There Is Nowhere Else Quite Like Managua
There are motifs for almost every city in the world, widely known features that capture something of the essence of the community—the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe in Paris, Moscow’s Red Square, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and the Paseo de la Reforma or the Zócalo in Mexico City.
Managua, a city of about one million people, is an exception. Because there is no visual shorthand for Nicaragua’s capital, we will have to choose something, a motif very different from other cities’ because the city is so… well, so odd.
Situated in a shallow basin, dotted with volcanic cones, on the southern shore of Lake Managua, the city has no center. The old downtown area was destroyed in the 1972 earthquake and has not been rebuilt. Around this empty center is a ragged arc of neighborhoods, made up primarily of one-story buildings (another response to the earthquake) often set well back from the road. Roads and traffic are the dominant feature and yet traffic is light.
Managua is scattered—as if some god had tossed a handful of the city’s fine dust to the wind or heaved out a splattering of rainy-season mud. But two other primeval forces have been at work on the city: earthquakes and capitalism. Anastasio Somoza called the 1972 earthquake a “revolution of possibilities” and for him and his associates it was. They bought up large tracts on the city’s fringes and had their companies rebuild housing on their land. The result is a third-world Los Angeles, laid out for the motorcar with suburbs spread about shopping malls. Yet in Managua there are few cars and the malls are covered market stalls. The crammed bus is the main form of transport.
Here, then, is the prevailing motif for the city, found near every major intersection—people standing in line for buses.
In lineThe Urban Development Scheme for Managua 1987-2020, a city plan prepared by the Ministry of Housing (MINVAH) and the mayor's office, includes the estimate that each of the city's bus stops serves 5,000-10,000 people a day. (Unless otherwise indicated, the data in this report is taken from the city plan: Esquema De Desarollo Urbano de Managua 1987- 2020, Alcaldia de Managua and MINVAH, Managua, April 1988.)
For a story about the city of Managua, the problems it faces today and tomorrow and how the government is responding, we’ll start at a "downtown" bus stop and travel southeast to the outer barrios on route 109.
As Managua's new mayor Carlos Carrión says in the accompanying interview, the city's situation is "very grave." And, at the rate it’s growing, it’s likely to get much worse very quickly. In this, Managua is not unlike many other large cities in developing countries, except for several significant differences. On the positive side, the city is moving to involve Managuans in solving the problems it faces and to bring central government alongside to work with the residents. On the negative side, the city suffers from the illogic of its post-earthquake layout and from the country's impoverishment as a result of the eight-year war against the US-sponsored contras.
At 7:30 in the morning, 64 people are lined up at the stop for route 109. According to a 1984 study, on average only 42% of those waiting at bus stops get on the first bus. The rest wait in the sun, and even when they do get on a bus only one in six get a seat. The study found that, for each trip, people spent as much time waiting for buses (24 minutes) as they did riding on them. But because route 109 begins here at the Plaza of the Revolution, our chances are much better for a short wait and perhaps even a seat.
Managua's planners estimate that 30% of the population's demands for bus services are not met by the existing system, even though the current level of bus travel is equivalent to about two-thirds of Managua's approximately 1.15 million people taking one bus trip a day. (One million residents plus an estimated 150,000 people who commute into the city each day from other centers to work or trade.)
The problems on the buses illustrate the elements encountered in all problems the city faces: 1) Growing demands—the city has one of the fastest urban growth rates in the world and between 1987 and 1991 the number of daily bus trips is expected to increase by 72%. 2) Diminishing resources—While the eight-year contra war increases migration to the city it also severely restricts government spending. Even if the country did have the money, there is a policy of cutting spending in the capital to discourage migration. 3) The only hope lies with imaginative and political solutions—the urban poor are the group most at risk and their worsening living conditions threaten to erode support for the Sandinistas.
The bus line faces west. In front of us are the buildings of the central post office. Behind us are a bandstand and the tomb of FSLN founder Carlos Fonseca.
The memorial to Fonseca fronts on to the Plaza of the Revolution. The National Palace forms the south side of the plaza and to the east is the ruin of the Managua Cathedral open to the sky, windows and roof gone, walls cracked. The cathedral clock is frozen at 12:32—the moment of the second tremor early on the morning of December 23,1972. With that second jolt, 90% of the city's commercial area was destroyed. The buildings on the edge of the plaza are like the facades of a film set. Behind them is nothing, acres of open fields of trees and long grass, crisscrossed by the old road network and with a scattering of isolated buildings or vacant shells where squatters often camp out.
