María Beatriz Valencia, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba
The selected practice is the implementation of City Planning Agreements in Córdoba, an instrument that enables public-private articulation for urban development projects with modifications to current regulations. On the grounds of an insufficient municipal budget, the local government uses this instrument to obtain financing for public works and services in exchange for flexibility in ‘too rigid’ urban planning regulations. The Agreements are instruments that have been used in many cities with great diversity of modalities and results. In addition, local governments view these initiatives with great interest due to their high possibility of replicability, but often ignoring the conditions under which they are applied and the results they achieve. The analysis of this case allows us to investigate some of its outcomes, not only in relation to land planning and use, but also in relation to how it is articulated with municipal financing, transparency and accountability, as well as the mechanisms of articulation with local actors.
In Argentina, more than 90 per cent of the population resides in urban centers. The City of Córdoba is one of the 5 most important metropolitan agglomerates, with a projection to the year 2019 of 1,446,201 inhabitants. With 576 km2, it is one of the largest cities in Latin America and includes both urban and rural areas within its territory. Local regulations differentiate them by land use. Being large and diverse, the city lacks an urban planning tool to regulate the use and occupation of land. The city has three ordinances to do that. Precisely, these norms can be modified applying the Urban Planning Agreements (Ordinance no 12077 approved in 2012) by the local council.
Due to the rigidity and lack of updating of regulations, there were also negotiations between the public and private sectors that led to exceptions prior to this ordinance. The main goal was to make real estate projects viable. The objective and official argument for the approval of the Urban Planning Agreements was to regulate them and make them more transparent to avoid discretion. The ordinance establishes three fundamental objectives: (i) to provide the municipal government with management tools to favor the development of the city, promoting private investment, in concurrence with plans, programs, works and actions of public interest; (ii) to promote public-private cooperation as well as among different public jurisdictions; (iii) to achieve urban and structural transformations more quickly and without using only public resources.
The negotiation process takes place between actors from the private sector and the municipality, especially from the Urban Development and/or Planning area, with some intervention from other areas only by request. But the reports and recommendations from them were not always taken into account. The City Planning Agreements must be approved by the local council. However, many times the requests were presented without leaving time to read them in detail and less so to allow for debates, being approved by making use of the automatic majority that the incumbent party has in the council.
Since the enactment of the ordinance, 31 Agreements of a very diverse scale, type and location were approved, involving 2,107 hectares of land in plots between 4,000 m2 and 753 hectares. These agreements enabled the construction of nearly 10 million covered square meters, generating great benefits for the private sector in exchange for a few concessions for the city, which represented meager revenues compared to the budget for public works of the Ministry of Urban Development.
Most of the agreements extended the urban sprawl to the limits of the city territory, in areas without services or urban equipment, with a large environmental impact for water streams. Through these agreements, private investors occupied more than 1,800 hectares of rural land and areas for industrial use, which ended up being part of the residential urban land market, increasing their value up to 10 times, thus limiting access to productive activities and affordable housing for vast sectors of the population. Other projects were located in the urban area, but in areas with already collapsed public services. These developments increased densities from 50 to 500 houses per hectare in neighborhoods that had previously only 25. This had an impact on both the provision of services and neighborhood identities because, although the Agreements include the obligation of the private actor to build infrastructure on the land of his undertaking, the services and maintenance of the infrastructure are in charge of the municipality.
Furthermore, only two of the projects complied with the Public Hearing instance required by the Provincial Environmental Law. One of them had to be held in two sessions due to the number of registered speakers, and the other was held in a town near the City of Córdoba, with very little publicity and assistance. In both, the opposition to the project from neighbors and experts were not answered by those responsible of the projects and the environmental licenses were finally granted.
Although the City Planning Agreements are valid tools for urban management, it is essential to pay attention to the details of its implementation. There are many aspects that could be evaluated in relation to the fulfillment of the stated objectives:
- They do not help regulate, increase transparency, and reduce discretion; they have increased it.
- They do not favor the development of the city; they have only promoted private investment, translating in practice into a model for real estate growth.
- There has not been cooperation among public actors at different levels of government, nor was the metropolitan inter-municipal coordination strengthened. They were only negotiated with private sector actors to make interventions with greater benefits for them.
- They did not contribute to achieving urban and structural transformations since most of the public works generally benefit the urban projects by the private investors.
- The city has missed the opportunity to obtain land for social or community purposes.
- Many of the agreements did not specify deadlines and guarantees of compliance and citizens cannot verify them because there are no transparency mechanisms. There are also no possibilities to quantify the impact on public resources, to monitor the destination of the funds, and the budget for public works. Furthermore, they do not consider other associated environmental and social costs in the medium and long term connected to the extension and maintenance of services and equipment.
- The ordinance does not include any form of citizen participation existing in Argentina for the approval of the Agreements and the aforementioned ‘governance clause’ is probably violating republican principles of the division of powers.
For all these reasons, we can conclude by saying that the current application of urban development agreements in the City of Córdoba does not guarantee their use in favor of the public interest. It would be possible to modify these results if changes were introduced in the ordinance and the procedures, but this does not seem to be on the political agenda in the short term.
