2. Toward a renewed national urban policy in Colombia

Colombia is one of the most urbanised countries in Latin America and the OECD. More and more Colombians reside in urban areas, with the expectation of improving their quality of life. As in the rest of the world, for Colombia, effective management of cities represents an opportunity to achieve the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Cities also constitute a valuable tool to underpin recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, to realise the potential of cities to contribute to national goals, Colombia needs to get urbanisation under control, tackle the negative externalities caused by agglomeration and ensure that residents are able to satisfy their basic needs.

To this end, over the last three decades, Colombia has engaged in a process to design, implement and reform urban policies to improve the habitat and living conditions of its urban population. Early NUPs have evolved responding to different challenges and changes in national priorities. Despite their possible limitations, NUPs have been seminal to raise awareness of local authorities, public organisations and citizens of the importance of getting cities and urbanisation right if the country wants to develop its economy, raise living standards and protect the environment.

The latest generation of these policies is the National Policy for the Consolidation of the System of Cities in Colombia (Consejo Nacional de Política Económica y Social [CONPES] 3819, hereinafter “System of Cities”) adopted in 2014. It constitutes the current NUP framework. However, this national policy is reaching a point where it needs to be revised and renewed. The System of Cities was built with a mid-term planning horizon (2014-19) and almost all of the investment projects and programmes that derived from it are now completed. For this reason, in 2019, background work for the elaboration of a new NUP framework called Cities 4.0 (Ciudades 4.0) started under the leadership of the Ministry of Housing, City and Territory (Ministerio de Vivienda, Ciudad y Territorio, MVCT) of Colombia, which seeks to position itself as the main actor in urban policy at the national level. Due to the electoral cycle, the preparation of the new NUP will be continued by the new administration to be elected in 2022.

The assessment and recommendations formulated in this chapter are based on the information collected through: a literature review; the background questionnaire answered by the national government of Colombia; interviews with different stakeholders from the national and subnational governments as well as members of the academia; and the OECD Survey on Urban Policy in Colombia, 2021, conducted with the support of the MVCT and the Colombian Association of Capital Cities (AsoCapitales).

This chapter will present a comparative assessment of the current NUP framework in Colombia, taking as a benchmark the 2021 monitoring of the global state of NUP frameworks across 162 countries conducted by Cities Alliance, the OECD and UN-Habitat.

More than three-quarters of the population in Colombia live in cities, compared to an average of 69% in OECD countries (OECD, 2018[1]) and 48% across the world in 2015 (OECD/EC, 2020[2]). Urban settlements are growing and will continue doing so in the coming decades as the population grows. By 2050, Colombian authorities expect over 14 million new urban residents in addition to the current 35 million (Gobierno de Colombia, 2014[3]). However, this rapid urbanisation is not unfolding in a planned, co-ordinated, and managed fashion. This is reflected in social (i.e. inequality, urban poverty), economic (i.e. poor physical and digital connectivity among cities) and environmental challenges (i.e. poor air quality) challenges. The unplanned city growth has given origin to informal developments where living conditions are particularly hard due to poor access to basic services (i.e. water, sanitation, electricity) and long distances to employment opportunities. Colombian cities present problems related to land tenure and homelessness, unemployment, environmental hazards, absence of multi-purpose public space, inadequate and overburdened infrastructure, inefficient public service delivery, the lack of state protection, and corruption, which together aggravate inequality, informal employment and poverty. Tackling these issues depends largely on improving the quality of urbanisation and the functioning of cities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has imposed an unprecedented shock on the Colombian city system and its infrastructures, amplifying pre-existing inequalities. Although Colombia was making progress in lifting people out of poverty, this improvement was still weak as many people remained highly vulnerable to the effects of economic cycles. Colombia entered the COVID-19 pandemic with a weak low-middle income class, which lacked a safety net to face the crisis. The pandemic is likely to exacerbate inequality due to the higher incidence of the virus in the most vulnerable segments of the population. For example, in the departments of Guainía and Vaupés, approximately 20% of households live in overcrowded conditions and more than 30% of houses lack adequate materials and services; these residents face serious limitations to self-isolation and to following basic protective measures such as washing hands, and therefore people tend to spend more time outdoors due to overcrowding (Pinilla, Ramírez Varela and González, 2020[4]).

The COVID-19 pandemic is having an impact on almost every aspect of people’s lives, including health, income, job quality and security, housing, social interactions and family relations. In particular, the COVID-19 crisis is threatening the well-being of younger generations, whose life prospects have been deeply affected, leading to social discontent. Vulnerable informal workers who are not part of a household supported by a social assistance programme live on a day-by-day basis and cannot work remotely. Many of the informal workers had seen an improvement in their quality-of-life standards but the pandemic has increased the risk that they might slip back into the subsistence economy. Even basic health measures, such as washing hands and physical distancing, are complicated to follow due to the lack of basic services and overcrowded housing conditions. The pandemic has highlighted the shortage of stable and affordable housing for the most vulnerable households despite the implementation of social support programmes and existing subsidies for housing acquisition and renewal.

The impact of the pandemic on economic activity and social conditions has been particularly acute among the middle- and low-income population. Low-paid workers and minority groups (i.e. migrants) are employed in sectors particularly exposed to lockdowns and loss of demand, such as the tourism industry, the hospitality sector, cleaning firms or the education sector where schools had to close as students could not pay tuition fees and/or continue their classes online. The combination of the pandemic and longstanding inequalities has contributed to fuelling social discontent reflected in mass protests in the first half of 2021. Rural residents experience particularly hard living conditions. Rural areas have been affected by years of fighting for territory control and land possession, and tend to have lower levels of access to affordable housing, quality healthcare and education services, as well as formal jobs (Rendón Acevedo and Gutiérrez Villamil, 2019[5]).

The Compromiso por el Futuro de Colombia (Commitment to the Future of Colombia) is the national government’s strategy for economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, which was complemented with policy actions for recovery and sustainable growth in February 2021 (Box 2.1). It lays out a roadmap for the economic and social reactivation of the country to be executed between 2020 and 2022. The strategy has mobilised high levels of public funding to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic (approximately COP 100 billion,1 or USD 25.8 billion) and aims to create 1 million jobs. A key component of the strategy is to support vulnerable and impoverished sectors of the population through the ingreso solidario (solidarity income) to ensure a minimum income. The national government is planning to extend the programme until the end of 2022 but there seems to be no exit strategy from this massive short-term public support. Moreover, the national government has not yet seized the opportunities of cities to deal with the triple crisis: health, economic and social. While the impact of the current recovery measures on cities remains uncertain, if not properly managed, they might also create unintended negative side effects. For example, the recovery strategy highlights a commitment to supporting the most vulnerable groups and offers them options to access homeownership. However, only focusing on helping vulnerable households access homeownership may have negative effects on labour mobility in the long term. Housing construction projects, if not properly co-ordinated with land use plans, may also exacerbate urban sprawl, which is a challenge in many urban areas in Colombia. The recovery measures adopted to deal with the COVID-19 crisis must be designed for the mid- and long-term periods to anticipate future negative side effects. For example, if the ingreso solidario provides a rental housing subsidy, it should consider the impact it may have on potential increases in rental costs if the stock for rental housing is not enough.

Even though cities in Colombia continue to attract population, they do not always offer the expected opportunities to improve living conditions. Access to higher wages and amenities of all types comes with increased costs of living, air pollution, congestion and long commutes. International migration, particularly from neighbouring Venezuela, is putting additional pressure on scarce resources and capacities at the local level for satisfying basic needs such as housing.

Colombia remains a very unequal country despite improvements in key social indicators (OECD, 2014[13]; 2019[14]). Cities mirror this situation as they show high levels of inequality and spatial segregation between wealthy and poor neighbourhoods, giving room to the social exclusion of low-income residents (see Chapter 1). The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the deficiencies of Colombia’s urbanisation process as poverty-stricken households were the most affected by the health crisis. According to the National Administrative Department of Statistics (Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadística, DANE), the share of the population living under the national poverty level increased from 35.7% in 2019 to 42.5% in 2020, with Bucaramanga and Cúcuta seeing the highest increases in extreme poverty levels.2

According to the results of the OECD Survey on Urban Policy in Colombia conducted in 2021, the main social policy challenge for municipalities is housing affordability (Figure 2.1). Ensuring that low-income households have access to adequate housing has been a priority of national and subnational governments for at least two decades. According to the national banking association Asobancaria (2020[15]), more than 500 000 households are living in overcrowded conditions in Colombia and more than 1 million housing units need upgrading to reach adequate quality standards. However, according to the ministry of housing, 3.8 million households live in homes that can be improved through renovation (MVCT, 2020[16]). Social inclusion and protection are the second major challenge for Colombian municipalities. This challenge refers to supporting people living in poverty, reducing inequality and dealing with discrimination against, for example, disabled people, women and ethnic groups. As Chapter 1 has noted, Colombia is one of the most unequal countries in Latin America, and although the country has been tackling this issue for more than two decades, more needs to be done to reduce inequality in light of the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

Even though the coverage of the urban population in public services is almost complete, the demand for services is growing, their quality is uneven and the needs for specific services vary across cities. For example, Cali is struggling to improve its sewage system and to address high costs in electricity; Barranquilla and Medellín face the challenge of illegal connections to public services; Cartagena needs to improve the coverage and quality of the water supply (Borja and Gómez, 2015[17]); Valledupar needs to provide affordable housing for local and international migrants but with limited resources; Barrancabermeja has to deal with illegal settlements and irregular housing; Arauca is experiencing growing levels of poverty and the invasion of environmental reserves for illegal settlements due to international migration; Manizales needs to improve infrastructure for active mobility, considering it has a large cohort of elderly population; Palmira requires revising its transport plan to connect the city with the airport; Chia has a deficit of affordable land for social housing.

Inequality in Colombian cities is leading to insecurity. The lack of safety and security in cities has been a constant challenge in Colombia for several decades. Insecurity is a holistic issue that cannot be solved only through policing measures. It is often deeply rooted in inequality, unemployment and weak social cohesion that permeate Colombian cities. According to Colombian researchers, population density facilitates crime due to the larger possibilities of organisation and secrecy and it is a high-ranking problem in at least the six main cities of the country: Barranquilla, the Capital District of Bogotá (hereafter Bogotá, D.C.), Bucaramanga, Cali, Cartagena and Medellín (Unimedios, 2015[18]).3

As in the rest of the world, housing construction and supply has an important impact on national and subnational economic activity in Colombia as it contributes to job creation and economic growth. Not surprisingly, housing construction and supply is a top priority for municipalities in Colombia (Figure 2.2). In the pre-COVID-19 period, the construction sector contributed between 6.2% and 7.3% of the national GDP over the last decade and, in 2018, it employed 1.5 million workers (6.2% of national employment) (Asobancaria, 2020[15]). In 2018, more than half of the activities in the construction sector focused on housing construction (52%), followed by civil works (infrastructure) (28%) (Asobancaria, 2020[15]). Therefore, prioritising housing construction represents the opportunity for municipalities to meet their social and economic goals, and support green recovery if constructions standards are followed (see Chapter 4).

