Harmony and Dissonance between Human Settlements and the Environment in Latin America and the Caribbean
This paper analyzes the interaction between the city and the environment in the context of sustainable development in Latin America and the Caribbean, by examining the positive and negative consequences that urbanization and development are posing to natural environments. It presents a diagnostic of the current policy challenges in the regional urban system in the context of urban growth, development and environmental change. The paper surveys issues by topic – drinking water, basic sanitation and solid waste; air pollution, transport and energy concerns; urban mitigation and adaptation activities in the context of climate change; sustainable cities; among others –, presenting qualitative and quantitative data regarding urban environmental burdens, at household, city-wide, and/or global scales, as well as achievements and effective policy responses in these areas. Best practices are highlighted wherever possible, as are the myriad of policy constraints to improved practices in the region.
Within urban areas, the primary concern from the perspective of human well-being is whether urban settlements provide a healthy and satisfying living environment for residents. Urban development can easily threaten the quality of the air, the quality and availability of water, the waste processing and recycling systems, and many other qualities of the ambient environment that contribute to human well-being. Certain groups (for example low-income residents) are particularly vulnerable, and certain services (such as those not easily traded, for example recreational services from urban parks), are of concern to all urban dwellers. From a sustainable development perspective, the implications for quality of life for future generations well being living in urban settlements must be considered as well. It is also useful to distinguish among the linkages between urban systems and the ecosystem services that exist within urban areas, between urban centers adjoining non-urban ecosystems, and between urban centers and distant ecosystems. Moreover, to appreciate the importance of relations between urban systems and ecosystem services, it is important to consider the negative as well as the positive effects that urban systems can have on ecosystefm services. This paper highlights many of these concerns, from an overall regional perspective, as well as through the analysis of city specific, and sector or issue specific urban case studies.