Sustainable cities are the key to sustainable development. The majority of Latin Americans currently live in cities, so their quality of life depends on the conditions, physical infrastructure and institutions that urban areas offer.



Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. According to UN-Habitat, Latin America is the most
urbanized developing region in the world.

From Citizens’ Initiatives to Sustainable Development

D espite the robust economic growth experienced by Latin America over the last decade, progress for millions of its citizens has been hampered by unequal distribution of the benefits of this growth. Inequality is the main obstacle standing in the way of sustainable cities.

According to UN-HABITAT, Latin America is the most urbanized developing region in the world with 80% of Latin Americans living in cities. These cities increasingly affect surrounding natural resources due to the growing pressure of urban consumption.  If Latin America succeeds in finding solutions to the environmental, cultural, economic and political challenges of creating more sustainable cities, its example could have global implications as other emerging regions begin the urbanization process. For Avina, the creation of sustainable cities depends on involved citizens participating democratically in local governance to ensure that public decision-making favors the common good.


What Avina Does for Sustainable Cities

From Guadalajara, Mexico, to San Martin de los Andes, in the Patagonia of Argentina, Avina’s strategy to spur the construction of sustainable cities is based on recognizing, supporting and coordinating dozens of urban citizen movements. These groups draw together local leaders, businesses and civil society organizations to monitor and influence urban policy, regulation and the municipal programs that affect the quality of life of city residents. This experiment in citizen involvement in city government is currently underway in more than 70 urban areas that are linked thanks to Avina’s active support of the Red Latinoamericana de Ciudades Justas, Democráticas y Sustentables (Latin American Network for Fair, Democratic and Sustainable Cities).

Results in 2012 were related to the positioning, mobilization and enhanced capacity of local initiatives and citizen movements at the local and national level.  One of the most relevant events was a citizens’ summit about cities and climate change which took place in Bogotá in November 2012.  Mayors from across the region renewed their pledges to reduce the negative effects of climate change on city dwellers, and more than a dozen mayors added their signatures.

Last year saw the proliferation of city management plans in dozens of Latin American cities.  It is increasingly common for citizens to hold their mayor accountable for meeting performance goals according to a public management plan. But what would happen if the mayor’s own municipal management plan was formulated jointly with citizens even before the elections?   This year we are pleased to see the implementation of this idea, called the “programmatic vote”, where citizens vote for the plan and its performance goals associated with the candidate.  It is another democratic innovation born in Colombia, that is now being adopted by hundreds of mayoral candidates in Brazil and Chile, offering not only a different way of doing politics, but also a municipal management tool based on clear indicators for performance and priorities for decision-making.


Here are some of the results of Avina’s work with partners during 2012 on behalf of the Sustainable Cities Opportunity for Impact:


Sustainable Cities Program in Brazil

T he Sustainable Cities initiative ― a campaign for citizen accountability and participation in city government ― made history in Brazilian municipal elections by convincing hundreds of mayoral candidates to sign public pledges regarding their intended program of government.  Under the coordination of the Rede Nossa São Paulo (Our São Paulo Network), the Rede Social Brasileira por Cidades Justas e Sustentáveis (Brazilian Network for Fair and Sustainable Cities), the Instituto Ethos and with Avina’s support, 555 mayoral candidates from all political parties in 330 cities made a formal commitment to this participatory citizens’ platform for accountability in municipal government.  Among those candidates, 205 were elected to govern in urban areas whose combined population is over 60 million people, or about 30% of the Brazilian population. The “programmatic vote” requires candidates to present transparently their administration plan before the elections and to implement those plans if elected.  In this case, the tool included 100 indicators divided into 12 categories to measure sustainability in urban areas, facilitating goal-setting and replication of best practices.


Additionally, two of Avina’s allies—Jogos Limpos (Clean Games) and Atletas pela Cidadania (Citizen Athletes)—joined forces with the Rede Social Brasileira por Cidades Justas e Sustentáveis to develop a programmatic vote campaign aimed at the transparency, integrity and legacy of investments in the host cities of the 2014 Soccer World Cup in Brazil.  After meeting with different segments of society, the mayors of Belo Horizonte, Cuiabá, Curitiba, Manaus, Porto Alegre, Salvador, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Recife, Natal and Fortaleza made a public commitment to adopt the standards proposed by these groups and to establish social and environmental performance goals for their administrations. In three of these cities (Belo Horizonte, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro) these commitments are now mandatory, as the city ordinances mandate that each new administration must present a government management plan for sustainability that is in keeping with the promises made during the electoral campaign.


