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The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Collective reflections about development practice and cities


Favela Upgrading and Integration into the City – 20 years on

By ucfumdi, on 4 December 2015

In 1996, when Rio de Janeiro was a candidate to host the Olympics for the first time, the Brazilian Institute for Social and Economic Analyses (Ibase, in Portuguese) proposed that such a mega event should be accompanied by a “social agenda” with five goals (one goal for each Olympic ring), defined then by Betinho, Ibase’s founder and prominent civil society representative. Rio didn’t win the bid, but the social agenda gathered great support from civil society, governments and the private sector, and had repercussions for years to come.

Twenty years on, as Rio is about to host the next Olympics Games, Ibase is revisiting the debate on the Olympic social legacy – or lack thereof – for the city. The NGO proposes that special attention is given to one of the goals proposed in the 1996 social agenda: “Favela Upgrading and Integration into the City” .

Ibase, DPU, and youth volunteers.

In a first initiative carried out by Ibase in partnership with the DPU[1] in November, teams from both institutions and a group of young volunteers from the favelas of Borel and Providência[2] debated the topic, interviewed key informants (slum and city dwellers, social movements and governmental representatives) and realised a workshop. The initial idea was to have housing, mobility and public security as a starting point.

The young volunteers draw out their storyboard. Photograph by Alex Macfarlane

The young volunteers draw out their storyboard. Photograph by Alex Macfarlane

Choosing to leave the discussion open, the topics debated by the young volunteers with the DPU’s mediation naturally converged into issues related to a) the pressing threat of eviction and gentrification felt in favelas. This is reinforced by the Games and by public policies that favour land speculation, currently pushing local residents to the city peripheries; b) difficulties in freely accessing the city, as racism and ‘social apartheid’ make them feel unwelcome in the wealthier parts of Rio. This feeling is intensified by the city government’s recent decision to end direct public transport links between the (poorer) north and the (richer) south zones of the city; c) the fact that favelas’ culture and identity are being curtailed by public security policies such as the ‘Pacifying Police Units’ (UPPs) that ‘militarise’ these territories and locals’ everyday lives. Public tenders open to local cultural groups were also mentioned. On a positive note, these tenders allow them to have access to public funds, but as a side effect, their perception is that the groups are being ‘used as small parts of a larger engine’ in which they are allowed to take part without ever having a leading role.

The final ‘world cafe’ workshop. Photograph by Alex Macfarlane

Based on that, it was decided that Ibase should approach the target “favela upgrading and integration into the City” from the perspective of three strategic values: a) inclusion with locals’ prominence; b) encounter of differences; and c) citizen participation. The understanding is that, to be successful in building a socially just city, public policies must encapsulate these three strategic objectives.

The interviews with key-informants were filmed to support a workshop[3] that brought together an important group of collaborators. For the workshop, it was proposed that all participants worked as groups to identify obstacles faced in the past 20 years to achieve the overall goal and strategic values mentioned above; opportunities and possibilities for advancement; and, finally, actions that may be taken in order to achieve the goal of upgrading and integrating favelas into the city.

The final 'world cafe' workshop. Photograph by Alex Macfarlane

The final ‘world cafe’ workshop. Photograph by Alex Macfarlane

The debates were extremely rich and this intense week of work shared between Ibase and the DPU is being seen as a seed for future projects. Ibase’s plan is to use this solid base to develop actions aiming to strengthen existing favelas’ organisations and networks through political and capacity building for the co-creation of campaigns that should occupy educational, public and virtual spaces in order to promote encounters to disseminate debate and influence public policies for the city we want – an inclusive, diverse and participatory city.

[1]    Represented in Rio de Janeiro by Alex Frediani and Alex Macfarlane.

[2]    The youth group was formed by Cosme Vinícius Felippsen (Providência/ Rio de Janeiro’s Youth Forum), João Batista (Providência/ UFF), Luiz Henrique Souza Pereira (Borel) and Renan Oliveira dos Santos (Borel-Formiga/ UFRJ).

[3] The workshop was held in Rio de Janeiro in November 13th, 2015 and used the methodology known as “world cafe”.

Mariana Dias Simpson is a DPU MSc Urban Development Planning alumni. She works as a researcher at the Brazilian Institute for Social and Economic Analyses (Ibase) in Rio de Janeiro and has worked with urban issues related to favelas, housing, public policies, poverty and inequality for several years.


The struggle for the recognition of collectively owned urban land in Cochabamba, Bolivia

By Ding Liu, on 23 February 2012

Post written by Jo Maguire, DPU alumna 2003-05.

