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Santa Cruz city

Latin America's boom town

Booming crossroads in the heart of South America

Latin America's boom town

With the population doubling every 15 years, the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz is expanding far beyond its capacity. To cope with the development a new city is being built. New Santa Cruz is a private investment riding on the economic boom.

In the Andean foothills lays Santa Cruz de la Sierra. Sixty years ago a small town, just a fraction of its current size. Today, the boom town of Latin America and the world’s fourteenth fastest growing city. In the middle of it all lays Lafuente Group headquarters. Together with his team, Julio Novillo, owner of the group, plays a key role in shaping what will become Santa Cruz’s future.

“To me this is not only another investment. This is my life’s largest undertaking and my mission. The opportunity to develop a new city only comes once in a lifetime. New Santa Cruz is a calling to me,” says Julio Novillo.

But to understand the future, one needs to know the past.

Julio Novillo
JulioNovillo is the founder and owner of Lafuente Group, Bolivia’s largest realestate company. He is also the man behind the mega project of constructing awhole new Santa Cruz.

How Santa Cruz started to grow

In the 1950s, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, commonly known as Santa Cruz, was a sleepy frontier town with some 50,000 inhabitants. The infrastructure and services were limited, there was no piped water, no proper sewage system, no paved streets and insufficient electricity. Santa Cruz, in the eastern lowlands of Bolivia, was far removed from the economic and political powers in the western highlands. This was about to change. 

The citizens of Santa Cruz fought hard to defend regional interests and reclaim the revenue of the region’s oil industry from the central government. It was a difficult and blood-stained fight, but the uprising succeeded and at the end of the 1950’s oil revenue was channelled back into the region, making urban development possible. At the same time, there were initiatives to commercialise the agriculture and expand oil and gas explorations in the region.

Julio Novillo
Julio Novillo got the idea about a whole new Santa Cruz during a difficult period in his life. Both his parents were ill and were taken to Santiago de Chile for medical treatment. ThereNovillo was inspired by the city planning.

The modern city plan for Santa Cruz takes shape

In 1960, new plans for Santa Cruz were drawn up. This time, the city planners had in mind a modern city housing some 300,000 inhabitants. A planning company was hired to make a masterplan for the city and the Committee for Public Works launched a series of projects to get water, electricity and telephone lines to the citizens without help from the central government.

According to Joshua Kirshner, Lecturer in Human Geography at York University, the masterplan for Santa Cruz “encouraged an orderly and flexible cityscape to foster economic dynamism and accommodate growth, and it envisioned Santa Cruz as Bolivia’s principal growth pole.” 

In many ways, this is exactly what happened. The city has grown with exceptional speed, not least after liberal reforms of the mid 1980’s.

Hans Kenning Moreno
Architect Kenning Moreno and his team have made the lay-out of Nueva Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz of today – an economic powerhouse

Today, the department of Santa Cruz is producing 30 per cent of Bolivia’s´ GDP; its growth and per capita income are substantially higher than the national average.

The number of inhabitants in the city of Santa Cruz stands at two million and the expansion is expected to continue. In 15 years the population is expected to double. But the growth has not come without problems. The city has outgrown its infrastructure, municipal services are strained and new unorganised communities are springing up on vacant land on the fringes of the city. 

Once again, it is time for an overhaul of the masterplan, but this time it will not be within the existing structures of the city. This is where New Santa Cruz – a private initiative by the Lafuente Group – comes into the picture. 

This is what New Santa Cruz will be like

”The idea behind Nueva Santa Cruz follows an universal principle – it is easier to build something new than rebuild an old city. In an existing city it is hard to change things due to high cost, expropriation and oppositions. In Nueva Santa Cruz, we have a great possibility to create a competitive city in terms of modern technology, urban planning and sustainability” Julio Novillo, owner at the Lafuente Group, says.

Normally – the Lafuente Group – the biggest real estate developer in Bolivia, develops the land only, but this time they will develop a whole new city. Lafuente have been working together with an urban planning cooperation from South Korea and the idea is to make a green, modern and intelligent city.

Rolled drawings
The new city will be developed in phases.

“On the surface the city might look like any other city in the world, but we have designed it to suit Bolivian conditions,” says Hans Kenning Moreno, a Bolivian architect hired by the Lafuente Group to be responsible for the building of New Santa Cruz.

Construction work about to begin

Building of the city began in late 2018 and the construction will be done in phases. The whole project stretches over an area of 6,000 hectares out of which 3,000 hectares are intended for housing, 700 hectares for business activities and 2,400 hectares for urban infrastructure including green areas. When complete, the developer is looking at a population capacity of 370,000 people.

 “This is a private investment so it will cost a lot of money and therefore we will build it bit by bit. We need to convince people that once it is finalized, this will be a very good city to live in. We started to build the first buildings in October 2018. We have our vision and our dream, now we must just convince other people to come and fulfil that dream.”

Hand on drawings
Thefirst phase of Nueva Santa Cruz is currently under construction. It will be aresidential area.

The new city will partly be powered by solar or wind energy, large green spaces will be protected, and the city is planned in such a way that all services are within walking or cycling distance, making vehicles almost redundant.

”Our concept is to build a sustainable city, but the people of South America are not very environmentally conscious as yet. So, we are trying to fight this and adopt sustainable construction methods and technologies,” says Kenning Moreno.

New Santa Cruz can become the meeting point for South America

The new town will be located 20 minutes from the old Santa Cruz. It will benefit from the proximity to the international airport Viru Viru. From here, any major city in South America can be reached in only three hours. Also, New Santa Cruz will be connected to the bioceanic road system, the main regional network of roads that runs from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic. It is the central position that Kenning Moreno hopes will give New Santa Cruz a key position in South America. 

“We are in the heart of South America and our dream is to become the preferred meeting point for the whole of South America. Bolivia is still the little brother of big countries such as Brazil and Argentina, but we could become the connecting point for all countries in the region,” Kenning Moreno says. 

Latin America's boom town

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