Planting the Seeds for Community Engagement in Los Cabos: A Comprehensive Approach to Urban Development

By Daniel Ross


One of the most fundamental concepts to any multi-stakeholder process is the enormous contribution that citizens can have. The people who live, work, and play in and around public spaces possess expert knowledge as to how these places function as a whole, and often can inform and assist planners in the design and restoration of urban parks, plazas, gardens, and sports fields. By including the neighbour’s of urban parks in their redesign, the participatory approach to planning simultaneously improves public gathering places within a community and fosters greater interaction between people. This approach not only incorporates the physical, material aspects of development, but also incorporates interiority, the emotional, cultural, and spiritual values that we all share. Participatory planning facilitates the creation of vital public destinations where people feel a strong stake in their communities, and make life better for the community as a whole.

In Los Cabos, Mexico, community participation in public space design is a relatively new concept. Famous for it’s warm weather, sandy beaches, and 4-star golf courses, “Cabo” is one of the country’s top tourist destinations. Traditionally based on fishing, the southern tip of Baja California Sur’s economy now thrives on the tourist dollars that flow in waves from mostly Canadian and American “snow-birds”. Luxurious resorts dot the coastline in between Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo, and development is increasing exponentially. Unfortunately these gigantic hotels and exuberant getaways seem to take precedent over local development projects, and the hearts of both cities have become abandoned and their public spaces left in states of depreciation.

The project

El instituto municipal de planeación (IMPLAN) has partnered with Sustainable Cities International and began a pilot project that considers participatory planning as a tool for public space re-design. SCI intern Daniel Ross developed, and implemented a community engagement process for the restoration of an urban park located on the border between the communities Pablo L. Martínez and Ampliación Guaymitas. The engagement initiatives began with a qualitative diagnostic investigation of the community, introductory meetings with park neighbours, community leaders, and different municipal stakeholders. The following phases involved facilitating formal dialogue, group visioning, community asset mapping, and developing a community vision. Daniel worked closely with members of the community from the project’s inception to the end of the internship on discussing common needs and visions, as well as to collaborate in responding to the community’s pertinent concerns.

The Phases

I.      Make a presence in the community through frequent visits and informal interviews (establish a relationship based on trust)

II.    Identify and establish working relationships with local stakeholders

III.   Format and distribute surveys of space use and perception

IV.    Implement qualitative observations; behaviour mapping and entrance tracking

V.     Organize and promote community participation (posters, flyers, social media and word of mouth)

VI.    Organize the community meetings, workshops, and mapping activities

VII.   Implement and lead the meetings, workshops and mapping activities in the community

VIII.   Interpret and analyze the findings and results

IX. Use the findings and results to influence the technical architectural design and concepts

X. Maintain presence in the community with updates and a final event to present the final design and to celebrate the successes of the participatory process

Phases I-IV

The initial stages of the process consisted of qualitative and quantitative research in the community of study through the use of informal interviews, behaviour mapping and entrance tracking within the park itself, stakeholder meetings, and finally surveying. Interviews with interested community members laid a solid foundation for a relationship based on trust and mutual understanding, and also was an opportunity to learn about community values and dynamics.

Phases V-X

The first workshops held in the park were values-based, community-asset mapping activities. Instead of directly focusing on problems and necessities, concentrating on positive areas and characteristics of the community fosters the creation of a newfound community identity.


Participants sharing their very own asset-maps with the entire group during the first round of asset-mapping workshops (Image Source: Daniel Ross)


Two young girls thinking about what physical, natural, and social aspects they value within their community (Image Source: Daniel Ross)

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Sustainable Cities launches a paper on indicators for sustainability

How cities are monitoring and evaluating their success

The call for cities to engage in best practices for sustainable planning has increased. Sustainability is no longer a buzzword but a reality that must be addressed by cities all over the world.

Sustainable city planning is a relatively new concept that many cities have embraced. However, many still struggle combining or adapting their strategic plans to incorporate the sustainability aspects. Some cities have opted for having a new department for sustainability, whereas many others have decided to take a more holistic approach and integrate a strategic, sustainable plan for their cities.

Whatever the approach taken by a city is, the challenge still remains in translating those plans into tangible actions and setting up indicators that will reflect their progress towards success, considering the specific conditions and socio-cultural environment of the city.

