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Planning and Design for Future Informal Settlements

This is the first book to address future informal settlements at the global scale. It
argues that to foster favorable conditions for the sustainable evolution of future
informal cities, planners must consider the same issues that are paramount in
formal urban developments, such as provision of:

• balanced land uses

• energy efficiency and mobility
• water management and food sufficiency
• governance and community participation
• productivity and competitiveness
• identity and sense of place.

Planning and Design for Future Informal Settlements makes a call for responsible action
to address the urban challenges of the developing world, suggesting that the vitality
of informality, coupled with spatial design and good management, can support the
efficient use of resources in better places to live.
The book analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of informal urbanism and the
challenges faced by the fast-growing cities of the developing world. Through case
studies, it demonstrates the contributions and limitations of different attempts
to plan ahead for urban growth, from the creation of formal housing and urban
infrastructures for self-built dwellings to the improvement of existing informal
settlements. It provides a robust framework for planners and designers, policy
makers, NGOs, and local governments working to improve living conditions in
developing cities.

David Gouverneur was National Director of Urban Planning for the Ministry of
Urban Development of Venezuela and co-founder of the Urban Design Program
and Director of the Mayor’s Institute in City Design at Universidad Metropolitana
in Caracas. He has 33 years’ experience of teaching Architecture, Urban Design,
and City Planning. His professional practice focuses on urban plans for distressed
neighborhoods, upgrading informal settlements, historic districts, new centralities,
and areas affected by disaster. He is currently Associate Professor in Practice of the
Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, teaching
Landscape Urbanism Studios, Cross-disciplinary Design Studios, and Electives,
with an emphasis on developing countries.
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Planning and Design for Future Informal Settlements
Shaping the self-constructed city

David Gouverneur
First published 2015
by Routledge
2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN

and by Routledge
711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017

Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa


© 2015 David Gouverneur

The right of David Gouverneur to be identified as author of this work

has been asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of
the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or repro-

duced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or
other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photo-
copying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval
system, without permission in writing from the publishers.

Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks

or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and
explanation without intent to infringe.

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Gouverneur, David.
Planning and design for future informal settlements : shaping the
self-constructed city / David Gouverneur.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Squatter settlements--Developing countries. 2. City planning--
Developing countries. 3. Urban policy--Developing countries. I. Title.
HD7287.96.D44G68 2014

ISBN: 978-0-415-73789-0 (hbk)

ISBN: 978-1-315-76593-8 (ebk)

Typeset in Bembo Std 11/14 pt

by Fakenham Prepress Solutions, Fakenham, Norfolk NR21 8NN
Dedicated to Isabel Gouverneur and Dora Palacios
This page intentionally left blank

List of figures xi

Acknowledgments xvii

Foreword xix

Introduction: Shaping the future of the self-constructed city: a call to action xxiii

1 Attempts to deal with the urbanization challenges of the developing world 1

1.1 Biases against informality 2

1.2 When city planning and urban design work against informality 8
1.3 Housing and urban performance 10

1.4 Urban frameworks for self-constructed dwellings 16

1.5 Limitations of Sites and Services 23

1.6 The informal city reconsidered 24

1.7 Informal Armatures: merging the formal with the informal 29

1.8 Conclusions 33

2 Dealing with informal settlements of the developing world: lessons

from Venezuela and Colombia 41

2.1 The foundations of Venezuela’s political economy and the great

urban migration 42

2.1.1 The emergence of “the other city” 44


2.1.2 Academia addresses informal growth and the social divide 48

2.1.3 A plan to rehabilitate the barrios of Caracas 49

2.1.4 Rise and fall of the plans for the improvement of informal
settlements 57

2.1.5 The impact of a major quake on informal settlements 60

2.1.6 Political struggles, economic hardship, and social divide 61

2.2 Bogotá: a succession of effective municipal administrations 63

2.2.1 Repositioning Bogotá 70

2.2.2 A succession of mayors committed to making a difference

in the urban context 71

2.2.3 Key contributions of Peñalosa’s urban vision 74

2.3 Medellín: from warzone to a city of hope 84

2.3.1 Two problems/two challenges 87

2.3.2 Programs and projects of the Medellín agenda 89

2.3.3 Envisioning urban growth in Medellín 102

2.3.4 Can the Medellín experience be replicated? 107

2.3.5 Planning and designing for future informal settlements 110

3 The concept of Informal Armatures 119

3.1 What is the Informal Armatures approach? 119

3.2 What are the contributions of the IA approach? 122

3.3 Sustainable informal growth 125

3.4 Knowledgeable, engaged, and honest facilitators 128

3.5 New forms and new programs 132

3.6 Addressing different urban demands from the metropolitan to the
local scale 137

4 Forces at play 143

4.1 Resource efficiency in an era of global scarcity 143


4.2 Guided adaptation 146

4.2.1 Safe, amicable, and flexible places 148

4.3 Appropriate connectivity and infrastructure systems 151

4.3.1 Mobility for those with limited mobility 155

4.3.2 Counteracting the road construction syndrome 156

4.3.3 Balanced, pedestrian-friendly districts with efficient mobility 157

4.4 Moving ahead 158

5 The IA as a system of components guided by principles of implementation 163

5.1 Corridors 164

5.1.1 Attractors 166

5.1.2 Protectors 169

5.2 Patches 171

5.2.1 Receptor Patches 172

5.2.2 Transformer Patches 178

5.3 Stewards 181

5.3.1 Garden Keepers 184

5.4 Implementation principles 188

5.4.1 Engaging with local landscapes 188

5.4.2 Evolving morphologies and performances 192

5.4.3 Managed gentrification 197

5.5 Moving ahead 200

6 Enacting 203
6.1 Advocating for the IA initiative 203

6.2 Estimating land requirements 209

6.2.1 How to estimate the quantity of land needed to implement

the IA approach 210

6.2.2 Planning and design for social goals 215


6.2.3 Gaining access to public land 216

6.3 Identifying appropriate sites 217
6.3.1 Obtaining reliable data 217
6.3.2 Taking advantage of existing urban drivers 218
6.3.3 Taking advantage of “green systems” 221
6.4 Reaching out to the community 223
6.5 Incorporating expertise 225
6.6 Financial sources 226
6.6.1 The role of the public sector 227
6.6.2 On fiscal contributions 228
6.6.3 Additional sources of revenues 231

7 Adapting the IA approach to different contexts 235

7.1 Academic references 235
7.2 Case study: Harare, Zimbabwe: armatures to balance the growth of
a metropolitan system. February–May 2013 237
7.2.1 Hopley Farms: helping displaced communities 243
7.2.2 Chitungwiza: integrating the formal and the informal into a
self-sufficient district 244
7.3 Case study: San José de Agua Dulce: urban–rural symbiosis in the
metropolitan area of Valencia, Venezuela 246
7.4 Case study: La Sabana de Bogotá, Colombia: fostering
metropolitan growth in an agricultural hinterland 248
7.5 Case study: retrofitting an unstable settlement in the Barrio Santo
Domingo, Medellín, Colombia 252
7.6 Case study: Choroní, Venezuela 254
7.7 Conclusions 257

Conclusions: Looking into the future of the cities of the developing world 261
Bibliography 269
Index 279


0.1 Highway separating informal settlements of Petare from La Urbina,

Caracas, Venezuela. Photo: Oscar Grauer xxii
1.1 23 de Enero Housing Project surrounded by informal settlements,
Caracas, Venezuela. Photo: Oscar Grauer xxviii
1.2 Improved informal settlement of El Risco de San Nicolás, Las Palmas
de Gran Canaria, Canary Islands. Photo: Barrett Doherty 2
1.3 Urban design proposal with peripheral informal settlements,
Ciudad Fajardo, Venezuela. Project: Luis Sully, Luis Pernía, and Luis
Terife. Instructor: David Gouverneur 7
1.4 Ciudadela Colsubsidio, Bogotá, Colombia. Project: Germán Samper
and Ximena Samper. Photo: Nicolás Galeano/Ataca Films,
Reproduced by permission of Catalina Samper 11
1.5 (Top) Board from PREVI Project Competition. (Bottom)
Neighborhood block and vision of how the dwellings could look.
Lima, Perú. Project: Germán Samper. Photo: Archives of Germán
Samper, courtesy of Germán Samper 17
1.6 Informal settlements of La Bombilla in Petare adjacent to the formal
city, Caracas, Venezuela. Photo: Caracas Cenital 29
2.1 Community spaces in the Barrio Santo Domingo, Medellín,
Colombia. Photo: Oscar Grauer 40
2.2 View of the formal city from the Barrio San Agustín, Caracas,
Venezuela. Photo: Carlos Teodoro Itriago 42
2.3 Informal settlement close to the center of Caracas, Venezuela.
Photo: Oscar Grauer 43


2.4 Urban design plan for the improvement of Consorcio Social Las
Casitas del Inca settlement, Caracas, Venezuela. Project and photo:
Carmen Ofelia Machado 50
2.5 Proposed recycling and community center in Barrio La Morán,
Caracas, Venezuela. Project and photos: Enlace Arquitectura, Elisa Silva 55
2.6 Reoccupation of the Catuche Ravine, Caracas, Venezuala.
The preexisting settlement was razed by torrential flooding in
December 1999 Photo: David Gouverneur 56
2.7 Virgilio Barco park-library, Bogotá, Colombia. Project: Rogelio
Salmona. Photo: David Gouverneur 64
2.8 Metro-Vivienda/Patio Bonito Project adjacent to informal settlements,
Bogotá, Colombia. Project: Konrad Bruner, Gustavo Perry, Eduardo
Samper, and Ximena Samper. Photo: Rudolf Fotografía, Archives of
Germán Samper 69
2.9 (Top) El Transmilenio, BRT System. (Bottom) Alameda El Porvenir,
pedestrian and bike promenade. Bogotá, Colombia. Photos: Oscar
Grauer 73
2.10 (Top) El Tintal park-library. Project: Daniel Bermúdez. (Bottom)
Community park in the El Porvenir neighborhood. Bogotá,
Colombia. Photos: David Gouverneur 76
2.11 Ceremonial plaza/amphitheater in Parque Simón Bolívar, Bogotá,
Colombia. Photo: David Gouverneur 78
2.12 (Top) Metro-Vivienda. Project: Eduardo Samper. (Bottom)
Colsubsidio. Project: Germán Samper and Ximena Samper. Bogotá,
Colombia. Photos: David Gouverneur 80
2.13 Parque de La Luz/Plaza Cisneros. Medellín, Colombia. Photo: David
Gouverneur 85
2.14 Open spaces and Biblioteca España (library), Barrio Santo Domingo,
Medellín, Colombia. Photos: Oscar Grauer 88
2.15 Cultural center in the settlement of Moravia. Medellín, Colombia.
Project: Rogelio Salmona. Photo: Oscar Grauer 91
2.16 (Top) Open space below station of the San Javier Metro-cable line.
Project: Empresa de Desarrolho Urbano, Medellín. (Bottom) Parque
Explora. Project: Alejandro Echeverri. Medellín, Colombia. Photos:
Oscar Grauer 93
2.17 Promenade and housing relocation program along Juan Bobo
Ravine, Medellín, Colombia. Photo: David Gouverneur 99


2.18 Recent formal housing projects adjacent to existing informal settle-

ments, near La Aurora Metro-cable station, Medellín, Colombia.
Photo: Tianyang Liu 101
2.19 (Top) Informal dwellings being demolished and replaced by
formal housing. (Bottom) Walled-off open space adjacent to a
Metro-cable station in the Barrio San Agustín. Caracas, Venezuela.
Photos: David Gouverneur 108
3.1 Sketch of the Informal Armatures concept by David Gouverneur 118
3.2 Consolidated informal settlement adjacent to agricultural terraces
along the Guiniguada ravine, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Canary
Islands. Photo: Barrett Doherty 122
3.3 Fishing boats and informal settlement in Choroní, Venezuela.
Photo: Marisa Bernstein and Nicolas Koff 124
3.4 Recent informal settlement in the higher elevations of the
Northeastern Commune, Medellín, Colombia. Photo: David Maestres 137
4.1 Barrios de Petare, Caracas, Venezuela. Photo: Caracas Cenital by
Nicola Rocco/Colección Fundación para la Cultura Urbana 142
4.2 Commercial activity in the vicinity of the Santo Domingo
Metro-cable station, Medellín, Colombia. Photo: David Maestres 145
4.3 Parque Berrío, Medellín, Colombia. Photo: David Maestres 148
4.4 Open spaces along the San Javier Metro-cable line, Medellín,
Colombia. Photo: David Maestres 151
5.1 Conceptual design components of the Informal Armatures
approach. Sketches by David Gouverneur 162
5.2 Existing site conditions and corridors: Attractors and Protectors.
Image: David Gouverneur, Trevor Lee, David Maestres, and
Autumn Visconti 164
5.3 Accessibility and public spaces create safe and animated districts.
Barrio Santo Domingo, Medellín, Colombia. Photos: Tianyang Liu 165
5.4 Academic proposal for the protection of wetlands and agricultural
land in Funza-Mosquera, Sabana de Bogotá, Colombia. Top image:
Luke Mitchell and Karli Molter. Bottom image: Luke Mitchell. 168
5.5 Patches: Receptors and Transformers combined. Image: David
Gouverneur, Trevor Lee, David Maestres, and Autumn Visconti 172
5.6 (Top) Initial phase of settlement in Hopley Farms, Harare, Zimbabwe.
Photo: Leonardo Robleto. (Bottom) Consolidated informal
settlement in Chacao, Caracas,Venezuela. Photo: David Gouverneur 173