Another challenge for Colombian cities is their isolation from each other. This is due to geographic features but also to the lack of investment in physical and digital connectivity infrastructure. Developing a good quality road network is the second most important priority for development in municipalities (Figure 2.2). This context negatively influences the cities’ economic performance and that of the country in general. Colombia’s cities have limited industrial specialisation and no complementarity among them (DNP, 2014[19]). The constant industrial mobility “in and out” of cities prevents their specialisation; for example, in Bogotá, D.C., 219 industrial establishments exited while only 120 arrived in the city between 2005 and 2015 (Fuentes López, Jiménez Reyes and Pérez Forero, 2019[20]). As Chapter 1 shows, 23 out of 1 102 municipalities produce half of the country’s real GDP and almost 40% is concentrated in 5 cities. The national government has been working to diversify the economy by shifting from commodity exports (such as oil and coffee) to manufacturing and, eventually, a knowledge-intensive economy. To this end, Colombia requires a more efficient urban system that connects cities physically and digitally and serves to strengthen connections to external markets as well as to attract a talented workforce that contributes to economic development. Efforts to improve connectivity would need to take into account the country’s natural geography characterised by its mountainous terrain that leads to a dispersed system of cities that limits trade among them. Freight is mostly carried out by road, adding to logistics costs and undermining the country’s economic competitiveness. However, freight transport damages road infrastructure and increases congestion at the entrance of cities and in the main urban roads, as the distribution centres are typically located in the city centre.

Unemployment and informality are two main features of the urban economy in Colombia. Although unemployment levels have decreased in recent years (OECD, 2019[14]), the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to halt such progress (see Chapter 1). The challenge for Colombian city authorities is to adopt employment policies that seek to address the informal economy by incentivising informal workers to move to the formal economy. The problem of informality goes beyond street vendors simply occupying public space; many individuals actually wish to remain in the informal sector to avoid paying taxes and the accounting burden, and to increase their income. Although informality does not mean illegality, the difference between the two is rather tenuous. The informal economy may be seen as the origin of informal housing and settlements. Since the housing policy reserves access to formal housing for people working in the formal economy, the only way for informal workers to find shelter is through informal housing since they do not have access to mortgages (see Chapter 4).

As Colombian cities sprawl, people need to travel longer distances to access jobs, education and services (see Chapter 1). No city provides efficient land use for the distribution of facilities shortening the distance residents have to travel, different transport modes and sufficient infrastructure to support non-motorised mobility such as public transport or walking and cycling. Mobility problems are exacerbated by poor infrastructure conditions, fragmented transport systems, informal public transport and occupation of the public space that hinders mobility (i.e. informal street vendors) (see Chapter 3).

Like many other cities around the world, Colombian cities face serious environmental challenges. Poor air quality is a constant problem among the main cities. Bogotá, D.C., Cali, Manizales, Medellín and Santa Marta among others present high levels of particulate matter PM10 and PM2.5 (IDEAM, 2018[21]). Bogotá, D.C., the capital city, also registers high levels of air pollution by NO2 and SO2. Carbon monoxide (CO) emissions across Colombian cities are below the national permissible levels (IDEAM, 2018[21]). Poor air quality has a negative effect on people’s health, leading to higher risks of developing respiratory diseases. Informal workers, who are most likely to spend time in the street, are also more likely to suffer from air pollution (see Chapter 1). In Bogotá, D.C. and Cali, 30% of the urban population is exposed to high levels of noise.4

Although Colombia only contributes to 0.4% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at the global level, it will feel the impact of climate change more acutely (Gobierno de Colombia, 2017[22]). In Latin America, Colombia has one of the highest levels of disasters caused by natural phenomena associated with climate change, with 600 events on average every year (Gobierno de Colombia, 2017[22]). Cities like Bogotá, D.C., Cali and San Andrés are among the most likely to be affected by climate change through events such as floods and storms. The unsustainable use of natural resources such as water and oil, energy and wood consumption is also creating pressure on the environmental sustainability of cities. The housing sector, for instance, uses 8.2% of national water through sectors such as industry and mining.5 Moreover, 11% of the urban population lives in areas prone to earthquakes, which although not directly related to climate change, also have a negative impact on people’s safety and property.6

Based on the recognition that cities are critical for national social, economic and environmental performance, the Colombian government has issued a wide range of regulations and national urban development policies over time. They aim to create better living conditions for residents and to help achieve national goals with respect to growth, inclusion and environmental protection.

Urban policy and legislation have a long history in Colombia. Over the last four decades, the government has developed legislation to operationalise the NUP (Box 2.2). The 1991 Political Constitution sets the basis for a general regulatory framework that affects urban development in the country (Gobierno de Colombia, 1991[23]). All these laws and decrees constitute an instrument to achieve the decentralisation objectives set with the enactment of the 1991 Political Constitution, which grants subnational levels of government a prominent role in national development (see Chapter 5). Moreover, they also offer tools to put into practice the objectives adopted by different administrations on urban development as set in national development plans. However, the laws require decrees and other regulatory instruments to be operationalised and their enactment can take some time, which delays their full implementation. For instance, the implementation of Law 388 of 1997 on Territorial Development required a number of decrees, including some that were approved more than 10 years later.7 Although the laws cover a large number of issues, they do not constitute an articulated, co-ordinated urban policy that provides a holistic framework to help cities increase their productivity and efficiency.

Figure 2.3 suggests that the Colombian regulatory framework that guides urban development has been in constant evolution since at least 1978 with the enactment of the Organic Law on Urban Development. Until 1997, all laws intended to regulate the zoning of cities. From 1997 with the Land Management Law, there was a shift in urban development regulation towards a functional vision of cities. In 2011, the enactment of the Organic Law on Territorial Organisation (LOOT) set the ground for the administrative and political organisation of the territory. It establishes that the final aim of the territorial organisation is to support the decentralisation process through an improvement in the planning and management capacity of subnational governments. This approach was consolidated with the adoption of the System of Cities in 2014.

The National Development Plan (Plan Nacional de Desarrollo, PND) is the highest planning strategic document in Colombia. Every four years, it sets the roadmap to achieve the socio-economic development goals of the national government. The last three national development plans included a strong component on urban issues and both called for co-ordination and coherence among policies that have an urban impact, such as housing, transport, amenities and environment. The National Development Plan 2010-2014 proposed the establishment of a long-term policy to consolidate the System of Cities (Gobierno de Colombia, 2011[33]). The National Development Plan 2014-2018 promoted the concept of “Friendly and sustainable cities for equity” to achieve policy coherence for planning across the sectors of housing, mobility, basic sanitation and drinking water provision (Gobierno de Colombia, 2014[34]). It also focused on reducing the quantitative housing deficit and improving land use planning. The National Development Plan 2019-2022 seeks to achieve balanced urban development by using the built environment, planning the expansion and suburbanisation with sustainability criteria and the optimisation of financing instruments, and consolidating the system of cities as the driving force for territorial development and productivity. It aims to support 600 000 households to improve their homes, build 520 000 social housing units, enable 16 000 hectares of land for urban expansion and expand the rail network to 1 077 km (Gobierno de Colombia, 2019[35]). The current PND gives continuity to the system of cities policy as it concludes the investment projects started in the previous administration and complements it by giving priority to the existing cities and managing suburbanisation with sustainability criteria.

The National Council for Economic and Social Policy (CONPES) approves the bases of the national development plan and enacts the policies that contribute to the economic and social development of the country (Box 2.3). CONPES has the potential to ensure cross-sectoral co-ordination for urban policy among national ministries as all of them are permanent members and take part in the collective decision-making process.

Achieving sustainable urban development and building competitive, resilient and inclusive cities requires a comprehensive NUP that guides the government’s intervention in an integrated and co-ordinated manner (OECD/UN-HABITAT/UNOPS, 2021[36]; UN-Habitat, 2017[37]). The OECD defines urban policy “as a co-ordinated set of policy decisions to plan, finance, develop, run and sustain cities of all sizes, through a collaborative process in shared responsibility within and across all levels of government, and grounded in the multi-stakeholder engagement of all relevant urban actors, including civil society and the private sector” (OECD, 2019, p. 8[38]). An NUP helps define the intended national System of Cities through a social, economic, political and sustainability lens. Research has shown that 56% of 162 countries surveyed worldwide have an explicit NUP (OECD/UN-HABITAT/UNOPS, 2021[36]). Of those with an explicit NUP, 90% seek to set a common strategic vision of cities, 83% aim to foster multi-sectoral policy co-ordination, while another 83% aim to enhance a territorial perspective. Colombia has an explicit NUP framework that defines urban policy as the government’s actions to strengthen the System of Cities as the country’s engine of growth, through the promotion of regional and national competitiveness, the improvement of quality of life, and environmental sustainability (Gobierno de Colombia, 2014[3]).

NUPs are not a new concept in Colombia. The country has accumulated at least three decades of experience in developing urban policy frameworks (Figure 2.4. In 1995, the national government approved a policy called “Cities and Citizens: The urban policy of the social jump” to guide and give coherence to government work to strengthen the System of Cities and increase the levels of competitiveness, governability, solidarity, sustainability and urban identity (Gobierno de Colombia, 1995[39]). This NUP included the environmental aspect as an integral element of urban development. In 2004, the Colombian government updated its urban policy through guidelines to optimise the urban development policy (Gobierno de Colombia, 2004[40]). Their focus was on the alignment of housing, public space, transport and public utilities, as well as the co-ordination across different levels of government, the private sector and the community in general through an articulated NUP. The guidelines promoted urban densification to concentrate activities, reduce movement, encourage the use of public transport, upgrade public infrastructure and protect the environment. These two generations of NUP, together with Law 388 of 1997 on Land Management, paved the way for the adoption of POTs and other sectoral urban policies such as public transport. In 2011, the enactment of the Organic Law on Territorial Organisation (LOOT) defined the responsibilities of each level of government on urban development and set the standards for the territorial organisation of the territory. The System of Cities also builds on the National Development Plan 2010-2014, which promoted a long-term policy for the consolidation of the System of Cities to maximise the benefits of urbanisation and economies of agglomeration to reduce regional inequalities and poverty.

In 2014, Colombia’s national government published the System of Cities (Gobierno de Colombia, 2014[3]). It is the latest generation of the NUP framework that guides the development of cities to support economic growth and competitiveness, and the quality of urbanisation to improve people’s well-being (Box 2.4). The System of Cities represents an evolution of the previous versions of urban policy as it puts in place a cross-cutting approach to urban development and the identification of functional urban areas (FUAs). This policy seeks to promote complementarity rather than competition among cities. One of its main objectives is to prioritise physical and digital connectivity among cities, as most intra-urban development issues were already addressed in other instruments such as POTs, LOOT, housing policies and municipal mobility plans. The policy also includes issues on financing, quality of life in cities and productivity.

The City Mission (task force) that led to the elaboration of the policy document on the System of Cities gathered an impressive evidence base, which includes an extensive literature review, 17 studies commissioned by the National Planning Department (DNP) on different aspects of urban policy and studies from the World Bank on urbanisation in Colombia. The System of Cities is a transversal policy as it addresses the urban dimension of a wide variety of issues such as demographics, productivity, cost of living and quality of life, infrastructure, rural-urban linkages, planning and finance (OECD, 2014[13]). The City Mission helped Colombia develop a more comprehensive approach to urban development policy and gain a better understanding of the System of Cities in the country. The City Mission elaborated a clear diagnosis of the main challenges for urban development in the short and medium terms and elaborated an action plan to be implemented. Figure 2.5 presents a summary analysis of the main strengths and weaknesses of the System of Cities, as well as the opportunities for improvement that the current context offers and the potential threats that may impact its effectiveness and future.

