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Sustainable city planning with the public instead of for the public

Publication date: 08-02-2024, Read time: 4 min

An introduction to a study entitled “A Collaborative Planning Framework to Support Sustainable Development – The Case of Municipal Housing in Guatemala City”

Sustainable city development requires an approach in which social, environmental and economic considerations are integrated. To achieve such an approach, cities need efficient planning and management systems and effective decision-making processes. However, in many parts of the world, city planning is still the province of civil servants only. Including stakeholders from different backgrounds would improve the process by honouring and integrating all kinds of interests and points of view that were hardly considered before. This study is dedicated to creating a suitable collaborative city planning framework based on multidisciplinary knowledge and (geo-information) data. 

Guatemala City

The study was carried out in Guatemala City. Like most Latin American countries, Guatemala has seen massive urbanization since the second half of the 20th century. Urban sprawl has led to problems such as social polarization, loss of valuable natural land, congestion and pollution. In 2005, the municipality came up with a plan for creating an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable city. In this plan, housing was identified as a key factor. The Municipal Enterprise of Housing and Urban Development (MEHUD) programme was set up to provide the necessary financial tools, management mechanisms and spatial strategies. 

Three phases

Although MEHUD recognised the need for promoting alliances with other civil actors, structured frameworks and methods for collaborative planning were not in evidence. In this study, researchers investigate how a collaborative planning framework could help to assess the suitability of sites for housing projects. Development planning could then be done “with the public” instead of “for the public”. 

The researchers see three phases in the process of urban design and decision-making:

Data integration and exchange are viewed as important elements of collaborative decision-making processes throughout all three phases.

Addressing three types of issues

Part of the study’s aim was to address social, environmental and economic issues associated with sustainable housing. 

Primary and secondary data

After stakeholders had been identified, the researchers gathered primary data by conducting face-to-face interviews and organizing a workshop with stakeholders. The secondary data was a dataset of geographical information provided by the municipality (road network, transportation systems, plots, land use data, population census tracts, traffic analysis zones, and data regarding access to infrastructure). The research focus was on middle-income housing – the most viable type of housing for the study area that was selected in consultation with MEHUD. 


All stakeholders expressed interest in collaborative approaches. As it turned out. municipal planners only have limited knowledge of the market-driven opportunities, barriers and operations related to housing provision. Developers, on the other hand, are state-of-the-art practitioners of project development and have better knowledge of the target households. All in all, the collaborative framework – thanks to new knowledge gathered – proved to be an effective tool for identifying suitable spots for sustainable city development. The participation of stakeholders in the collaborative exercises stimulated an attitude of commitment to the planning task. 

Future research

The researchers identified the following possible areas for future research:

A Collaborative Planning Framework to Support Sustainable Development: The Case of Municipal Housing in Guatemala City
Planning Support Systems Sustainable Cities
Last edited: 14-03-2024

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