5.7 Proposal of Transformer Patches to enhance the production of

flowers in towns of La Sabana de Bogotá, Colombia. Project by
Tamara Henry. Advisors: David Gouverneur and Abdallah Tabet 177
5.8 (Top) Stewards over Corridors and Patches. Image: D. Gouverneur,
T. Lee, David Maestres, and Autumn Visconti. (Bottom) Park and
community services in a defunct quarry, Soacha, Colombia. Image:
Rachel Ahern. Instructors: D. Gouverneur and Abdallah Tabet 180
5.9 (Top) Initial occupation of Receptors and Transformers. (Bottom)
Progressive occupation of new Receptors and Transformers, and
conversion of initial Transformers. Images: David Gouverneur,
Trevor Lee, David Maestres and Autumn Visconti 185
5.10 Consolidated informal settlement in Choroní, Venezuela. Photo:
Marisa Bernstein and Nicolas Koff 187
5.11 Informal occupation of steep slopes along the Caracas–Guarenas
Highway, Venezuela. Photo: Caracas Cenital by Nicola Rocco/
Colección Fundación para la Cultura Urbana 192
5.12 Consolidated neighborhood of Versalles, Comuna 3-Manrique,
Medellín, Colombia. Photos: David Maestres 196
6.1 The IA approach can help bridge the physical and cultural divide.
Barrios adjacent to El Helicoide, Caracas, Venezuela. Photo: Caracas
Cenital by Nicola Rocco/Colección Fundación para la Cultura Urbana 202
6.2 Emerging informal settlement in Chitungwiza, Harare, Zimbabwe.
Photo: Chenlu Fang 209
6.3 Barrio La Floresta, Chacao, Caracas, Venezuela. Photo: David
Gouverneur 220
6.4 Community meeting with University of Pennsylvania students
and David Gouverneur in the Santa Bárbara settlement, Choroní,
Venezuela. Photo: Marisa Bernstein and Nicolas Koff 232
6.5 (Top) Sketch of the Core of an Informal Armature for a
Self-Constructed Community, which guided an installation as
part of the Idea Days Festival, School of Design, University of
Pennsylvania, September 2013. (Bottom) Photographs: Spatial
definition of public spaces and lots. Facilitators: D. Gouverneur,
D. Maestres, S. Rottenberg, D. O’Neill, and M. A. Villalobos Plate
7.1 (Top) Green system along wetlands and public transportation routes
in Southern Harare, Zimbabwe. Project: S. Burrows, T. Burgess,


and A. Carmalt. (Bottom) Corridors and Patches in Chitungwiza,

Zimbabwe. Project: D. Saenz. Instructors: D. Gouverneur and
T. Lenneiye Plate
7.2 (Top) Protectors along wetland and Receptor Patches. Project:
A. Visconti. (Bottom) Well and community center. Project:
L. Robleto. Both in Hopley Farms, Harare Instructors:
D. Gouverneur and T. Lenneiye Plate
7.3 (Top) Green heart for water management and agricultural
production. Project: Grupo Simbiosis/UNIMET. (Bottom) Open
space and flood production berm. Project: Grupo Agua/UNIMET.
Both in Valencia, Venezuela. Instructors: M. G. Díez and A. C.
Arocha Petit. Advisor: D. Gouverneur Plate
7.4 (Top) System of open spaces and irrigation canals. (Bottom)
Aquaculture and promenade. Project: Grupo Agua/UNIMET. Both
in Valencia, Venezuela. Instructors: M. G. Díez and A. C. Arocha
Petit. Advisor: D. Gouverneur Plate
7.5 (Top) Attractors of urban growth along new transportation lines
and Protectors of wetlands and agricultural land. Project: Group
Initiative. (Bottom) System of open spaces and Receptor Patches in
Soacha, Columbia. Project: Aaron Kelly, Instructors: D. Gouverneur
and A. Tabet Plate
7.6 (Top) Protectors of wetlands and agricultural land in Funza-
Mosquera. Project: V. Rivera-Rosa. (Bottom) Protector of wetlands
and agricultural land in Facatativá. Project: A. Vázquez. Bogotá,
Colombia. Instructors: D. Gouverneur and A. Tabet Plate
7.7 Receptor Patches on stabilized terraces and protection of unstable
land for agricultural and recreational uses. Project: K. Cooper,
R. Fuchs, and K. Kunte. Barrio Santo Domingo, Medellín, Colombia.
Instructors: D. Gouverneur and T. Lee Plate
7.8 (Top) Terraces for core housing shelters and self-constructed dwelling
expansion. (Bottom) Land stabilization and water management.
Project: K. Cooper, R. Fuchs, and K. Kunte. Barrio Santo Domingo,
Medellín, Colombia. Instructors: D. Gouverneur and T. Lee Plate
7.9 System of open spaces protecting flood plain of ravines with
productive Patches and recreational uses. Project: M. Bernstein and
N. Koff. Choroní, Venezuela. Instructor: D. Gouverneur Plate


7.10 (Top) Production and recreational Patches. (Bottom) Adobe

production Patch. Project: M. Bernstein and N. Koff. Choroní,
Venezuela. Instructor: D. Gouverneur Plate
7.11 (Top) Production and recreational Patches. (Center) Agriculture
Patches. (Bottom) Proposed Botanical Garden as key Cultural
Anchor. Project: M. Bernstein, N. Koff, Venezuela. Instructor: D.
Gouverneur Plate
8.1 Street sign in Barrio La Cruz. Translation: “I would like my Barrio
La Cruz to be clean, happy, with solidarity, and in peace … can
you help?” Medellín, Colombia. Photo: David Maestres 268


This book was a great collaborative effort from a large group of peers working
in different cities, sharing their knowledge and supporting me with inexhaustible
patience as the manuscript took shape. My special gratitude goes to those who
toiled closely with me and offered critical feedback, theoretical references, edits,
graphic production, and continuous encouragement. This team, which included
some of my closest collaborators and friends, was passionately engaged in
envisioning a better future for the self-constructed city.
I am honored that Professors Sergio Fajardo and Alejandro Echeverri have
written the foreword for this book. Sergio Fajardo is the former Mayor of Medellín
and current Governor of the Colombian Department of Antioquia, and Alejandro
Echeverri was the General Manager of La Empresa de Desarrollo Urbano de Medellín
during Fajardo’s municipal mandate. Their contributions to Medellín were pivotal
to the transformation of troubled informal settlements and overall improvement
of the city’s performance. Their political and urban vision had a major influence
on this work.
My motivation to examine the future of informal settlements also stemmed
from the creative work of talented professionals, leaders, and academics. In
particular, I am thankful to Peter Land, Germán Samper, Teolinda Bolívar, Josefina
Baldó, Federico Villanueva, José Antonio Abreu, Gail Epstein, and Udo Weilacher
who shared their time and insight as the book was emerging, providing invaluable
I am profoundly grateful for the mentorship and support of Marilyn Taylor,
Genie Birch, Cindy Sanders, Jonathan Barnett, James Corner, Lindsay Falk, Frank


Matero, David Leatherbarrow, John Dixon Hunt, and Richard Weller from the
School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania.
Next, I would like to acknowledge Oscar Grauer and María Altagracia
Villalobos, both of whom accompanied me through the entire process of
producing this publication. Their help with concept development, close exami-
nation on the content of every chapter, and search of adequate and accurate
sources to support the ideas here contained, certainly qualifies them as co-authors
of this book. Without them this publication would not have been possible.
I would like to express my gratitude to Nuri Bofill and Aron Cohen for helping
me visualize the scope of this project. Special recognition should go to Ian Sinclair
and Aaron Kelly for revising the text with acute eyes as the chapters were being
assembled, decanting the ideas, providing clarity and polishing the language, and
to Margari Aziza Hill who carefully crafted the final edition.
I would like to thank those who collaborated with me, providing information
and structure to early versions of important chapters, including Nick Pevzner, who
contributed to the Introduction and the Venezuelan case study, Tomás Neu, who
worked on the Colombian case studies, both sections contained in Chapter 2, and
Thabo Lenneiye who contributed to the Zimbabwean case study examined in
Chapter 7.
I sincerely thank David Maestres, Trevor Lee, María Altagracia Villalobos,
Autumn Visconti, and Leonardo Robleto for the preparation of images and
graphic design that enrich this book, as well as to my peers, students, and friends
that provided photographic material.
I would also like to commend the faculty and students who participated in
the series of exercises that helped shape and illustrate the Informal Armatures
approach, and particularly to those whose work is included in the publication.
I extend my gratitude to my close friends and peers, Graciela Flores, Ximena
Samper, Peter Rowe, Ken Greenberg, David Graham Shane and Theodore
Eisenman, for their support and guidance.
Finally, I would like to thank my family members and extended family Elliot
and Elisa Fineman, Elsa Brambilla, Mercedes Elena Torres and Ana María Torrico,
for their love and encouragement.


Sergio Fajardo and Alejandro Echeverri

We first met David in 2007 when La Fundación para la Cultura Urbana invited us
to Caracas to share the process of change that we had led in Medellín. David, who
acted as moderator, bombarded us with questions as we concluded our lectures.
This was the beginning of our friendship, since it was evident that we shared the
dream of transforming our cities by improving our barrios and working with the
people. Caracas and Medellín mirrored each other in terms of their structural
problems of inequality and violence, but also in terms of the opportunities for
improving living conditions that they both provide.
The intense and complex processes of transformation that have been taking
place in Medellín recently cannot be properly understood without considering
the social forces, specifically political changes in the municipal government, which
resulted in a new respectful and inclusive relationship among public policy, the
citizens, and the territory of the entire city.
This meant providing a space for people, especially for those who had not been
heard in the past, to voice their concerns. In order to fight fear in Medellín, we felt
compelled to produce a relationship that respected diversity and brought together
this fragmented city. We sought to reclaim Medellín’s streets by giving new
meaning to public spaces. Opportunities for education, culture, and innovation
within the barrios were at the core of this vision.
Since 2007, David has been a dynamic advocate for Medellín, spreading the
ideas that were advanced in our city through academic work, critical discussion,
and research. His experience as National Director of Urban Planning for the
Ministry of Urban Development of Venezuela from 1991 to 1996, as well as his
passion and commitment as an educator and researcher in Venezuela and in the


USA, have provided him with knowledge and understanding of the processes of
emergent informal urbanization. This book constructs a rigorous discourse, which
is sustained by his ample technical expertise.
In this book, David courageously tackles the complexities of how to physically,
socially, and economically integrate the emergent informal settlements with the
formal city and vice versa. In order to do so, he balances environmental, morpho-
logical, and managerial aspects. David suggests a novel strategy which is reflected in
principles contained in what he calls a “tool kit” that is flexible enough to be applied
in different contexts. He has called his method the “Informal Armatures approach.”
The principles and strategies that unfold in this book are sustained by a clear
ethical attitude that seeks to challenge the prejudices towards the informal city.
Biases towards informality are still reflected in pejorative terminology frequently
used to designate these settlements, such as slums, favelas, or tugurios. The stigma-
tization of these dynamic urban areas impedes the implementation of visions,
strategies, and programs that would help new informal areas attain similar living
conditions and opportunities to those of the formal city.
This book offers a simple working approach that can make a significant
difference in the future of the predominantly informal city, which can be
achieved through a proactive attitude, in conjunction with political will. The ideas
contained in this book may raise many eyebrows, particularly in the governmental
and technical milieus of developing countries, by acknowledging that informal
settlements will be the main form of urbanization in the near future.
David not only accepts this process as a given, but also he proposes a way to
foster informal development in order to enhance overall urban performance.
Reducing socio-economic inequality is a fascinating and controversial idea for
many, but if his ideas prove to be true, they can help achieve a more balanced and
less distressed urban society in this part of the world.
He proposes to channel the informal forces to develop new urban networks
that will become, in time, a middle ground between the formal and the informal.
In addition, he proposes to draw on those forces “ahead of time.” He envisions
an end result that would be a win–win situation where both formal and informal
settlers will gain. David not only includes down-to-earth strategies on how to
accomplish this goal, but also provides us with an urban vision of a more equitable
society in the near future.
We require a new ethos to guide the building of fair urban scenarios that will
blur the distinctions, as well as reduce antagonistic positions, between formal and


informal territories. We are in need of a new language capable of fostering intense

processes and spaces for mediation, creating a novel narrative shared among those
who self-construct the barrios, those who influence public policy, and the urban
community at large. This book, Planning and Design for Future Informal Settlements,
is a significant contribution in this direction.

