Reflecting the tendency throughout early 21st century Latin America, the city of Ibarra-Ecuador is facing a wide suite of opportunities and problems as it continues to grow exponentially. The Ibarra Verde project aims to create an interactive and constantly enriched, online mapping environment that points residents and visitors of the city to places and experiences that improve quality of life, while at the same time zeroing in on the potential problems the growing city faces. The philosophy that guides the project seeks to unite bio-eco-cultural processes with modern technology in such a way that human quality of life, along with the well-being of the natural-cultural landscape, is constantly being improved.
Ibarra, an inter-Andean valley city of 130,000 people in an area of 242 square kilometers, is located in the northern Andes, two hours by car from Quito, the capital city. Typical of secondary urban centers, Ibarra attracts many different kinds of people, and is therefore growing at an astounding rate. As the Ibarra area urbanizes, the surrounding agricultural and forested countryside is altered. However, in the case of Ibarra, not just one, but two of the surrounding ecosystems are among the world’s top environmental “hot-spots” for conservation: the high inter-Andean cloud forest that extends from the eastern flank of Ibarra north to the Colombian border; and the Choco rain-forest to be found in the valleys dropping off to Ibarra’s west down to Ecuador’s Pacific coast. In the surrounding countryside, agricultural mechanization and the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides have led to increases in production, but also degradation of soils. Some, but not all of Ibarra’s growth is due to rural migration away from failed small farms, which may be bought by larger farm interests, or sometimes abandoned. Food and transport are critically affected by the rural-urban migration. Most families still retain ties to surrounding towns and farms, but increasingly, the urban environment is where people put their hopes and dreams, as well as their concerns about the future.
With a focus on the precepts of human ecological analysis, the Ibarra Verde project aims to highlight the ways in which urban growth is being managed, and evolving, to provide better quality of life, while at the same time bringing attention to the problems and pitfalls that come with urbanization. Focusing on key elements of the urban environment identified in survey results, such as transport, food, health and education infrastructure, the initial intense mapping efforts will be carried out over two years, by a core group of mapmakers tightly committed to the project, and additional interested parties who are encouraged to affiliate. By publishing the growing map through the Open Green Map portal, mirrored on the Ibarra Verde project website, and through a focused publicity campaign at local education institutions, the goal is to inspire a new generation of quality-of-life focused mapmakers as part of the Ibarra Verde process.
The Ibarra Verde project is sponsored by the largest university in the northern Andean region of Ecuador, the Universidad Técnica del Norte, as well as SENESCYT, the Ecuadorian education ministry. Within the university’s Post-Graduate Institute, the project will be supported by students in the Master’s Program in Human Ecology, as well as undergraduate students from Natural Resources, Geography and Forestry programs. The lead mapmaker, Larry M Frolich, Ph.D., is faculty in Natural Sciences at Miami Dade College, and a Prometeo Scholar in Ecuador.