With that in mind, we have done research in 12 cities across the globe to examine how they have established sustainability indicators to monitor the success of their sustainability plans. The paper reviews the methodologies or frameworks that these cities are using, outlines the indicators that each city is using and provides an analysis looking for commonalities and key findings that can support other cities that are in the same path.

In summary, we found that GHG emissions and the environmental aspects of sustainability are top priorities for most cities, on the other hand we found that indicators related to food issues (food security, access and use) were hardly addressed at all. We also found that projects that are more “visible” to the public take precedence, meaning infrastructure projects such as green space areas, roads, green buildings and bike paths. The paper also identifies that actions such as using backcasting in the planning process, creating public/private partnerships, institutionalizing the process and the plan, and engaging stakeholders were key success factors to advance and measure their sustainability planning efforts.

SCI would like to thank all the volunteers that were involved in producing this paper. We hope it will be a useful resource for your city. If you want to learn more about what SCI offers to support cities in their planning process or indicator setting process visit our website or contact Edna Aguiñaga ( or Pat Gordon (

This paper was made possible with financial support of the Government of Canada provided through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).


Click here to download the document




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It’s a wrap! The SCI Network Africa Program comes to an end

Sustainable Cities wishes to express our sincere thanks to everyone who has contributed to the remarkable success of our SCI Network Africa Program!

At the end of October 2012, our contract and funding provided by the Canadian International Development Agency came to an end. Since then, we have spent some time taking stock of achievements, assessing progress and discussing future opportunities.

We can confidently and proudly say that the success of this project exceeded all of our expectations. Active in Dakar, Senegal, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Durban, South Africa, many dedicated people worked together to develop stronger processes and outcomes for improving the quality of life for local citizens.

Focusing on the promotion of good governance, environmental sustainability and the transfer of knowledge gained, this project brought cities from around the world together in an alliance that formed lasting bonds and friendships, ignited potent cross-cultural exchanges, and affected all of those involved for the better.

We wish to thank all of our staff and interns, our partner agencies, which include all the local government authorities, Kesho Trust, MILE, Imagine Durban, and the Institut Africain de Gestion Urbaine (IAGU).

Well done, everyone!

cardboard recycling project in Durban ((with local NGO Asiye eTafuleni)

cardboard recycling project in Durban (with local NGO Asiye eTafuleni)


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A participatory development approach to mapping sustainability– the eThekwini Green Map

By Brittany Morris

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“People today have an urge – an impatient urge – to participate in the events and processes that shape their lives”. UNDP

Participatory development and design can take on many forms and applications in both a local or international context. A participatory approach to development has become a widely accepted model in urban sustainability planning and practise, one form being the purposeful representation of landscapes we’ve all come to know (and for some of us, love) –maps! Untangling local knowledge and community conceptions of place, participatory mapping has emerged as a dominant paradigm in inclusive approaches to sustainable design for cities.

Mapping urban sustainability in eThekwini, South Africa

eThekwini Municipality’s Imagine Durban project has led the development of the eThekwini Green Map – an interactive tool that showcases the sustainability features of the municipal area. Community-oriented in design, the Green Map is a form of participatory development that uses mapmaking as the medium to produce community-asset maps featuring sites of sustainability. eThekwini joins the Green Map system in this global initiative. A universal set of 170 icons are used as the language to visually depict the sites on the Green Map. The online Google platform of the map presents this resource as an open-knowledge sharing platform on localized social and environmental sustainability issues and assets.

Online eThekwini Green Map

Online eThekwini Green Map

The eThekwini Green Map “will involve all citizens in building and enjoying a more sustainable city” says Bongumusa Zondo, Senior Manager of Imagine Durban. Providing an opportunity for locals and visitors to view eThekwini through a sustainability lens, the Green Map offers a new perspective of the municipal area and visually communicates a sustainability portrait of the communities within eThekwini.

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The Growing-pains of Urban Waste and the Sustainable Solutions

By Apryl Shaw

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Disposal of increasing quantities of urban solid waste is a major challenge for municipal authorities. With over half of the world’s population living in cities, municipalities are challenged to manage the physical growth of their cities in a manner that will enable cities to deliver the critical services of water, waste, education and transportation in the most cost-effective ways possible.

