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Urbanisation in Latin America

More than 80% of people in Latin America live in urban areas. Read how Danish solutions can help Latin American cities overcome their urban challenges.


If your products and solutions address urban challenges, Latin America should be top on your list of regions to look out for. With more than 80 pct. of its population living in cities, Latin America and Caribbean is the most urbanized area on the planet according to UN Habitat.


Some of the world’s largest cities are located here: combined, the seven metropolitan areas of Mexico City, São Paulo, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Lima, Bogotá, and Santiago de Chile have around 99 million inhabitants. Add to these seven cities yet 11 with over two million inhabitants, as well as almost another hundred cities home to more than 500,000 people.


Urban challenges are abundant in the region: poor basic public services with little or restricted access to water, sanitation and basic health care are a reality in many Latin American cities. Traffic congestion creates diseconomy of scale and impact the major cities’ economic growth potential. Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro are two of the world’s five most congested cities, according to TomTom Traffic Index of 2016. Landfills outside the city of São Paulo are mountain high and transporting the waste to the fields alone is a major source of pollution.


But the story of Latin America is also the tale of cities full of innovation and resilience, of a young and growing tech savvy middle class and a buzzling start-up environment. Many of the answers to urban solutions can be found – or co-created – in the region. The increase of use of smartphones is the highest in the world, and even in the slum connectivity is decent. Today Latin America is Uber’s fastest growing region, with the number of car journeys tripling during first quarter of 2016. The reason? A combination of insufficient public transport and rise in smart phones from Mexico City to Buenos Aires. Uber-users increase by 2 million each week in the region, and the San Francisco based company plans to be in 200 cities in the region by the end of 2017 – today it is in 98. Asked to compare its market entry into Latin America with the entry into China, regional manager Arevalo says to CNN Tech: “I think the reception has been easier in Latin America. We have cultures that are very, very open". Waste to energy has caught the attention of the world’s second largest water utility, the publicly listed Sabesp in São Paulo. It simply has become too expensive to transport the heavy sludge to the landfills 40 km outside the city, and the utility is now seeking for private operators of a waste to energy inside the waste water plant serving more than 4 million users. 


So how do you tap into the opportunities within urbanization in Latin America and show what you have to offer? There are multiple ways in, depending on the area you are working within and who your buyers are. The Danish missions in the region work strategically with urban diplomacy and are in an ongoing dialogue with the public decision makers of the region’s mega cities as well as with leading “second tier” cities. In addition, we continuously keep a close eye on strategic partners such as the private concession holders within health, energy, waste and sanitation. We identify matches between Danish competencies and the needs of the Latin American cities within Urban Solutions, and create concrete platforms of match making.


To know our Urban Solution agenda across the region, please contact export adviser of our Energy and Environment team, Lars Gade Holm / laghol@um.dk 

Urban Latin America – Highlights

Bogotá (Colombia)

  • Inhabitants in the municipality: 7.9 mio.
  • Inhabitants in the metropolitan area: 9.3 mio.
  • Profile: The city has been through one of the biggest transformations in Latin America and is now in the smart city super league
  • Recent developments: initiatives such as the BRT (Bogota’s bus rapid transit system), miles and miles of new bike lanes and the geographic information systems IDECA.

Buenos Aires (Argentina)

  • Inhabitants in the municipality: 3.0 mio.
  • Inhabitants in the metropolitan area: 14.5 mio.
  • Profile: Historically a cultural, creative and entrepreneurial metropolis, which has proven to be a main attraction for smart city entrepreneurs, working heavily on improving public transport and avoiding flooding.
  • Recent developments: Open the economy for foreign products and investments, Argentina has now a ministry to promote modernization, is working with a massive development of public transport, cycle infrastructure and has implemented public Wi-Fi on a great scale. The tax on computers has been lowered to promote digitalization.
  • Highlights, collaboration with DK: In 2016 the city signed a Letter of Intent on Urban Development in 2016 with Copenhagen and GEHL Masterclass

Mexico City (Mexico)

  • Inhabitants in the municipality: 8.9 mio.
  • Inhabitants in the metropolitan area: 25.4 mio.
  • Profile: One of the leading cities in Digital Governance analyzing big amounts of data to improve life in the city. City Hall has for a decade had strong focus on innovation and livability. Strong focus on increasing public transport and bicycling conditions. 
  • Recent developments: working with initiatives such as green buildings, smart governance and massive car share programs
  • Highlights, collaboration with DK: Mexico City cooperates with Copenhagen in the context of C40 and Cities Changing Diabetes. Regularly contact with the Embassy around greentech solutions.

Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)

  • Inhabitants in the municipality: 6.5 mio.
  • Inhabitants in the metropolitan area: 12.2 mio.
  • Profile: As a host of both the football World Cup 2014 and the Olympic Games 2016, Rio has been at the center of attention for the last couple of years. This has resulted in enormous investments to make the city smarter
  • Recent developments: An operations center to monitor weather and avoid emergency situations in the favela, a website to update citizens on zones with a high crime rate. Privatization expected of its water utility operations (Cedai) could offer concrete business opportunities for Danish businesses.
  • Highlights, collaboration with DK: Collaboration on Climate Change and Resilience with the Danish diplomatic missions. Collaboration Agreement with Thisted Municipality on Sustainable Surf Tourism

Santiago (Chile)

  • Inhabitants in the municipality: 5.5 mio.
  • Inhabitants in the metropolitan area: 6.7 mio.
  • Profile: generally considered the most business friendly city in Latin America, and development of a strong innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem with a significant research component. Internationally oriented business hub, which is commonly used as an entry platform to other countries in Latin America.
  • Recent developments: Various strategic programs to attract talents (such as Start-up Chile) and to enter the market in the green sector. Stable political framework after local elections in 2016 where various new majors in Santiago implement sustainability plans. Green transition is high on the political agenda.
  • Highlights, collaboration with DK: Cooperation agreement between Denmark and the Regional Government of Santiago. Chile is a formal partner of 3GF, where smart cities is a key focus point, and has furthermore signed agreements with Denmark in the health and environment sector. Development of a GEHL Masterclass on Urban Development in 2016.

São Paulo (Brazil)

  • Inhabitants in the municipality: 11.9 mio.
  • Inhabitants in the metropolitan area: 21.0 mio.
  • Profile: South America’s largest city. Economic and cultural center of Brazil. Located strategically well, with easy access to other big cities in the State of Sao Paulo (44 mio), and the two other top metropoles of Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte.
  • Recent developments: new business friendly mayor from January 2017, focusing on privatization and better business conditions. City ranked 12 in a recent Global Startup Ecosystem Ranking.
  • Highlights, collaboration with DK: collaboration with Copenhagen on waste management. Collaboration between Sabesp, the city’s ppp water utility and Biofos on peer-to-peer exchange within sanitation and Waste-2-Energy. New collaborations expected for 2017.
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