Asunción green city of the Americas: joining efforts with citizens for urban sustainability
By Silvia Morimoto, UNDP’s Resident Representative in Paraguay
Paraguay is a country of friends. A common saying among citizens of this unique land, located in the heart of South America. In the evergreen city of Asunción, we have found this to be true in all areas of UNDP’s work. It is especially the case of the project “Asunción green city of the Americas — Pathways to sustainability”, led by Paraguay’s Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development (known as MADES) and implemented by UNDP, with financing from the Global Environment Facility (GEF). Partnerships with local community members and civil society have truly given a kind human face to the complex work of turning a rapidly growing city into a sustainable urban environment.
Throughout the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has awakened an interest to seek significant transformational change on the road to building forward better. Asunción, a city that has grown fast in the past decades, has proven that integrated land-use planning is not only necessary but urgent. Within the project’s framework, UNDP’s integrative role helped spark a multisectoral debate about a metropolitan approach to land-use planning for Asunción and the 10 cities around it. This launched the initiative to build an Association of Metropolitan Area Municipalities, an instance where coordinated decisions can converge to better plan the territory.
In the COVID-19 era, public transportation must be complemented with other modes of mobility, ensuring users can maintain the required physical distance. Bicycle lanes have been popping out in cities worldwide, not only due to the importance of adopting more sustainable ways to move but also, to promote safer means of transportation amid a global pandemic. The Ministry of Public Works and Communications led the participatory design of a 600 km bicycle lanes network, connecting all eleven cities within Asunción’s metropolitan area. The executive project to build the initial 61 km is ongoing, and through a strategical alliance with the Urban Cyclists Association, we gave a face and a name to the initiative: “Cycling for Climate”, see the video.
Furthermore, to improve the experience and safety of public transportation users, thirty sustainable bus shelters were installed throughout Asunción’s metropolitan area. Comfortable seats, lighting, a WiFi connection, and bins for both recyclable and organic waste are just some of the features public transportation users can now enjoy. Each bus stop is named after different species of native trees from Asunción and includes a QR code that links to the Arborization Manual.
Waste management offers unlimited opportunities for creative and innovative solutions in cities. Engaging citizens to take part in increasing waste segregation at origin and recycling, may very well be the initial path towards promoting a favorable culture towards a circular economy. Through this unique project, UNDP cooperates with both MADES and the Municipality of Asunción, in implementing a pilot initiative in the “Banco San Miguel y Bahía de Asunción” Ecological Reserve, the city’s largest green area, seeking to restore and rehabilitate the site. To avoid the proliferation of irregular dumpsites, as well as promote consistent clean-up campaigns and community empowerment, the project hired and trained local leaders to be a part of the Banco San Miguel’s Cleaning Brigade. The impact they have made in just a couple of months of work is astonishing.
Biodiversity conservation and the protection of urban green areas have always been key issues in sustainable urban development but will probably become the protagonists of the post-covid era. Open spaces outdoors guarantee a secure environment for citizens to socialize safely and for families to escape the confines of their homes. In the last couple of years, forest fires have become a constant problem during the dry seasons in Paraguay, usually around August and September. This year, park rangers have risen as the heroes, alongside firemen and women. The project carried out a complete and thorough training program for urban park rangers already employed by the MADES, including a guide manual and practical lessons on fire prevention, biodiversity conservation, and managing conflicts. The efforts to clean the Banco San Miguel, improve waste management, and increase resilience and conservation, aim at bringing back to Asuncion five migratory bird species now rarely seen.
This year, if we have learned anything, is that we need to lean on each other. In urban settings, we must lean on nature for a healthy environment and in Paraguay, it is up to citizens and institutions to work together to create a sustainable city and effectively build forward better. UNDP plays a critical role in articulating strategic alliances with diverse stakeholders. This may be the most effective way to transform Asunción. Placing citizens as protagonists of this change, we can make a greener and healthier environment for a better quality of life in the urban space.