By Diego Montenegro Ernst
Rural populations are continuing their relentless march to the cities. Migrants travel to the interior of countries and others cross borders and continents in search of better living conditions, access to services and employment opportunities. This flow of migration, which has grown in recent years, has triggered humanitarian crises and exerted pressure on migration policies at the global level.
The world is on the unavoidable path towards urbanization and Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) is no exception. It is the most urbanized region in the world, with 80% of its population residing in cities, 25% of whom live in conditions of abject poverty - in informal settlements with high levels of inequality, overcrowding, social exclusion and vulnerability to climate change.
These were some of the issues discussed at the recent XII International Forum on Territorial Development, which was organized by IICA and held in Bogotá, Colombia.
It is in this context that Intermediary Cities (i-cities) serve as nodes of production for goods and services, adding value and identity to rural production destined for urban centers and attracting inputs from large cities, thereby fostering exchange and employment and revitalizing local economies. I-cities are bridges that link rural and urban populations, providing employment opportunities for migrant populations – especially young people – and a better quality of life.
As defined by the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) network, i-cities are urban areas that connect rural and urban areas.
Although the parameters that UCLG uses to define i-cities are based on population (from 500,000 to one million inhabitants), recent Forums organized by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), Florida International University, the Center for Participation and Sustainable Human Development (CEPAD), the Council of Badajóz, Spain, and the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), inter alia, concluded that in the case of LAC, the definition would be subject to the national or regional reality, with respect to population, roles, opportunities and services.
It is a recognized fact that these centers are still not given priority in public policies or in international organizations, given that their problems are less visible than those in larger urban centers. Only 13 cities in Latin America are among the most competitive in the world and almost 60 cities in the region already have a population of more than one million, according to studies by CAF.
Additionally, promoting and integrating i-cities into public policy, creates the need to reassess the value of ‘rurality’, in the context of the sustainable development of regions, making it clear that rural is not synonymous with underdevelopment or poverty.
Diego Montenegro, IICA’s Director of Management and Regional Integration of IICA, remarked that, “The concept of territoriality does not refer solely to a geographic space with history and identity, but is also understood to be a complex social, dynamic and multi-functional construct. Consequently, agriculture, tourism and other economic activities are only a few examples of production and services, which create opportunities and wealth and incorporate urban and rural areas”.
It should also be noted that, with the focus on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, i-cities are playing a more prominent part in discussions and agreements of international organizations and national and international meetings of local governments.
In light of this, decisions of policy-makers should: 1) create conditions for joint public and private investment that will spur the development of i-cities, given that this relationship will determine the level of accessibility of services, technology, innovation and production infrastructure; 2) promote a sustainable agriculture sector that produces healthy, value-added food for urban populations; 3) enable a better quality of life for people living in rural areas, i-cities and large urban centers, allowing them greater access to basic services.
These are only some of the challenges that IICA is putting on the table for member states to take into account in discussions and policy dialogue, in a bid to stem the flow of migration from rural to urban areas and to foster sustainable development in rural areas.