The new Bolivian constitution, introduced in January 2010, when over 64% of the voting population approved it, states that adequate housing is a right (Article 19, Section I), that the state will promote social housing plans based on the principles of solidarity and equity, directed preferably at low-income families (Article 19, Sec II) and that collectively owning property is recognised (Article 56, Sec I)

Many of the articles in the new constitution await the introduction of laws to support them, and social housing provision and the right to collectively own urban land is among them. Collective land is legally recognised in rural areas, as an important feature of indigenous rural communities, but not in urban areas. However, the residents of a community in Cochabamba are the attempting to change that, by pushing the local government to pass an ordinance that recognises their community as collectively owned, and by proposing a new national law that recognises collectively owned solidarity communities in general.

The Community Maria Auxiliadora is a beautiful anomaly. In the peri-urban “Zona Sur” of the city of Cochabamba, it was created 12 years ago by a steering group of five women, following the vision of Rose Mary Irusta. She took out a loan to buy a parcel of land so that low-income women and children could have access to their own house, rather living in the squalid, overcrowded rented housing conditions that so many families have to endure in the city, with the related problems of stress, illness, abuse, youth delinquency and child neglect. The result of this vision is the Habitát para Mujeres, Comunidad María Auxiliadora (Habitat for Women, María Auxiliadora Community), an intercultural solidarity community.  Currently with just under 2000 residents (365 families), it is planned to grow to 5000. It has a democratic base, with a Management Committee elected every two years, and a President and Vice President that are always women. There is much encouragement of women’s leadership, recognising that women tend to be more concerned and affected by their families’ housing. There are many single parent families. A mainstay of the community is the community work carried out on Sundays, where the community’s principles of solidarity and mutual self-help are evident. The community is not religious, nor has a political line. It is multicultural: residents come from all over Bolivia, there are different indigenous groups as well as mestizos (mixed race), and two indigenous languages are widely spoken as well as Spanish.

To enter the community a family has to have a low income and not own a house or land in Bolivia. They must sign that they agree to the community rules: that the land is collective, that they have the right to indefinitely use the plot allocated and leave it to their children; that they cannot sell or rent out their house, as the community is “for living, not for profit”; that they will do community work and attend the monthly meetings; that they will not sell alcohol. The cost entering the community and having a plot on which to build a house is 600 US$, i.e. 3$ per square metre, while surrounding neighbourhoods are selling at over 20$ per square metre. It can be paid over a year. The price is fixed, so making a plot and house accessible to low-income families and avoiding the current free-market approach to land in peri-urban areas, where land is bought as an investment and left vacant. While a family does not have an individual title deed, they do have a legal document naming them as co-owners of the whole community and giving them and their descendents the right to occupy their housing plot.

The social impact is impressive. There is security, a rarity in peri-urban areas; less alcoholism or violence within the family than in other neighbourhoods; mutual support and solidarity (for families in crisis there is a repayable fund to help them, and if that is not enough a whip-round). Many of the young people are studying at university; the local school says that the community’s students are getting the best exam results; there is a self-managed youth group, putting on events for the children of the community and carrying out projects. The community is developing its own culture, and restoring aspects of a culture still found in the countryside in Bolivia but usually lost when people move to the city: a culture based on communitarianism rather than individualism.

The cornerstone of this social and physical capital gained by residents is the collective ownership of the community. If the residents had individual title deeds they could do what they liked within their walls and the community would have very little control. As it is, the Management Committee debates an issue and then takes it to the monthly community meeting for a decision: a man continues to beat up his partner and children, despite help from the Family Support Committee, should he be expelled from the community? A family has not paid their monthly housing loan payments to the NGO for over a year and does not live in the house, should the house be given to another family and their investment repaid?

All this has been gained by a lot of hard physical work. The residents have cleared the roads, put in a well, water tank and pipe network, and a sewage system with an ecological treatment plant, built a community office, sports facilities, and an afterschool club. Most of this has been done without help from any level of government. National and international NGOs have helped to an extent, especially with house building loans.

The community is better known internationally that locally, with a World Habitat Award in 2008, and as a shining example for the Habitat International Coalition. But there are many powerful local interests that work against the community: politicians visit and say it should be a model for all Bolivia and then do nothing. The whole of the Zona Sur of Cochabamba city, with 200,000 residents, is still classified as rural land, and this benefits a corrupt network of surveyors, lawyers, “loteadores” – people that illegally buy grazing land from local peasant farmers and divide and sell it as housing plots – as well as local government officials and politicians.