Figure 0.1: Highway separating informal settlements of Petare from La Urbina, Caracas, Venezuela

Shaping the future of the self-constructed city: a call to action

Stark disparities mark the widening gap between the developed and developing
worlds. Staggering figures indicate a great demand for innovative approaches to
help diminish unequal living conditions between affluent nations and impover-
ished states and between the wealthy formal districts and poor self-constructed
neighborhoods that comprise most cities of the developing world.
Self-constructed cities, commonly referred to as informal settlements, are
the product of culturally driven individual and communal initiatives. Informal
settlements evolve without prescribed planning, design, or legal guidelines.
Self-constructed cities are a dynamic form of urbanization in constant transfor-
mation, rich in diverse socio-economic relationships and physical morphology and
with a unique ability to adapt to local conditions.
Yet, informal settlements often aggregate haphazardly, creating neighborhoods
covering massive urban areas that typically exacerbate social and environmental
problems. This process excludes close to a billion builder-residents from the
benefits of contemporary, formal city living.
This population is expected to double over the next two decades. As informal
settlements continue to transform and expand, they might soon become the
dominant form of urbanization in most developing countries. The forces that
guide the growth of self-constructed cities have deflected any attempt to tackle
the problems with conventional methods. The sheer number of inhabitants that
will live, and already live, in informal settlements has global implications.
This book presents an overall strategy for guiding the growth of emerging
informal settlements, anticipating that properly supported self-constructed cities
can become balanced, efficient, accessible, and desirable urban areas. Its primary


contribution is introducing the concept of Informal Armatures, as an easy-

to-implement design and managerial approach capable of providing informal
residents with conditions they cannot achieve on their own.
Informal Armatures is a set of principles stakeholders can implement to make
appropriate physical and performative decisions that guide the growth of new
informal settlements, fostering their evolution as integral parts of sustainable cities.
Informal Armatures can bridge the gap between formal and informal processes of
urbanization. One of its goals is to increase social equity in an efficient manner.
Therefore, Informal Armatures aims at achieving stronger links or channels of
communication between the formal and the informal city, whether physical or
non-physical, including the flow of information, goods, services, and people that
encompasses life-supporting environmental, infrastructural, morphological, and
aesthetic conditions, as well as socio-psychological, financial, and managerial assis-
tance. Informal Armatures is expected to closely interact with the particularities
of local idiosyncrasies and morphologies of each city.
Other authors, such as Professor David Graham Shane, employ the term
Armatures to describe urban design configurations that act as linear compo-
nents that favor mobility, connectivity, and directionality. In our case Informal
Armatures, as will be explained more fully in later chapters of this book, refers to a
diversity of design, performative, and managerial principles corresponding to both
public and private realms. The Informal Armatures approach envisions a future in
which informal settlements will be the dominant form of urbanization in most
developing countries. It has the potential of influencing how more affluent nations
will manage their cities.
This approach is the result of a deep-seated deliberation, rooted in hands-on
experience and professional practice, in Latin America, and teaching and researching
landscape-driven urbanism in the USA. Having witnessed the transformation of
many developing cities in Latin America over the past four decades, in which
self-constructed cities have developed at a much faster pace than the formal city,
I feel compelled to share my experience and insights with others. My aim is
to call attention to the limitations of conventional methods in tackling rapidly
growing informal areas and offer a solution. Urgent action is needed to address the
pressing urban issues affecting developing cities. While of interest to professionals,
researchers, and students of urban topics, this book is meant to garner the attention
of those able and willing to make a difference in the well-being of communities
that self-construct their habitat.


Chapter 1 begins by examining the biases towards informal settlements, as

well as the benefits and pitfalls of informal settlements. Additionally, it chronicles
different attempts to preemptively plan for urban growth in developing countries,
including conventional approaches of city planning and urban design, social
housing, and Sites and Services programs, focusing on their intent, contributions,
and limitations.
Chapter 2 outlines compelling Latin American case studies, describing a number
of plans and projects focused on existing informal settlement improvement.
This analysis reveals the importance of merging creative planning, design, and
management with the logic of informality. These examples also underline the
need for committed political and professional support when improving informal
settlement living conditions.
Chapter 3 introduces the concept of Informal Armatures as an alternative,
preemptive approach to informal growth. Informal Armatures aims to provide
ecological, infrastructural, economic, spatial, and managerial support that informal
settlements usually lack and that works towards enhancing their inherent attributes.
The Informal Armatures concept relies on a hybrid of simple design solutions and
managerial strategies that are highly responsive to local conditions.
Chapter 4 describes the forces that induce the emergence and growth of
informal settlements and how the Informal Armatures approach can best guide
these forces. The chapter revolves around three interrelated themes: resource
efficiency in an era of global scarcity with a focus on financial and human capital,
the constructive ways settlers adapt to new habitats and ameliorate uncertainty
and violence, and bridging the gap between informal and formal cities through
connective infrastructure and public space.
Chapter 5 presents the Informal Armatures design components and illustrates
their capacity to ignite the growth of new informal settlements as well as foster
their agile transformation into balanced urban areas. This chapter details the role
of each design component grouped into three main categories: Corridors, Patches,
and Stewards. It describes the spatial organization and morphology of the compo-
nents and how they may interact and transform.
Chapter 6 catalogs a series of simple steps that describe how to facilitate and
implement Informal Armatures, including advocating for Informal Armatures,
gaining access to adequate public land, attracting settlers, and fostering quick
transformations within newly settled territories with efficient managerial practices.
This chapter chronicles a case study in which the Informal Armatures concept


was tested on the ground at a small scale, with simple and cost-efficient tools. It
explores the notion of performative research as a method that fits the challenges
of informal growth.
Chapter 7 adapts the guiding principles and design components of Informal
Armatures to local conditions, demonstrating through academic case studies
how this approach may respond to the nuances of place and culture. It illustrates
the diversity of scales and conditions that the Informal Armatures approach is
expected to address.
The Conclusion considers the potential effects of Informal Armatures on the
future of self-built cities. It suggests that additional research, experimentation, and
pilot projects will be needed to match the methods and design solutions of the
Informal Armatures approach to the coming challenges of developing cities. This
chapter reiterates that inaction is deleterious to the social, economic, and environ-
mental conditions for the majority of the population living in developing countries.

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Figure 1.1: 23 de Enero Housing Project surrounded by informal settlements, Caracas, Venezuela
Chapter One

Attempts to deal with the urbanization challenges of the

developing world

Shelter is a fundamental human right; it is one of the essential factors of satis-

factory living conditions and it is the principal built component of all cities. In
most developing countries, the conventional methods for accommodating housing
and urban demands of the poor are inadequate. In many cases, urban planning
and design paradigms exclude the poor from appropriate sites, denying them the
benefits of infrastructure, services, and amenities. Usually, these new urban dwellers
cannot take advantage of the financial mechanisms of subsidized social housing
programs; simultaneously, the production of public housing simply cannot cope
with the demand.
Although urban decision makers and stakeholders are biased against informal
development, it has become necessary to consider how political, academic, profes-
sional, and institutional efforts have tried to address the challenges of informal
urbanization. This reflection reveals that the twenty-first century lacks an effective
model to encompass the magnitude and complexity of ongoing urbanization in
developing countries.
This chapter is structured in seven sections. The first section presents precon-
ceptions that stakeholders have about informal settlements. It also highlights how
important it is to ensure that those who have the vision, resources, managerial skills,
and the will to act understand what is at stake. The second section explores what
the role of city planning and urban design has been in the context of informal
urbanization. It aims to better capture how Informal Armatures can transform city
planning and urban design. The third section describes what could be considered

Urbanization in the developing world

Figure 1.2: Improved informal settlement of El Risco de San Nicolás, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria,
Canary Islands

the limited impact of social housing programs. The fourth section analyzes the
contributions and limitations of the programs referred to as “Sites and Services” as
urban frameworks for self-constructed neighborhoods. A review of the different
approaches, in Sections 1.5 and 1.6, indicates that all of these models have not been
able to encompass the magnitude and complexities of ongoing urbanization in
developing countries, especially in light of the scale of informal urbanization and
worldwide environmental challenges. Section 1.7, then, suggests that the Informal
Armatures approach may offer a new way forward.

1.1 Biases against informality

Informal settlements in developing countries are the by-products of the rapid

urbanization driven by the economic and political changes associated with indus-
trialization and globalization.1 In economically developing countries, the shift
from predominantly rural populations to highly urbanized populations is similar

Urbanization in the developing world

to the transformation already experienced by today’s more developed nations.

Among the differences are the currently unprecedented growth rate, and the
global scale of economic and environmental impact. Informal settlements are
generally the result of internal and external migratory trends, rapid increases of
population within urban centers, and the financial and administrative inability to
provide adequate land, infrastructure, services, and housing to the poorest segments
of the population.
Informal settlements are often perceived as a threat by the formal urbanites that
openly manifest their desire for informal neighborhoods to be eradicated. In many
cases, inhabitants of the formal city assume that those who live in informal neigh-
borhoods have different cultural values and behavioral patterns. They associate
informal neighborhoods with poverty, violence, drugs, and unhealthy living
conditions. However, this perception of informal settlements and their inhabitants
is often distorted, as both groups socialize on a daily basis on the formal turf as
fellow citizens. While there are certainly morphological and performative condi-
tions that separate these worlds, cultural and mental barriers are even stronger
factors. Formal residents rarely have access to the informal areas; therefore, uncer-
tainty helps to stigmatize these settlements. There are clear reasons for this lack of
contact, such as the concern for safety, the absence of roads and transportation, and
the dearth of amenities and public spaces.
The wealthy and educated classes in developing countries often identify with
the urban value systems of former colonial rulers or with foreign models that
were adopted throughout the developed world during the twentieth century.
These practices are reflected in the institutional, legal, and design frameworks
of post-colonial cities and are crystallized in the built results of planning and
zoning efforts. However, they are very different from the logic embedded in the
construction of informal settlements,
In Colonialism and Underdevelopment in Latin America (2009), Valentin and
Raduan argue that although colonialism was an undeniable part of the historical
process and formation of some societies, its legacy led to social stratification and
extreme social inequality. They point out, “The discrimination and oppression
present in those hierarchical societies are the main inheritance of the former
colonies and are a persistent tragedy, being part of the unsolved questions of the
recent past.”2
Colonial enterprises usually exercise territorial, economic, political, and social
control through town and city planning. The colonial urban–rural models

Urbanization in the developing world

frequently reflect the conditions of the imperial centers, or new urban proto-
types are created to facilitate the economic exploitation of acquired territories.
Such models derive from the urban and agricultural systems embedded in the
colonizer’s culture but evolve to accommodate local conditions, eventually
creating hybrid models of occupation. The effects of these colonial formations
were noticed in the first half of the twentieth century. For example, in a 2006
study on the Spanish colonial period in Latin America, Urbanismo Europeo en
Caracas (1870–1940), Arturo Almandoz pointed out that in 1944 Francis Violich
first referred to this effect as “Old World-like” in his 1944 publication of Cities
of Latin America. Housing and Planning to the South.3 As colonization advanced,
local populations adapted to new territorial and urban patterns, or were forced
out or willingly migrated to peripheral areas where they continued to live as
they did prior to colonial occupation. Regardless of the degree of hybridization
during colonial occupation, the newly imposed models resulted in the erosion or
destruction of the indigenous forms of territorial occupation and culture.
In Spanish America for instance, the independence of the colonies brought on
a reshuffling of power within the new nations with the introduction of legal, insti-
tutional, economic, and social reforms. But urban and architectural patterns after
independence remained essentially unaltered. Frequently, the former colonizers
were replaced by powerful, wealthy groups of the local population. They still
adhered to the urban and cultural patterns of the deposed colonizers, maintaining
marginalized groups in the same conditions of economic disadvantage and spatial
Marginalized groups in these societies often share some of the values of the
more affluent and/or educated people, but are strongly influenced by cultural
patterns that stem from pre-colonial customs and recent rural origins or from
other cultural contributions that enriched the cultural palette during colonial
times. Residents of informal areas frequently voice their complaints against living
conditions within their settlements, aspiring to achieve standards closer to those
found in the formal sector. However, they rarely say that their ultimate goal is
to move out, because they consider that their homes and neighborhoods can be
gradually improved. While there may literally be no option for the poor to leave
newly established informal settlements, there is often no will to do so, as emotional
and social bonds flourish in their self-constructed environments.
This description might appear as an oversimplification of the social and ethnic
milieu that is common to many developing countries in which different groups