As one of the world’s fastest growing cities, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, has reached its tipping point with new arrivals. Many people are setting up homes in hastily erected shacks leaving approximately 70 percent of Dar es Salaam’s population living in informal (unplanned) settlements according to UN estimates.

Like many developing cities, “Dar es Salaam has gone 20 years without any guidance on planning, and now badly needs a master plan”, says Joe Boyle, in a BBC News article entitled Dar es Salaam: Africa’s next megacity. Sustainable Cities International – Network CIDA Africa Program and Bremen Overseas Research and Development Association (BORDA) have been working closely with Kisiwani Environmental Group (KEG), a local community group, for the last two years on waste separation and composting. This project provides unique solutions and best practices for the City of Dar es Salaam by improving waste collection in Ilala Municipality, employment for marginalized youth, reduced waste transported to the dumpsite through recycling and composting and the compiling and gathering of data on the residents served by KEG.

This picture speaks to the need and desire for many to find work; KEG transfer site

This picture speaks to the need and desire for many to find work; KEG transfer site

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Friends of the Colima River

By Dawna Pachkowsky

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Like most urban sustainability initiatives, citizen participation is an essential component for the success of management of the river systems in Colima, Mexico. For this reason, el Instituto de Planeacion para el Municipio de Colima (IPCo) has recognized the need to involve the public in the improvement of the river systems and has identified the Colima River as the first project to be realized in this process.

For the size of the Colima River and the lack of information, IPCo has decided to start with a Pilot Project called “Friends of the Colima River” which involves the collection of information from residents and application of activities in the neighbourhoods of Barrio la Atrevida and Jardines de la Corregidora. These residents are a sample of the total population of Colima and the information gathered will guide future steps towards the recovery of the Colima River.

Survey Area: Jardines de la Corregidora (A/B) and Barrio la Atrevida (C/D)

Study area

In the selected region for the pilot project, we separated the two neighbourhoods into four zones. Zone A and B are situated in the neighbourhood of Jardines de la Corregidora, while Zone C and D are situated in the neighbourhood of Barrio la Atrevida. The Colima River runs through the two neighbourhoods in between Zone B and C. The map above shows two green spaces in Zone A and B that represent the public space that is available to use. In Zone B there is also a small section of walking space along the side of the river. The lack of green space shown in Zone C and D is representative of the lack of public space that exists in this neighbourhood. Additionally, it is important to note that there is no open access to the Colima River in Zone C and D.

With regards to the pilot project we chose these two neighbourhoods for their location in the city, their proximity to the river and for the difference in resources (financial, space etc.). Jardines de la Corregidora (Zone A and B) has more public space, less people and more resources (with bigger and more secure houses) than that of Barrio la Atrevida (Zone C and D).

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The Green Dividend of Social Sustainability

Freya Kristensen is the most recent addition to our Affiliated Researcher Program.  A PhD candidate in the department Geography at Simon Fraser University and a researcher with the SFU Centre for Sustainable Community Development, her work examines how international municipal sustainability networks influence policy learning around sustainability.

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Why are cities around the world embracing the concept of sustainability? Why are they branding themselves as ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ cities, creating sustainability offices, and joining international sustainability networks?

When I first began my PhD work on urban sustainability, I took a rather cynical view of cities’ motivations. I thought it was all perhaps just a marketing ploy; a way to draw attention to the city and attract investment dollars. There is little doubt that cities’ engagement with sustainability is at least partly motived by a desire to draw that kind of attention and investment.

Sustainability has been inextricably linked to ‘liveability’ after all. Scoring green points on something like the Mercer Quality of Life survey, for example, can help boost your overall ranking. And high marks for ‘liveability’ often translate to higher real estate prices.

But is that it? Curious, I wanted to explore what concrete policies lay behind cities’ often vague declarations around sustainability.

Beyond Skin-Deep Sustainability

The concept of sustainability is based around three key aspects or ‘pillars’: the environmental, the social, and the economic. Sustainability requires that each of these three areas be taken into account when making decisions or setting policies. But generally environmental sustainability receives the most attention.

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