To the north is the Rubén Darío theater, recently reopened after being refurbished with Swedish aid money, and, just behind it, Lake Managua. Refurbishing the lake would be a much more expensive project.
Wasted lakeThe lake could be a beautiful vista from the city center and a place to relax. Instead it is the city's backyard, and hard to get to. Industries to the east, the railway to the west and high-tension power lines all the way along the southern shore wall off the lake from the city.
At the moment, that’s probably a good thing. The lake is venomously polluted. Into it are dumped waste from the Penwalt chemical plant (including mercury), the oil refinery and 35 other industries; all of the city's untreated piped sewage, from 16 outlets; and trash washed down the city's storm drains or off the garbage dump at Acahualinca on the lake's edge.
As the city plan puts it, in its understated way: "Managua has a simple sewage system, in that the sewage flow depends completely on gravity, with the drawback that the sewers discharge their contents into Lake Managua."
Mercury levels in the lake are 2,000 times the acceptable level set by the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency; DDT levels are 400 times greater. Research on the lake, funded by Dutch and Danish agencies, has shown that restoring water quality would cost millions of dollars. (See: “Say Water, Say Life!” envío (English language edition), Volume 7 No. 83).
Here’s the bus. It was only a four-minute wait and we all get on. Most people pay with plastic tokens. Until January, bus trips within Managua were essentially free, one of the few remaining subsidies, and the plastic tokens were probably a net cost to the system. The nominal fare was 50 centavos (or 0.01 of a US cent). A Coke cost 1,000 times as much. Then at the beginning of 1989 the government cut the subsidy and raised the fare by 200 times. People now pay C$100 (about 1.5 US cents) for a trip that, on average, costs the transport company C$135. Now a Coke is worth only 15 bus fares.
The bus doubles around and heads away from the lake up the Avenida Bolivar. We cross the Carretera Norte (northern highway): towering over us to the right is the statue of “The Combatant,” a muscle-bound revolutionary holding a hoe and an AK-47 rifle. On his pedestal are inscribed Sandino’s words: “Only the workers and peasants will go all the way.”
Along the highway to the east, beginning with the brewery and power station on the edge of the earthquake zone, lies the city’s biggest industrial district. Heavy industry is something of an oddity in a country where most people work in the informal economy, the service sector or agriculture. Even though 83% of the Nicaraguans who work in industry work in Managua, most of them are employed in small factories spread throughout the city. Of the 20,000 employed in large industry (factories of more than 25 workers) 65% work in the zone along the Northern Highway.
At the bust of Simón Bolívar, and before the pseudo-Mayan structure of the Hotel Intercontinental, the bus swings east, past the cracked facades of three and four-story buildings on the southeastern fringe of the earthquake zone and the five-story headquarters of the Ministry of the Interior.
Flood and faultWe turn south again after the dry cleaner's sign that claims "Una Hora Martinizing." We won't wait now; last time it took the best part of a week rather than an hour. Farther down the street, on the concrete patio in front a lawyer's office, coffee beans have been set out to dry in the sun. Is this what is meant by mixed economy?
This barrio is named after the revolutionary hero Francisco Meza. It used to be called Largaespada after the family whose estate this was originally. In the sixties and seventies, Largaespada was the residence for many members of Somoza's National Guard.
Perhaps they brought bad luck; Largaespada was hard hit during the earthquake and parts flooded regularly. The neighborhood is in a bad location in a city that is badly located. The map of storm drainage in the city plan shows a long, "very critical" flooding zone running through the low-lying part of the barrio and north toward the lake. The map of seismic activity also shows a broad fault zone running from south of the Tiscapa crater lake, covering most of the barrio and then heading northeast toward the industrial zone and Lake Managua. The city plan says 272 houses in the barrio are situated in the fault zone. In all, 8% of the city's 120,000 houses are located in fault zones and 16% are in danger of flooding.
Faults and flooding are the two biggest problems with the city's location. The city sits on a flattish plain at the base of an arc of steep hills. The city collects the rainwater from the hills, a catchment area of 112 square miles, and deforestation in the hills has increased the risk of flooding. A network of large open concrete drains was constructed to channel the water through the city to the lake. The maintenance and extension of this network is a big demand on the city's resources.
