Residential habitat has multiple and complex manifestations in Latin America; these phenomena, given the state of the economy and development level in the region, should be addressed in accordance with their expressions and characteristics. To illustrate this point, quantitative and qualitative housing deficit is still high. Figures show that Argentina has a deficit of 2.5 million housing units with a yearly increase of 120,000; Colombia, according to data retrieved from the 2005 census, has a deficit of 1.3 million units and 200,000 new households per year; Peru has a deficit of 1 5 million units and an annual increase of 150,000; and Mexico, according to recent research, has a deficit of 6 million units.
The United Nations estimates 26 million of inadequate housing and states that 28 million of new dwellings are required to reduce overcrowding. This situation, along with the difficulties States have to fund strategies to overcome the deficit, and the different barriers families and dwellers face, constitute a negative confirmation of endemic problems. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, one out of three Latin Americans was poor in 2008, there were 213 million of people living in poverty conditions, and although GDP increased by 4.3%, poverty and inequality had more dramatic expressions at micro level. The Gini coefficient indicates that five out of the ten most unequal countries in the world are located in this region.
In the framework of the aforementioned deficit, land value, which is governed by the market, is still one of the main and uncontrolled exclusion generating factors. In addition to this, public policies neither question nor regulate land value in their design and formulation. This scenario is exacerbated by the negative influence of real estate market and private capital in the formation of equitable and inclusive cities.
Migrations and population movement constitute another growing phenomenon impacts those living in the country where it takes place; there are no answers or reactions to this problem. Given the dynamics of economic processes and its expression in globalization through vegetative growth, local, intercity and rural/urban migration, the rapid and continuous trend of people to live in intermediate cities and metropolises increase the urban amenities deficit in road infrastructure and overall services. Migration also affects inefficient management of cities and human settlements, energy demand and, in reference to Max Neef, pollution related to its satisfiers.
Particular mention should be made of the consequences of frequent natural disasters including floods, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, droughts, earthquakes, storms and cyclones, among the most common threats involving great repercussions in terms of loss of human lives as well as social and economic costs. In this context, States are forced to invest large sums of money and, apart from the Cuban case, their actions are clumsy, either because governments do not know how to manage the phases of risk in human settlements, do not involve the affected community or because management requires integral and local measures that collide with centralized governmental structures and sectoral or fragmented public policies.
This difficult and always changing scenario, along the visible and growing signs of economic instability of great powers, invites to continue the production of local, regional and general knowledge. How to design, redesign and improve sustainable urban and housing policies within the context of economic instability? What kind of technology is appropriated today and for the next decades in the continent? How can housing deficit be reduced? What can Latin America learn and share as far as habitat is concerned? In which areas should research be oriented? In which areas should study groups and networks be linked? What kind of knowledge is possible to share with European, Asian and US realities? Incidentally, the cooperation among Asian and American countries from the Pacific basin is evident and convenient. How is cross-cutting knowledge among social sciences, applied sciences and general sciences created when facing phenomena such as climate change, fragility of energy matrices, inhabiting and the search for better quality of life and sustainability? What methodologies are valid to generate original and important knowledge and results regarding regional habitat and the impact policies have on it? How can human needs and “satisfiers” be reread and understood in the context of recent economic models? What new financing models, as well as public policies related to housing and urban/rural development can be explored and assessed for application?
Formulating more questions from multiple approaches regarding the aforementioned topics would be a lengthy exercise. Revista INVI and its editorial policy place an invitation to tackle this task.
An incident factor that makes it difficult to assess, consider and investigate these questions involves citizens’ expressions that turn into social movements of different influence, legitimacy and scope levels. These movements appeal to deeper democratic processes, sustainable management of matrices, second-generation human rights or social and economic equity.
Certainly, the Cuban case is an excellent example to know diametrically opposite approaches as far as human settlement policies are concerned in relation to extreme vulnerability and different agents and actors. In this issue, the article of Erich Trefftz 50 Years of the Urban Reform Law in Cuba. The Anniversary of the Paradigm Shift analyzes the results and contradictions of the first policies implemented by the Cuban revolution as well as the prerevolutionary situation of habitat, the 1960 Urban Reform Law and current changes. Fifty years after the enactment of this law, how is the Cuban State going to deal with the new provisions aimed at modifying the predominant role of politics over economic aspects?
The second article, The Future of Habitat: Rethinking Habitability from Sustainability. The Spanish Case, written by Joaquim Arcas-Abella, Anna Pagès-Ramon and Marina Casals-Tres, recreates the dynamic concept of habitability in relation to construction, sustainability and environmental impact. Additionally, this contribution suggests guidelines by taking the Spanish case as a reference. As a result, this article provides ideas for the design of urban-housing policies in Latin America and other countries in deficit.
The contribution of Alex Leandro Pérez Pérez The Quality of Habitat for Social Interest Housing. Solutions Developed between 2000 and 2007 in Bogotá offers a methodology to evaluate the quality and satisfaction of social interest housing in Bogotá. The results of this research show dissatisfaction of inhabitants, slight improvements regarding quality of life and socio-spatial segregation; while private investors benefit from this situation.
Pedro Serrano Rodríguez in his article Post-earthquake Geodesics.Applied Research on Emergencies presents a study carried out by the Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María, Chile. This research suggests the design and construction of an easy to assemble and disassemble alternative temporary shelter that was used in areas affected by the February 2010 earthquake. This initiative is a contribution to the quest for alternative emergency shelters capable of meeting the demands that occur in this phase of risk management in Latin American countries.
Finally, the article Non-motorized Urban Transport: The Potential of Bicycle in Temuco, written by Verónica Xaviera Eltit Neumann presents a study on the feasibility and need of broadening the understanding of daily mobility in fast growing cities, especially when the increase automobilization multiplies pollution factors. In turn, the approach of this article is a contribution to the debate on the inclusion of bicycles as central part of the design of sustainable cities in Chile.
Additionally, the opinion section presents a German neighborhood improvement program that provides information regarding the challenges of urban regeneration .
Ricardo Tapia Zarricueta