Urbanization in the developing world

intermingle and share an ample body of continuously evolving hybridized cultural

aspects. In Hybrid Identities (2008), Keri E. Iyall Smith and Patricia Leavy describe
the complexity of cultural diversity as a living process in constant transformation
influenced not only by ethnic or social diversity, but also by new technologies and
evolving ecologies.4 In this regard, hybrid identities allow for the perpetuation of
the local in the context of the global, a perspective that could allow the Informal
Armatures concept to engage a wider range of communities by providing both
specificity in the role of the components and flexibility of physical implemen-
tation. Informal Armatures address this hybrid cultural condition in order to
facilitate solutions that will connect the formal with the informal logic in a
mutually beneficial scenario.
The changing attitude towards informality varies from country to country but
tends to travel a similar path. It is preceded by an initial period in which institu-
tions and formal dwellers begin to understand that a new modality of informal
occupation is beginning to occur, at which point they may ignore it or attempt
to stop it through use of force or through developing formal housing provisions.5
While some nations today deal with informal growth in a proactive and creative
way, others believe that they can control it and eradicate it. A recent example of
the eradication of informal areas with no intention to relocate them occurred in
2008 in Harare, Zimbabwe, which resulted in the forced displacement of over
800,000 inhabitants who had invested years in improving their self-constructed
districts. The National Government felt that these settlements were encroaching
on areas that had potential for formal development and that they were an obstacle
for marketing this city as a progressive and competitive African capital.6 Most
of the displaced fled to other countries, mainly neighboring South Africa, some
returned to their places of origin in Zimbabwe, and others initiated new informal
settlements in more peripheral locations.
A second phase is one in which it becomes evident that the growth of informal
settlements cannot be halted; the initial phase of resistance is followed by a period
of acceptance, recognizing that informal settlements will become a permanent
component of the city. During this period some actions are taken to prevent
further informal growth on sites considered highly sensitive, such as those that may
affect middle- and upper-income areas or that have significant potential real-estate
value, allowing squatting on areas not targeted by the official plans for urbani-
zation. Also during this phase, some forms of political support and institutional
assistance are offered, providing the settlements with water, electricity, paved roads,

Urbanization in the developing world

and pedestrian paths, as well as basic community, educational, health, recreational,

and daycare facilities.
Such acceptance became evident in the case of Caracas, Venezuela. Until
the 1990s, the National Government and municipal authorities, mainly during
pre-election periods, would carry out only minor interventions in the informal
settlements, known as barrios, which were typically located on steep topography.
These would be limited to paving pedestrian paths and stairways, channeling
rainwater runoff or covering polluted streams, introducing simple forms of street
lighting, and applying paint to unfinished brick building facades. In some cases,
local health, educational, and sports facilities were also introduced. None of these
interventions made significant changes to the quality of life within such poor
communities; rather they would continue to be physically and functionally segre-
gated from the formal city.
In most developing countries, the population living in informal settlements
may equal or surpass the population living in formal settlements, so that it may
become the dominant form of urbanism. When older informal communities
are legitimized and their residents have stronger levels of political participation,
officials revise planning laws in order to acknowledge informal settlements as an
alternative mode of urbanization and provide the legal framework to respond with
institutional and technical support.
At this point, interventions in informal settlements tend to be more robust
and holistic, exercising significant impacts on living informal settlements and
throughout the city as a whole. As cities engage in this process, the perception of
informality also begins to change. Proactive political and institutional responses,
accompanied by high quality planning, design, and effective interventions, are
not, however, common practices in most developing countries. Informality is
not a homogeneous phenomenon; the appreciation of conditions in informal
development varies greatly from one context to another. For instance, settle-
ments in the early phases of occupation located in the unstable higher elevations
of Medellín, which may be considered precarious by local authorities, would
probably be valued as rather healthy communities by officials in Dacca Mumbai,
where much older settlements are plagued with hazardous sanitary conditions
and overcrowding.
The radical transformations in the neighborhoods of Río de Janeiro, Bogotá, and
Medellín, relating to safety, civic activities, and infrastructural amenities, as a result
of urban and architectural interventions and good managerial practices, began to

Figure 1.3: Urban design proposal with peripheral informal settlements, Ciudad Fajardo, Venezuela. Project: Luis Sully, Luis Pernía, and Luis
Urbanization in the developing world

Terife. Instructor: David Gouverneur

Urbanization in the developing world

attract non-residents to these areas, changing formal area residents’ perception of

informal areas. In a similar manner, residents of the improved informal settlements
began enjoying better living conditions and developed a sense of pride for what
had been accomplished. A paradigm shift was taking place in these challenged
districts, leading to an appreciation and acceptance of the “other city” by the
formal sector, helping to produce a hybrid urban system with shared values in both
the formal and the informal sectors.

1.2 When city planning and urban design work against informality

For many already independent and developing nations, the twentieth century
represented a new period of external influences and significant territorial and
urban changes. The 2005 revision of the United Nations (UN) World Urbanization
Prospects Report, reveals a shift from a mere 13% of the population living in cities
in 1900, to 29% in 1950, and 50% in 2006.7
This process is characterized by rapid urbanization, industrialization, moderni-
zation, and, in time, participation in global economic processes. Urban growth
generally results from rural-to-city migration and the improvement of health
conditions with decreasing infant mortality rates. As population increases and cities
begin to grow, increasing in their density or expanding their cumulative surface
area, authorities plan ahead and envision how the city may evolve in an orderly
manner. Urban plans determine what would be urban and what will remain rural;
however, this artificial separation not only creates speculative land markets, but also
establishes an inconvenient divide of territorial conditions that should be handled
as an integrated system.
Plans estimate land uses and requirements for the transformation of existing
areas and for city expansion. They also define principal mobility systems, infra-
structure, and services, accompanied by zoning ordinances intended to regulate
quantitative aspects or urban layouts and buildings. Urban planners expect that
developers and leaders of communal initiatives will respect these dispositions and
that projects will be submitted to local planning agencies for the bureaucratic
processes of approval.
These quantity-oriented plans and ordinances are generic by nature and hardly
different from those introduced decades before in industrialized nations. Notably,
these plans and ordinances do not have variables that may address qualitative,
spatial, or performative aspects, nor do they respond to particular contextual and

Urbanization in the developing world

cultural conditions of each city and district. The production of such plans and
ordinances is carried out by the professional elite, educated in foreign countries or
in local institutions that are highly influenced by foreign values and urban models.
This sometimes results in planning codes that are not always relevant or applicable
in these contexts.
These models are reflected in legal documents, which for the most part expand
the preexisting urban boundaries, automatically transforming rural land into urban
land. Through this process, planning and legal exercises contradict the socio-
economic reality and spatial and functional requirements of the urban poor. The
central failures of formal urban planning in serving marginalized social groups are
the following:

a. Unequal land-ownership distribution: Frequently the land into which the cities
are expected to expand lies in private hands since they are the product of
the colonial redistributions of agricultural, grazing, or mining estates, which
were passed on to the wealthier groups after independence, remaining idle or
under agrarian production until the new planning instruments deem them
as urban.
b. Radical land value shifts: When enacted, the urban plans generate surplus value
prompting a highly speculative real-estate market.
c. Lack of access to the financial market: The urban poor, particularly at a stage of
early settlement, cannot access the real-estate market simply because they do
not have savings or collateral to obtain loans to acquire a lot or a house within
the formal real-estate market, nor do they have enough income to rent a house
and pay utilities for a dwelling within this market.8

As a result of these factors, the production and approval of urban plans push the
urban poor out of the city boundaries onto distant sites without services and
frequently onto land that is considered unfit for urbanization.
As National Director of Urban Planning in Venezuela in the early 1990s, I
and my team enacted hundreds of plans of this nature, all having similar effects.
Despite our efforts to house the urban poor, the plans led to their exclusion from
those areas. In some cases we produced detailed urban design proposals, depicting
the three-dimensional, environmental, and experiential qualities of the urban
scenarios. Despite these intricately crafted design efforts, a large percentage of the
urban expansion areas incorporated in these instruments would remain vacant

Urbanization in the developing world

for years after the plans were produced. Meanwhile the informal sector occupied
“extra-urban sites,” often of larger dimension and higher population density than
those that had been envisioned in the plans.
The challenge now is to intelligently guide rampant urbanization and include
the population currently excluded from the formal real-estate market. Preemptive
planning and design should provide for informal occupation, minimize the differ-
ences between formal and informal settlement, foster sustainable living conditions,
and promote a balanced relationship between the urban and the rural, particularly
in the threshold between them.

1.3 Housing and urban performance

Housing plays an important role in the morphology, performance, and quality

of life in all cities, influenced by many factors, most noteworthy the following:
the means of production, location of the residential areas and land requirements,
methods of construction and types of buildings, combination of housing with
other urban uses, and degree of communal organization and social cohesion.
In the preindustrial city, housing was integral to the urban fabric, intermingling
with small commercial and manufacturing activities and amenities, typically linked
by a system of public spaces.The buildings that provided shelter were frequently the
result of self-constructed efforts or the aggregate result of individual, communal,
and, in some cases, a ruler’s initiatives. Limited forms of mobility, infrastructure,
and defensive conditions yielded tight, pedestrian-oriented, and multifunctional
urban configurations. In his 1960 urban critique entitled “The Preindustrial City,”
Gideon Sjoberg explains how “preindustrial cities depend for their existence upon
food and raw materials obtained from without; for this reason they are marketing
centers and serve as centers for handicraft manufacturing.”9 Sjoberg and others
leveled a wide range of criticism against the preindustrial model, berating the
preindustrial city for its faults in sanitation and circulation, while ignoring its
positive and qualitative aspects.
The Industrial Revolution in Europe and in North America from 1760 to 1840
introduced new urban uses, resulting in accelerated urban growth and the inten-
sification of urban conflicts. The overcrowding of the preindustrial cities increased
strains on infrastructure and services, aggravating poor sanitary conditions and
leading to social unrest. In their 2008 work, Cities and Economies,Yeong-Hyun Kim
and John Rennie Short highlight the link between industrial growth and urban

Urbanization in the developing world

Figure 1.4: Ciudadela Colsubsidio, Bogotá, Colombia. Project: Germán Samper and
Ximena Samper

Urbanization in the developing world

development, explaining “urban growth, in both its quantitative and qualitative

terms, was built on trade and finance.”10 In general, the predominantly residential
and mixed-use preexisting areas did not seem compatible with the larger scale and
functional demands of the new industrial uses, which required different locations,
dimensions, building types, infrastructure, and mobility support systems. These
requirements produced new negative environmental effects that were alien to the
preindustrial city, which required new morphological, functional, and managerial
solutions. Urban planning later became the tool used to foresee urban growth and
address these new demands.
As a response to the urban problems brought about by the Industrial
Revolution, the Modernist Movement and, in particular, CIAM (Congrés
International d’Architecture Moderne) and its derivatives emerged as professionally
and academically driven initiatives to envision a better future for contemporary
cities. Academics, government officials, practitioners, and developers realized that
the new urban conditions required different urban approaches. Cities demanded
solutions to accommodate expansion and the conversion of the existing urban
areas.11 As described by Le Corbusier, a CIAM leader, in La Charte d’Athènes (The
Athens Charter, 1933), the supporters of the Modernist Movement formulated
principles and delimited areas zoned for explicitly defined uses, including housing
for different social segments. The principles embedded in this document would
influence the future of contemporary cities worldwide.
The main arguments for the separation of uses were sanitation and associating
densities with functional requirements such as road accessibility, infrastructure, and
services. Separation also allowed for the introduction of a hierarchy of mobility
systems, as well as the provision of housing and amenities for the working class.12
These new functional conditions would be related with equally innovative urban
and architectural forms that would differ radically from the traditional ways of
configuring streets and urban spaces, favoring vehicular traffic over pedestrian
traffic and mega blocks in which free standing edifices could stand.The height and
spacing of the buildings were intended to promote greater lighting, air circulation,
and to free up a high percentage of the ground floor for spaces of leisure and
William Mitchell, in Placing Words (2005), reminds us that the evolution of
urbanism and technology are mutually reinforcing as part of the never-ending
co-evolution of systems and tools that we use to create and re-create.13 Urban
expansion was facilitated by technological changes such as the advent of railways,

Urbanization in the developing world

streetcars, and automobiles, which initially prompted the growth of peripheral

residential areas in close reach of the traditional urban cores. Later, cities would
witness the emergence of more distant and dispersed residential enclaves as cheap
vehicular access enabled greater numbers to commute longer distances.
Reflecting Modernist ideas in urban plans, wealthier groups began to move
further away from the nuisances of industrial activities, into “garden city”
solutions that were in closer proximity to nature and healthier conditions of the
rural fringe. This vision was highly influenced by the work of Ebenezer Howard,
in Garden Cities of To-Morrow (1902).14 As cities increased in size, complexity,
and fragmentation, government officials, planners, intellectuals, designers, and
common citizens in developing countries began to realize that the modern city
as a paradigm of formal, functional, and managerial organization had many disad-
vantages, particularly when it came to providing adequate shelter for the urban
In his 1991 dissertation, Principles, Rules and Urban Form: The Case of Venezuela,
Oscar Grauer finds that planning and zoning, as well as modern urban patterns
and architectural solutions, originated in the industrial world.16 In developing
countries, the introduction of Modernist paradigms excluded the urban poor
from the benefits of the modern lifestyle. The application of the modern urban
palette in developing countries fostered not only segregation, but also the reliance
on a traditional real-estate-driven model, to which the poor did not have access,
would place dwellers of informal areas in a submissive condition in relation to the
formal city.
In their attempt to address these inequalities, governments of developing
countries throughout the world have tested social housing programs with a
multiplicity of design solutions and implementation mechanisms. These housing
programs have included low-, mid-, and high-rise schemes, inner city and
peripheral projects, mixed-use districts, productive and transformative housing
units, and projects on flat and mountainous terrain. Some have been very large-
scale and repetitive solutions, others are smaller scale schemes that combine various
typologies. Implementation methods are varied, including land banking, modalities
of financing and subsidies, public–private partnerships, and ownership or leasing
of units or parcels. Some initiatives are heavily centralized, while others are local
or community-driven programs, built by developers or cooperative enterprises.
Public-housing programs have usually emphasized quantity, focusing on the
number of units delivered without regard to the quality of the urban scenarios