In Francisco Meza, the houses themselves are sturdy. There are many other neighborhoods where the houses are in poor repair or are overcrowded. The authors of the plan quote a 1986 estimate that the average house in Managua accommodates 7.6 people. Fifty per cent of the city's houses were described as overcrowded and 27% were said to be in bad or terrible condition.
The 109 route jigs east, past the large barrio of Jorge Dimitrov, constructed after the revolution, and then doubles back into the older neighborhood of Rigoberto Lopez Pérez, a barrio of merchants. Then there's another jig east and south, this time through the middle-class tracts of El Dorado and 10 de Junio. Here it’s steel versus steal; wealth is directly proportional to the quantity of iron grillwork used to defend each house. In Jorge Dimitrov, the one and two-roomed wooden houses have few bars on their windows, where they have windows. In Rigoberto Lopez Pérez there are sturdier houses with grills on windows and doors. By the time we reach El Dorado there are front yards to be protected with high concrete and steel fences, often with spikes along the top.
Down in the dumpsThe bus emerges from the comfortable housing tract opposite a large open space for cows and young baseball players. To the south is the Roberto Huembes market. A deep concrete drain runs between the road and the open space and along the roadside is a garbage dump, one of Managua's hundreds of unofficial dumps. Historically the city's garbage collection system has picked up only about 40% of Managua's garbage each day. Lately that has left about 1,500 cubic yards a day to molder and rot and be picked over in dumps such as these. That's roughly equivalent to two football fields waist deep in garbage every week. Because of a concerted effort, by November 1988 the city was collecting almost 70%.
The cost in terms of increased risk of disease has not been assessed in detail but this year's much higher incidence of diarrhea amongst children has been attributed to the growing piles of garbage.
The big open space beyond the drain is unusual; even though housing is at a very low density and there are many vacant lots, there are few places to relax in the city. While 29% of the city land is open space, 19% is vacant lots and another 9% is agricultural land. Only 1% is available for outdoor recreation, which works out to about one square yard per person: one pace north, one pace west, one south, one east and that's your square—enjoy it, but please don't all jump about at once. Of this 210 acres designated as parkland, only 100 are actually developed into parks and of those many have fallen into disrepair.
The planners suggest that the area in parks should be increased to about six square yards per person, although they hold out few hopes of this happening. Their long-term plan until the year 2020 assumes the same ratio of 1% of the expanded city in parks and green spaces, representing a square yard for every inhabitant.
Up the road on the left of the market, a small children's playground can just be glimpsed through the undergrowth. The slides and play areas are overgrown with masses of pale lavender morning glories. On the back wall, a half-finished mural features children playing, a sunrise, doves and the familiar boots of Augusto Csar Sandino. A large sign from the local neighborhood defense committee saying "Don't mess up the mural" has been faithfully observed.
We’re informal hereThe path to the Roberto Huembes market runs across the drain and up a set of steps. On each landing, women sellers have laid out bright red tomatoes and green onions almost as if they are being ripened on trays in the sun. Huembes is the main market in a cluster of buildings that include banks, government offices, a child-care center, a library, a fire station, the museum of the revolution and the bus depot for transport south to Ticuantepe, Masaya and Granada. The main building is a big concrete barn, full of colorful ranks of vegetable sellers, odorous files of meat, fish and dairy stalls, all enclosed by an outer row of vendors of beans and rice, Italian pasta and Bulgarian peas. Outside of the barn are smaller shops selling locally made shoes, US toiletries and cosmetics. At Huembes, official commerce intersects with the city’s burgeoning informal sector.
The complex around Huembes is one of three market, service and transport centers built after the revolution to serve the southern, eastern and western sectors of the city. In part, the aim of the new centers was to draw customers away from the city’s long-established Mercado Oriental. At the Oriental, you can find almost anything you want, though often you have to be prepared to pay through the nose and/or ask no questions. But prices at the Oriental can also be much cheaper than in the other markets—many of the venders manage to avoid paying taxes and pass some of their good fortune on to the consumer. There are also unlicensed venders, like the women on the steps with onions and tomatoes, at Huembes. They set up baskets of goods outside and in the corridors until overcrowding or complaints by the licensed sellers prompt the police to move them on. Informal commerce also extends into the streets with most barrios ringing to the passing chorale of venders and trades people offering goods and services.
