Reinventing the city

Cities across Latin America are investing in urban reform projects to revitalise city centres.

‘Move to the Centre’ is not Rishi Sunak’s campaign slogan but the urban reform plan currently under development at the Government of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires (“GCBA”) for the Microcentro financial district. By creating new sustainable areas, expanding commercial areas to stimulate residential leases, and offering tax advantages to investors, GCBA aims to transform its financial district into a residential zone. In a similar, yet broader urban reform project, Mexico City has invested USD 205 million since 2019 to transform 5.7 million square-metres into residential districts.

An architect and real estate developer in Argentina explained, “What the City Government is looking for is that, as well as being a working area, which it will inevitably continue to be, the microcentre becomes a place to live, where its residents have everything they need within 15 minutes: places to study, to work, entertainment, health services, places to eat and to go for a walk. The project is large, almost 100 blocks, it won’t be easy and it will take time but I think it’ll be a success.”

Financial districts thrived in Latin America as the region integrated into global financial markets and cities turned into metropolises. Today, the six largest cities in the region are home to 100 million people which has led municipal governments to re-think some of its neighbourhoods, mostly city centres and downtowns. Thus, since the mid-2010s, both country and state capitals have been carrying out urban reforms in a wave of urban renaissance that prioritises urban regeneration models that integrate work and home.

The architect continued, “Real estate agents fear that nearby neighbourhoods will be in competition with each other, it is very important in this sense that the microcentre does not compete with the macrocentre.”

“It is very important in this sense that the microcentre does not compete with the macrocentre.”

Architect and real estate developer, Argentina

“The idea is for a city to have many centres,” explained a director of urban planning in Bogotá, “there is no longer just the centre of Bogotá, but, for example, the western centre that is concentrated in Ciudad Salitre and now Modelia. The northern part of the centre, also Calle 72 and its surroundings, Cabrera and even Chico, where you have absolutely all your needs met.”

São Paulo, Porto Alegre, Medellín, Quito, Guatemala City, Guadalajara, and Veracruz have all completed urban reforms in recent years as they try to revive their city centres and financial districts. The main challenge that these municipal governments faced was to guarantee the success of their transformation plans, which required participatory planning, inclusive transformation initiatives and an economic strategy to attract new people to the reformed urban areas.

To incentivise the revitalisation of historic centres, local administrations are placing buildings of historical value at the heart of their reform plans, integrating them into the day-to-day life of the area as museums, shops, and even private residences.

“I believe that in time we will return to something similar to what we had pre-pandemic.”

Architect and real estate developer, Argentina

The architect concludes, “As for what the future holds for cities, it is important first to understand what the future of work looks like. At one time, it was thought that physical work was going to disappear, and today we can see that this is far from being the case. And I believe that in time we will return to something similar to what we had pre-pandemic. We will have to wait and see.”

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