Urbanization in the developing world

those units create. These programs also develop housing tailored to minimum
design and construction standards. Such solutions offer little possibility for
improving the conditions either of public space or within the dwellings, which is
a valuable attribute of informal development.
These programs are similar in building type and scale to those introduced in
industrialized nations, reflecting the state of the art and intended to adapt the
solutions to local conditions. Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, and Venezuela
had built entire neighborhoods of social housing as early as the 1940s. The
Villa Presidente Ríos in Chile (1940), the Multifamiliar Presidente Miguel Alemán
complex, Mexico, D.F. (1948), or the famous Conjunto Copan by Oscar
Niemeyer, in São Paulo (1951) are among the compelling projects completed
in this period.
Other efforts from this period include the works of Karl Brunner, an Austrian
architect from the Technischen Hochschule of Vienna who from 1934 to 1939
was the Director of the Department of Urbanism of Bogotá, Colombia.17
Brunner’s schemes can be considered iterations of the European “ensanches” or
urban expansion areas or streetcar districts. Urbanización El Silencio in Caracas,
Venezuela (1941–1945), was conceived as a mid-rise, inner city urban renewal
operation, which would increase population density, reinterpreting colonial
courtyards, organizing neighborhood clusters, and producing a pedestrian-
friendly, mixed-use district, which included covered sidewalks and high quality
urban spaces at a city scale.
This period is followed by one in which a wide array of architectural, technical,
managerial, and financial solutions were tested following the CIAM principles.
Numerous large-scale residential projects were constructed further away from the
urban centers, typically as “urban islands.” They were serviced by unreliable public
transportation or depended on private car ownership. Residents in these projects
were stigmatized as living in the peripheral “projects” which began to experience
the same problems as similar inner city public housing in industrialized nations,
such as poor maintenance, un-defendable or deteriorated open spaces, high levels
of violence, and general decay.
In the 1950s, the Venezuelan Government carried out what was considered one
of the most ambitious public-housing projects in the world, now known as 23
de Enero. It was an ensemble of dozens of high-rise mega slabs, meant to relocate
recent squatter settlements and accommodate new migrants. The project promptly
became a social disaster as new residents occupied buildings in conditions that

Urbanization in the developing world

were all alien to the incoming migrants’ way of life such as adapting to the use
of elevators, garbage chutes, modern kitchens and bathrooms, or paying rents
and utilities. Some residents passed their apartments on to wealthier groups for
a moderate sum and continued to squat in the steep, vegetated areas in between
these buildings, reproducing many of the rural ways of life to which they were
accustomed. Eventually these open spaces were occupied entirely by informal
settlements, for which the planned residential project did not include the provision
of community services and local commercial activities.
Project 23 de Enero was the first of many large-scale social housing projects to
be built in Caracas as a method of replacing informal settlements and accommo-
dating new urbanites. While prolific in the amount of units built, every year the
number of residents in informal areas surpassed those that were accommodated
by formal housing. Today, Venezuela presents the highest housing deficit in the
region,18 and it was estimated that by 2005 32% of the urban population would
live in informal settlements.19
Governments in all developing countries prioritize the provision of housing
for lower-income groups, estimating existing and projected deficits. One difficulty
in identifying the existing housing deficit is the lack of adequate information, as
many residents of informal settlements are not on cadastral records. In many cases,
informal occupants are illegal immigrants without legal documentation. Further,
extended families or different families may live under one roof, and only a portion
of them may be represented. This makes quantification of the housing demands
fiercely speculative.
Additionally, the indicators used to determine the accumulated housing deficits
may vary from one city to another, according to the degree of acceptance and
tolerance towards informal settlements, and the actual conditions of the existing
informal housing stock and districts. For instance, in nations in which informal
development is still seen as unacceptable, local authorities may produce more
conservative estimates of how many new formal social dwellings are required
to replace them all. In countries that have recognized informal settlements as
a valid form of urbanization, more in depth inventories and studies are carried
out to determine the physical condition of the units, the general condition of
overcrowding, as well as that of the urban settings, their accessibility, infrastructure,
services, and so on. This may include an estimate of the dwellings located on
hazardous sites or sites subject to environmental risk, indicating the number of
units that should be relocated.

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However, invariably, in most developing countries, the demand for shelter

continues to surpass the capacity to deliver adequate supply, despite political
support, technical expertise, and a diversity of technical, managerial, and financial
mechanisms. It is important to consider that the majority of informal settlers in
the very early stages of occupation struggles to meet basic needs, such as securing
a piece of land, acquiring potable water, and accessing food. Thus, solving the
challenges of informal urbanism should not be directed to the provision of social
housing in its different modalities, which they cannot afford; rather they should
consider creating urban and managerial frameworks that allow low-income
settlers to self-construct healthy habitats and mobilize the immense quantities of
human capital present in these cities. This would allow for residents to achieve
satisfactory urban quality of the neighborhoods and also of their dwellings,
delivered in less time and in much larger numbers than any public-housing
There have been successful initiatives to provide urban frameworks and basic
initial housing units, which may include only one bathroom, a primary room,
or an unfinished shell that allows occupants to expand and complete their
dwellings.20 “Sites and Services” programs are emblematic of this type of initi-
ative. As an alternative to public housing, they operate on the same practical and
theoretical underpinnings of the Informal Armatures. Both concepts acknowledge
that in comparing most formal social housing projects to the evolution of
informal settlements, it is evident that over time the self-constructed housing
stock not only outnumbers formal construction, but also achieves dimensions
and qualitative conditions that surpass those of the formal housing projects.21 The
following section more closely examines some of the unique contributions of this

1.4 Urban frameworks for self-constructed dwellings

The weaknesses of informal settlements most often stem from inadequate sites,
the lack of an overall urban framework capable of structuring public space, and
the lack of provisions for civic services and amenities. These simple considerations
prompted academics, designers, as well as governments and institutions, to focus
more on providing adequate land and urban frameworks, rather than constructing
finished homes.What the urban poor require most is access to jobs, urban amenities,
basic infrastructure, and communal services—all of which, even in the context of

Urbanization in the developing world

Figure 1.5: (Top) Board from PREVI Project Competition. (Bottom) Neighborhood block and vision of
how the dwellings could look, Lima, Perú. Entry of Germán Samper

Urbanization in the developing world

limited administrative resources, can be extended to a wider population—and an

increase in complete formal housing solutions results in the decrease of remaining
resources for investing in the public realm, which can impact a larger number of
inhabitants. Under this logic, “Sites and Services” became a relatively successful
alternative approach to social housing.
Some of these pivotal programs offer effective solutions that can be incorpo-
rated into the Informal Armatures approach. Generally, Sites and Services programs
proved to be very useful at a neighborhood scale, but they were not capable of
addressing the complexities of larger territorial and metropolitan scenarios. Such
limitations are due to various factors, including the magnitude of informal growth
and the complexities of contemporary urban dynamics, and environmental and
social challenges that were not on the agenda when Sites and Services programs
were originally formulated.22
The range and scale of what might be considered Sites and Services projects
are global in reach. Under the strictest of definitions, “Sites and Services” refers
to a World Bank initiative pioneered in the early 1970s for housing and urban
renewal. However, similar programs existed in practice as early as the 1950s at a
regional and local level, such as those in Botswana and Malawi.23 Additionally,
certain core concepts underwriting the Sites and Services ethos, such as the focus
on amenities, lot division, and infrastructure rather than built architectural form,
are seen in the experiments of some architects and urban designers as early as
Between the 1940s and the 1960s, Josep Lluis Sert, founder of the Urban
Design Program at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, tested and refined his
theories on the civic core as described at CIAM 8: “Heart of the City,” and in
the essay “Centers of Community Life.”24 He explored these ideas in a number of
city plans executed with the Town Planning Associates, in particular the new town
plan of Chimbote, Perú, and the pilot plans for the existing cities of Medellín and
Bogotá, Colombia.
As the concepts underlying civic core gained traction, Sert worked with a
large interdisciplinary team and expanded his thinking to integrate many other
aspects of the city, from patterns of employment and resident expenditures, to
soils and microclimates.25 Incorporating new ideas and data, Sert worked specifi-
cally on residential development to target poor migrants that were attracted to
construction and job opportunities offered in the new industrial city of Ciudad
Guayana, Venezuela.26 The project for the new city was commissioned by the

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Venezuelan Government and awarded to the Joint Center of Urban Studies of

Harvard and MIT, chaired by Lloyd Rodwin from MIT (1959–1969).27
The interdisciplinary team stressed the importance of dealing with the social
conditions of the wide spectrum of new urban dwellers, particularly the very
poor, uneducated migrants from different parts of the country who were rural
dwellers attracted by the job opportunities during the initial construction phases
and permanent employment in the new city.28
In the Guayana Project, Sert proposed the organization of residential clusters
providing lots for the construction of the homes organized around communal
spaces that would serve initially for food production and then for recreation
and other services.29 Collaborator Lisa R. Peattie insisted on the importance of
communal organization so that inhabitants would take ownership of public spaces,
for agricultural and social purposes. This type of urban cluster, anchored around
public space, would help the transition of the rural migrants to the urban milieu.
The settlers quickly began to construct, expand, and improve their dwellings.30
The clusters provided a strong sense of communal space and contrasted with a
city that was concurrently transforming the landscape into a mega-infrastructure
dominated by automobiles.
Horacio Caminos took a more detailed approach, considering the implica-
tions of block configuration and the layouts of the urban grid. Originally from
Argentina and working at MIT, Caminos made a significant contribution to the
Sites and Services concept by considering these implications through financial and
functional lenses, developing housing shells designed for incremental expansion.31
Caminos focused his work on exploring housing solutions that favored compact
settlements with the intent of reducing costs of land acquisition, infrastructure, and
services, while providing flexibility through a variety of parcel configuration.32 He
strongly believed in the obligation of academics, professionals, and institutions to
make a significant contribution to address the pressing social and environmental
problems that developing nations face.
Propelled in part by Caminos’ work, MIT became a leading center for research
on Sites and Services programs and social housing for developing countries.
With support from the Ford Foundation, Professor Caminos, John F. C. Turner,
and John Steffian ensured the perpetuity of this trend by envisioning a research
program that came to be known as the Urban Settlement Design in Developing
Countries (USDP). Through design studios and research projects, young profes-
sionals from numerous developing nations ended up working in lead financial

Urbanization in the developing world

and policy making world-institutions, shifting the paradigms for dealing with the
ever-growing housing crisis of the urban poor.
In the early 1970s, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development
commissioned Professor Caminos to write a handbook on housing the urban
poor. The result was the Urbanization Primer, which compiled many of Caminos’
notes, observations, and work experiences from the previous decade. Urbanization
Primer is a seminal publication on the topic of low-income housing, a compre-
hensive manual of design criteria and urban configurations that provides precise
information on the advantages and quantitative parameters associated with
different schemes.33 In Venezuela, while at the Universidad de Los Andes in
Mérida, Caminos wrote Gente, Vivienda y Tierra, or People, Housing and Earth,
which explained how housing typologies for urban and rural communities could
adapt traditional construction techniques for social housing that could grow over
Professor Caminos’ son, Carlos, also an architect, became a professor at the
Universidad de Los Andes at the School of Architecture and City Planning. My
first direct encounter with the Sites and Services program was with Carlos as he
produced his own version of the Sites and Services manual for the Ministry of
Urban Development of Venezuela; many years later I would be Director of this
institution. Carlos delivered seminars to instruct this institution’s staff on the agile
use of the Sites and Services handbook, asserting that solid theoretic frameworks
and experimentation should be translated into formats that can be easily grasped
by those willing to implement the proposals.
The work of both Sert and Caminos directly preceded international attempts
to refocus the low-income housing problem on the urban framework rather
than the housing itself. John F. C. Turner, an architect who was intimately
involved in the production of foundational research on informal settlements,
bridged the gaps between low-income housing, informal settlements, and what
would later become the Sites and Services program.34 His two books, Housing
by People and Freedom to Build, an edited collection of essays, would drive the
British architect’s theories on autonomous housing to the international stage.
Examining housing in a variety of contexts, from the United States to Perú,
these two books border on the philosophical in their advocacy and argument
for autonomous housing.35
While his theories and concepts tended to be much more radical than the
World Bank and UN programs upon which he based his ideas, Turner’s research