Chile’s “Vote for a Program, Don’t Throw Away Your Vote”

Photo: Soledad Sandoval

Senator Soledad Alvear; executive director of Cooperativa Territorio Sur
(Southern Territory Cooperative), Patricia Beltrán; Fundación Avina
representative, Iván Salazar; and Chiloé Cómo Vamos (Chiloé How are we
Doing) representative, Francisco Urrutia, during the launch of “Vote for a
Program, Don’t Throw Away Your Vote.”

With Avina’s technical and financial support, the Red de Territorios Ciudadanos (Citizens’ Territory Network) carried out the “Vota programa, no botes tu voto” (“Vote for a Program, Don’t Throw Away Your Vote”) campaign ahead of mayoral and council member elections in Chile. The network led an initiative to encourage candidates to prepare their plan for government with input from citizens and present it to the public with a pledge to follow through upon their election. The campaign was part of the Citizens’ Territory Network’s overall goal for a national law to require the “programmatic vote” and instituting the recall referendum in Chile.

During the two months leading up to elections, in 31 of the most populous municipalities in the country 59% of the candidates presented a plan for their administration —up from 18% in previous elections. Among these, 26 of the candidates (and 21 politicians running for city council) signed on to the campaign in favor of a national law for the “programmatic vote” and the recall referendum.


It is especially significant that a dozen candidates created their respective government programs through a participatory process of consultation with citizens. At the same time, 15 candidates registered their programs before a notary public, meaning that the program is mandatory once in office. The “Vote for a Program” campaign and its promotion in the media and social networks created a new dynamic in the municipal elections and established an important precedent ahead of the 2013 presidential elections.


Sustainable Cities in Mexico


Los Arcos in Guadalajara, Mexico. “Jalisco Cómo Vamos” (Jalisco How are
we Doing) is a citizens’ initiative for more democracy and participation to
promote government transparency and accountability.

The Red Mexicana de Ciudades Justas, Democráticas y Sustentables (Mexican Network for Fair, Democratic and Sustainable Cities) was born in late 2010 with the creation of the “Jalisco Cómo Vamos” (Jalisco How are we Doing) citizen movement, an initiative for more democracy and participation to promote government transparency and accountability in the city of Guadalajara.


The effectiveness of the network’s team work is evident in the creation of a system of indicators and several citizen perception polls. These management techniques to provide common points of reference for city government have now been adopted by Mexico City, Monterrey, Ciudad Juárez and León. These cities in Mexico joined the city network and are contributing their own knowledge, strategies and organizational techniques to strengthen citizen participation and advocacy for public policies addressing the issues most in demand at the municipal level: water, public spaces, transportation and the environment.

Countries where Avina’s Sustainable Cities Opportunity for Impact operates



Our main allies and co-
investors for this Opportunity for Impact in 2012 were: 

  • Avina Americas who contribute to strengthen the Sustainable Cities movement across Latin America, especially the impact of citizens’ participation in decision-making at the municipal level.
  • UN-Habitat: this United Nations agency collaborated on a study about inequality in cities. The Latin American Network for Just, Democratic and Sustainable Cities conducted citizen perception surveys in ten Latin American cities, and the results will be published in UN-Habitat’s study.
  • CAF-Development Bank of Latin America: with which we promote inter-agency dialogue at a regional level and at the national level to find opportunities for collaboration with Avina’s allies, through summits, technical seminars and specific projects in different countries in the region.
  • New Cities Foundation (NCF): with which we established a collaborative relationship around the annual event, New Cities Summit, organized by NCF in 2012. Avina and its allies in The Latin American Network for Just, Democratic and Sustainable Cities contributed to the panel on Latin American cities.
  • IBM: A relationship that has given the Sustainable Cities national networks access to the company’s collaborative platform, Smart Cloud for Social Business, and contributed to the strengthening of local citizen movements.
  • OAK Foundation and the Latin American Climate Initiative (ICAL), Hewlett Foundation and the Children Investment Fund of the United Kingdom: A collaborative relationship that has disseminated the work of the Brazilian Network of Just and Sustainable Cities and led to the joint creation of a proposal for co-investing in the development of the Sustainable Cities Program.