So the struggle to get collectively owned urban land legally recognised is not easy. The community, particularly the group Mujeres Lideres de la Communidad Maria Auxiliadora (Women Leaders of the Maria Auxiliadora Community), is currently attempting to push the local government elected body to pass a ordinance that recognises that the community is collectively owned land, however there are representatives and officials that oppose it. The community has elaborated a law that will permit collectively owned urban land and recognise solidarity communities, which is supported by the Vice Ministry of Housing, and is presently with the President’s office and other Ministries for consultation.

An unexpected breakthrough resulted from a recent judges’ verdict. Rose Mary Irusta was taken to court, accused of fraud by a small group within the community. They had family members working abroad, had built large houses and wanted to sell up and move on. The judge stated that they knew perfectly well the rules of the community when they entered it, and there was no evidence of fraud. Moreover, he stated that the community was collective owned; so giving some legal acknowledgement to the existence of collectively owed urban land.

Jo is an architect living and working in Cochabamba-Bolivia. The views expressed in this piece are her own.

Informal settlements and ‘the housing question’?

By ucfucm0, on 15 February 2012

There is no shortage of global, historical and national initiatives to improve the housing of poor women and men currently and predominantly living in informal settlements. Yet, as Geoff Payne (2005) calculates, these initiatives will be outstripped in terms of need and arguably, what is being constructed tends to be of inadequate quality. When the resources exist to solve the housing problems why is improving urban informal settlements not more of a national priority?

photo by Juan Camilo Maya. 2012

photo ©Juan Camilo Maya.2012. Rio de Janeiro

I argue that part of the reason that they are not more of a priority is because informal settlements are framed within a particular economic logic where improving informal settlements is fundamentally an issue of the productivity of the poor. However, the economic fortunes and growth rates of developing countries have more to do with the terms of trade and foreign exchange rates than they do with productivity gains from improved living conditions of the poor – especially if the poor are considered marginal to modern economic dynamics anyway.

Policy makers wanting to improve informal settlements face a conundrum. It is clear that informal settlements must be improved but they cannot point to spectacular productivity gains that arise from improving informal settlements. Moreover, they accept that national economies are subject to powerful international economic forces that must be managed for the benefit of the country as a whole. The conundrum emerges, I argue, following J.K Gibson-Graham, because analysing informal housing is restricted to a framework in which only the capitalist economy counts.

 In many ways, this is an intellectual and political inheritance from Engels’(1872) analysis of ‘The housing question’. Famously, Engels’ argued that it is only through the abolition of capitalist modes of production that solutions to the housing question will emerge (1975, 32); thereby establishing a relationship between poor people’s housing and capitalism. This relationship has been debated and refined in relation to informal settlements but the relationship between the housing of the poor and capitalism has remained intact (see Steinberg 1982 and 1983 and Nientied and van der Linden 1983 in IJURR). The relationship presents policy makers with a heady mixture of solving housing problems while grappling with the most powerful economic forces of the day and generates compelling stories. However, they have little to offer in terms of making the improvement of informal settlements more of a priority.

Clearly, capitalism is a powerful economic force, but it is not the only economic process ‘in town’ – so to speak. So what would happen if we analysed informal settlement improvements in relation to ordinary, diverse local economies? If the productivity improvements were conceptualised in relation to what people actually do rather than what they can’t do in relation to powerful capitalist economic dynamics? Capitalist forces would still matter but then so would other economic registers in which poor women and men’s economic activities figure in more positive ways. I believe that demonstrating these more positive stories and decentring capitalism is an important part of the challenge of making the improvement of informal settlements more of a priority.


361º: the degree of [in]difference

By Ding Liu, on 10 November 2010

Post written by: Laura Colloridi. DPU alumna 2009

At its fourth edition, the 361 Degrees Conference organised by ‘Indian Architect & Builder’ magazine explored the subject of Design & Informal Cities. Held in Mumbai, a mega-city with an estimated 55 per cent of its population living in informal housing, the conference aimed to “address the need for design interventions” in urban informal sectors. The first day has been dedicated to the discussion of politics of space, while the second and last day of the event focused on global practices and strategies.

Reading the 361 Degrees’ theme abstract one point called my attention. The first is that the summary starts stating that “[s]lums […] are undeniably a serious urban problem”. It is possible that this statement was made in good faith and the real meaning is that ‘slums are the object of urban concern’; however, it is also possible that the phrase naively declares the organizers’ perspective. This is a standpoint that does not recognise that informal settlements are the consequence and not the root of urban issues; consequently its adoption might mislead the research for the real causes of the problems.