Carta Orgánica Municipal Córdoba [Organic Chart of the Municipality of Córdoba], 1995 <https://www.cordoba.gob.ar/gobierno/carta-organica/>
Ordenanza 12077/12, 6 septiembre 2012, Regula los Convenios Urbanísticos entre la Municipalidad de Córdoba y las personas físicas y/o jurídicas de carácter público y/o privado, en lo relacionado con el fraccionamiento, uso y ocupación del suelo [Ordinance no 12077/12, of 6 September 2012, regulates the urban agreements between the Municipality of Córdoba and natural and/or legal persons of a public and/or private nature, in terms of the fractionation, use and occupation of the land] <https://servicios.cordoba.gov.ar/DigestoWeb/Page/Documento.aspx?Nro=32996>
Secretariat for Territorial Planning and Coordination of Public Works, Urban Argentina, ‘Plan Estratégico Territorial’ (Ministry of the Interior, Public Works and Housing 2018) <https://www.argentina.gob.ar/sites/default/files/plan_estrategico_territorial_2018_baja.pdf>
Scientific and Non-Scientific Publications:
Editorial, ‘Abren fuego por el Batallón 141’ Día a Día (Córdoba, 5 July 2012) <http://www.diaadia.com.ar/cordoba/abren-fuego-batallon-141>
Del Campo C and Valencia MB, ‘Los Objetivos de Desarrollo Sostenible, Una nueva oportunidad en la gestión de las ciudades’ (2019) 31 Revista Iberoamericana de Derecho Ambiental y Recursos Naturales <https://ar.lejister.com/articulos.php?Hash=b435a9d5566f5f3915d2027a72d5f998&hash_t=98ecb72bf85b464e33040724317de825>
Valencia MB, ‘Articulación Público-Privada en Intervenciones Urbanas para el Desarrollo Urbano Sustentable. Lineamientos para su implementación en un contexto de Gobernanza – Convenios Urbanísticos Córdoba’ (Master Thesis in Environmental Governance and Urban Development, FAUD UNC 2020)
Valencia MB, ‘Concertaciones y convenios urbanísticos’ La Voz del Interior (12 July 2012) <https://www.lavoz.com.ar/opinion/concertaciones-convenios-urbanisticos>
Valencia MB, ‘Análisis de la implementación de la Ordenanza 12077/12 Convenios Urbanísticos Córdoba’ (Red Ciudadana Nuestra Córdoba 2019) <https://docs.google.com/document/d/1EhV-erHpv7tCice3RrZzUBLQoMyv3Dir9A_WjoisVMg/edit%23heading=h.vkf72i1n6hzs>
 Secretaría de Planificación Territorial y Coordinación de la Obra Pública, Argentina Urbana, ‘Plan Estratégico Territorial’ (Ministry of the Interior, Public Works and Housing 2018) <https://www.argentina.gob.ar/sites/default/files/plan_estrategico_territorial_2018_baja.pdf>.
 Ordenanza de Fraccionamiento del Suelo [Soil Fractionation Ordinance] no 8060/ 86, Ordenanza de Ocupación del Suelo en Áreas intermedias y periféricas [Soil Occupation Ordinance in Intermediate and Peripheral Areas] no 8256/86, Ordenanza de Uso del Suelo [Land Use Ordinance] no 8133/85.
 María Beatriz Valencia, ‘Articulación Público-Privada en Intervenciones Urbanas para el Desarrollo Urbano Sustentable. Lineamientos para su implementación en un contexto de Gobernanza – Convenios Urbanísticos Córdoba’ (Master Thesis in Environmental Governance and Urban Development, FAUD UNC 2020).
 Organic Chart, Governability Clause (Art 137) if ‘the party that has won the most votes does not occupy half plus one of the seats’ it is ensured with the absolute majority because ‘the party to get the most votes is entitled to half plus one of the seats’ means that the role of representing citizenship seems to be undermined to become a representation of the Executive Branch.
 Portal de Gobierno Abierto, Municipalidad de Córdoba, ‘Registro de Convenios Urbanísticos_071019’ <https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/13re_dZZICTibpV8oSAFHtsbttiRNlwqMF8l7ZQAyMCg/edit#gid=1459675868>.
 María Beatriz Valencia, ‘Informe de Convenios Urbanísticos Córdoba a 7 años de su puesta en vigencia’ (2019).
 María Beatriz Valencia, ‘Concertaciones y convenios urbanísticos’ La Voz del Interior (12 July 2012); Cristina del Campo and María Beatriz Valencia, ‘Los Objetivos de Desarrollo Sostenible, Una nueva oportunidad en la gestión de las ciudades’ (2020) 31 Revista Iberoamericana de Derecho Ambiental y Recursos Naturales.
 Loteo ‘Los Ombúes’, Malagueño, 23/2/2016 <https://secretariadeambiente.cba.gov.ar/proyectosingresados/aviso-proyecto-emprendimiento-urbanistico-loteo-los-ombues-zona-urbana-la-localidad-malagueno/> and Urbanistic Project ‘Distrito Las Artes’ located in a venue known as ‘ex Batallón N° 141’, Córdoba, 14/06/2016 <https://secretariadeambiente.cba.gov.ar/cordoba-1406/>.