The size and growth of the informal sector are dominant features of the Managuan economy, but the relationship between this growth and that of the city is uncertain. Is it cause or effect? Does the existence of a large informal sector draw people to the city or do they come and, not finding formal employment, end up in this sector?
In a sense both could be true. The sector is generally thought to include about 45% of the city’s economically active population. The numbers in the city plan indicate that about 40% of these people work in commerce, about a third provide services and the remaining quarter are employed in small-scale manufacturing. All these numbers are arbitrary, partly because it’s very difficult to classify the large numbers of salaried workers who also do informal work.
A distinction can be made between the traditional informal sector, based on small-scale productive activities (such as furniture workshops), and a newer non-productive sector, based on just buying and selling, which has had the higher earnings in recent years and experienced the greatest growth. Those people who do well in the informal sector may act as a magnet for others, but for many the sector is a place of last resort.
The informal sector has grown as the value of wages paid in the formal sector has collapsed. The index for the average wage dropped from 100 in 1981, to 54 in 1984, to 6 in June 1987, and real wages have dropped again this year. While the 1988 recession has hit people in the informal sector hard, especially those at the bottom, wageworkers have suffered as much as the poorest in this sector, particularly with the thousands of people laid off through the recent restructuring of government administration. Working in the informal sector has become not so much an attraction as a necessity.
The survival opportunities offered by the informal sector are also a draw for migrants to the city. If you can survive in Managua, where there is health care and education for your children, why stay in the country or a smaller city? There may be less food in the city and you’re more likely to get savaged by inflation, but there’s also more opportunity to work two or three jobs. One study showed that two-thirds of those migrating to the city had worked in the informal sector in other towns and cities. (Quoted in Peter Marchetti, Managua es Nicaragua, chapter one, UCA, Managua 1985).
However the mechanism operates, the combination of migrants and the informal sector is a major factor in the growth of the city. Attempts to improve living conditions in rural areas or to restrict the establishment of spontaneous settlements in the city will have effects on both the informal economy and on the level of migration to Managua.
Potholes and rutsAt Huembes the bus empties and then fills again to overflowing, more Sardinismo. We turn southeast again and climb slowly up a steady incline, slow enough for two youths to race the bus. One manages to catch it and clamber on through the back door, the other beats us to the next stop. La Fuente is a poor barrio that dates from the time of the earthquake.
Freshly paved patches of road show where the big holes have been filled after the scouring of the rainy season. The roads are completely ruined," says Silvio Ocampo, the director of economic planning for the city. Patching the roads and repairing damaged culverts are the two most immediate priorities in the city.
The scale of the problem becomes clear a little further on. A side road used to drop away to the left. It became a drain. Now only the concrete curbs and gutters remain, two crooked concrete strips lining a braid of four-foot deep gullies.
Spontaneous settlementFurther down this road stand small examples of another big problem. Shanties, each about eight feet square, occupy a strip of vacant land along the side of the road. Some houses are as wide as one plastic rain poncho, stretched out between timbers to form a wall. This is the first stage in the squatting process, known here as "spontaneous settlement."
Spontaneous settlement is the do-it-yourself response to the city's lack of services. If the city isn’t going to provide land, water, power, sewage and roads, the more resourceful, or desperate, settlers will find some land, build a shanty, carry water from the nearest spigot, dig a hole for a toilet and pirate electricity from overhead wires.
There’s something of a battle of wills here. The city can no longer afford to provide the services and, even if it could, it fears the demand may be insatiable. The policy of not providing services is also an attempt to dissuade migrants. For the settlers who stick it out, their hope is that the government will eventually relent and recognize their existence by ordering the settlement and providing official land titles and regulated supplies of power and water, or by moving them on to an approved area for settlement.
It was estimated in 1987 that about 10% of Managua's population, or 81,000 people, were living in some 70 of these spontaneous settlements. Forty-six of these had been established before the 1979 triumph. (Francisco Lopez, La Problematica Urbana en Managua, Cuadernos de Sociología, Escuela De Sociologia, Universidad Centroamericana, Managua, January-April 1987, p. 13.)
