Meet the Lincoln Institute’s New Director for Latin America and the Caribbean
The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy has worked in Latin America and the Caribbean for 29 years—the past 27 of them under the leadership of urban economist Martim Smolka. The institute entered the region with the goal of helping leaders to address the challenge of informal settlements at a time of rapid urbanization.
Since then, the Lincoln Institute has worked with thousands of urban planners, local government officials, and other policy makers and practitioners throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, contributing to new policies to promote social equity and sustainability through effective land use and land-based financing.
The Lincoln Institute has contributed to the adoption of land value capture as a method to equitably distribute the benefits and burdens of urbanization, and to finance infrastructure and other investment in marginalized areas. The institute published Smolka’s authoritative report on the subject, Implementing Value Capture in Latin America, in 2013, two years after its foundational report on the upgrading of informal settlements, Regularization of Informal Settlements in Latin America.
With Smolka’s retirement earlier this year, the Lincoln Institute has a new face in the region, Anacláudia Rossbach, who took over as director for Latin America and the Caribbean in August. An economist, Rossbach joins the Lincoln Institute from Cities Alliance, where she served as the regional manager for Latin America and the Caribbean, supporting the transfer of knowledge and best practices among leaders in housing and urban policy. Previously, Rossbach oversaw major slum upgrading projects in Brazil, founded a nongovernmental organization, and served as a senior housing specialist for the World Bank.
In this edited interview, Rossbach speaks about the Lincoln Institute’s work in Latin America and the Caribbean, and potential developments in the region in the coming years.
Will Jason: How familiar were you with the Lincoln Institute before you learned about this position?
Anacláudia Rossbach: I was quite familiar because the Lincoln Institute has a strong reputation in Latin America. Among stakeholders working on urban issues, the Lincoln Institute is very well known and has a very strong network. And I understood the huge impact. It’s not difficult to find someone working in a city, in a national government, that has been part of a Lincoln Institute educational program.
WJ: What do you see as the greatest value that the Lincoln Institute has been delivering to the region?
AR: I think there is more awareness around the key role that land plays in urban planning and development. The topic of land value capture was very well introduced in the region. Today, people, professionals, practitioners working in cities, they understand the importance of land value capture.
If you look at the big picture 20 years ago and now, you see that today in Latin America, we have many cities that have introduced land-based finance instruments or more advanced land management instruments in urban planning. You see changes in the national legal frameworks of countries.
But still, of course, we have a long way to go because, well, informality is still very prevalent in the region. The region is the most unequal in the world. You see the cities are segregated; this is visible.
WJ: What do you see as the most important role that the Lincoln Institute can continue to play? And what types of changes can people in the region expect from the Lincoln Institute now?
AR: Of course, the Lincoln Institute will not change the position that it has been advocating for a long time, but I believe that we need to pay more attention to informality. We noticed during the pandemic how these informal settlements, these informal occupations in our cities suffered, and we don’t have numbers yet, but I believe we might see some expansion in the informality of land in Latin America. We know that we have more poverty already.
Poverty has grown during COVID and we have higher unemployment rates in the countries in the region. So, housing will be less affordable and then the likelihood to create informal occupations and so on will increase. We have to really be smart on how to combine preventive and curative measures through land management instruments, urban planning, low-income housing strategies, and slum upgrading to be able to address the size of the problem that we face now, and will face in the future if the current conditions prevail.
The other thing is that we have been building capacity in the region for a while, but we need to see a way to extend the outreach of what we have been doing. We have many cities in the region, we have a clear situation of lack of capacity at the city level, and I’m talking about different sizes of cities. We need to strategically think how we can leverage our impact and have a bigger outreach in terms of building capacity.
And then, of course, we should be able to measure our impact more. How can we find ways to go for qualitative assessments of the impact or even quantitative assessments of the impact that we are generating in the region? I see a great potential for the Lincoln Institute to increase impact in the region through partnerships and alliances. The institute has been already working through partnerships, communities of practice, and networks but I believe in the future we need to strengthen and add to some of the partnerships that we have been generating in the past.
And of course, we need to address the big challenge that we all face, which is climate change. We have, in Latin America, a situation where the most vulnerable, the poorest in the city, are most affected by climate change. We still have many people without water in the region. We have this major basic challenge in the region under this big shadow of climate change, which is affecting a lot of the region, a region that contributes less to emissions globally, but is being highly affected by disasters, by the consequences.
WJ: Let’s come back to the distinction that you made when you were talking about informality, between curative measures and preventive measures. Could you please talk a little bit more about what the Lincoln Institute has done and could do in each of these two areas, which are very distinct?
AR: I don’t know if they’re so distinct; I think they are interrelated. We need to strengthen the way we prevent informality from taking place. And this is, well, the basics: provide well located, serviced land for housing. It’s cheaper to provide infrastructure at the beginning than it is to retrofit slums with services later. We also need to make sure there are low-income housing options available through inclusionary housing or other regulations.
But informality is already there, and it’s affecting our daily lives. What are the aspects of land policy that the Institute can use as a curative measure? Land regularization, for example. In Brazil, for instance, we even have companies doing land regularization. It’s a market, it’s a public policy.
I think we can find ways to support these kinds of initiatives—improving informal settlements through a combination of regularization of land and infrastructure improvement, access to water, and protection of natural environments. These are all areas that we can look at in a more holistic manner. Land is part of a living tissue, where you have all these things happening and you have people living.
WJ: What role do you see land value capture playing in regularization?
AR: Land value capture could finance regularization, as a source of funding, because land value capture is an instrument that is developed at city level. Usually, for big regularization or upgrading programs, cities depend on national governments, on national grants.
But also, once you regularize land, you are bringing land to the market. You are adding value to the city. You are improving the capacity of the city as a whole to leverage land value capture because you’re bringing a new asset to the city.
WJ: On a lighter note, which Latin American or Caribbean country has the best food? Which has the best music?
AR: This is a tricky question, because I am very fond of many types of Latin American music and food. But I need to confess my eternal love for Mexico. The country has amazing food, and to me a very rich culture overall. I particularly like the female voices from the Mexican contemporary musical scene.
Will Jason is the director of communications at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.
Image: Anacláudia Rossbach