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and philosophy proved instrumental in establishing Sites and Services as a

legitimate housing initiative. Three noteworthy surveys help decipher the inner
workings of informal settlements and urban renewal initiatives: Uncontrolled
Urban Settlements: Problems and Policies (1968), Urban Dwelling Environments (1969),
written with Horacio Caminos and John Steffian, and Building Community: A Third
World Case Book (1988), edited by Bertha Turner. While each survey examined
different aspects of informal settlements, it was in these essays that Turner began to
piece together how factors as different as climate, economy, and policies influence
adequate social housing.
As Turner’s writing and research were embraced by the World Bank and the
United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Sites and Services initiatives
were implemented worldwide. The programs focused primarily on land division,
collective utilities, and restructuring of local municipalities to better manage the
projects. While these initiatives were very successful at making shelter available to
the urban poor and were widely hailed as a revolution in the fight against urban
poverty, they typically created “bright spots” within informal settlements, leaving
municipalities to shoulder the debt and often failing to target the lowest tiers of
the urban poor.
There was, however, one Sites and Services based initiative that proved
exemplary in its conceptualization, development, and implementation: the PREVI
project (Proyecto Experimental de Vivienda) in Lima, Perú. Organized under the
coordination of architect Peter Land, PREVI was the outcome of a deal struck
between the Government of Perú, the UN, and the UNDP. PREVI gained
governmental support, particularly from Fernado Belaúnde Terry, who was the
first architect to be elected as a Latin American head of state.
The overall program consisted of four parts, PP1, PP2, PP3, and PP4, ranging
from a ground-up neighborhood, on-site urban redevelopment, to autonomous
housing. However, the project of note was PP1, which consisted of an inter-
national competition for the urbanization of a rather large urban settlement of
very low income residents in the south part of Lima. Twenty-six professionals
participated in this project, 13 international architects and 13 from Perú, who were
selected by an international jury.36
All participants were asked to provide detailed information on the urban
organization of the predominantly residential areas, the different options for
basic housing units, and the way they could be modified and expanded by their
users. Some of the participants proposed how the housing units could grow by

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incorporating income-generating uses. Professor Land’s insight and leadership

were pivotal as unifying forces bringing together different components. His
plan also included public officials from various institutions who converged to
implement the project, working closely with those involved who would construct
it and community members who would occupy the new neighborhood.
The PREVI project offers us important lessons:

a. It selected a safe site by acquiring land, although it was rather detached from
the existing urban areas.
b. The project was subdivided into sections, allowing the implementation of
various winning entries that avoided monotonous patterns, which often
characterize public-housing projects.
c. The proposals offered different solutions to take advantage of lot configuration,
and to expand the basic housing units.
d. The entries depicted the three-dimensional quality of the new neighbor-
hoods, providing architectural and constructive recommendations on how
the units could be expanded by the users and incorporate productive uses.37
e. The schemes were designed to incorporate community spaces, to have the
ability to be developed over time, and to incorporate future services and public
f. The proposals considered the occupants and utilized local materials sensitive
to climatic conditions, as well as anti-seismic structural components that could
handle simple building technologies.

This competition gained worldwide attention for its innovative design ideas, the
prestige of the different designing firms that were invited to join it, the quality
of projects that were selected, and the implementation of winning schemes
according to the proposals. The competition had a major impact on the state of
the art in Latin America. One of participants of the PREVI competition was
Germán Samper, who still dedicates most of his professional life to publishing and
designing social housing. His work has influenced many generations of planners
and architects. His projects for self-constructed homes notably include the project
La Fragua on which he worked closely with his wife Yolanda Martínez de Samper,
and which began development as early as 1958, in the south of Bogotá in what has
come to be known as Vivienda Productiva (Productive Housing).39 His work refers
to the principles of efficiency in the use of resources, as land and infrastructure

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principles advanced by Professor Caminos. Samper paid special attention to the

morphology and aesthetics of a pedestrian friendly realm, as well as how users can
transform the initial basic housing units. He continues to apply these concepts
today in a wide variety of projects, which can be included in the category of Sites
and Services, as well as in formal social housing projects.

1.5 Limitations of Sites and Services

In 2011, I had the opportunity to visit the PREVI project almost 35 years after
the competition was held and the winning entries were constructed. After over
two hours riding in congested traffic through a continuous extension of informal
settlements in the South of Lima that had not been subject to improvement plans,
my taxi driver announced that we were approaching the PREVI site. I was struck
by how the residents transformed their initial small dwellings or precarious shells
into high quality homes. These homes surpassed any social housing dwellings
in size and design conditions. They were part of a stable neighborhood and it
was evident that residents enjoyed and maintained well-kept small open spaces,
demonstrating that they had defended these areas designed for common uses as
suggested in the original schemes. With widespread public support, the various
stages of the project from site selection, competition, to construction of initial
projects contributed to the development of this vast informal area of Lima.
However, I was rather surprised to see that the current conditions of this high
profile, and, for its time, cutting edge project were only slightly better than those in
the informal, unplanned settlements. Indeed, the conditions were only marginally
better than other informal settlements erected during the same period in Lima.
The PREVI competition seemed too light handed, delivering excellent results on
a community scale, but with less impact at a city scale. Previous visits to upgraded
informal settlements in Río de Janeiro, Bogotá, and Medellín may have raised
my expectations too high. The impact of the informal settlement improvement
plans for these cities, some of which will be analyzed in Chapter 2, stands out in
contrast to the outcome of the PREVI projects. The following considerations may
be derived from this simple comparative analysis:

a. Sites and Services programs are an important tool to organize settlements at

a neighborhood scale, but they do not address urban complexities that arise
when these settlements expand to or are part of much large agglomerations.

Urbanization in the developing world

b. Sustainable development of informal settlements and the reduction of dispar-

ities between the informal and the formal require a more robust level of
management and design to diminish these differences.
c. If these new higher-level demands are not met, unattended informal settle-
ments and Sites and Services neighborhoods will remain disadvantaged.

The principles behind the Sites and Services program still represent a powerful
working method for addressing challenges of urbanization in the developing
world, particularly operating on a neighborhood scale. In order to take advantage
of limited financial resources and address the pressing demands of the urban
poor, policy makers and designers must choose between providing frequently
small and low standard finished housing for only a few, and offering a richer
urban framework that will benefit greater numbers.This framework includes lots
where the community can construct their dwellings over time, tailoring them
to their needs.
Since the emergence of the Sites and Services program, there have been
important innovations in design solutions that have enhanced its objectives.
Among them is the more recent and acclaimed Elemental program, advanced
under the leadership of architect Alejandro Aravena, working at La Universidad
Católica Pontificia in Santiago de Chile.40 This initiative is based on similar
principles, with solutions that offer unfinished housing shells or “half-homes”
providing initial urban and architectural unity, allowing the users to expand and
improve their dwellings while introducing interior and external changes. The
projects quickly acquire the character of self-constructed settlements; others have
created new neighbourhoods and larger districts.
The Informal Armature approach recognizes the contributions of the Sites and
Services program, taking it to another level by operating on different scales and
addressing more complex urban issues.

1.6 The informal city reconsidered

Informal settlements should not be seen as a problem but rather a consequence of

historic and structural deficiencies of developing societies that are experiencing
exponential rates of urban population growth. Informal settlements have been
alternately ignored, neglected, eradicated, displaced, and partially substituted by
housing programs. They are often fetishized and romanticized by intellectuals.

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However, each of these approaches or views diminishes their true depth and
vibrancy. Informal settlements have the potential to become dynamic and balanced
urban environments depending upon whether stakeholders take preemptive
measures and utilize innovative tools.
Whether they are the product of spontaneous individual occupation, communal
organization, or “pirate developers,” informal settlements can provide an adequate
shelter and establish local social networks, which are two aspects that institu-
tional planning and public-housing programs usually fail to deliver. These social
networks also foster an intricate web of efficient micro-economic relations.
The crux is that the positive aspects of informal urbanism are usually counter-
acted by severe urban deficiencies. For informal settlers urban components
normally associated with the public realm, such as mobility systems, infrastructure,
open spaces, services, and amenities, are difficult to incorporate without external
support. Consequently, it is challenging for these residents to gain access to
education, information, better-paid jobs, health services, public safety, recreation,
and the benefits of city services and management, all of which characterize the
formal city.
Informal settlements represent for many the opportunity to have shelter, when
they cannot access the formal housing market. The precarious initial wood or
scrap shells usually evolve into solid structures. The dwellings grow in response
to family needs. When the lots are very small, expansion occurs by adding floors.
Families can increase their revenue by creating additional space to rent or use for
commercial or manufacturing activities.
Informal settlers may also respond to the topographic conditions, since no
major land grading is required to build individual homes. In some cases where
on-site water is not available, water introduced to serve the homes brings about
new vegetated areas, or allows for local food production.They are rich and organic
urban forms of an additive and fractal nature, homogeneous in appearance, yet
diverse in their spatial configurations and aesthetics. Informal settlements have a
self-made identity; they are personalized urban products.
Derived from similar lot sizes, building techniques and construction materials,
the general appearance of the neighborhoods results in homogeneity that contrasts
to many areas of the multifaceted formal city. The rather unfinished external
appearance of the homes often contrasts with the level of care provided in the
interior of the dwellings. In advanced phases of consolidation, the rustic facades

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receive embellishments sometimes emulating the vernacular architecture, in the

design of the grated bars, cornices, textures, or use of colors.
In most cities, the homes are constructed without lateral setbacks, defining
continuous street walls that provide a clear demarcation between the public and
the private turf. In addition, the diversity of uses in these settlements and the subtle
variations among the buildings produce a decidedly urban configuration. The
informal settlements, with their urban configuration and social cohesion, convey a
sense of place, belonging, and identity, which may be closer to the cultural heritage
of these nations than that of the planned and regulated formal urban products.
Often within informal settlements, there are active real-estate markets where
properties are sold, rented, subdivided, and transferred, despite the fact that in
many cases the occupants are not formally owners of the land they have built
on. The prices are associated with built components and, thus, less importance is
given to the costs associated with ownership. In some very dense cities, such as
Caracas, there are informal areas where informal dwellings have grown to seven
to ten stories high. At times, it is difficult to define which lot a dwelling occupies,
because the building additions shift and adapt to the terrain, sometimes reclining
on adjacent dwellings in an interwoven mass of constructions.
Typically, residents in these areas do not pay for water, electricity or gas, or taxes,
at least in the early phases of occupation. Over time, the public sector, communal
organizations, NGOs, or government agencies can provide basic infrastructure and
utilities in informal settlements. Frequently electricity is the first to be included.
Provision of water usually follows, although not always on a regular basis, which
explains the use of individual reservoirs on rooftops and terraces. Water may not
reach settlements located in very high elevations, in which case the residents
depend on service provided by truck-cisterns where vehicular access is possible;
if not they have to carry water up by hand in small containers. Some wealthier
settlements have toilets in their homes; others have collective facilities, if any.
The wastewater network, however, is usually incomplete or non-existent. In
some cases wastewaters are piped out from the homes to be released without
treatment in the small ravines, some covered, some exposed, that cut through the
neighborhoods and drain into wetlands and other larger bodies of water. In many
cases, these water bodies also serve as solid-waste collectors, due to the difficulty
of providing vehicular-based garbage collection. Some settlements obtain water
from wells, which can gradually deplete the aquifers or become contaminated
with wastewaters.

Urbanization in the developing world

Most informal settlements lack a good system of open spaces, a fundamental

urban attribute, as well as communal and metropolitan services. In many Latin
American and some African nations, criminal syndicates, particularly in areas
where accessibility is limited, control informal communities. These groups impose
their own laws in exchange for “protecting the neighborhoods.” Poor accessibility
and mobility can make travel time consuming and very dangerous; Caracas, for
example, has the second highest crime rate of any city in the Americas, with the
majority of violence found in virtually inaccessible informal settlements that are
located on the steep peripheral terrain of the metropolis. Exposed to constant
perils, a dweller of the steep informal area in Caracas may have to walk up more
than 250 vertical meters, the equivalent of an 80-story building, carrying goods
or construction materials from the nearest public transportation stop. Ineffective
governance, lack of police protection, absence of emergency services, inefficient
garbage collection, poor public lighting and low maintenance, and a non-existent
public realm, coupled with weak political representation, contribute to a sense of
isolation and abandonment by the formal city. Lynching is not an unusual course
of action in informal communities, as citizens lose faith in the ability of formal
authorities and the legal system to enforce justice.
In addition to the human dangers of informal settlements, each year numerous
informal residents perish, or lose their dwellings and properties, because settle-
ments are sometimes built on areas prone to natural disasters, such as landslides,
flooding, or earthquakes, or that are affected by explosions of buried gas lines
or gas emissions of former garbage dumps. This often happens because settlers
selected sites unaware of the risks or simply because they had no other choice.
To compensate for these deficiencies, dwellers of informal settlements invest
time and money on transportation to access the formal city, frequently covering
long distances. The formal and the informal are thus tied economically as an
inseparable functional system. The conditions of the informal settlements enhance
the perception of them as undesirable spaces. Residents of the formal city rarely
venture into the informal city, accentuating the social division and contributing to
a sense of mistrust and antagonism that fuels violence.
While some very large informal settlements, such as Darahvi or Mumbai,
harbor thriving economies (although they may lack other fundamental aspects
of healthy living conditions, such as sanitation and food security), other informal
dwellers in, for example, Mexico City struggle to obtain water and are affected
by poor sanitation and widespread city pollution. A resident of a peripheral