Colombia has made valuable efforts to improve urban development and strengthen its cities to pursue economic, social and environmental objectives over the last two decades. As mentioned above, the System of Cities is the latest stage in a process of urban policy evolution that has brought about accumulated knowledge and experience. It places Colombia in an advantageous position to face national urban challenges and global megatrends such as digitalisation, climate change and the ageing population. The operational challenge for Colombia will be to use the different legal and policy instruments built over the years in a coherent and co-ordinated manner towards a common vision of the role of cities in achieving national development goals.

Although there has not been any official impact assessment of the System of Cities on the quality of urbanisation in Colombia, it may be argued that the current urban policy has modernised the country’s approach to urban development. It has consolidated the urban functional perspective which is now part of the national policy discourse. The functional perspective suggests that cities’ social and economic dynamics are not limited to their administrative borders but to a whole area of influence that may cover rural areas and suburban areas. This is of critical importance for Colombia as it could help to plan and manage urban development more efficiently and effectively.

The functional approach to conceptualise cities brings about the need for a metropolitan approach for urban development. How Colombia manages its metropolitan areas will have a direct impact on productivity, competitiveness, environmental protection, adaptation to climate change and well-being levels. Unfortunately, the System of Cities does not state any provision on how FUAs should operate nor how metropolitan areas and urban agglomerations should contribute to a log-term vision of urban development. Indeed, the LOOT and the Regime for Metropolitan Areas (Law 1625) provide the general dispositions on how metropolitan areas should be formalised and organised but the NUP should state how metropolitan areas should work and to what end.

The System of Cities has been seminal in starting the process to update the POTs. At the beginning of 2010s, 30% of POTs had reached their 12-year period (although they remain valid until a new POT is adopted) and required being updated, and the System of Cities gave POTs a predominant role as an instrument to assist local authorities in tackling urban development challenges. This has had both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, it is necessary to update and improve POTs as a policy instrument for local authorities to assist them in decision-making and planning. On the other, including almost every single urban development issue in the POTs, despite the existence of other planning instruments such as the municipal development plan and sectoral plans, has the potential of making them rigid and non-operational (see Chapter 3).

An additional element that has helped to modernise Colombia’s NUP is the inclusion of the need to enhance urban-rural linkages. The System of Cities acknowledges the interdependences between urban and rural areas which should be strengthened to attain economic development objectives, facilitate better access to jobs, services and amenities and control urbanisation. The extent to which the System of Cities delivered on this point is still uncertain. Interviews for this review suggest that rural-urban linkages and partnerships in Colombia are still weak as there is no integration or synergy-building between them.

The System of Cities calls for improving physical and digital connectivity among cities to improve competitiveness and productivity, and address inequality. The COVID-19 pandemic has made more evident the need to work on these issues to transform how public services are delivered and facilitate people living in isolated places accessing drivers of social development: jobs, education healthcare services. Physical and digital connectivity are long-term goals that should be included in the future revision of the NUP with provisions to ensure that people and businesses in cities across the country benefit from these technologies. Interviews for this review revealed that cities lack the powers and resources to address the digital divide and the digital skills gaps in their communities. Physical connectivity implies investment in transport infrastructure such as roads and railways which are at the top of local government priorities to reduce commuting times and freight costs that impact the price of goods.

CONPES 3819 on the System of Cities mentions a number of actions to be carried out to meet its objectives such as the elaboration of an intermodal transportation master plan, guidelines for improving urban-rural linkages, the national railway policy, the Observatory of the System of Cities, the urban and regional mobility national policy, the logistics national policy and the regional agendas for competitiveness. All these policy or planning instruments provide all levels of government with additional tools to enhance their planning and management capacity. In particular, the Observatory of the System of Cities and the Modern Cities Index allow monitoring the development of cities and the territorial progress of the SDGs. Both tools allow the creation of knowledge that supports decision-making on urban development policy and follow up the implementation of the NUP. The Observatory of the System of Cities, adopted in 2017, intends to measure the performance of the NUP regarding competitiveness, sustainability, security, social inclusion, governance and the promotion of science and technology.

The System of Cities has attempted to resolve a challenge stemming from the enactment of the 1991 Constitution, i.e. municipal autonomy. As the basic territorial unit of the Colombian state, municipalities were granted the autonomy to decide their own future and make the most of their strengths and address their weaknesses. However, this decentralisation has triggered inter-municipal competition, with many municipalities striving to get their own airport or industrial zone and attract tourism. Although Colombian municipalities are relatively large on average, with 43 370 inhabitants compared to 9 570 on average in the OECD (OECD, 2016[41]), the System of Cities considers that cities with more than 100 000 inhabitants have better possibilities to make the most of economies of agglomeration and have more capacity to deliver public services (DNP, 2014[19]). This inter-municipal competition can hamper competitiveness, productivity and prevent building economies of scale. The System of Cities tried to conceive the country as a system to facilitate spatial connections and independencies. However, the results of the System of Cities have remained limited due to the poor municipal co-operation and engagement (see Chapter 5).

The System of Cities has been seminal in adopting a comprehensive approach to urban development and a new understanding of cities beyond their administrative boundaries. Like the large majority of countries that the OECD and UN-Habitat surveyed across the world, Colombia expects three main outcomes from its NUP: balanced territorial urban development, a coherent vision for national urban development and improved policy co-ordination across sectors (OECD/UN-HABITAT/UNOPS, 2021[36]) (Figure 2.6). These expected policy outcomes are in line with those of other Latin American countries, such as Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico and Peru.

NUP provides a strong basis to guide international policy making and it can help co-ordinate and align policies across levels of government including at the supra-national scale (OECD/UN-HABITAT/UNOPS, 2021[36]). Countries such as Austria, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Poland have cross-border urban policy-related issues such as climate change as addressing it requires co-ordination at a supra-national scale. Similarly, the Colombian government issued the Prosperity for the Colombian Borders Policy, which seeks to promote sustainable growth, reduce inequalities and promote the inclusion of ethnic groups along the border taking into account the specific features of each border region (Gobierno de Colombia, 2017[42]). Although these measures are not included in the System of Cities, they have an impact on border cities, since the latter is already experiencing pressures on their capacity to accommodate a growing population and provide public services due to the arrival of immigrants from neighbouring countries.

The System of Cities shares several characteristics with other explicit NUPs across the world (Figure 2.7). The majority of NUPs “define a strategic, long-term, and shared vision for national urban development”, and “apply an integrated territorial perspective, promoting a system of cities approach and connectivity between urban and rural areas”. The System of Cities shares the same features. However, it differs in that it does not “integrate and co-ordinate cross-sectoral policies (urban economy, social inclusion, climate change, technological innovation, etc.)”. Moreover, it does not “promote the development of co-ordination mechanisms among and across levels of government, clarifying roles, responsibilities and resources” nor “ensure the engagement and participation of subnational governments and stakeholders (citizens, the private sector, academics, etc.) in national urban policy”. It may be argued that a CONPES policy document only determines the national government’s actions but a CONPES on urban policy will invariably have an impact on subnational governments.

The government is currently considering a proposal to replace the System of Cities with new policy Cities 4.0 (Box 2.5). While this policy is currently at a preliminary stage, Cities 4.0 includes most of the features signalled in Figure 2.7, except the aspect concerning engagement and participation.

Regarding the thematic scope, Colombia’s NUP differs from the majority of NUPs as the System of Cities gives more priority to the economic development dimension whereas others give the highest attention to spatial structure (Figure 2.8). The System of Cities focuses on issues such as balanced territorial development, connectivity among regions, increasing productivity and competitiveness of cities of all sizes, promoting education and skills in cities’ labour markets, and adaptation to technological innovation. It is interesting to note that despite the level of urban poverty and spatial segregation, Colombia gives “moderate” attention to human development issues. Table 2.1 presents Colombia’s answers to the question on the level of attention its NUP gives to different themes and sub-themes in the OECD/UN-Habitat/Cities Alliance National Urban Policy Country Survey 2020. It shows that economic development receives “extensive” attention in comparison to other themes. This is due to the conclusions of the studies used as input for the elaboration of the System of Cities, which stressed that the efficiency and productivity of cities were key to the transition from a middle-income to a high-income economy (Gobierno de Colombia, 2014[44]).

Like the majority of countries studied, Colombia reported giving less priority to climate resilience issues over other policy priorities such as economic development (Table 2.1), although NUPs are increasingly mainstreaming climate change issues (OECD/UN-HABITAT, 2018[45]). However, the System of Cities calls indeed for the integration of environmental and urban planning based on the specific characteristics of each territory, the adoption of risk management policies and the promotion of policies for climate change adaptation. In this sense, in 2017, Colombia adopted the National Climate Change Policy (Gobierno de Colombia, 2017[46]) and, in 2018, the Green Growth Policy (Gobierno de Colombia, 2018[47]), which largely complement the environmental and climate change aspects not included in the System of Cities. Any new NUP will certainly have to build on these two recent policies to ensure coherence and establish the role urban development will have in climate change adaptation and green growth promotion.

In 2019, OECD countries adopted the OECD Principles on Urban Policy that summarise the lessons from more than 20 years of OECD work in urban policy to help governments better prepare their cities for technological, demographic and environmental change (OECD, 2019[38]). When considering the OECD Principles on Urban Policy, Colombia’s System of Cities is aligned with many of the recommended actions. Table 2.2 provides a comparison between the OECD Principles on Urban Policy and the main features of the System of Cities. The table shows that despite a large coincidence on several issues of urban policy (such as taking into account the specific characteristics of each region for environmental and urban planning; co-ordination or urban and rural planning; promotion of inclusive cities particularly in terms of access to housing and public transport; and the need to ensure adequate funding for the implementation of responsibilities of urban policy at all levels of government), some gaps still remain. For example, the System of Cities does not set a clear vision for NUP as stated in Principle 4; it lacks measures to ensure the participation of a wide range of stakeholders in policy design and implementation as mentioned in Principle 9; there are no measures to improve local governments management and innovation capacity as mentioned in Principle 10; and there are no actions taken for policy monitoring and evaluation as stated in Principle 11.

Colombia seeks to align urban and economic development with environmental preservation. In particular, environmental and climate change policies are largely in line with the NUP, complementing each other. This is a commendable effort from the Colombian national government that puts it in a unique position and role to play in promoting zero-carbon and climate-resilient cities. The Urban Management Environmental Policy (UMEP), issued in 2008, aims to guide the management of urban areas by aligning sectoral policies and strengthening institutional co-ordination to contribute to environmental sustainability (Gobierno de Colombia, 2008[48]). The incorporation of the environmental dimension in urban development by aligning environmental planning and territorial planning instruments has been central to UMEP. All land use plans must contribute to UMEP objectives. Moreover, UMEP seeks to raise awareness among citizens on the importance of the environment in the sustainability of cities. It sets actions to foster citizen participation in finding solutions to environmental challenges such as the national environmental education policy. However, while UMEP portrays a proactive leadership of the national government in urban environmental policy and the need to co-ordinate sectoral policies, it does not promote partnerships with regional and municipal levels of government that play a key role in building climate-resilient cities.

In 2017, the national government issued the National Climate Change Policy under the supervision of the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development (MADS). Its scope and objectives are broader than UMEP. It seeks to incorporate climate change management into public and private decision-making to promote a more climate-resilient and low-carbon development while reducing the risks of climate change and seizing the opportunities it may bring about (Gobierno de Colombia, 2017[46]). The National Climate Change Policy is related to urban policy in the sense that it seeks to increase urban productivity through a more efficient use of resources and lower GHG emissions (Box 2.6). The climate change policy also proposes measures to reduce the exposure and vulnerability of dwellings, buildings, urban infrastructure and natural ecosystems within the urban perimeter to climate threats such as flooding, rising sea levels and vector-borne disease outbreaks.

