The city of Cuenca will be a topic of conversation next week at Habitat III, the United Nation-sponsored conference on sustainable living. The international event is expected to attract 20,000 to Quito from Oct. 17 to 20.
Cuenca ranks 14th among cities of under two million population in Latin America and the Caribbean identified by the Iner-American Development Bank (IDB) to meet standards of “orderly and sustainable” growth. The designation is based on city’s coverage of basic services, including electric, water, and sewer, for its growth planning, low crime rate, and social and environmental consciousness.
“Cuenca exceeds these standards, and is the only city in Ecuador that does,” says Pauline Crespo, Municipal Director of International Relations for IDB. In part, she credits the high level of education of city officials for providing the knowledge base needed to pursue sustainable growth. “Cuenca’s universities provide a great deal of talent and expertise for the planning process,” she says.
Members of a committee that reviewed the sustainability of cities in Latin America cited Cuenca’s historic district planning rules, the construction of European-style light rail transportation system, the number of parks and public gathering areas, and plans to reduce vehicular traffic in some areas of the city. Cuenca’s water system received special praise, with its water quality rated among the best in both North and South America.
According to University of Cuenca professor Daniel Orellana, city government must wage a continuing battle against urban sprawl. “Growth is messy and it destroys traditional neighborhoods and farmland,” he says. “It also can outstrip the ability of the municipality to provide necessary services. Government must be vigilant to guide and control it.”