Intermediary Cities: Between growth management and financial sustainability

Between 10th and 12th June, the Cities Forum, which is linked to UCLG and other institutions, took place at IFEMA, Madrid. The forum was attended by Mayors and Managers of Ibero-American cities, present to discuss issues such as sustainability, service management, public space and governance, among others. There are many points of connection and cohesion in the work of networks, and cities are interested in sharing and evaluating their experiences. The Forum for Sustainable Cities is emerging as a platform for this.

During the event, UCLG coordinated a round table on Intermediary Cities. Sara Hoeflich, on behalf of the UCLG Secretariat, introduced the theme and global agenda for Intermediary Cities, and also chaired the round table. The participants of this round table, entitled Intermediary Cities: Between growth management and financial sustainability, were the cities of Móstoles, León and Cochabamba, as well as the UNESCO Chair at the University of Lleida. Among the key issues, the following points were highlighted: How can Intermediary Cities be developed with public and private actors, and what are the emerging advantages and disadvantages? Has a difference in social planning been observed with relation to local culture?

Intermediary Cities are very dynamic and diverse. It is within Latin America, which has an urbanization level of 80%, and is expected to reach 90% in 2060, that the places suffering from major change and growth are situated. Among others, the Inter‑American Development Bank (IDB) devotes several programmes to Intermediary and Emerging Cities, especially on the theme of growth and transportation.

Challenges and prospects of Intermediary Cities

León, like many Intermediary and Peripheral Cities in Spain, has been exposed to the real estate bubble that caused the excess in housing supply. It faces the difficulty of an Intermediate City in maintaining services that are not used efficiently, such as "neighbourhoods with only 20% occupation, where services such as street lighting, transport or waste management become unaffordable." León has a public debt of 400 million euros, which translates to more than 2,000 euros per capita.

Belen Martin Granizo, León City Councillor for Urbanism, recounted the difficulties of achieving financial sustainability, and presented the city's anti-crisis strategy. A plan to cut expenditure and increase savings was implemented for a period of three years, with the slogan; "Put the house in order - before investing". This involves reviewing contracts, reducing running costs and reviewing the contraction of some services, while looking for a more immediate response to the needs of the population with the aim of increasing administrative effectiveness.

The Mayor of Móstoles, Daniel Ortiz, displayed an Intermediary City on the outskirts of Madrid returning to its own history: created as a dormitory town in the 70s and 80s, today it is a place to train, retain and attract talent and businesses.

Móstoles has benefited from its geographical position and its intermediary role, from its proximity to the capital, Madrid, as well as the work done through the association of municipalities. It has its own metro line, a state-of-the-art university, and now fulfils its planning dream: "employment created within the city itself". The financial situation reflects this positive outlook: from an annual budget of 200 million, only 40% are devolutions.

Cochabamba, on the other hand, is at risk of explosive growth related to rural-urban migration. Between 2000 and 2012 it grew by 68%. Hugo Orlando Mendoza, Director of Management and Evaluation, articulated that his city faces many pressures: informal growth and the subsequent demand for services, the pressure of the new population on the historic centre, and inadequate public services. The administration adapts to the emerging needs.

In an effort to be financially supported by the capital of the nationalized companies, Cochabamba is planning services for the population of the city and the adjoining territory – a third hospital, around ten markets, sports facilities, a transport system and a response to landfill and waste collection. Although not all of these plans can be implemented straight away, they create bases for negotiation with communities, helping to provide a wider and more long-term vision during participatory processes. Finally, the city celebrated pedestrian and bicycle days, which promotes local culture and solidarity.

Prof. Josep Maria Llop of the University of Lleida highlighted the similarities in Intermediary Cities in relation to their size and governability. Distance, for example the option to walk, or travel between home and work in less than half an hour, is a competitive advantage for these cities, given the problem of mobility in large cities.

The level of involvement and flexible relationship between the administration and the community is another advantage that was highlighted by participants, since problems are resolved more directly. "When there are shortages, there has to be new values and creativity" – emphasized the Mayor of Móstoles, referring to the elasticity of the administration, which is important in terms of innovation strategies.

Finally, from the audience, the Mayor of Morelia, Mexico, Wilfrido Lazaro Medina, emphasized the difficulties of financing development whilst also accounting for maintenance, showing once again that local funding should be planned with a long‑term vision and in a sustainable way.