Ciudad Guayana Region
Orinoco River Basin 
Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA's)
 Regional Development & Urban Expansion Plan
Dr. J Michael Cobb
Seconded to the Venezuelan Government
Project Summary 
Author's Role 
Observations & Lessons Learned

Note: Development Plans - To view examples of the spatial development plans and related material developed by Dr. Cobb under this PDVSA project, please click here. 


Beginning in the late 1970's, the Venezuelan government, through its national oil company, PDVSA, began a major program to initiate development of its extra heavy oil and bitumen resources within the country's Orinoco River delta region. Known throughout the petroleum world as Venezuela's "heavy oil belt", this major world deposit is found within the four provinces lying north of the Orinoco River. The first major section of the oil belt to be developed was the eastern Monagas Province, located just north of Ciudad Guayana, the major city at the confluence of the Orinoco River where it joins with the waters of the Caroní. Temblador and other small towns, as well as various Panare Indian indigenous villages, lie just north of Ciudad Guayana across the Orinoco River within the Monagas Province "Sabana Grande" region.

CVG Hqts. in Ciudada Guayana

Along with development of its heavy oil resources, a major objective of the national government was to stimulate economic and settlement growth within this region (the controversial "growth pole" strategy) in efforts to create more spatially and politically balanced development throughout the country. Further growth within the Ciudad Guayana urban and industrial region was, therefore, also a key objective. Within this context, PDVSA through its then major subsidiary Lagoven, retained Bechtel Corporation to produce and implement a regional economic and infrastructure development plan to stimulate and guide investment and growth. 


From Ciudad Guayana (Puerto Ordaz) looking north into the Project Planning Area (Monagas Province)


In addition to accommodating the various oil field requirements related to worker housing, social and community services, environment protection, education, health care and infrastructure, this two year  regional planning program also addressed special concerns and issues including the following:

  • Development of a multi-stakeholder strategy and program for coordinating and integrating the large influx of invasion settlers being attracted to the region 

  • Coordination with the regional entity CVG regarding urban transport, infrastructure and and related expansion planning for the major regional city of Ciudad Guayana

  • Incorporating, protecting and providing special programs for native Panare Indian villages and populations

  • Planning, budgeting and financing strategies for new regional highways, bridges over the Orinoco, river port expansion and regional utilities 

  • Planning for environmental protection and enhancement of the unique Sabana Grande estuary system

  • Developing a low-income invasion housing supply support and upgrading plan, including planning for family migration-induced social, community and infrastructure facilities and services 

  • Creation of a regional public-private development corporation for financing and implementation of the development program, and

  • Coordination with various stakeholders including national, provincial and local governmental agencies, private companies, civic groups and others involved with and influenced by growth within the region.


Ciudad Guayana - Invasion housing area developing 


Reminder: Development Plans - For some of the key spatial development plans and related material resulting from this program, please click here.  


Panare Indian settlement along Orinoco

  The regional development plan was adopted nationally by PDVSA, the Monagas Provincial Government, CVG as well as other regional and national agencies and initial phases of the program were begun. After a promising start, the program was placed in abeyance for about ten years due to world oil market and related geo-political factors. With the recent major upturn in world oil prices and with the recent President Chevez governmental programs focusing on "Sowing the Oil", there are indications that elements of the Orinoco regional development program are again being implemented. 

For further information on the most current Venezuelan government's programs related to development of the Orinoco River region, see the websites Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) and Corporacion Venezolana de Guayana (CVG).

  Author's Role in Regional Development Program

Dr. J. Michael Cobb was seconded by Bechtel Corporation to PDVSA/Lagoven, the national oil company responsible for the initial phase of the Orinoco oil belt regional development. Bechtel was under contact with Lagoven for providing a plan and implementation program for supplying all urban and regional infrastructure systems services necessary for development of the heavy oil resources in the region. Dr. Cobb was the in-country Director of the Regional Planning Program which included the Lagoven/Bechtel organization as well as various Venezuelan consulting firms and advisors.

  Observations & Lessons Learned

My experiences in seeking to address unplanned settlements and rapid urbanization in Venezuela, and later reinforced by work in Uganda, Kenya, the Dominican Republic and a few other developing countries, has convinced me that only broad based yet integrated multi-sector interventions are likely to improve the livability quality of third world cities. Like it or not, single targeted projects or single sector policy programs - uncoordinated within a larger urban development strategy - are unlikely to be sustainable. But the development of this strategy must be as inclusive as we can make it. As I see it, bottoms-up as well as top-down approaches are not only needed but essential... and perhaps now this is beginning to occur.

For the past thirty years World Bank and other research has shown that unplanned or  invasion settlements constitute a prime source of housing for low-income populations in developing countries. In essence, therefore, these unplanned settlements have been the essential engines supplying shelter in the developing world.

Since the Istanbul Habitat II conference in the mid 1990’s most countries across the globe have accepted the concept of pursuing their individual solutions to invasion settlements, urban upgrading and general urban expansion. The earlier notions of the World Bank and other multinational institutions was that governments should focus on infrastructure investment, land tenure, sites and services and slum upgrading as the appropriate universal solution to better shape urban growth and indirectly contribute to poverty reduction.

Since Habit II, however, the urban improvement intervention agenda has broadened to include local institutional strengthening, enhanced roles for the private sector in infrastructure supply, microcredit programs targeting the poor, greater gender equality and enhanced economic roles for women.  And along with an increasing emphasis on environmental sustainability, international institutions and local governments have broaden and diversified their efforts toward a more comprehensive view of the systemic interconnected interventions needed to improve the physical fabric of cites and the lives of people. 

To assist, intervene and meaningfully contribute in this challenging global urbanization agenda, planners need a broad vision, courage, as many tools as they can find...and especially the willingness and fortitude to constantly learn. 


Orinoco River Sabana Grande


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