After a series of presentations of the presenters and an out-of-context video about ultra-expensive high-tech building systems, Rahul Mehrotra, a practising architect working between Mumbai and Chicago, finally kicked the ball and illustrated his vision of the informal Mumbai. Mehrotra observed that nowadays Mumbai is not a city, but two; two worlds coexist within one name. The components of the biggest Indian city are not reduced to the binary of formal/informal, but they are identified with the concepts of ‘static’ (permanent, bi-dimensional and monumental) and ‘kinetic’ city (temporary, three-dimensional and incremental). The ‘kinetic’ city is defined as an “indigenous urbanism” with a “bazaar-like” form and a representation of the “local logic”. This city is not only the city of the poor and Mehrotra made use of examples such as the loan used for weddings and cricket matches around the clock to show how the elites also contribute to the “elastic urban condition”.

Regarding the housing sector, the architect highlighted the fact that approximately 60 per cent of Mumbai’s population lives in informal accommodations within an estimated 10 per cent of the city’s area. Slum dwellers’ associations and movements have been pointed out as the dialogue tool that can be used to turn over the undemocratic processes created by global pressures and the world-class city aspirations. Mehrotra concluded advocating for a substitution of the notion of formality with the one of the kinetic city and he challenged the public to physically represent its fluid nature.

After Mehrotra’s introduction the conference moved toward the discussion of the political scenarios behind the construction field in Indian cities with the speeches of Liza Weinstein and Gautam Bhan. Weinstein analyzed the context that favoured the Mumbai mafias’ shift from the management of the black market to the real estate sector. According to the researcher the state “supportively neglected” both the local ‘goondas’ (thugs) and the development mafias since the first were assuming the government’s responsibilities of fulfilling the low-cost housing shortage, and the seconds have been in charge of materialising the elitist utopia of a global Mumbai. Within the depicted setting, Weinstein highlighted the need to overcome the manipulative branding of the legal/illegal dichotomy.  Gautam Bhan, author of the critical book ‘Swept off the Map’, called for a deeper understanding of the terms into which the poor live and migrate to the city. He echoed Hardoy’s (et al, 2001) observation that “[t]here is something wrong with a legal and institutional system the deems illegal the ways by which most new housing is built, including virtually all the houses that is affordable by low-income households”. Bhan also recalled Baross’ (1987) PSBO-OBSP model to explain the development process in low-income countries and he believes that it is fundamental that this model is accepted by the state and local authorities in order to achieve a meaningful democracy.

The same topic of political threads within spatial arenas has been discussed at a deeper level by the writer and architect Eyal Weizman. The speaker looked at the differences between the formal/informal and legal/illegal binaries describing the “structured chaos” existing in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The Palestinian case represents the extreme scenario where politics and space are intertwined and where what Weizman called a “controlled disintegration” is happening. As a further example of illegality within the formality (or vice-versa depending on the perspective of the observer), Weizman portrayed what he calls the ‘political plastic’. This is the spatial environment where the “often deliberate, selective absence of the government intervention promotes unregulated process of spatial transformations and dispossession”.

On the second day the conference translated its visions into actions and physical forms by presenting the innovative social projects of Alfredo Brillembourg (Urban Think Tank), Alejandro Echeverri and Revathi Kamath. These projects perfectly represent the conference topic working in the informal cities by means of design solutions; however, this is not the only possible way and another original project that links the informal city directly with its governance issues was introduced. This is the case of the recently-born project Transparent Chennai initiated by Nithya Raman. This initiative aims to empower residents through facilitating information regarding the development of their city and improving the accountability of the government. The information is summarised and represented in the form of maps and it is easily accessible either online or via other means through grassroots organisations.

Despite all these challenging and stimulating insights delivered by the speakers the overall impression of the conference has been only of partial success. There are two main reasons behind my disappointment. First, a conference that is supposed to discuss social inequities should stimulate a deeper public debate. The chosen classic format of paper presentations with panel discussions forcibly inserted between sessions did not allow for any constructive dialogue. Second, the young architecture students that accounted for the majority of the audience seemed to be insensitive to the raised point of the critical role that authorities’ support plays within architectural and urban interventions. The audience appeared concerned merely with design options and with participating in the final lecture given by famous architect Richard Meier. As a confirmation of this (degree of) indifference a comment of the presenter remarked that, due to the topic, this year less than 250 people attended the event (against the 1000 of past sessions) and getting sponsored by corporations or institutions has been unusually difficult.

Luckily, at the end of the conference we were able to enjoy a dance performance that under a stage-size Indian flag made us all forget the million people that still live in informal cities.

Baross, P. (1987) Land supply for low-income housing: issues and approaches. Regional Development Dialogue.
Hardoy, J.E. , Mitlin, D. , Satterthwaite, D. (2001) Environmental problems in an urbanizing world: finding solutions for cities in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Earthscan, London, UK.
The views expressed are solely those of the blog post author and they do not necessarily represent the views of DPU staff or of any other author who publishes on this blog.