To implement the National Climate Change Policy, sectoral ministries (MVCT; Ministry of Transport; and Ministry of Mines and Energy) must issue sectoral climate change plans with short-term goals for the reduction of GHG emissions and climate change adaptation. At the subnational level, the National Climate Change Policy is a reference point for the territorial plans for climate change management. Departments, large cities and metropolitan areas must carry out a spatial diagnosis of the expansion of urban areas and the vulnerability of dwellings, buildings, infrastructure and ecosystems within urban perimeters.

The National Development Plan 2018-2022 acknowledges that to build productive and equitable cities, it is essential to link their development to environmental sustainability (Gobierno de Colombia, 2019[49]). The aim of this linkage is to make economic and urban development compatible with environmental objectives. In this sense, the Colombian national government announced its flagship programme called Biodiverciudades in 2020 (Box 2.7). The importance of this initiative rests in the linkages between urban and economic development and the preservation of the environment. This initiative intends to protect Colombia’s rich biodiversity, which is under increasing threat due to the expansion of the agricultural frontier, infrastructure construction and extractive industries. Illegal seizure of land during the armed conflict and the subsequent displacement of more than 8% of the national population has led to deforestation and intensified pressure on natural resources (Gobierno de Colombia, 2020[50]). Urban sprawl and disorderly urban growth have also added to the pressure on biodiversity.

In a way, biodiverciudades complements the System of Cities in the promotion of economic strategies and instruments to allow productive sectors to be more sustainable, reduce their environmental impact and shift to a circular economy. When a city joins the programme, it receives support from the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development on the formulation and management of co-financing of transformational projects that should aim at promoting a sustainable economy, incorporating biodiversity and its benefits into territorial planning, as well as environmental education projects. At least two official conditions need to be met for a city to become a biodiverciudad: the first is that local authorities need to be convinced and acknowledge the importance of preserving natural resources; and second, citizens need to shift attitudes and behaviours to adopt more responsible consumption practices. The latter would require strengthening educational actions to raise awareness among residents of the importance of changing habits to reduce the negative impact of their daily activities on the environment. Both conditions are of a rather subjective nature and it is unclear how the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, which is responsible for the management of the programme, conducts such an assessment.

The Biodiverciudades programme is still relatively recent and it is therefore too early to assess its impact. However, the programme faces five main limitations. The first is that there does not seem to be any co-ordination between the programme and the System of Cities managed by the DNP; this may be a missed opportunity to build synergies between them. The development of a new NUP is an opportunity to link Biodiverciudades and its objectives to the general NUP goals and it would also be an occasion to revise the programme based on accumulated experience. The second is that Biodiverciudades is not a general policy to transition towards zero-carbon cities of all sizes in Colombia as joining this programme is done on a voluntary basis. The third is that it is not clear how Biodiverciudades is contributing to reconciling the goals of social inclusion and environmentally sustainable growth. The fourth is that Biodiverciudades does not build upon nor create synergies with the Green Growth Policy that intends to create the conditions for economic growth based on the natural wealth and strengthen the mechanisms and instruments to optimise the use of natural resources and energy (Gobierno de Colombia, 2018[47]). And fifth, the main benefit for a city to join the programme and be classified as a biodiverciudad is mostly the branding. A city recognised as a biodiverciudad does not receive extra funding for further investment projects or privileged access to financing for implementing local development plans. It may be that when a city consolidates its position as a biodiverciudad, it might be able to promote nature-based tourism, which is a growing economic sector in Colombia (Gobierno de Colombia, 2020[50]). Thus, the benefits to the city may not be direct funding but rather additional employment in addition to the increased tourism.

Despite its contribution to advancing urban policy in Colombia, the System of Cities also presents some weaknesses. A critical problem is that, despite it being in line with international practice in many respects, it is not accompanied by the tools and governance arrangements necessary to ensure its implementation (see Chapter 5). The multi-level governance structure lacks the mechanisms to ensure co-ordination across levels of government. Although each has a task to perform on the implementation of the NUP, sectoral national ministries do not always co-ordinate actions and strategies with other line ministries and agencies.

Another problem is the scope of the NUP. It is largely focused on enhancing cities’ competitiveness by giving priority to inter-urban connectivity. Intra-urban issues were left to sectoral policies (i.e. housing, transport and the environment) and regulations such as LOOT and POTs. Including intra-urban issues in the NUP framework would help ensure coherence across policy sectors supporting a long-term vision for urban development.

Moreover, as mentioned above, the System of Cities pursues the promotion of economic development but without much consideration for the well-being dimension of urban policy. Although progress has been achieved on issues such as transport and housing through other policies and planning instruments, an NUP should have a balance between economic, environmental and social dimensions working together to improve people’s well-being. The System of Cities gives prominence to the notion of “how” but less to the “what for” and “for whom”. An NUP should enhance social cohesion enabling all people to enjoy a high quality of life by leveraging economic, technological and environmental dimensions. Indeed, the OECD Principles on Urban Policy suggest that NUP should promote inclusive cities that provide opportunities for all by improving access of all residents to drivers of social inclusion, fostering social cohesion and promoting urban identity (OECD, 2019[38]). Furthermore, an NUP should involve all segments of society to address the needs of the most vulnerable groups in the community (OECD/UN-HABITAT/UNOPS, 2021[36]).

Similarly, the environmental and climate change dimension of the System of Cities is relatively weak. Although Axis 1 refers to a sustainable vision and green growth, it does not define an urban green growth strategy by which cities shift from a linear to a circular economy model and links urban and environmental performance. Every ministry in Colombia makes decisions that influence cities and climate change but the NUP does not take the necessary measures to ensure that each ministry’s decisions and actions favour a zero-carbon neutral transition although there are some provisions related to resilience and sustainability in its action plan. The NUP should be guided by a holistic approach rather than trying to ensure that each individual policy measure fulfils environmental, economic and equity objectives (OECD, 2013[51]) A future NUP will have to build clear links and synergies with the National Climate Change Policy and the Green Growth Policy, both approved in 2018.

Although the System of Cities mentions the need for place-based policies for urban development, it does not outline any measures on how to leverage the potential of cities of all sizes to contribute to national socio-economic and environmental goals. For example, there is neither advocacy for an urban development approach tailored to the needs of each city or metropolitan area nor a strategy to maximise the territorial assets of cities of all sizes, as the OECD Principles on Urban Policy suggest (OECD, 2019[38]) (see Chapter 5). In addition, it does not consider how to promote stakeholder engagement in urban policy development nor how to strengthen the capacity of municipalities to innovate and fulfil their responsibilities. As the OECD Principles on Urban Policy suggest, this can be achieved by designing strategies to involve all segments of society, in particular the most vulnerable, engaging with the private sector and promoting an outcome-oriented engagement by clarifying how stakeholder inputs will be used (OECD, 2019[38]).

The System of Cities was prepared and is overseen by the Department of National Planning (DNP) but co-ordination with other sectoral ministries such as housing, environment and transport could be strengthened. There is no evidence that every ministry makes decisions considering how they will affect or impact cities. There are few opportunities to establish partnerships among national government level organisations, and between national and subnational governments to work together towards a common long-term vision to improve the quality of urbanisation. Although there are co-ordination mechanisms across levels of government and among municipalities to work on urban development issues from a more functional approach, they are not exploited to the full due to the lack of financial resources and political will (see Chapter 5).

There is a lack of mechanisms to evaluate the different plans and programmes that form the NUP. Although the NUP includes an action plan with tangible objectives to be achieved (such as the elaboration of further technical studies and policy documents to ensure the achievement of the general policy objective), there is no ex ante and ex post impact assessment on whether the different activities carried out had the desired effect and what changes in cities’ society, economy and quality of life have occurred.

The elaboration of the NUP was based on a diagnosis that still largely reflects Colombia’s urban challenges today. According to the main conclusions of the diagnosis, cities were grappling with little economic specialisation, disorderly urban growth, urban sprawl, low productivity, high transport costs, long commutes, territorial planning based on sectoral visions, lack of co-ordination across levels of government for policy design and implementation, and inadequate financing (Gobierno de Colombia, 2014[44]). This implies that not much has changed since the adoption of the System of Cities as those are still important concerns for city governments. For example, the System of Cities aims to articulate the planning of urban and rural areas and reduce social gaps within and among cities. Yet, there is still a wide gap between urban and rural areas that is leading to regional disparities and high inequality (see Chapter 1).

What factors explain the little progress, if any, in terms of improving the quality of urbanisation in Colombia despite having relatively strong policy instruments, experience and seemingly political support from different administrations is an open question. However, two possible answers might be following:

  • There is a need to consolidate in one single policy urban-related areas such as the environment, housing, transport and land use planning as they remain disjointed.

  • Implementation weaknesses seem to be at the heart of the problem which could derive from: rigid regulation; an inadequate institutional setting to lead and co-ordinate policy; lack of consultation and consensus-building among different stakeholders; insufficient financial, human and technical resources (particularly in municipalities), limited capacity at the local level; the lack of monitoring and evaluation of policy, and co-ordination problems across ministries and agencies at different levels of government (see Chapter 5).

The Colombian NUP will be renewed in the short term. There are three main reasons for this. First, the System of Cities has already reached its lifetime span as most of the activities included in its action plan have been conducted. Colombia has the opportunity to take stock and reflect on the main achievements of the current urban policy and recalibrate or adapt its approach to the new context, in particular in light of recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. Second, there seems to be a renewed interest and commitment from the different line ministries on the need to advance urban development to support the country’s national development. The Ministry of Housing, City and Territory (MVCT) has also renewed its commitment to embrace leadership as the main body in charge of policy implementation. And third, the COVID-19 pandemic has stressed the importance of NUP in building more resilient, greener and more inclusive cities as part of a country’s recovery package (OECD/UN-HABITAT/UNOPS, 2021[36]). The current context provides Colombia with an opportunity to revamp its urban policy approach and adopt a forward-looking approach to make cities more resilient to a future natural and man-made crisis. This will be essential in light of the global environmental and climate change emergency. Colombian policy makers can take this opportunity to strengthen urban policy as an instrument to contribute to the economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis and advance the SDGs. The new NUP should not only focus on SDG 11 on “Cities and communities” but also on other goals such as SDG 3 “Good health and well-being”, SDG 6 “Clean water and sanitation”, SDG 7 “Clean energy”, SDG 9 “Industry, innovation and infrastructure”, SDG 10 “Reduce inequalities”, and SDG 13 “Climate Change”.

The new NUP will be supported by the strong national planning framework and the solid regulatory framework that has been developed over the last decades. Now the task is to put into practice the plans and regulations to support urban policy goals. A strong regulatory policy is needed to: restructure infrastructure sectors like water and transport; reduce administrative burdens on citizens and businesses, and open up pathways for innovation in urban planning and public service delivery. Moreover, the creation of the Observatory of the System of Cities and the Modern Cities Index (Índice de Ciudades Modernas, ICM) offers an opportunity to bridge the gap on information and data that is currently lacking for decision-making at the subnational level.8

The governance arrangements currently available that facilitate municipal association will be paramount to consolidate the position of cities as engines of economic growth. The small size and limited capacity and capability of most Colombian cities make it necessary for them to join forces and resources for service delivery and investment. National support will be necessary to make the different association schemes flexible and functional (see Chapter 5).

To design the new NUP, Colombian policy makers could take advantage of the accumulated experience at the city level. Cities like Bogotá, D.C. and Medellín have been innovating with approaches to urban development that have proven to be relatively successful helping them to overcome economic and social challenges. Those experiences could inspire an NUP with the advantage that they would have already been tested in the country.

