After the sectional elections on February 5th, the horizon for whoever is elected mayor of Cuenca is fraught with various challenges to be resolved, such as mobility problems and crime.
The official that wins the Cuenca mayoral election on February 5, 2023, must assume a growing city with several pending challenges, such as traffic chaos, safety, economic development, and land use planning.
Many of Cuenca’s problems stem from inadequate territorial planning. Cuencanos tend to move to peripheral areas and rural areas, even to sectors that are not yet provided with basic services.
This is a summary of the main challenges facing the next mayor of Cuenca, who will be chosen among nine candidates:
As in other cities in the country, such as Quito or Guayaquil, mobility is one of the biggest problems in the Azuayan capital. The roads are saturated with private vehicles, public transport needs improvements and the tram still doesn’t connect with the buses.
Pablo Osorio, sustainable mobility advisor for the German Technical Cooperation (GIZ), identified two important challenges in mobility: the rapid growth of the vehicle fleet and the integration of public transport systems.
At the end of 2022, more than 145,000 vehicles circulate on the streets of Cuenca. In recent years, the vehicle fleet has grown between 4 and 5%, more than the population growth rate, which on average reaches 2%.
In addition, Cuenca faces another dilemma: an increasing number of people are moving to rural parishes, where land and housing are cheaper. This has generated an increase in vehicular circulation from the periphery to the center.
Osorio says that, in this context, it is necessary to limit the use of private cars. “More than prohibiting, you have to create policies to discourage use,” he explained.
A second challenge, which has been impossible for the last two municipal administrations, is to integrate public transport systems. Cuenca took the first step with the implementation of the tram, which has been operating since September 2020.
But over those two years the Municipality has not been able to connect the tram with urban, inter-parish buses and with public bicycle paths.
A study by the Citizen Security Council revealed that 60% of the population of Cuenca feels less safe; and 21% does not feel safe at all.
Cuenca closed 2022 with more violent deaths, a new modality of home robberies, the presence of extortionists and massacres inside the Turi prison.
Last year, 24 violent deaths occurred in the Azuay capital, twice as many as in 2021, according to data from the National Police. The homicide rate stands at 7.9 per 100,000 inhabitants (that figure includes deaths inside the prison).
Territorial disputes over drug micro-trafficking were another crime present in Cuenca in 2022 and were a factor in several violent deaths in the city.
The Observatory of the Citizen Security Council also identified that one of the biggest problems in Cuenca is intrafamily violence. Complaints for this cause grew by 39% in 2022.
Within this context, local authorities have the challenge of working together with security institutions to find solutions.
Since 2016, the Azuayan capital has had a ‘Plan for the reactivation of public space,’ focused mainly on its historic center, listed as a Cultural Heritage of Humanity by Unesco.
This document details some problems of the urban space of Cuenca, such as the lack of accessibility. For example, 65% of Cuencanos walk on poor sidewalks.
In the case of parks and squares, even though they have been remodeled or have a maintenance plan, many are considered unsafe.
The ‘Plan’ for the recovery of public spaces identified empty places that can be used for different uses. The document proposes the urgent recovery of at least 10 points.
In addition, it proposed conversion these “dead” spaces into more active areas: parks, urban art canvases, concert areas, open-air libraries, and bicycle parking, among other uses.
In the management of public space, the disorder around the markets is also a concern.
Despite the attempts of recent mayors, who have built markets and platforms, there are still streets that are taken over by merchants.
Cuenca has the best labor indicators in the country: 6 out of 10 inhabitants have a suitable job; at the national level that number is 3 out of 10, according to the latest survey by the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INEC).
This is reflected in the salary of the people of Cuenca. In the second quarter of 2022, the median income in Cuenca was $337 per month, higher than that of Quito.
But the average income is still less than the basic salary, which in 2022 was $425. This is because 40% of the population of working age has inadequate employment. There is a high number of workers in the ‘informal sector.’
Despite the good indicators in Cuenca, there are major challenges ahead. María Elena, an academic at the University of Azuay, explains that a large number of jobs were lost in the pandemic and have not yet been recovered.
Elena explained that a major challenge is the job placement of young people and stopping the ‘brain drain.’ Many people from Cuenca, in the absence of adequate employment, have chosen to migrate to other countries.
For her, it is important that the new municipal administration create ordinances or regulations that reduce the red tape for entrepreneurs.
The economic recovery in Cuenca is advancing at a good pace. In 2022, tax collection increased by 27% compared to 2019, the pre-pandemic year, according to data from the Internal Revenue Service.
The Azuay capital contributes 5% of the country’s collection. This is due to the existence of large business groups and high industrial development.
The commerce and industry sectors are the main drivers of the country’s economy. The latter creates 40% of formal employment in the Azuayan capital.
In Cuenca, the manufacturing industries stand out, which represent 21% of the economic activity of the city, according to data from the Central Bank.
But with this, one of the biggest challenges for the next mayor will be to provide industrial land, because the current one is saturated.
Production in the Azuayan capital has also been affected by the lack of connection. The main roads that connect Azuay with the rest of the country are deteriorated and there are frequent closures, as is the case with Cuenca-Molleturo-El Empalme, which connects with Cuenca with Guayaquil.
There are also problems with air connections preventing travel to Cuenca. Over the last 10 years, the only one to show an increase in airline passengers was 2022 (as compared to the pandemic year of 2021). The other nine years showed a steady decline in passengers.
And in this year’s the projections of the Airport Corporation, it is counting on new international flights, but for that it must overcome several obstacles, such as the size of the runway and operating costs.