Control of spontaneous settlement has been the basic means used by the government to restrict growth in the city. Since 1982, there has been a policy of making Managua less attractive to emigrate to and rural areas and regional centers correspondingly more attractive. This policy has included not investing in Managua and restricting the growth of squatter settlements.
The 1982 policy was, in principle, a major shift. Managua grew up around the expansion of economic power concentrated in the Somoza family interests through the cotton boom of the fifties and the establishment of the Central American common market in the sixties. When the state took over the Somoza interests after the triumph, the centralization of economic and political power in the city was continued. This was augmented by the provision of land and services to the urban poor, increased access to health and education facilities and growth in the state bureaucracy centered in the capital.
By 1982, the city could not meet the needs of its existing population, let alone a growing one. In addition to the overcrowded houses and buses, the current city plan notes that in 1984 25% of the city's population was not served with potable water supplies and 43% was not connected to the sewage system. It was estimated that in that year there needed to be another 35,000 connections to the water supply and that 25,000 existing connections were illegal. The demand for new water connections from then until the year 2000 was put at 13,000 per year with continuing migration, or 8,000 per year without. This compares with an average of 4,235 water connections per year between 1977 and 1984.
How effective have attempts been to restrict immigration? Again, the picture is murky. Both the number of settlements being established and the percentage growth in the city population due to migration appear to have dropped. Mayor Carlos Carrión says that the number of spontaneous settlements being attempted in the city has been cut from 25 in 1984 to only 4 or 5 in 1987. But the number of settlements is not a clear guide to immigration because only 20% of the squatters come from outside the capital, and half of those come from elsewhere in the greater Managua area (Region III).
The city plan says Managua’s population grew by 7% in 1983, half of which came from immigration and half from natural growth. The average growth between 1971 and 1983 was estimated at 6% with, again, a 50/50 split between migration and natural growth. Mayor Carrión says the latest figures indicate immigration is now only increasing the city population by 2% per year. The fall in percentage terms would indicate that immigration is being held at a constant level of about 20,000 new residents a year, since the other side of Carrión’s figures is that the natural growth of the Managua population is a phenomenal 4.5%, significantly higher than previously thought. Another possibility is that migration has always been less of a factor than had earlier been estimated. Remember that all these figures are based on estimates that have been brought forward from the last full census, carried out in 1971. There is plenty of room for error.
An indication that efforts to restrict Managua’s growth may have not been successful comes in an appendix to the plan prepared by the Ministry of Housing. Region III had been given the lowest priority for new housing by the ministry. “But, in spite of this, Region III has received the greatest level of the national investment in housing. To 1986, 46,360 houses had been built, of which 21,400 (46%) had been in Region III.” Region III has 30% of the country’s population.
The Managua policy was two-sided: dissuade people from migrating to the city and encourage them to stay in the countryside or in rural centers. This second part is hard to achieve. As Francisco López, of the Nicaraguan Institute for Social and Economic Research (INIES), has written: “The root problem is that nobody wants to stay and work in the regions or in the countryside. If a technician is asked to go and work in a region, he or she looks for some excuse not to go.”
To encourage people to stay in the regions, many state functions have been decentralized to regional offices, a process accentuated by the compacting of government departments and businesses during 1988. But attempts to shift investment from Managua to regional centers so that those centers will attract growth away from Managua have not been so successful. While investment has indeed been stopped in Managua and there has been investment in the regions, that investment has mainly been in the large projects that are not tightly integrated with the local economy. The big projects and the cost of the war have so far shut out any chance of investing in peasant or small-scale production that would be more closely linked to the local economy.
The view from a Schick neighborhoodThe bus continues, making its way along a thick finger of poor barrios pointing southeastward amid surrounding farm land. Every now and then, between the houses, there are glimpses of fields of corn and small groves of papaya trees. We pass the Ideal Cinema and double back into a suburb named after former President Rene Schick—a Somoza front man who occupied the office from 1963-67.
This is the end of the line. We get off and walk up a short dirt road. At an intersection, there is a small monument to a compañero killed here on December 19, 1980, 17 months after the triumph of the revolution. Neighbors say he was shot by ex-Guard members; one of them shows us the scars on his own belly, earned the same way. A path climbs through fields of corn above the houses. A large long-horned cow steps out of our way back amongst the corn stalks. From here, you can look north to the lake, four miles away, and to the west is Cerro Motastepe, the small hill with FSLN in giant white letters.
