At present, Greater Concepción is Chile’s second most heavily populated metropolitan area, with almost a million inhabitants. The waters of the Bio Bio River which flow out to the Pacific, the Nahuelbuta mountain range, urban lagoons and wetlands constitute Concepción’s great natural wealth, while the industrial beltway and universities underpin the city’s financial and innovative vigor.
Located 500 kilometers (310 miles) to the south of the Chilean capital, Santiago, it is an area that will seek to celebrate its 460th anniversary in 2010 by gaining entry into the exclusive world network of sustainable cities, which will make Concepción (Concepción + Plus 2010) both the first city in Chile and the southernmost one in the planet to become a part of that circle.
The idea came up almost by chance some two years ago, during one of the many conversations of Chilean architects Andrés Durán and Esteban Undurraga. Andrés Durán was in his atelier in his native city of Concepción. Esteban Undurraga was in his office in Vancouver, Canada, where he worked as a consultant to the International Centre for Sustainable Cities (ICSC).
ICSC was interested in adding a city in the southern hemisphere to its network, and Durán outlined for his colleague Concepción’s specific characteristics: it’s a pole of industrial development; generates knowledge and innovation from its universities, and has a rich historical, patrimonial and scientific heritage around the Bio Bio River and its five millenary urban lagoons, whose recovery was already set out in a plan under implementation.
«At the same time, Concepción is reaching a growth ceiling, which means it must tackle key issues which, if not adequately addressed, will bring about the slow but sure deterioration of its quality of life and viability as a competitive economy. The question was, what to do with this scenario, what the focus and vision of the future would be, given that the existing infrastructure was nearing the completion of its useful cycle,» he explained.
In the process of gathering background information, they familiarized themselves with the local government’s plans, laid out in the 2008-2015 Regional Development Strategy, and the academic world’s projections, which hoped to position Concepción (the venue of the First Global Biotechnology Forum in 2004) as Latin America’s scientific and technological capital. They then set themselves the task of complementing these initiatives with their own.
Although incorporating Concepción into the sustainable cities network involves strategic planning within timeframes of 50 and 100 years, more urgent needs exist that can very well be responded to within five years and which, in this particular case, have to do with integrating the urban transport system and reformulating the current energy matrix, mainly based on coal.
Andrés Durán explains the benefits of membership in this way: «The sustainable cities network is large enough to include many different cases, but small enough to allow for interlinking all its members. It’s also a permanent, ongoing process that constantly goes back over the road already traveled, to search for coherence in 20- or 25-year plans.”
Thanks to incorporation into the network, he adds, «It will be possible to accelerate processes that probably, if undertaken autonomously, would be slower to develop,» and make Conception a more versatile city, equipped for dealing with economic, environmental and social impacts and tensions.
The movers of this concept recently organized, as their project’s cornerstone, an international conference to which all the local stakeholders have been invited. They hope to close the process on October 5, 2010, when they will invite representatives of other cities in the network to come and formalize, in the best of scenarios, the affiliation of Concepción.