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This book will appear during 1996, a significant year for the management of cities because the second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) will be held in Istanbul in June. That meeting will focus on two themes: the sustainability of human settlement and the need to provide adequate shelter for all. A principal aim of the conference is to convince governments to take appropriate action to "overcome the growing, serious problems of social exclusion and the rapid degradation and disorganization of cities."
The need for such action in Latin America hardly needs emphasizing. By the year 2000, four out of five of the region's inhabitants will live in urban areas and 70 million people will live in the region's five largest cities alone. What is worrying about that fact is that life in those cities is already very difficult for far too many people. Life for the poor demonstrates many of the worst symptoms of the region's underdevelopment: vast areas of shanty towns, insufficient provision of infrastructure of services, and a lack of sufficient well-paid employment. Even the better-off suffer from urban problems, notably from serious traffic congestion, high concentrations of air and water pollution, and the lack of effective urban planning. In most Latin American cities, living conditions today are worse than they were in the middle 1970s; standards of living have deteriorated rather than improved. The only good thing to be said about this deterioration is that it has little to do with the cities' size or with the rate of population growth. Declining living standards have been much more the outcome of the debt crisis, economic recession, and rapid inflation. Bogotá, which escaped from the worst of all of these problems, is the one mega-city where living standards have improved, even though the city's population has been growing very quickly.
What is clearly needed in Latin America is both economic growth and better urban management. Fortunately, the prospects for growth in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Peru are much better than they were in the 1980s; only Mexico continues to suffer badly from economic problems. What is more problematic is the ability of the urban authorities to manage the mega-cities. The aim of this book is to show how those mega-cities fit into their respective national economies and to examine the major problems facing urban management. Of course, the relevant national and local authorities are not unaware of the daunting task facing them; this volume aims to encourage them to face up to some of the problems that they have not always managed to confront in the past.
As editor, I should like to thank the contributors for responding to my frequent requests for changes and additional information, the staff at the United Nations University for their efforts at initiating and financing the study and for publishing this book, and the cartographic unit at University College London for preparing the figures so competently. As a contributor, I should like to thank the British Council, the Institute of Latin American Studies, the Nuffield Foundation, and University College London for funding visits to Latin America.
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