Here, above the city, we can look down on its situation: sufficient services for about half the population, faulting and flooding, deforestation and intensive agricultural use of the catchment area, far-flung suburbs with inadequate transport services and a gray lake thick with pollutants.
Opportunities to remedy the situation are severely limited because there’s no money. And there’s no money because of the cost of the US-sponsored contra war and the economic collapse it has engendered.
Making a success of making do But within the narrow space described by their poverty, the city administration has found some things it can do. It has reorganized the administration of the city, paring away waste and decentralizing decision-making to five districts. It has set a priority on maintaining what it has, concentrating on repairing main roads and drainage culverts. It is developing a new system of garbage collection that will establish bulk disposal facilities at those sites where garbage is already dumped in large quantities.
Other organizations in the city have adopted similar make-do approaches. The bus company, ENABUS, is using old bus bodies to create new stretched coaches that carry many more passengers and can be towed behind a truck unit to serve the routes along the Northern Highway.
Other problems require large investments and, if the money cannot be found, will generally have to wait. The clean up of the lake, sewage treatment and the provision of higher density housing, are examples. One project that can proceed, courtesy of $100 million in aid and technical assistance from the Soviet Union, is the construction of a piped water supply from Lake Nicaragua.
How much can be done with very little money depends in part on the commitment of the city's residents. Here the neighborhood defense committees (CDS) have a role to play in organizing neighborhood efforts to provide services and clean up barrios. We talked with residents along route 109 about the strength of the CDS in their neighborhoods. The answers were mixed; some people directly involved in their CDS could produce an impressive list of their activities. But for people outside the organizations the response was summed up in the phrase "it doesn't exist anymore.” Some of this may be the worldwide problem of those on the outside of committees not knowing how much is being done. But, clearly, CDS activity has declined dramatically.
There’s a paradox here. A CDS leader in Rigoberto López Perez made it clear that his group was ready and willing to go into action and build a child care center, as soon as they were given construction materials. There's the rub: at a time when the city might want to turn more and more to voluntary effort because it doesn’t have the resources, resources will also be tight for the CDS groups. In addition, because of their own household economic problems, people have less time to give to their neighborhood.
The CDS organizations will remain an important source of neighborhood organization and effort, but their contribution will be limited.
Onward ever outwardIf the current situation is bleak, the future is hardly rosy. Way beyond that hill to the west with the FSLN sign and directly behind us to the southeast is the way the city is growing.
Every year in June Managua commemorates the "repliegue," the tactical retreat of thousands of Sandinista fighters and Managuan supporters from the eastern barrios of the city on the night of June 27, 1979, out through the countryside to the town of Masaya 20 miles away. On the annual re-creation of the retreat, tens of thousands of people leave the Roberto Huembes market at nightfall and march out along the 109 bus route and through the darkened farmland to Masaya.
One of the growth alternatives outlined in the city plan assumes that by 2020, when those registered in this year's Sandinista army draft are approaching their fiftieth birthdays, Managua, Masaya and Granada could well be linked up in one urban sprawl. We could call this beast Manayada. The repliegue would have become a long walk through the suburbs.
The city planners project that Managua's population could almost quadruple by that year. The projected population of 3.7 million is equal to the total population in Nicaragua today. In this scenario, the population of the main urban centers in Region III would total more than 4.2 million (see chart). The national population would reach 5.1 million by the year 2000, and 9.5 million by 2020.
This is the projection the city planners consider “most realistic.” It assumes a high growth rate for Managua, 6% until 2000 and 3% from 2000—2020, and lower growth rates in the surrounding centers. Source: EDUM, pps 198-200.
These numbers are conservative; some projections (such as those of the United Nations) are greater.
The projections in the city plan are based on the assumption that immigration to Managua would cease by the year 2000 and that natural population growth would drop from 3.5% to 3.0%. This latter assumption may be more unlikely if the natural population growth has actually been 4-4.5% per year.
The range of possibilities for Managua’s growth is substantial. If the city’s recent average annual growth rate, of about 6%, was to continue for the next 32 years the city would grow to 7.7% million people—but this is an absurd notion since 80% of the country’s 9.5 million people would then live in the capital.