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informal settlement of Sao Paulo may travel an average of five hours per day to
access the benefits of the formal city. One could argue that these large informal
agglomerations could benefit from the economies of scale, complexities of
relations, modes of production, and cultural richness of an extensive formal
urban area. However, large conglomerates also require forms of governance,
services, infrastructure, modes of mobility, and spatial and functional solutions,
features that informal settlements simply cannot obtain or develop without
external assistance.
The disparities and segregation that separate the formal and the informal, as
well as environmental and social problems within informal settlements, are exacer-
bated as informal settlements expand into ostensibly homogeneous, seamless large
areas. These areas may hold millions of inhabitants, with growth rates higher than
those of the formal areas of the same cities. As described in the UN-HABITAT
report on the State of the World Cities 2010/2011: Bridging the Urban Divide,
by 2010 827.6 million people lived in informal urban areas.41 While the quality of
the dwellings in these areas improves over time, their general performance tends
to decline with traffic congestion, failing infrastructure, and surges of pollution and
It is important to note that informal settlements do not occur in a vacuum.
They need to extract the resources and the socio-economic drivers that the
existing city has to offer. Thus, two contrary forces operate defining their
location. On one hand, the newly arrived settlers seek proximity to the city’s
services, infrastructure, jobs, amenities, institutions, and social forces—commonly
in the same location as others who have followed similar paths—all of which
may be considered inward forces. On the other hand, without access to formal
real-estate markets, settlers must occupy the settlements at minimum cost and
effort. Consequently they are forced to squat on cheap or undesirable land,
frequently pushed towards the fringe of the cities. These can be considered
outward forces.
Sometimes settlements are located more centrally but on land considered
officially off-limits for occupation, such as flood plains, very steep slopes, under
power or gas lines, or on brownfields. In other words, the occupants try to balance
these forces: gaining access to cheap land and at the same time being in proximity
to the city’s assets.
Communities that are located in the outer fringe face more acute challenges
associated with poor accessibility and lack of public services. They are at a greater

Urbanization in the developing world

Figure 1.6: Informal settlements of La Bombilla in Petare, formal city adjacent to the Caracas,

distance from the jobs, services, and amenities of formal cities or the older, and
more consolidated, informal neighborhoods. This balance of forces that shape
access to suitable land and urban assets is at the core of the Informal Armatures

1.7 Informal Armatures: merging the formal with the informal

This book is an urgent call for action and strategic planning, and design for
informal settlements, which will be the dominant form of urbanization. It intro-
duces the notion of Informal Armatures, merging the formal with the informal.

Urbanization in the developing world

This approach seeks to take advantage of the adaptive capacities of informal settlers
while avoiding the problems of random occupation and evolution. Informal
Armatures is a hybrid method in which the virtues of the vibrant social informal
fabric are coupled with sustainable planned visions and design interventions.
At first glance, the term Informal Armatures seems contradictory, since,
“informal,” by definition, does not follow “formal” rules or guidelines. However,
in many cities in developing countries, formal land and informal markets are so
inextricably intertwined that no resident can reside in one without the other.
Hernando de Soto thoroughly demonstrates this in his book The Other Path.42 De
Soto speaks of a middle ground, in which the formal and the informal are closely
Despite the economic and functional relations between the two worlds, there
is still an acute physical segregation, as both informal and formal modes of
urbanization have distinct spatial locations, and morphological and performative
capacities. The informal component usually remains in a subordinate state of
dependency. This creates disparities, which are a source of conflict, discrimination,
and resentment that ultimately translates into different degrees of violence. Over
time both components tend to grow apart, and the disparities increase, as do the
Minimizing urban disparities is at the core of the Informal Armatures approach.
Attaining this goal may lead citizens in both formal and informal areas to under-
stand that informality is a part of everyone’s lives, thereby helping to increase
the integration of those marginal segments of society. It is in this middle ground
that changes, in both the physical and non-physical realms, need to occur. The
main contribution of the Informal Armatures approach is that it offers conditions
that allow informality to engage with the beneficial aspects of the formal and
vice versa.
In order to establish a balanced performance of the new predominantly
informal neighborhoods, districts, and cities, it is necessary to identify those
aspects that merit attention and leave untouched those aspects that thrive without
intervention. To do so, it is important to grasp the logics of informality, evaluating
benefits and drawbacks, as well as ponder the methods that others put forward to
deal with informal urban growth. Chapters 2 and 3 will provide the reader with
a wide array of precedents to illustrate the positives to draw on and negatives to
avoid. In more controlled societies or open economies, there is tacit agreement
among politicians and professionals that cities require some form of guidance,

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planning, design, or institutional management, in order to balance social needs

with those of individuals, groups, and institutions.
Grauer suggests that formal city making processes, including those frequently
employed in the developing world, are geared to establish land uses, take advantage
of site conditions, and define characteristics of the public realm.44 This includes
determining grid configuration, infrastructure, mobility systems, open spaces, and
community and metropolitan services. The method also intends to control, in a
normative manner, the morphological and quantitative conditions of the building
stock or urban infill. In most developing countries, these codes are a generic set
of complicated regulations, detached from both the physical and cultural contexts,
with little impact on the quality of the urban product, and certainly with little
meaning or consequence for those that live in the informal city.
The formal plans and codes regulate the formal real-estate market, which the
informal settlers cannot access. Thus the formal planning and regulatory systems
frequently leave the informal city with no form of preemptive planning and
technical assistance, particularly in the early stages of occupation. Further explana-
tions of how informality is excluded from the process that models the formal city
are included in the following chapter. The formal planning and regulatory systems
are quite different from the codes of the informal city, which are driven by necessity,
practicality, and self-determination of the settlers to shape their own habitat.
The informal city is then the result of implicit cultural rules, embedded in
individual and communal behavior, which translate into piecemeal and predomi-
nantly organic urban forms that create neighborhoods with tight social relations.
These social codes produce informal neighborhoods as mixed-use districts,
incorporating local commerce and manufacturing, light industry, such as garages
or recycling centers, and productive activities within the housing units. As a
result they frequently become multi-use districts, reducing trips outside of the
settlements, resulting in savings on transportation costs and providing sources
of income, a high percentage of which is otherwise created through rentals by
expanding the housing units. In informal settlements, dwellings become valuable
income-generating assets.
Informal settlements are dynamic, resilient, and adaptable, and by nature escape
regulatory planning and design efforts. However, a laissez-faire attitude has resulted
in large urban agglomerations with harsh living conditions that are affecting, and
will continue to affect, the lives of billions of poor dwellers around the planet.This
situation demands urgent action.

Urbanization in the developing world

What is then the nature of guidance and interventions that may significantly
help new informal settlements prosper? The Informal Armatures approach is
envisioned as a multilayered initiative that incorporates physical and non-physical
aspects of city design. It is built on the belief that it is crucial to understand and
be responsive to the territorial attributes and cultural demands of future settlers,
that it is of paramount importance to select appropriate sites, and to be selective
of the design strategies and operations that will galvanize transformative processes
from the earliest phases of occupation.
The Informal Armatures approach can help residents enhance social networking
within the settlements and also to establish institutional ties, increase levels of
political participation, provide access to information, and acquire useful skills for
income generation, food production, exchange of goods, and marketing of products
and services, which would normally not occur in unaided informal settlements.
It is expected that the physical and performative conditions within areas subject
to the Informal Armatures experiment will allow the community not only to
improve living conditions at a neighborhood scale, but also to establish relations
on an urban, regional, and perhaps even a global scale. The initiatives should be
able to capitalize on the internal forces of settlements, making them less dependent
on global economic forces and political actors. The approach can create scenarios
that encourage civic participation, tapping into the cultural heritage of settlers and
expressing them in new urban environments.
Additionally, Informal Armatures should be able to address contemporary
challenges of urbanism that were not included in previous agendas. Conventional
initiatives of city planning and public housing, Sites and Services programs, simply
could not foresee pressing contemporary challenges. The challenges faced by the
cities of the twenty-first century certainly will include: climate change, scarcity
of water and food production, efficient energy supply, economic interdependency
from financial meltdowns, the quest for identity and cultural recognition, the
production and exchange of goods and diversification of sources of reliable
income, the protection of biodiversity, the close interaction between the rural and
the urban, and social unrest.
Chapter 2 will discuss the recent informal settlements plans and projects which
have begun to explore some of these aspects at a local scale. Informal Armatures
is expected to deal with these complexities in a simple and efficient manner,
fostering the occupation and evolution of new settlements from their early phases,
as they become part of broader and urban systems.

Urbanization in the developing world

1.8 Conclusions

Given the unprecedented scale of global urban population growth and the lack
of effective, sustainable urban solutions, a new paradigm for sustainable urbani-
zation is due. This is especially the case after decades of social housing failing as
the principal tool for curbing the problems of informal development. Perhaps we
should shift our attention from the top-down process of creating good houses, to
the creation of neighborhoods and cities as a positive effect on immense human
capital resources.
Land use planning, social housing, and Sites and Services programs developed
in many developing countries during the twentieth century have provided great
insight and concrete results, but have demonstrated severe limitations in dealing
with population growth, limited time frames of implementation, and the demands
of very large urban areas. These initiatives did not anticipate the contemporary
challenges of climate change, water management, food sufficiency, global economic
meltdown, or incremental violence. As captives of their time and context, these
approaches focused exclusively on the socio-economic, design, and managerial
questions involved in the production of urban housing and good neighborhoods.
Despite the certainty with which informal urbanization will churn ahead as a
dominant form of human habitat, the biases against informality, or at least towards
fostering the growth of new informal areas, continue. Even in countries that have
successfully embraced informal settlement improvement plans and have legally
and institutionally accepted informal growth as an inseparable component of
their cities, public sectors are not equipped with the tools needed to manage new
informal growth. Often they are cautious when asked to stimulate self-constructed
neighborhoods. These biases against informality still haunt the predominantly
formal professional and political milieu, and impede the development of adequate
This book posits that the Informal Armatures approach is a viable alternative
to cope with the rapid urbanization process of developing countries, meeting the
housing demands of those who cannot access the formal real-estate market by
creating sustainable neighborhoods and better cities. Such an objective will only
be possible if political leaders are willing to embrace new solutions. Sustainable
habitats and dignified living conditions for millions of new urbanites that will
live in the predominantly informal cities of the developing world require creative
thinking, new design, and nuanced managerial paradigms.

Urbanization in the developing world

These conditions include: offering flexibility for growth of the individual

dwellings, the possibility of including income-generating activities in dwellings,
empowering communities to build their homes according to their needs,
providing adequate resources and time frames in urban interventions, and offering
the provision for a balanced habitat. They also require development of appropriate
relationships with existing neighborhoods, advancement of a robust public realm
to bundle mobility and infrastructure, as well as community and metropolitan
services, and an environmentally sensitive management of the existing natural
resources. The Informal Armatures approach encompasses the initial changes that
allow settlers to suitably begin urban life, envisioning that their neighborhoods
will rapidly transform and become part of broader urban systems.
At an institutional level, a shift in attitude towards informality may occur as the
political leverage of those living in the self-constructed neighborhoods increases.45
Hope of a better future drives individual and communal efforts to improve human
habitat. Mounting political pressures can result in different degrees of institutional
response and general acceptance of informality as a way of living. In her 2006
work, “The New Instrument for Upgrading Informal Settlements in South Africa:
Contribution and Constraints,” Marie Huchzermeyer suggests that in South
Africa, despite the overall negative public perception and public policies oriented
towards eradication, the persistence of informal settlements and their continued
growth has induced a paradigm shift in terms of physical intervention.46
Professional and political actors are acknowledging the inadequacy of the
tools that have been traditionally used to deal with the proliferation of informal
settlements. Ananya Roy and Nezar AlSayyad, in the 2004 work Urban Informality,
describe transnational perspectives from Latin America, South Asia, and the Middle
East. They demonstrate how population growth and social inequality between and
within cities are inducing new kinds of urban organization, differing significantly
from the image and logic of the formal city.47
It is important to mention that political pressure plays a major role in changing
attitudes towards informality. For instance, Latin American nations turned to
democracy during the second half of the twentieth century. Although this recent
democratic period coincided with a higher degree of urbanization, economic
growth, and political maturity, it also saw the emergence of large informal settle-
ments, with growing income and quality of life disparities between formal and
informal dwellers as a result of the poor living conditions within the largest
informal agglomerations.

Urbanization in the developing world

These disparities have fueled the recent political scenarios, resulting in strong
shifts towards social programs and political inclinations. Some countries have
experienced very good results in dealing with urban growth and minimizing
disparities between the haves and the have nots; others, leaning towards populist
regimes, have not only failed to diminish these disparities, but have also seen an
increase in tension, violence, and higher rates of poverty.
To meet the goal of fostering a more equitable and environmentally balanced
global society, we need to ensure that those who have the vision, resources,
and managerial skills, and the will to act, understand the stakes and commit to
making a difference. Without the political, managerial, institutional, and social
support to engage the visions, values, and dynamics of the informal dwellers,
designs and technical ideas cannot be implemented. The Informal Armatures
approach aims to meet this challenge with a clear set of theoretical, practical, and
pedagogical tools.

