Theme: Urbanization: Processes, Policy and Emerging Challenges

Click on each thematic area in the list below to learn more; and check the Submission Guidelines page for more information.

The following are broad sub-thematic areas under which papers can be contributed. Abstracts may focus on, but are not limited to:

In order to respond to the challenges posed by Caribbean urbanization through policy and planning interventions, it is essential that there be a clear understanding of this phenomenon; how has it evolved over time and what are the specific challenges. In this regard, it is useful to start with the recognition that urbanization in the Caribbean and other less developed countries show distinct differences to that of the industrialized countries and countries of Latin America. This consideration suggests the need to delve deeply into the nature of Caribbean urbanization, as we seek to understand its implications for development policy and future planning, whether in the context of micro islands, small and medium islands or continental states.

It is a fact that urbanization brings with it an array of social issues. In this regard, high population densities, inadequate infrastructure, lack of affordable housing, flooding, slums and squatter settlement creation, crime, congestion and poverty work in ways to present serious challenges from a social/welfare perspective to many who live in urbanized environments, as well as to the institutions planning and policy-makers tasked with managing such environments. While this may point to the need for an integrated urban development policy framework, a lack of research to inform effective policy-making in view of the complex nature of urbanization and associated social problems presents another layer of challenge.

It is important to examine the policy and legislative responses by various governments to the process of urbanization and assess how effective these were these responses. Few countries have had specific urban policies but in most the nature of urban policy needs to be assembled or implied from components such as land use plans and policies, the intent of urban interventions and positions taken with respect to international frameworks and agreements such as the UNHabitat process and sector reform and implementation programmes supported by multilateral agencies such as UNHabitat and other UN agencies, the World Bank, the IDB and the CDB. There are also some regional initiatives which may be examined, such as the Caribbean Urban Agenda, the New Urban Agenda (NUA), the Sub-regional Implementation plan of the NUA for the Caribbean and the urban sector policies of the IDB and the CDB.

This area of concern is particularly important since it relates directly to the environmental conditions within which large urban populations have to live. The rapid, especially the unplanned and unsustainable patterns of urban development characteristic of urbanization in Caribbean cities require concurrent focus on issues of public health in the urban environment, both from the standpoint of policy and regulations. The World Health Organization for example, has notably recognized that as urban populations grow, the quality of global and local ecosystems, and the urban environment, will play an increasingly important role in public health with respect to several risk related issues, ranging from solid waste disposal, provision of safe water and sanitation, and injury prevention, to the interface between urban poverty, environment and health. The issue of urban informality as a particular feature of Caribbean urbanization is notably a high priority issue on the Caribbean Urban Agenda. Key considerations in the debate on this issue revolve around tenure security, informal settlements in urban and peri-urban areas and the informal urban economy.

The sub-theme brings together the discourse on energy efficiency in the urban environment, urban resilience and the green economy. It recognizes the need for an integrated approach to the issue of resilient urbanization, especially in the context of the sustainable development goals currently being pursued. There is also a growing trend that points towards more innovative approaches to urban resilience. This is evident by the fact that many cities are adopting smart city approaches to building urban resilience.

Urbanization places strenuous demands on water resource use. While some countries such as Guyana have the opportunity to exploit ground and surface water options, other countries are limited to only the ground water option. Water resources in this context may be sourced from ecologically sensitive watershed areas that are likely to become more endangered due to urbanization (particularly informal settlements). There is also the need to note that many Caribbean cities are situated in low-lying coastal areas prone to flooding – a situation made worse due to the impacts of climate change and sea level rise. It is therefore increasingly important that water management be considered in the wider debate on and response to Caribbean urbanization, particularly from the perspective of building urban resiliency in the face of climate change.

In the traditional sense, there is a tendency to think of urbanization and the policy and planning responses only in the context of the major cities in a particular country. However, the experience in some Caribbean countries is one whereby rural marketing and service centres are experiencing rapid transformation into more full-fledged urban centres. This trend has to be properly managed if more sustainable results are to be achieved. In this regard, strategic urban spatial development policies may be required since the rural to urban transformation will require management and tremendous improvements. There will be for example the need to reach minimum standards on services, infrastructure and housing, as well as in local governance, institutional capacity and security of tenure. The policy perspective on the transformation of rural areas through urbanization may also most likely point to the need for policy towards more balanced urban-rural urbanization – quite a challenging area for future policy research and policy formulation that may be of significance to countries such as Guyana and Belize.

This sub-theme starts with the position that urban land use needs associated with the new oil and gas sector in both Guyana and Suriname can cause profound changes to the urban environment. Urban land use changes at the land/water interface and the need to respond to new competing demands for the use of limited urban land are highly likely to emerge as key areas requiring strategic spatial planning interventions and more pro-active approaches to managing coastal urban development. Of significance as well is the need to respond to new development planning challenges, while still embracing the goals and objectives of sustainable urban development.

Urbanization clearly brings into focus the ability of cities to effectively manage urban growth, provide essential services to large populations and function as a loci of productivity. In dealing with this multi-faceted dimension of urban life, more and more Caribbean cities are moving towards reliance on digital infrastructure for the delivery of essential services, such as education. While COVID-19 provided a notable impetus behind the use of more digital infrastructure, in the long term, one key question that readily comes to mind is whether digital and frontier technology can bring new perspectives to the way we seek to examine urbanization and respond to its many challenges. In this regard, one may also be inclined to consider how digital infrastructure may impact on the notion of an urban/rural divide and the functioning of urban real estate market; are there digital infrastructure gaps in Caribbean urban as opposed to rural areas and the key associated implications.