Urban Lawyer

The (Still Frail) Incorporation of the Sustainability Concept in Chilean Urban Planning Instruments

by Arturo Orellana, Federico Arenas & Juliana Carvalho Silva

This Article was developed in the framework of the research carried out by the Center for Sustainable Urban Development (CEDEUS) FONDAP 15110020 program and the Anillos Research Project SOC1106 of the PIA program, both funded by the National Commission for Science and Technology of Chile (CONICYT).

Arturo Orellana is an associated professor of the Urban and Regional Studies Institute of the Pontificia Universidad Cato´lica de Chile, Doctor in Human Geography by the Universidad de Barcelona, Master in Urban Development by the Pontificia Universidad Cato´lica de Chile, Economist by the Universidad de Chile.

Federico Arenas is a professor of the Geography Institute of the Pontificia Universidad Cato´lica de Chile, Doctor in Economical and Social Sciences, with mention in Geography, by the University of Geneva, and Geographer by the Pontificia Universidad Cato´lica de Chile.

Juliana Carvalho Silva is a research assistant of the Urban and Regional Studies Institute of the Pontificia Universidad Cato´lica de Chile, Master in Human Settlements and Enviroment by the same university, graduated in International Relations by the Pontificia Universidad Cato´lica de Minas Gerais, Brasil.

I.  Introduction

In recent decades, there has been a growing interest and concern regarding sustainability. Various academic and political groups have disseminated this growing concern for sustainability through diverse conventions and multilateral agreements. Although the concept of sustainability has been internationally promoted, taking the concept to practice is, in the end, a task given to national governments. The national governments then frequently delegate responsibilities to lower levels of government. This is a crosscutting task that requires efforts for institutional and sectorial coordination along with capacity building,1 interdisciplinary approaches, and comprehensive planning, all combined with ongoing theoretical contributions on the subject.

In this context, territorial urban planning committed to the pursuit of a perdurable balance between the environmental, social, and economic fields is needed to increase urban sustainability. This article discusses how the concept of sustainability and its dimensions have been incorporated into Chile’s territorial planning instruments. For this article, we have chosen to examine five territorial planning instruments: two of normative character and three of indicative character. Together these instruments form the basic structure of urban development and planning in major Chilean cities.

Figure 1: Location of Studied Cases

The case studies for the analysis either are consolidated metropolitan areas in Chile (Greater Santiago, Valpara´ıso, and Gran Concepcio´n) or are in the process of becoming a consolidated metropolitan area (Iquique-Alto Hospicio, Antofagasta, La Serena-Coquimbo, Rancagua- Machal´ı, Temuco-Padre de las Casas, and Puerto Montt-Puerto Varas). The case studies correspond to nine regions2 and fifty-nine communes3 where almost 60% of the total population of the country resides, and where the selected planning instruments are put into action. Based on a methodology that combines techniques of content analysis and the application of descriptive statistics using results of an exploratory nature, we concluded that the concept of sustainability (as conceived theoretically) is scarcely incorporated, especially in normative instruments. The recognition of some of its main dimensions — social equity, local economic development, and environmental sustainability — is also uncommon.

II.  Sustainability: From Abstraction to Praxis

The concept of sustainability is increasingly popular and in frequent use around the world. Sustainability appears in reports, academic papers, the news, and even in advertisements, most often with a positive connotation.4 There is little clarity, however, as to what sustainability means. There have been various interpretations and formulations of the concept of sustainability. These various interpretations and formulations emphasize different aspects of sustainability and prioritize different practices, depending on the discursive matrix to which they are affiliated.5

Figure 2: Ravetz’ Sustainability Spheres

To date, the most recognized form of the concept of sustainable development is associated with the 1987 publication of the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development report “Our Common Future,” better known as the Brundtland Report.6 The Brundtland Report highlights the importance of balancing the needs of present and future generations in ecological, social, and economic fields to overcome the challenges we face, and to better achieve sustainable development.7

To achieve these balances, it is important to respect the capacity for renewal and provision of ecosystems, as well as to review and reconsider the horizons of our processes of decision-making, focusing on the long term, to be able to promote intergenerational equity. In 2000, Ravetz popularized the balance between three areas — social and political, economy and industry, and environment and resources — by plotting three spheres that intersect to demonstrate a scheme for achieving sustainability.8 Public policy and its planning must simultaneously promote equilibrium between human needs and consumption demands to achieve a greater quality of life. This encourages greener lifestyles within cultural goals and endorses more efficient, cleaner technologies to protect the earth’s ecosystems, while still attending to humanity’s needs. The difficulty of translating this conceptual model into practice has led to different interpretations of both the model proposed by Ravetz, as well as the scope of the concept of sustainability.9

While there is no consensus on how to implement the definition of sustainability,10 we highlight the United Nations’ Agenda 21 of 1992 as one of the tentative definitions.11 Agenda 21 is possibly the best- known and most referenced source when translating the concept of sustainability into lines of action, including more concrete and specific programs.12 According to Barton, the “[Brundtland] report showed [a]  broad framework of interconnected systems, each with a clear direction, while the Agenda 21 criteria, indicated the aspects of management at the local level.”13

Since then, many summits and multilateral agreements have occurred, such as the Cancun Climate Change Conference in 2010 and the Rio United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012. These summits and agreements have contributed to strengthening the concept of sustainability in the international sphere by reinforcing its status as a universal goal.14 This universal goal is based on a global interest shared by all of humanity and is the responsibility of each and every country, especially those politically committed to this international issue. These events are able to establish bridges between the international arena, where the negotiations take place, and the local scales of national states.15 This statement is reaffirmed by most of the United Nations final reports on sustainability, which contain sections devoted specifically to the urban issue.16 Without going into the specifics of any of these international agreements, what interests us is emphasizing that as a signatory, the Chilean state must take steps to implement content prescribed in these documents within its territory.

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