A key challenge in terms of implementing an effective NUP in Colombia is the economic crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the COVID-19 crisis affected the country’s economic growth in 2020 (-6.8%), the OECD forecasts that Colombia’s GDP will experience strong growth of 7.6% in 2021 and then ease to 3.5% in 2022.9 The question is whether such growth will be sufficient to recover pre-pandemic levels and what role NUP will play in the structural reform priorities to boost recovery, such as labour market, competition and regulation, education and skills, social protection and infrastructure.

Managing the immigration phenomenon, particularly from Venezuela, will be critical for the new NUP. Border cities and the main urban centres have had to use their limited resources to support immigrants and provide them with basic services and accommodation. In Bogotá, D.C., for example, there are more than 300 000 migrants and the local government had to request national government support to service this population as the city’s resources were insufficient (Rodríguez Pinzón, 2020[52]). This increased pressure adds to the persistent challenges of inequality and poverty that pervade Colombian cities (see Chapter 1).

On the institutional side, the short term (four years) of municipal administrations without re-election jeopardises the continuity of urban policy and plans, as every new administration means new priorities and strategies. Moreover, the limited capacity and capability of municipal administrations to design and implement land use and development plans threaten the continuation and effectiveness of urban policy. The insufficient sources of revenue at the municipal level could hinder urban development processes by delaying the implementation of investment projects (see Chapter 5). The lack of reliable and timely data could affect planning and decision-making and could potentially lead to an ineffective investment strategy and a financial burden for municipalities for example.

An additional factor that may threaten the effectiveness of urban policy is the lack of infrastructure for physical and digital connectivity. Physical infrastructure is still a major challenge for cities, mostly regarding connecting roads. The lack of infrastructure could hinder efforts to make FUAs more efficient and facilitate rural-urban interactions. Colombia has one of the widest gaps in transport infrastructure in Latin America (OECD, 2014[13]). Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of digital connectivity for the public sector, households and firms to overcome the crisis and prepare for the new digital context. Colombia will need to step up its effort to enhance connectivity by reducing barriers to competition in the communication sectors to boost access to high-quality broadband Internet networks at affordable prices.10

Colombia is currently revising its current NUP. This is an important exercise as urban policy should evolve with the urban context. In doing so, Colombian policy makers may wish to refer to the international urban framework (i.e. the New Urban Agenda, the SDGs, the Paris Climate Agreement, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the OECD Principles on Urban Policy) for best practice. Moreover, Colombia may wish to consider the following specific recommendations aimed at nurturing the upcoming policy debate on the definition of a new NUP. Poland’s experience suggests that updating the NUP should be conducted using a cross-sectoral approach with broad participation of local governments and members of the academia (Box 2.8).

Colombia’s national government has shown a strong commitment to “getting cities right”. To this end, it has issued several policies, programmes and strategies. However, this might have had the unintended effect of fragmenting the urban policy landscape. A renewed NUP should bring together the vision and objectives of currently separate policies (i.e. the System of Cities, the National Climate Change Policy), programmes (i.e. Biodiverciudades) and regulations (i.e. LOOT, Metropolitan Areas Law, etc). Colombian policy makers acknowledge that the physical shape of cities in the country is the product of uncoordinated and unplanned policies without a long-term vision. To support the development of more prosperous cities, Colombia needs a broader and more proactive policy supported by and adopted at all levels of government. This could be a challenge for Colombia as the national government still acts largely in a departmentalised manner and remains highly centralised as municipalities have limited fiscal powers and spending autonomy (OECD, 2016[41]).

In reviewing its NUP, Colombian policy makers may wish to consider adopting an integrated approach. Integrated urban development policy suggests that spatial and sectoral policies are co-ordinated and harmonised. It means that Colombia needs effective co-ordination across established policy sectors such as transport, housing, the environment, spatial planning and economic development. Research suggests that the NUP framework could be a useful means to achieve policy integration (Rode et al., 2017[54]). Both the System of Cities and the National Climate Change Mitigation Policy aim at developing compact, connected and clean cities, but this requires multi-level, multi-sectoral and integrated policies and strategies. Currently, transport, housing, spatial planning, the environment and other sectoral policies are largely planned in silos despite some attempts for a more integrated approach. They are managed by different authorities in different institutional settings. A similar situation can be observed in the United States (US) where different bodies decide on funding for and decisions on urban-related policies, making for highly complex policy making and management (Box 2.9). Colombia could build on local experience on policy integration. The city of Medellín, for example, adopted an integrated approach to housing planning and spatial planning to increase access to affordable housing through the creation of an advisory council where all sectors are represented and the elaboration of the strategy involved citizen participation (Box 2.10). If Colombia wishes to pursue integrated NUPs, it will have to ensure functional urban land markets (see Chapter 3), to enable the provision of services and infrastructure such as housing (Chapter 4), revamp its governance arrangements and strengthen government capacities at all levels (see Chapter 5).

Moving forward, Colombia will have to prioritise certain policy linkages over others depending on the long-term urban development objectives it wishes to achieve. According to research, an integrated approach to policy and planning requires redrawing boundaries between sectoral policies rather than erasing them completely (Rode et al., 2017[54]). For example, to address urban inequality, priority could be given to a joined-up transport and housing policy; if the focus is more on local economic development and productivity, then priority may be given to linking transport and industrial policy.

Colombia faces critical urban challenges that require an integrated approach to be addressed more effectively. For example, urban poverty is a complex issue as it has a multi-dimensional nature and is spatially concentrated. To address it, Colombia needs a multi-sectoral approach, multi-level co-ordination and a place-based perspective (regeneration of deprived neighbourhoods and informal settlements) (see below). Migration is also a major issue in Colombian cities. The growing number of migrants and refugees from conflict areas increases the need for a strategy that cuts across sectoral policies. Addressing the situation calls for co-ordination and concerted action across all levels of government, as well as knowledge and information exchange among all urban actors in the country with regards to the reception, housing and integration of migrants into society. Climate adaptation is another key priority for the Colombian government but this can only be achieved if cities and other relevant stakeholders are fully involved. In Colombia, transport projects are somehow the driving force for territorial equity and national integration as they seek to integrate regions and cities across the country to foster economic development and growth (Rode et al., 2017[54]). This practice could be further expanded and continued under the framework of an NUP.

Integrating transport, housing, land use, environment and other urban-related policies offers many potential gains but it does not come without its own risks. Urban issues such as transport and housing are complex and may generate a number of challenges in their execution. Colombia should therefore be aware of potential challenges as it has a history of poor implementation of urban policies and projects. Box 2.11 presents some of the possible issues that could “go wrong” when adopting such an integrated approach. They were elaborated on the basis of ten national case studies, including Colombia and an analysis of the integration of housing and transport policies. Some of the issues are closely related to Colombia’s context, such as rigid budgetary practices, political support and poor implementation planning.

The need to renew the System of Cities and set strategies for the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic offers Colombia a unique opportunity to rethink how the system of cities should function, deliver services and be organised. The momentum provided by the pandemic should not be wasted and rather seized to adopt a bold approach, taking into account issues prompted by the pandemic. For example, teleworking may remain a feature of the work environment for the long term and more widespread teleworking could improve productivity, regional inequalities, emissions and gender equality (OECD, 2020[58]). To improve gains of widespread teleworking for productivity, cities will need to promote ICT skills among the population and the national government will have to invest in fast and reliable broadband Internet access across the country. The requirement to maintain physical distancing has prompted walking and cycling, and although Colombia has a long tradition of cycling, it could take this opportunity to re-allocate space to allow for physically spaced walking and cycling in a more fluid and safer manner. The pandemic is making more evident Colombian cities’ weaknesses. The new NUP for Colombia should consider that “life after COVID-19” will be “life with COVID-19” (OECD, 2020[59]) and therefore preparedness, resiliency and place-based policies should be prioritised.

According to the OECD and UN-Habitat (2021[36]), an NUP has the potential to create a more balance and polycentric urbanisation and address the uneven impacts of the crisis between and within urban areas, and between urban and rural areas. To this end, a renewed NUP in Colombia should ensure alignment of sectoral policies, encourage and facilitate dialogue across levels of government, foster rural-urban linkages and partnerships, and set the conditions so that policies can be adapted to the specific needs and features of urban areas.

Since no government alone can manage urbanisation effectively, the renewed NUP for Colombia should go beyond the provision of technical assistance for land use planning and environmental management plans, to encourage a continuous dialogue between national and subnational governments. This dialogue should not only be on how to recover from COVID-19 but more broadly on how to move the national urban development agenda forward, how the NUP can create the conditions for more resilient cities in the country and how the national government can support local efforts to improve urbanisation. While this dialogue can nurture a more coherent recovery from both the pandemic and long-term urban issues, it can also prompt specific responses to local needs. Equally important, this permanent dialogue across levels of government should seek answers to local governments’ financial needs (see Chapter 5).

Cities in Colombia present a high degree of heterogeneity, with different levels of economic, administrative and social development, and a majority of small urban centres (see Chapter 1). However, the System of Cities takes a rigid, broad-brush approach and does not provide the flexibility to meet specific local needs.

Adopting a place-based approach for urban development is an urgent task for Colombia given the high levels of inequality within and among urban areas (see Chapter 1). For example, the Metropolitan Region of Bogotá-Bucaramanga alone produces 32% of national GDP; between 2002 and 2018, only 7 out of 24 regions in the country registered an increase in manufacturing jobs;11 and within the Metropolitan Area of the Valle de Aburrá, the city of Medellín produces 40% of the department of Antioquia’s GDP while the rest of municipalities do not produce more than 7%.12 By valorising local cultures and traditions, place-based policies can help Colombia overcome public discontent as they can counter feelings of being “left behind” (OECD, 2019[60]). Place-based policies can support Colombia in anticipating and addressing the impact of COVID-19 on issues such as digitalisation and teleworking, but also face the threats and impacts of climate change and resource scarcity such as water. The impact of COVID-19 and megatrends will be different in Colombia’s metropolitan areas and smaller cities. The NUP should therefore be prepared for the diversity of challenges presented and help different places be fit for the future.

To promote place-based policies through NUP, Colombia may consider the following elements:

  • Use the NUP as a reference framework for departments and municipalities to develop their own specific urban development strategies. Local urban development plans/strategies should be elaborated by promoting the participation of a wide range of local stakeholders from within the FUA and region.

  • Harness existing local assets to support cities to address their specific weaknesses. This requires complementary policies to work in parallel with urban policies such as labour and fiscal policies. For example, cities like Cartagena with a strong tourism potential will not only require land use policies to ensure the protection of its historic centre but strategies to improve transport infrastructure and connectivity with other cities, train the local workforce in the hospitality industry and the conservation of its natural assets.

  • Continue promoting a functional area approach for urban development. A major contribution of the System of Cities to urban policy in Colombia has been the introduction of the functional area concept, which is a welcome development. This concept should continue to drive Colombia’s revised NUP. Colombia should also take advantage of the different mechanisms for municipal association and co-ordination included in LOOT to foster place-based urban policies across administrative boundaries (see Chapter 5).

  • Assist urban areas in leveraging their economic potential by helping them use their own potential to create jobs and boost economic growth. In this case, Colombia could encourage a win-win competition among urban areas while lifting the performance of the country’s economy.

  • Encourage the engagement of citizens from the early stage of the planning process and policy dialogue to make sure that place-based policies actually respond to local needs (see Chapter 5).