The plan envisages the city would grow in two areas: on the falt land south and west of Ciudad Sandino and spreading out behind us to the south and east of the existing city, absorbing the communities of Sabana Grande, Esquipulas and Ticuantepe along the way.
What can be done in the face of this ramshackle flood? Until there is peace, not a lot more than the city administrators are now trying to do in reorganizing and using their limited resources more efficiently. Carlos Carrión says the government was on the point of ending the four-year drought of funding for city when the hurricane struck. He stresses that the money being sought would have gone to maintain facilities in the city and not for expansion.
The aim of the 1982 policy and the goals of the 1985-86 economic plan to encourage regional development still make sense today. The difficulty has been in providing resources to the countryside to stimulate growth in the regions. The new municipal law and upcoming municipal elections will continue the process of giving more autonomy at the regional and municipal level and breaking the expectation that central government will, or should, always provide.
Although the link between spontaneous settlements and immigration is at best an indirect one, controlling the creation of the settlements is still a focus of current efforts to restrict the growth of Managua. Marlen Sierra, a planner with the city administration, says one of the advantages of the city's new decentralized district structure is that it will allow better control of land-use and of "non-permitted development" in the city.
The city plan has other suggestions for restricting immigration. These include: prohibiting the taking of land, executing urban control laws, introducing a system of land taxes and permits to settle and work and establishing a system of distributing houses and lots that favors people born in Managua. Another "Managuans first" suggestion would be to guarantee legal employment for the 65% of the population born in Managua.
On the face of it each of these measures has a political cost. There may be a more fundamental qualification, however. If the contribution of immigration has been overemphasized, a policy built around stopping migration would have only limited results. The fact is that natural growth of Managua's population is itself a formidable engine.
More emphasis will be needed on developing a population policy and promoting family planning. It is mentioned in passing in the plan but as in many Nicaraguan debates on this subject, the shadow of the issue has so far been larger than the substance. At the population conference in September (see accompanying story) two visions were in evidence, one of the rich resources available in Nicaragua for development, the other of population growth swamping the progress that had already been made. Managua's growth is in this latter camp. Even without migration, the city's natural growth will create a large human sponge that will contribute little to the development of the country's resources, which are concentrated in the regions.
The growth of Managua will also act as a counter to the policy of promoting regional development. A city of two, three or four million people, even if they are poor, will become an attractive market in its own right. This is implicit in the plan's assumption that industrial production will become a much more significant feature in the expanded capital. The plan predicts that the area of industrial land will increase from 4% of the city in 1986 to 11% by 2020, a growth in area of 12 times.
One advantage enjoyed by the city is that it does have a plan. "The problem is that it is not applied," says Silvio Ocampo, the man responsible for its application and one hundred and one other things.
Nicaragua and Managua are not alone in the problems they face. "We know reasonably well the causes of the cancerous urban growth in the Third World, can estimate the sorts of problems that will arise, but do not know how solutions may be found. Just meeting minimum needs for urban physical survival—unspoiled food, clean water, adequate shelter, safe waste disposal, comprehensive inoculations, even breathable air—is a staggering task; it will take a large and sophisticated bureaucracy with sizable annual budgets, extensive financing of public works, and probably, a rapid pace of invention and technical innovation on a scale heretofore unknown in most of the Third World."* (from Journal of Planning, Education and Research, Vol. 6, No. 1, “Large Third World Cities: Growth Problem, and Prospect,” by Hooshang Amirahmadi and William W. Goldsmith, p. 160)
To this Nicaragua can add the overweening problems created by the war. But here all is by no means bleak. In comparison with comparable cities in other developing countries Managua starts with clean air and drinking water and a basic network of services. The government is committed to extending that network and to meeting the needs of the poor majority. It can be assumed that as peace comes and as the economic situation improves so too, in time, will the position of Nicaragua's poor.
Managua also has advantages at the base and at the center. The CDS provides networks for public participation at a local level. These are limited now but at times have been very active and important forces in the city's development. The determination of Mayor Carrion to increase participation will serve to strengthen these networks.
At the center, Nicaragua has a system of planning and decision- making that will allow the planned and orderly development of the city. Managuans may suffer from the anarchy of a city laid out to enrich the Somoza family and the pain of an economy shattered by the war, but unlike those who live in most other Third World cities they are now developing the structures to restore order and take control over the development of their city.
It's time to get back on the bus.