By Sylvan Hardy
Cuenca marks the 198th anniversary of its independence from Spain today with the annual military parade on Av. Huayna Capac and the official observance to be attended by President Lenin Moreno.
“This is a time to look back on our history and to recognize our rich heritage,” says Cuenca Mayor Marcelo Cabrera. “But more than ever, it is a time to look forward to the city’s future.”
Planning for the coming growth is a top priority, the mayor says, pointing out that Cuenca is the fastest growing of Ecuador’s largest cities. The census office reports that Cuenca’s current population of 615,000 will grow to 773,000 by 2030. “We have the challenge to keep up with and manage the growth but we also have the opportunity to make the city an exceptional place to live and visit.”
Cabrera lists four priorities of the 2030 plan: 1) to meet the housing needs of a growing population, particularly for low-income families; 2) to manage and expand the transportation system, adding new roads, particularly bypasses of the central city, and installing new tram lines; 3) improving Cuenca’s park system and expanding the chain of mega-parks currently under development; and 4) relocating or expanding the airport and central bus terminal.
“All these objectives involve managing growth,” Cabrera says. “There is some urgency to this since we are already seeing poorly managed growth in out-lying areas where construction is beginning to climb into the hills.” He adds that Cuenca can avoid the problems faced by Quito, where construction on steep slopes on the edge of the city is making the extension of roads and municipal services difficult. “We have the chance to do this right.”
According to Cabrera and urban planning officials, Cuenca also faces unique challenges from those moving to the city. “On a per capita basis, Cuenca attracts many more foreigners than other Ecuadorian city,” says Gustavo Lara, a demographer who works with the census office. “More than 7,000 North Americans and Europeans have chosen to live here,” he says. “Add to that about 8,000 to 10,000 from other Latin American countries, including 3,000 mostly professionally trained Venezuelans, and you have the basis for a very cosmopolitan city. And then, there is the recent influx of hundreds of Chinese nationals.
“Besides those numbers, more than 25,000 Ecuadorians who have lived abroad, in the U.S. and Europe, have resettled in Cuenca during the last decade, bringing with them the tastes and skills they developed overseas.”
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Lara adds: “We have the special challenge of creating a city that meets international tastes and expectations. Among other things, we need to market this unique aspect of the city to international tourists.”
The Cuenca 2030 report also lists recent accomplishments, including completion of Parque de la Libertad, north of historic district, San Francisco Plaza and Mega-Parque Ictocruz. In addition, it lists the new Tixán water plant and wastewater treatment facilities in Guangarcucho, as well as progress on tram construction, scheduled to begin public service in March.
“We can look forward to the future with pride and great expectation,” says Cabrera. “On the other hand, we cannot lose sight of the fact that we have much work to do.”