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has implemented a number of place-based initiatives aimed at fostering economic and social development in distressed cities and neighbourhoods (Box 2.12). A key lesson is that cities need targeted technical, financial and capacity-building national government support to design strategies and initiatives to foster development. The national government must adopt a place-based approach to make more efficient investments with national resources at the local level.

The compact city dimension has been consistently present throughout the various types of NUPs in Colombia. The process to issue a new NUP framework provides Colombia with an opportunity to revamp its compact city approach and take it to the next level based on the experience of other OECD countries. As illustrated by lessons from different metropolitan areas across OECD countries (Box 2.13), compact city policies have the potential to advance sustainable urban development but they need to respond to the diversity of local circumstances in terms of population size, demographic growth or decline, industrial structure, landscape and culture (OECD, 2012[65]). Building compact cities – cities that are denser, with less unused land – based on revitalised urban cores is also seen as having positive economic, social and environmental benefits. However, to generate agglomeration economies, cities require more than population density – as Chapter 1 noted, Bogotá, D.C., Bucaramanga and Medellín are among the densest cities in the world; they need density of transactions and economic activity, which in Colombian cities is very low.

Accessible cities require compact developments, although the concept remains highly debated. Compact cities can play a significant role in updating the System of Cities. A compact city may be described as composed of dense and proximate development patterns, built-up areas linked by public transport systems facilitating accessibility to local services and jobs. The OECD recommends viewing compact cities from an economic and environmental perspective (OECD, 2012[65]). Including a compact city policy approach in its NUP may assist Colombia not only in protecting the local natural environment, something that the Biodiverciudades programme tries to achieve, and agricultural land from encroachment, but it can also contribute to energy savings, quality of life, time savings and liveability. Thus, it is also important to take a green growth perspective and incorporate economic growth as an objective of a compact city policy in an explicit manner (OECD, 2012[65]). Colombia could emulate other OECD countries and include elements of compact city policy in its NUP (Box 2.14). The new NUP could include explicit compact city goals, encourage dense and proximate development, strategies to retrofit built-up areas and actions to minimise the negative effects of compact cities.

Colombia requires a long-term NUP that places cities at the centre of economic growth, raises living standards for all people and facilitates the shift to net-zero carbon emissions urban centres. The current System of Cities and Biodiverciudades initiatives would need to be revised to ensure that competitiveness, inclusion and net-zero emissions are analysed and addressed from the perspective of cities. Colombia could frame its new urban policy in the context of the SDGs, in particular (but not only limited to) SDG 11 on making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. The 2021 OECD monitoring of NUPs in 162 countries has found that countries are increasingly integrating social and environmental objectives, significantly mainstreaming the SDGs, the Paris Agreement and other global agendas in their NUPs (OECD/UN-HABITAT/UNOPS, 2021[36]).13

Colombia could embed these urban policy objectives into the next National Development Plan (PND) or design an explicit NUP. However, it would be better for Colombia to have a specific NUP because even its process of elaboration might be a very enriching and constructive experience for Colombia. It would allow specific discussions on co-ordination, data needs, human, technical and financial capacity issues, and the development of a long-term vision for the cities Colombia needs and wants. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the elaboration of an NUP could facilitate rethinking cities and urban paradigms in the recovery process and how cities could anticipate and respond to future crises. The OECD has found that the majority of countries have an explicit NUP that aims to set a strategic common vision, foster multi-sectoral policy co-ordination and enhance an integrated territorial perspective. The majority of countries address climate resilience and low-carbon transition to leverage synergies with low-carbon mobility, mixed-used and compact development, sustainable buildings, risk assessment and risk-sensitive land use policies.14

Linking urban policy to environmental and climate change policies and strategies puts Colombia in a better position to meet the SDGs, the Paris Agreement and another international climate change-related international agendas. Colombian cities still have to make progress to reach the SDGs of the 2030 Agenda. Cities play a key role in reaching not only SDG 11 dedicated to sustainable cities and communities but in most SDGs given their role in public investment and close connection to citizens. For example, Figure 2.9 shows that Bogotá, D.C. and Medellín, the two main cities in the country, have not reached the suggested end values for 2030 in the majority of SDGs, particularly SDG 11 on environmental quality and sustainable urbanisation, namely the average exposure to particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5).

However, to reinforce its NUP, Colombia needs to consider two issues that are not clearly defined in urban and climate change policies:

  • Equity and inclusion should be put at the top of the urban development and climate change agendas. Colombia needs to make progress in the eradication of poverty and the reduction of inequality. In the current context of low trust in government, deprivation and inequality, it will be difficult for Colombia to build public support for any reform measure that negatively changes ways of living, consuming, producing and travelling. Therefore, every climate change urban action must be seen through a poverty and inequality reduction lens.

  • Investing in urban resilience to cope with climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. Climate change mitigation will not be enough as the effects of climate change can already be felt. The melting of glaciers, coral bleaching, loss of beaches and coastal erosion, and extreme weather events are some of the visible effects of climate change in Colombia.15

The System of Cities and the National Climate Change Mitigation Policy through the promotion of more compact cities can simultaneously support climate change mitigation, resilience and sustainable urban development. The reason is that compact cities can protect cultivated land and natural habitats within and around urban areas. Avoiding land use change is important to protect biodiversity and therefore should be considered in the land use plans and the megaprojects that change rural land to urban use to build large housing complexes (see Chapter 4). Colombia may wish to consider the six priorities for national action defined by the Coalition for Urban Transitions which reflect the interconnectedness of cities to wider national development and the several ways in which they are influenced by national policy (Box 2.15). While some of these recommendations have already been included to a certain extent in Colombia’s national urban and climate change policies, it is necessary to emphasise that national and local governments need to work in partnership to build zero-carbon and climate-resilient cities from a holistic perspective.

Access to jobs, goods, services and people is the basis of economic and social development in cities. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that in Colombian cities not all residents have access to the same quality of services and opportunities in the same manner. A disorderly and poorly managed urban growth observed in the last five decades has had negative social, economic and environmental consequences. For example, in Colombia, commuters spend on average 191 hours in urban traffic annually, which impact negatively competitiveness and productivity of cities and the poor quality of transport infrastructure has led to an increase in road fatalities with 650 deaths in 2019 compared to 550 in 2010.16 With an urban population expected to increase even further, Colombian cities need to be built and run in ways that maximise access to jobs, goods, services and people without increasing carbon emissions, congestion and pollution.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted that one of the most important new priorities for cities is enhancing urban accessibility. It may be defined as “…the ease with which people can reach destinations and connect with one another” (Rode et al., 2019, p. 6[69]). It combines the proximity of opportunities and the efficiency of the transport network and therefore depends on both land use mix and the transport system. The pandemic has revealed more clearly that access to opportunities remains unequally distributed. It has highlighted how important it is to think about how different groups are supported or constrained in accessing the city and how this links to wider debates around the just transition. Social benefits of compact accessible cities include the opportunity to revitalise urban neighbourhoods, rehabilitate housing and allocate some of it to current low-income residents. In Colombia, inequalities particularly affect ethnic minorities and displaced people by the conflict, which are disproportionally concentrated in rural areas. The quest for sustainability is leading cities across OECD member and partner countries to transit from mobility-enhancing to accessibility-oriented strategies for sustainable urban planning (OECD, 2020[70]).

In Colombia, cities like Bogotá, D.C. and Medellín are taking initiatives to support economic development, deliver better levels of quality of life with smaller carbon footprints through a vision for more compact and connected urban growth. The premise is that by increasing liveable density, creating more mixed-use urban districts where people can live and access jobs, goods, services and entertainment without excessive travel is a way to ensure cities can benefit from agglomeration effects, use their resources more effectively and efficiently, and achieve more social inclusion at lower economic and environmental costs. This has been the goal of Medellín’s social urbanism over the last three decades, which has changed the urban development model of the city (Box 2.16). At the core of these transformations is a vision for more compact and connected urban growth.

Building accessible and inclusive cities in Colombia will require developing a coherent and self-reinforcing policy to deliver compact, connected, clean and inclusive urban development. For that purpose, Colombia’s national government needs to enhance its focus on integrated policies through effective co-ordination across policy sectors such as housing, transport, land use planning, environment and economic development (see Chapter 4). Acting on policy integration will place Colombia in a better position to implement the New Urban Agenda and realise the SDGs as well as the Paris Agreement on climate change.

NUP should incorporate measures that help cities to adapt to unforeseen natural, man-made and climate change phenomena. Urban planning needs to be connected to the strategies to face natural risks. Colombia’s geography makes it vulnerable to natural events such as hurricanes, floods, droughts, earthquakes and tsunamis, particularly in the Andean area and the Pacific coast. Man-made risks could come from the massive concentration of people and industrial risks. In Colombia, climate change is expected to increase the average temperature between 2o and 4o by 2070, which will be accompanied by changes in hydrological conditions like a reduction of rainfall by up to 30% according to Colombia’s Second National Communication on Climate Change. Climate change will affect people’s quality of life, including in rural areas, by accelerating internal displacements and migrations towards cities, creating additional pressure on housing and public services as well as exacerbating marginalisation and poverty.

Mainstreaming or integrating risks of natural phenomena and man-made disasters as well as the impact of climate change on cities into urban planning and decision-making processes is of vital importance as Chile’s National Urban Development Policy suggests.17 The characteristics of natural surroundings are key determinants to be considered for planning socio-economic and territorial development. If not properly taken into account, they could become high-risk elements that could endanger people’s safety and well-being, economic development and the environment. Colombia’s NUP should provide the directives so that specific measures are developed in local development plans and land use plans (POTs) to address each municipality’s specific geographical conditions and socio-economic context. For example, integrating climate change into the NUP could imply the need to: increase the capacity of local communities to withstand and recover from extreme events; decrease the vulnerability of the land due to the negative impacts of climate change; reduce GHG emissions; and build more sustainable, effective and safer development projects. Regarding natural phenomena, consideration must be given to the quality of housing construction and other infrastructure to withstand earthquakes, as well as to make sure settlements are not being built in areas prone to floods or landslides for example.

In Colombia as in other OECD countries, urbanisation and rural development cannot be addressed separately and both processes must be mutually reinforcing. Including small and intermediate cities, towns and even villages and surrounding areas in policies for sustainable development is essential in managing a comprehensive, interlinked and participatory approach to sustainable development. OECD has already noted that Colombia’s future depends largely on rural development (OECD, 2014[13]). The armed conflict, which started in 1960, and the agrarian protests of 2012-13 are two examples of how the stability of the country is linked to rural development. In Colombia, rural regions display different stages of development. In general, there is a disjuncture between the contribution of rural assets to national growth (e.g. energy commodities) and the living standards of the rural population. Socio-economic indicators for rural households are significantly lower, with some remote rural communities remaining particularly vulnerable in terms of poverty rates and inadequate infrastructure. In 2020, 43% of the rural population was poor and 48% was in a condition of vulnerability, while in urban areas, 42.4% of the population was poor and 25.3% vulnerable.18 These levels of poverty in rural areas are largely caused by lower levels of access to markets and public services, and lower levels of employment and productivity combined with high levels of informal employment and economic activities with low added value (OECD, 2014[13]). In rural areas, almost 88% of women work in the informal economy where they receive low levels of income.19 Furthermore, rural regions remain largely isolated and disconnected from urban areas, and their local institutions are generally weaker than in the rest of the country.

