Integrated Water and Sanitation Management Systems – Develop safely managed water and sanitation services and ensure an Integrated Urban Water Management system for children and the community, so they have adequate and equitable access to safe and affordable water, sanitation and hygiene.

Principle 7: Food Systems – Develop a food system with farms, markets and vendors, so children and the community have permanent access to healthy, affordable and sustainably produced food and nutrition.

Principle 8: Waste Cycle Systems – Develop a zero waste system and ensure sustainable resource management, so children and the community can thrive in a safe and clean environment.

Principle 9: Energy Networks – Integrate clean energy networks and ensure reliable access to power, so children and the community have access to all urban services day and night.

Principle 10: Data and ICT Networks – Integrate data and ICT networks and ensure digital connectivity for children and the community, to universally accessible, affordable, safe and reliable information and communication.

The “Why, What, How” to plan cities for children

The handbook answers three questions:

  1. Why planning cities for children matters, collecting the evidence on the urban specific vulnerabilities of the most disadvantaged children and explaining how urban planning can support urban programmes for children.
  2. What to plan for children, based on the 10 principles and resulting in sustainable and children’s rights-based urban places, systems and networks that ensure children’s health, safety, citizenship, environmental sustainability and prosperity, from early childhood to adolescent life.
  3. How to plan for children, reviewing urban planning tools and practice that illustrates how cities can be planned to be child-responsive, building on three potential strengths of urban planning: to provide space for children, to include children in the process of change and to develop urban policy that is based on child-specific evidence.

Within the handbook there is a central place reserved for a checklist Children’s Rights and Urban Planning Principles that allows every stakeholder to quickly evaluate what can be done to take up responsibilities and improve the situation of children, respecting capacities and resources. The checklist takes a central place in the handbook, providing the main reference for starting, monitoring and evaluating investments of every stakeholder involved in child-responsive urban planning, in the short-term, mid-term and long-term. noun_766494-1