Elkin Velásquez: «Latin American cities face one main challenge: inequality»

By  | 2021

With 80% of its population living in cities, Latin America and the Caribbean is the most urbanized region in the world. At the same time, it is extremely unequal: in terms of income, the richest 1% concentrates 21% of the wealth created by the entire economy, which is twice the average for industrialized countries. If we take into account both phenomena — which are certainly interrelated — it is not surprising that when talking about the challenges facing the cities of his region today, Elkin Velásquez, UN-Habitat Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, concentrates his message on only one: «inequality — expressed through socio-spatial segregation».

For him, the inequality of Latin American and Caribbean cities is the «result of a historical process of very weak planning», which has led the urban areas of the region to generate urban patterns composed by socially segregated neighborhoods. «We need to plan cities for people to be more included, to see cities as one entity and not as a puzzle of different neighborhoods with different privileges», Velásquez adds. At the same time, however, the relevance of cities in the Latin American demographic context makes them a canvas on which designing a better future becomes possible: as he highlights, «We need to conceive the city as the place to really mainstream equality and social inclusion».

And, in this context, what could be the role of UN–Habitat? For Elkin Velásquez, if we look to the future, the implementation of global agendas – such as the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals – have to be a key support for cities to leave no one behind and, above all, to help them to put the focus on contextualizing that global impulse to its specific realities. Thus, in 2030, we will be able to move towards a Latin America and a Caribbean where cities are «fully inclusive, and facilitate opportunities and access to services for all – and, of course, happiness», he concludes.


Interview, text and edition by Sergio García i Rodríguez,
Communications Manager at Anteverti & CitiesToBe Executive Editor

Video by Eloy Calvo


About the authors

Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean at UN-Habitat | + posts

Elkin Velásquez Monsalve is the Regional Director of UN-Habitat in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Elkin has wide experience in the field, particularly in Latin America, assisting national and local governments in areas like urban governance, territorial planning, urban safety and area-based public policies. He also developed research in these areas and taught at several universities, and has been an advisor to the Secretary of the Government of Bogotá, the Ministry of the Interior, the Governor of Antioquia and the Vice Presidency of the Republic in Colombia, as well as to UNDP.

He studied Public Administration at the ENA (French National School of Public Administration); obtained a Ph.D. in Geography, specializing in Territorial Policy and Planning, at the University of Grenoble (France); and did graduate in Engineering at the National University of Colombia in Medellin.

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