Colombia’s national government is well aware of the importance and need to support rural development. The National Development Plan 2010-2014 already identified rural development as a key priority for economic and social development (Gobierno de Colombia, 2011[33]). The DNP, in co-operation with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, promotes sustainable rural development through the Misión para la Transformación del Campo Colombiano (Task Force for the Transformation of Colombia’s Rural Areas, or Rural Mission). This policy assessment aims to provide long-term policy guidelines to the national rural development strategy. Currently, the DNP is leading the task force to define public policy guidelines to make better public investment decisions for rural and agricultural development in the next two decades. The mission is structured into six strategies: i) territorial planning and development; ii) closing social gaps with a rights-based approach; iii) productive inclusion; iv) development of competitive rurality with emphasis on the agricultural sector; v) elements of environmental sustainability for rural development; and vi) institutional reform.20 It is worth noting that there is no reference to urban-rural linkages nor to the contribution rural areas make to urban development. This is one of the reasons why the national government is currently evaluating the NUP.21

To move forward, building on the System of Cities, the development of a new NUP should include provisions to support rural development acknowledging the level of interdependency between urban and rural areas, which is not thoroughly developed in the current Cities 4.0 proposal. The axis on territorial planning and development of the Rural Mission and a new national rural policy provide a window of opportunity to link national urban and rural agendas to regulate the ownership, distribution and conservation of land and natural resources.22 The success of urban areas is highly dependent on the state of development of rural areas. When rural areas are lagging, it creates pressure for cities as they tend to experience migration waves from rural areas. The increase in the number of residents coming from rural areas translates into higher demand for housing and services in cities and their surroundings. Food production and distribution may be impacted as there may be fewer farmers and lower production, and products may have to come from further away. The loss of rural areas opens the possibility of more urbanisation and sprawl. Moreover, particularly in a polycentric urban country such as Colombia, promoting better integration of urban and rural policies can unlock new growth opportunities and create hubs of development around small- and medium-sized cities.

Linking rural and urban policies is a way of acknowledging the functional approach to territorial and urban development promoted in the System of Cities. However, the challenges of rural and urban areas and the strategies to face them should not be designed and implemented in isolation as it would produce a self-weakening effect of both policies. It is also important to ensure that the NUP focuses on investment promotion and growth in urban-rural projects rather than on solely transfers, subsidies and social policies.

As noted in Chapter 1, Colombia has an important number of intermediate cities (56) with a population ranging from 100 000 and 1 million inhabitants. These cities rank second in socio-economic importance after the big four: Bogotá, D.C., Medellín, Cali and Barranquilla. The System of Cities makes a distinction between functional (18) and uninodal (38) cities (Gobierno de Colombia, 2014[3]). Functional cities refer to the set of cities and their contiguous urban zones – including their territories of influence – linked by functional relationships. Uninodal cities refer to the urban centres whose functional area is still within the political-administrative borders of the municipality. All in all, this system of cities represents 65% of the total population of Colombia and 80% of its urban population. The functional cities represent 81% of the population of the System of Cities and include 113 municipalities of different sizes. There are 38 uninodal cities, including 16 that have more than 100 000 inhabitants and 14 with fewer than 100 000 inhabitants. This classification suggests that, in Colombia, urban and rural places are strongly interdependent and functional areas have different degrees of rurality. More remote and in many cases isolated regions tend to be more rural.

According to OECD research, on average, when urban and rural areas are closer and institutions more inclusive, places tend to perform better than others in terms of population growth and GDP per capita (OECD, 2021[73]; 2013[74]). In Colombia, rural regions that are part of the national economy have strong links with urban areas and with international markets. Developed economies are more integrated and experience stronger urban-rural linkages. However, Colombia faces critical challenges for strengthening rural-urban linkages to support economic growth, well-being and environmental protection. For example:

  • In Colombia, rural and urban areas are separated by both traditional administrative boundaries and geographical conditions, as the mountainous territory led many areas to develop isolated from the rest of the country. The lack of physical and digital connectivity between these areas makes it more difficult to plan development and prevents them from building economies of scale and developing complementarities. Colombia’s urban and rural linkages are also shaped by specific geographic and subnational characteristics (OECD, 2014[13]).

  • Small- and medium-sized cities, where over 50% of the national population live, have an enormous potential for development but their lack of transport and broadband infrastructure limits their interactions and exchanges with other cities and rural areas. Large metropolitan areas seem to be the priority for development while small- and medium-sized cities are not given the same level of importance, thus their gaps in infrastructure as the System of Cities focuses on those over 100 000 inhabitants.

  • The connection and interdependencies between rural and urban areas are not taken into account in territorial and land use planning. Although a large part of the population lives in functional cities, which are predominantly urban regions with some degree of rurality, the land use plans (POTs) do not consider these relations and interconnections in depth. POTs, by regulation, must consider of rural spatial planning but within the administrative area of the municipality only. As a consequence, POTs do not provide for mechanisms to build synergies between rural and urban areas from a functional perspective.

  • Rural areas are not a key part of the urban development policy discussion and decision-making to support interdependencies and bolster co-operation. It is clear that rural policy applies to rural areas and urban policy to urban areas; the intersecting fringes between these areas require a different approach to make the most of potential complementarities. For example, cities are not planned or conceived in an agri-food context. Food provision in Colombia is highly centralised as 40% of farm products are distributed across the country via the Bogotá, D.C. supply centre (central de abastos).23

  • The System of Cities called for the articulation of urban and rural planning but there was no provision of concrete policy interventions and a vision on how these interactions should work and be governed. Moreover, there is a lack of incentives for co-investments among urban and rural municipalities. Projects on transport, sewage or waste systems tend to be mediated by the departmental government, without much scope to integrate the governments of rural municipalities. In addition, the lower capacity of rural municipalities and the dominance of political interests tend to undermine trust and co-operation with predominantly urban municipalities.

The promotion of urban-rural linkages through functional territories can help reduce regional inequalities and increase resource efficiency. Earlier OECD work suggested that Colombia could benefit from encouraging urban and rural linkages (OECD, 2014[13]). A key recommendation was to differentiate between the different types of rural regions: remote rural regions and rural regions with strong linkages to cities. This is relevant due to the paucity of linkages between urban and rural regions (OECD, 2014[13]). To strengthen rural-urban linkages, Colombia may consider the following additional actions:

  • The NUP framework should make explicit use of urban-rural partnerships as a means to achieve national development objectives and address territorial challenges at the most adequate territorial level of planning. The NUP should raise awareness of the advantages of creating and strengthening urban-rural linkages. If possible, the national government could create a database of good practices, with the support of the Association of Capital Cities (AsoCapitales) and the Federation of Municipalities, to disseminate the accumulated experience, good practices and potential benefits of urban-rural partnerships, as well as foster innovation in supporting urban-rural linkages.

  • The national government should develop a range of financial incentives for building partnership projects. It could offer financial support for wider infrastructure projects (i.e. sanitation system, drinking water provision). This is important because a context of fiscal pressure, such as the one created by the COVID-19 pandemic, may hinder the development of rural-urban linkages as a drop in income may result in fewer investment projects at the local level. Resources like own revenues and subsidies allow for innovation and diversity of undertakings conducted within urban-rural partnerships as they are not earmarked and municipalities have more room for manoeuvre on how to spend those resources (see Chapter 5).

  • The national government could formulate a scheme for structuring rural-urban partnerships between governments including formal and informal agreements, and between non-governmental entities including educational, not-for-profit organisations and the private sector. As the experience of France, Germany and Korea shows, the national government should act as the driver of rural-urban partnerships providing the incentives and facilitating the organisation of partnerships and installation of governance frameworks (Box 2.17).

  • Rural areas should be considered peers of urban areas to enhance trust and this should be the foundation of any rural-urban partnerships. The experience of the Nuremberg Metropolitan Region in Germany exemplifies the use of the “one voice, one vote” principle to overcome the fears rural leaders may have of being dominated by the larger cities (Box 2.17). There should be a notion of reciprocity where both sides are expected to contribute to the relationship and get something back in return as was done in France. However, although the national government could promote the creation of urban-rural partnerships, their creation should be voluntary.

  • Simple contracting processes between non-governmental organisations can be considered as a tool to foster rural-urban linkages. Canada’s experience suggests that, in some cases, it is not necessary to have formal agreements between governments: regional and even national governments can facilitate the formulation of contracts between non-governmental organisations to support rural development (Box 2.17). This could be a practical solution for Colombia as agreements between governments can be time-consuming and require political leadership and commitment, which cannot always be taken for granted.

  • The Biodiverciudades programme could be used to foster urban-rural linkages and expand the scope of co-operation beyond environmental issues. By helping identify rural assets (both natural and human) and leveraging these to support Biodiverciudades, rural areas can play a key role in the economic development of rural and urban areas. In fact, a strategy to foster rural-urban interactions could be added as a requirement to join the Biodiverciudades programme. In other words, urban and rural areas could jointly apply to be part of the programme and receive the technical support from the national government that is normally granted through the programme.

  • Land use plans should adopt a functional approach by including rural-urban linkages. The development of the new POTs is an opportunity to foster territorial planning in a way to cover the functional area rather than just the area within the administrative boundaries by co-ordinating POTs among neighbouring municipalities. Reinforcing the territorial associative schemes for the elaboration of a common land use plan in a functional area would help strengthen urban-rural linkages. The reason is that land use decisions in one municipality (urban or rural, large or small) affect its neighbours. Especially in densely populated urban areas, the management of land requires a co-ordinated approach to contentious issues such as regional transportation investments, the location of industrial areas and the amount of housing that is needed and developed. This would allow for the territorial integration of policy sectors such as housing, transport and industry. Colombia needs to ensure that spatial and land use planning evolve together with changes in functional territorial boundaries.

As mentioned above, one of the main drawbacks of the current System of Cities policy is the lack of an implementation and evaluation system. The experience of OECD countries suggests that it is essential to put in place an implementation system that allocates clear responsibilities across levels of government for achieving the results of the NUP – within the scope of their competencies. The OECD Principles on Urban Policy highlight the importance of fostering monitoring, evaluation and accountability of urban governance and policy outcomes (Principle 11) (OECD, 2019[38]). The System of Cities policy document does stipulate some tasks that some national sectoral ministries should undertake to implement the NUP. However, there is little indication of the role and responsibilities of departments and municipalities in this respect. There might be an assumption that these levels of government will stick to the responsibilities as defined in LOOT. However, subnational levels of government, in particular municipalities, must be regarded as the primary and fundamental actors in the implementation of the NUP. Although subnational governments are autonomous and their responsibilities are specified in national legislation such as the constitution and LOOT, the NUP could at least specify how those responsibilities should be aligned and contribute to national urban objectives. Their role and responsibilities should therefore be clearly stated in the policy document. This is of the utmost importance given Colombia’s longstanding challenge in terms of implementing plans and strategies (see Chapter 5).

Similarly, the renewed Colombian NUP should include an evaluation system on the implementation of the urban policy. The aim is to generate knowledge that could be used to draw lessons on how cities and functional areas could be managed more effectively as well as in the decision-making process. An evaluation system should help diagnose the level of impact of the activities undertaken in urban areas on the basis of data. The DNP has set up SisCONPES, an online platform to record the progress in the implementation of the activities listed in all CONPES documents, and the Observatory of the System of Cities that helps to collect data on the state of cities. However, there is no provision to evaluate the impact of NUP. Simply registering how many of the actions listed in the System of Cities action plan have been carried out does not allow for assessing the impact they have had on the urban system as a whole and in every urban area. This is not an easy exercise as the impact of action in urban areas is determined by the impact of several policies. As the Polish experience suggests, the monitoring system should be adapted to monitor urban policy at the functional area level in accordance with predefined standards and local needs (Box 2.18).

Developing an NUP evaluation system will require the participation of several actors at the national and subnational levels. In particular, the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE), the Agustín Codazzi Geographic Institute (IGAC), the Ministry of Housing, City and Territory (MVCT) and the National Planning Department (DNP) should play a prominent role in this respect as natural actors in the monitoring and evaluation process. The reason is that impact evaluation will require regular rounds of data collection in collaboration with subnational governments to develop a sound system of indicators to assess and benchmark urban policy actions and impact. DANE would then have the responsibility to ensure the reliability of data and their adjustment to the functional scale. The method for conducting this evaluation is of the utmost importance as it has to be objective and based on evidence. In this case, the experience of the US HUD method of monitoring grantees at the local level through its Office of Community Planning and Development, combined with the Office of Policy Development and Research’s policy evaluations, provides useful insights for Colombia. Some of the main lessons are: i) establish measurable and objective indicators prior to programme implementation (the Consolidated and Annual Action Plan); ii) mandate stakeholder input in programme development and the creation of indicators (public comment process); iii) monitor financial management, regulatory compliance and programme performance on a regular basis both remotely (reporting in systems) and through detailed onsite evaluations (audits); iv) require grantee self-evaluations at regular intervals with requisite public disclosure (the Consolidated Annual Performance and Evaluation Report or Annual Performance Report); v) follow up on issues of non-compliance identified during the monitoring process to verify they have been addressed; and vi) evaluate programmes at a national level through established research methods utilising data gathered throughout the process.24

Developing a new NUP for Colombia will have to be a participatory process that builds on the achievements and experience of the previous policies. Figure 2.10 outlines the main proposed components of a renewed NUP for Colombia. It suggests that the construction of the new NUP will have to be guided by a number of directives intended to make the policy more integrated, place-based, proactive, co-ordinated and with a focus on evaluation. It may follow four main general strategic objectives: integrated urban planning, social inclusion, inclusive urban prosperity and supporting governance. The different policy levers intend to provide a way to achieve the overall strategic goals. Those constitute the policy recommendations formulated in the subsequent policy chapters of this review and cover areas such as land use planning, mobility, housing, productivity, social issues, fiscal decentralisation and multi-level governance arrangements.


[72] Alcaldía de Medellín (n.d.), “La Transofrmación de Medellín, Urbanismo Social”, http://ingenieria.uncuyo.edu.ar/catedras/medellin-es-solidaria-y-competitiva1.pdf.

[15] Asobancaria (2020), Pasado, Presente y Futuro de la Financiación de Vivienda en Colombia, Asobancaria, Bogotá.

[17] Borja, M. and J. Gómez (2015), “El abastecimiento de agua en Cartagena”, Cuadernos Geográficos, Universidad de Granada, Vol. 54/2, https://www.redalyc.org/pdf/171/17143397011.pdf.

[68] Coalition for Urban Transitions (2019), Climate Change, Urban Opportunity, World Resources Institute, C40 Cities, https://urbantransitions.global/en/publication/climate-emergency-urban-opportunity/.

[19] DNP (2014), Misión Sistema de Ciudades: una política nacional para el sistema de ciudades colombiano con visión a largo plazo, Departamento Nacional de Planeación, Bogotá, https://osc.dnp.gov.co/administrator/components/com_publicaciones/uploads/Misin_Sistema_de_Ciudades.pdf (accessed on 4 August 2021).

[20] Fuentes López, H., L. Jiménez Reyes and N. Pérez Forero (2019), “La demografía industrial en Colombia: localización y relocalización de la actividad manufacturera”, Cuadernos de Geografía: Revista Colombiana de Geografía, Vol. 28/1, https://doi.org/10.15446/rcdg.v28n1.66823.

[11] Gobierno de Colombia (2021), Política para la Reactivación, la Repotenciación y el Crecimiento Sostenible e Incluyente: Nuevo Compromiso por el Futuro de Colombia (CONPES 4023), https://colaboracion.dnp.gov.co/CDT/Conpes/Econ%C3%B3micos/4023.pdf.

[50] Gobierno de Colombia (2020), “Colombia un país de biodiverciudades”, https://www.dnp.gov.co/Crecimiento-Verde/Documents/Comite%20Sostenibilidad/Presentaciones/Sesi%C3%B3n%204/4_Avances_en_la_implementacion_iniciativa_biodiverciudades.pdf (accessed on 28 April 2021).

[49] Gobierno de Colombia (2019), Bases del Plan Nacional de Desarrollo 2019-2022: Pacto por Colombia Pacto por la Equidad, Presidencia de la República, Bogotá, https://id.presidencia.gov.co/especiales/190523-PlanNacionalDesarrollo/documentos/BasesPND2018-2022.pdf (accessed on 21 April 2021).

[35] Gobierno de Colombia (2019), Ley 1955 de 2019 Por la cual de expide el Plan Nacional de Desarrollo 2018-2019 “Pacto porColombia, Pacto por la Equidad’, https://www.funcionpublica.gov.co/eva/gestornormativo/norma.php?i=93970.

[47] Gobierno de Colombia (2018), CONPES 3934 Política de Crecimiento Verde, Departamento Nacional de Planeación, https://www.minambiente.gov.co/images/normativa/app/conpes/0d-Conpes%203934.pdf (accessed on 2 August 2021).

[12] Gobierno de Colombia (2018), Paz con Legalidad, http://www.posconflicto.gov.co/Documents/politica-estabilizacion-Paz-con-legalidad.pdf.

[46] Gobierno de Colombia (2017), Política Nacional de Cambio Climático, Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Desarrollo Sostenible, http://, https://www.minambiente.gov.co/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/9.-Politica-Nacional-de-Cambio-Climatico.pdf.

[22] Gobierno de Colombia (2017), Política Nacional de Cambio Climático: Documento para tomadores de decisiones, https://www.minambiente.gov.co/images/cambioclimatico/pdf/Poli_CC_A2_B16_C6_WEB_Resumen_de_la_PNCC_dirigido_a_tomadores_de_decision.pdf (accessed on 30 July 2021).

[42] Gobierno de Colombia (2017), Prosperidad para la Fronteras de Colombia (CONPES 3805), https://www.mininterior.gov.co/sites/default/files/conpes_3805_fronteras.pdf (accessed on 16 July 2021).

[32] Gobierno de Colombia (2015), Decreto 1077 de 2015 Sector Vivienda, Ciudad y Territorio, https://www.funcionpublica.gov.co/eva/gestornormativo/norma.php?i=77216 (accessed on 11 October 2021).

[34] Gobierno de Colombia (2014), Plan Nacional de Desarrollo 2014-2018: Todos por un nuevo país, https://colaboracion.dnp.gov.co/CDT/PND/PND%202014-2018%20Tomo%201%20internet.pdf (accessed on 21 April 2021).

[44] Gobierno de Colombia (2014), Política Nacional para Consolidar el Sistema de Ciudades en Colombia (CONPES 3819), Departamento Nacional de Planeación, Bogotá.

[3] Gobierno de Colombia (2014), Política Nacional para Consolidar el Sistema de Ciudades en Colombia (CONPES 3819), Consejo Consultivo Municipal de Política Habitacional, Bogotá, https://colaboracion.dnp.gov.co/CDT/Conpes/Econ%C3%B3micos/3819.pdf.

[31] Gobierno de Colombia (2013), Ley 1625 de 2013 - Ley de Áreas Metropolitanas, https://www.mininterior.gov.co/sites/default/files/ley_area_metropolina_2013.pdf.

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[30] Gobierno de Colombia (2012), Ley 1551 de 2012 - Por la cual se dictan normas para modernizar la organización y el funcionamiento de los municipios, https://www.funcionpublica.gov.co/eva/gestornormativo/norma.php?i=48267 (accessed on 11 October 2021).

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← 1. See https://compromisoporcolombia.gov.co/.

← 2. For further information, see DANE, Pobreza y desigualdad, www.dane.gov.co/index.php/estadisticas-por-tema/pobreza-y-condiciones-de-vida/pobreza-monetaria.

← 3. According to Edward Glaeser, cited by Unimedios (2015[18]), the economic return for a crime is approximately 20% more in metropolitan areas than outside of them. When a city’s population doubles, the chances of being arrested for any crime decrease by about 8%.

← 4. For further information, see Publicación Despacio (2021), ¿Cómo afecta el ruido a las personas de Bogotá y Cali?, https://www.despacio.org/2021/04/28/como-afecta-el-ruido-a-las-personas-de-bogota-y-cali/.

← 5. Draft proposal on the Ciudades 4.0. Política Urbana Nacional. Ministry of Housing, City and Territory.

← 6. Idem.

← 7. For example, Decree 2190 of 2009 regulates the family subsidy for social interest housing in urban areas; see https://www.funcionpublica.gov.co/eva/gestornormativo/norma.php?i=36468. Decree 1160 of 2010 sets the rules for the management of the subsidy for rural social housing; see https://www.funcionpublica.gov.co/eva/gestornormativo/norma.php?i=39327.

← 8.  For further information, see Observatorio del Sistema de Ciudades, https://observatorioplanificacion.cepal.org/es/modalidades/observatorio-del-sistema-de-ciudades-de-colombia.

← 9. For further information, see OECD Colombia Economic Snapshot, www.oecd.org/economy/colombia-economic-snapshot/.

← 10. For further information, see Economic Policy Reforms 2021: Going for Growth – Colombia, www.oecd.org/economy/growth/Colombia-country-note-going-for-growth-2021.pdf.

← 11. For further information, see OECD (2020), Regiones y Ciudades de la OCDE en un Vistazo. Nota de País – Colombia, https://search.oecd.org/cfe/Colombia-Regions-and-Cities-2020-es.pdf.

← 12. For further information, see Cómo Vamos Medellín, https://www.medellincomovamos.org/territorio/area-metropolitana-del-valle-de-aburra.

← 13. For further information, see OECD/UN-Habitat/UNOPS (2021[36]).

← 14. For further information, see https://one.oecd.org/document/CFE/RDPC/URB(2021)6/en/pdf and https://one.oecd.org/document/CFE/RDPC/URB(2021)6/SUM/en/pdf.

← 15. For further information, see https://www.usergioarboleda.edu.co/medio-ambiente/cambio-climatico-afecta-a-colombia/.

← 16. Presentation given to OECD by the Ministry of Housing, City and Territory of Colombia on 30 November 2020.

← 17. For further information, see Chile: Política Nacional de Desarrollo Urbano 2014, https://cndu.gob.cl/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Resumen_POL%C3%8DTICA-NACIONAL-DE-DESARROLLO-URBANO_2014.pdf.

← 18. For further information, see www.co.undp.org/content/colombia/es/home/-sabias-que-/panorama-de-la-pobreza-en-el-sector-rural.html.

← 19.  For further information, see https://forbes.co/2020/11/12/economia-y-finanzas/en-el-campo-colombiano-casi-la-mitad-de-la-gente-es-pobre/.

← 20.  For further information, see www.dnp.gov.co/programas/agricultura/Paginas/mision-para-la-transformacion-del-campo-colombiano.aspx.

← 21. The OECD is currently conducting a review of Colombia’s national rural policy. The results are expected to be published in summer 2022.

← 22. The OECD is currently conducting a rural policy review where specific recommendations on rural development will be formulated.

← 23. OECD fact finding interviews with Colombian officials.

← 24. Comments provided by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development for the OECD Urban Policy Review of Colombia.

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