1 See John F. C. Turner. Uncontrolled Urban Settlements: Problems and Policies.
New York: United Nations Centre for Housing, Building, and Planning,
1968, p. 4.
2 Vinicius Valentin and Miguel Raduan. “Colonialism and Underdevelopment
in Latin America.” August 4, 2009.
alism-and-underdevelopment-in-latin-america/ (accessed May 29, 2013).
3 See Arturo Almandoz. Urbanismo Europeo en Caracas (1870–1940). Caracas:
Fundación para la Cultura Urbana, 2006; and Francis Violich. Cities of Latin
America. Housing and Planning to the South. New York: Reinhold Publishing
Corporation, 1944.
4 See Keri E. Iyall Smith and Patricia Leavy. Hybrid Identities. Theoretical and
Empirical Examinations. Leiden: Brill, 2008.
5 These tactics are sometimes used to favor the real-estate market, when the
settlements have occurred on very valuable land.
6 Additional information on this case will be included in Chapter 7, including
design proposals to deal with the applicability of the IA approach in this
sensitive context.
7 For additional details see United Nations, DESA, Population Division. World
Urbanization Prospects. The 2005 Revision. UN Report, New York: United
Nations Publications, 2005.

Urbanization in the developing world

8 The importance of titling and the public recording of private property in

allowing people access to equity and markets have been widely advocated by
the Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto from the Institute for Liberty and
Democracy. See his books The Mystery of Capital (New York: Basic Books,
2000) and The Other Path (New York: Harper & Row, 1989).
9 See Gideon Sjoberg. “The Preindustrial City.” American Journal of Sociology
(The University of Chicago Press) 60, no. 5 (March 1995): 438–445.
10 See Yeong-Hyun Kim and John Rennie Short. Cities and Economies. New
York: Routledge, 2008.
11 See Leonardo Benevolo. Histoire de la ville. Marseille: Parenthèses, 2004,
pp. 421–450.
12 For a full description see Congrés International d’Architecture Moderne
(CIAM). The Athens Charter, 1933. Paris: Trans J. Tyrwhitt, 1946.
13 See William Mitchell. “Guernica II.” In Placing Words. Symbols, Space and the
City, ed. William Mitchell. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005, pp. 45–48.
14 See Ebenezer Howard. Garden Cities of To-Morrow. London: S. Sonnenschein &
Co., 1902.
15 Ibid.
16 See Oscar Grauer. Principles, Rules and Urban Form: The Case of Venezuela. PhD
Thesis, University Microfilms International, 1991.
17 See Andreas Hofer. Karl Brunner y el urbanismo europeo en América Latina.
Bogotá: El Áncora Editores, 2003.
18 See Carlos A. Molina. La vivienda en Venezuela: Cifras. Presentation, Caracas:
IESA School of Management, 2011.
19 The data presented here is extracted from UN-HABITAT’s Global Urban
Indicators database. For additional information please see UN, DESA,
Population Division. World Urbanization Prospects. The 2005 Revision. UN
Report, New York: United Nations Publications, 2005.
20 See Alejandro Aravena and Andres Iacobelli. Elemental: Incremental Housing and
Participatory Design Manual. Berlin: Hatje Cantz, 2013.
21 See Rolf Goetze.“Urban Housing Rehabilitation:Two Approaches Contrasted
to Illustrate Productive and Meaningful Dweller Participation.” In Freedom to
Build: Dweller Control of the Housing Process, eds. John F. C. Turner and Robert
Fichte. New York: Macmillan, 1972, pp. 53–72.
22 See Jan Van der Linden. The Sites and Services Approach Reviewed, Solution

Urbanization in the developing world

or Stopgap to the Third World Housing Shortage. Aldershot, UK: Gower, 1986,
p. 10.
23 Ibid., p. 77.
24 See Eric Mumford. “CIAM and Latin America.” In Sert: Arquitecto en Nueva
York, ed. Xavier Costa et al., 48–75. Barcelona: Museu d’art Contemporani de
Barcelona, 1997.
25 See Donald Appleyard. Planning a Pluralist City: Conflict Realities in Ciudad
Guayana. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1976, p. 11.
26 Ibid., pp. 55–60.
27 Other important figures participated in the project including Willo Von
Moltke, who was the Director of Urban Design for the Guayana Project from
1961 to 1964, Lisa R. Peattie, and William Doebele.
28 See Donald Appleyard. Planning a Pluralist City: Conflict Realities in Ciudad
Guayana. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1976, pp. 55–60.
29 Ibid.
30 Ibid.
31 See Horacio Caminos and Reinhard Goethert. Urbanization Primer. Cambridge,
MA: MIT Press, 1978.
32 Ibid.
33 Ibid.
34 See Horacio Caminos, John F. C. Turner, and John Steffian. Urban Dwelling
Environments. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1969. This survey analyzed 16
different neighborhoods (8 in Boston and 8 in the Third World) comparing
the physical environment as well as demographics, family patterns, social
habits, and economic trends. See also Building Community: A Third World Case
Book. London: Building Community Books, 1988. While his wife Bertha
edited the book, Turner did the research for and wrote the introduction and
conclusion to Building Community during his tenure as coordinator for Habitat
International Coalition’s NGO project (1983–1986) for the UN International
Year of Shelter for the Homeless (1987).
35 See Colin Ward. “Preface,” in John Turner. Housing by People. New York:
Pantheon Books, p. xxxi.
36 See Fernando García-Huidobro, Diego Torres Torriti, and Nicolás Tugas. Time
Builds! The Experimental Housing Project [PREVI], Lima: Genesis and Outcomes.
Barcelona: Editorial Gustavo, 2009, p. 10.

Urbanization in the developing world

37 Ibid., p. 15.
38 See Marcela Ángel Samper and María Cecilia O’Byrne, Casa + casa + casa
= ¿ciudad?, Germán Samper, Una Investigación en Vivienda. Bogotá: Ediciones
Uniandes, 2012, p. 136.
39 Ibid., p. 90.
40 Elemental is an initiative well suited to serve the housing demands of lower-
income groups in Chile and in other nations, which, in contrast to most
developing countries, have achieved remarkable levels of economic devel-
opment and relatively low population growth rates. For additional information
see Alejandro Aravena and Andres Iacobelli. Elemental: Incremental Housing and
Participatory Design Manual. Berlin: Hatje Cantz, 2013.
41 See United Nations, DESA, Population Division. World Urbanization Prospects.
The 2005 Revision. UN Report, New York: United Nations Publications, 2005.
See also United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT).
State of the World’s Cities Report 2012/2013: Prosperity of Cities. Official Report,
Nairobi: United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT),
42 Hernando de Soto. The Other Path. New York: Harper & Row Publishers,
43 See Peter Rowe. Making a Middle Landscape. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press,
44 See Oscar Grauer. Principles, Rules and Urban Form: The Case of Venezuela. PhD
Thesis, University Microfilms International, 1991.
45 See the pre-revolution Peruvian presidential elections and the role of political
will in Chile and Delhi. See Jan Van der Linden. The Sites and Services Approach
Reviewed, Solution or Stopgap to the Third World Housing Shortage. Aldershot, UK:
Gower, 1986, pp. 77–78, 140.
46 Marie Huchzermeyer. “The New Instrument for Upgrading Informal
Settlements in South Africa: Contribution and Constraints.” In Informal
Settlements. A Perpetual Challenge?, eds. Marie Huchzermeyer and Aly Karam.
Cape Town: UCT Press, 2006, pp. 41–61.
47 See Ananya Roy and Nezar AlSayyad. Urban Informality:Transnational Perspectives
from the Middle East, Latin America, and South Asia. Lanham, MD: Lexington
Books, 2004.

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Figure 2.1: Community spaces in the Barrio Santo Domingo, Medellín, Colombia
Chapter Two

Dealing with informal settlements of the developing world: lessons

from Venezuela and Colombia

Cities are complex phenomena that are influenced by quantifiable conditions

and features, and qualitative aspects, such as collective emotions, that are not that
easily measured, dissected, or demonstrated. The understanding of informal urban
development requires the employment of both quantitative and qualitative aspects,
in order to read into a particular context and understand the circumstances that
shape urban events, as well as reference and compare the forces that produce urban
Recently in Latin America notable academic, public initiatives, and professional
projects have been geared towards the holistic rehabilitation of existing informal
areas. Some of these are true milestones, due to their methodological and practical
contributions to this global discourse, and they have had a strong influence in
developing the Informal Armatures approach.
While there are many other examples from different continents dealing
with the improvement of existing informal settlements, I have selected several
compelling case studies from two closely related nations,Venezuela and Colombia.
The following section posits that the degree of success of these initiatives has been
radically different due to the ways in which the political sector has attended to the
needs of the urban poor.
Where the Venezuelan model presents a comprehensive precursor of research
and technical studies, the Colombian model illustrates how the implementation
of strategic plans and projects has yielded high-impact results in the lives of
informal settlement inhabitants, as well as the large urban contexts in which they

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

Figure 2.2: View of the formal city from the Barrio San Agustín, Caracas, Venezuela

These cases were chosen for several reasons:

a. They occurred in chronological order in similar cultural contexts, producing

radically different results.
b. The difference in results between these projects highlights the role of political
leverage, community engagement, and qualified administrative and professional
skills in urban interventions.
c. Both case studies demonstrate the extent to which different ideas and programs
can influence each other, advancing theoretical and practical discourse and
accumulating tools and policies, as well as achievements and frustrations.

2.1 The foundations of Venezuela’s political economy and the great

urban migration

This section presents a brief description of the context in which informal growth
has occurred over the last six decades in this country, leading to today’s complex
political scenario.While the current Venezuelan social division is partially inherited

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

Figure 2.3: Informal settlement close to the center of Caracas, Venezuela

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

from colonial times, it is also the consequence of rapid and unbalanced urbani-
zation and modernization processes throughout the twentieth century when the
impoverished, agriculture-based nation became one of the world’s leading oil
As the oil industry expanded and the Venezuelan Government gained a greater
share of revenues, public funding increased and consolidated into an economic
model of state-dominated capitalism. Consequently, whoever gained political
control also gained direct access to the country’s wealth. The concentration of
wealth in larger cities, the generation of jobs, mainly in the construction industry,
and access to health and educational services generated rapid migration. In
addition to migrating from the countryside to Venezuela’s urban centers, migrants
came from Europe, other Latin American countries, and the Caribbean.
As the administrative and political center of this unexpected wealth, Caracas
became the symbol of this modernization process. The colonial city gradually
began to mutate, and an emergent entrepreneurial class embarked on urbanization
projects and real-estate operations on the agricultural land in the Caracas Valley
as early as the late 1930s. In the absence of an urban plan for the expansion of
the city, landowners competed to offer new suburban residential districts scattered
along the flat areas of the valley. Caracas was going directly from being a compact
colonial town to a fragmented patchwork of suburban districts. Towards the late
1960s private developers had urbanized most of the flat-lands of the city and
much of the steep terrain that enclosed the valley in the south. Growth to the
north was limited by the extremely steep topography over which Avila National
Park had been designated in 1958.1 Over time, and due to a process of continuous
zoning adjustments, the suburban, garden-city schemes would repeatedly increase
in density, and the single-story homes would be replaced by high-rise solutions,
incorporating apartments, commercial buildings, and office spaces.2

2.1.1 The emergence of “the other city”

From the 1940s to the early 1970s, waves of poor migrants arrived in Caracas
from the countryside in search of services and jobs in the booming construction
industry. Prior to the 1950s the city doubled in size and by the 1950s the
population had surpassed 1 million.3 The National Government responded to
the lack of affordable housing for these migrants by erecting large-scale housing
projects. The “23 de Enero” housing project, described in Chapter 1, is a good

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

example of this phenomenon. Despite the massive construction of public housing

in this country, which was possible due to heavy national funding, informal settle-
ments continued to emerge.
Within this scenario of economic growth and with limited land available that
was suitable for urbanization, low-income groups had no other option than to
occupy steep hills mainly to the east and west of the Caracas Valley or along inner
city ravines, on sites that were deemed unfit for occupation by city planning
officials. Abrupt topography did not allow settlers to preestablish the rights-of-way
for future streets or keep open spaces for community services. Squatters simply
occupied the terrain with haphazardly placed shacks, using small, winding pedes-
trian paths to access them.
Though built precariously, the informal settlements, called barrios, quickly
evolved. Over time, these settlements expanded into adjacent hillsides, until
they overflowed the edges of the valley, growing further away from the
formal city, without infrastructure, services, jobs, or amenities. This of course
foreshadowed increasing problems of accessibility, water supply, garbage collection,
unemployment, and crime.4
Older informal settlements subsequently began a densification process, as the
individual units expanded more vertically than horizontally, producing a very tight
urban pattern. In some cases, formal and informal areas grew in close proximity,
but were segregated spatially, functionally, and socially. An impressive system of
urban highways would be built over a period of 40 years in the valley, often located
between the formal city on lower elevations and the informal settlements on the
steep hills, physically marking and accentuating this segregation.
The early 1970s were characterized by a booming economy brought about by
the OPEC Arab oil embargo. Despite being a founding member of this organi-
zation, Venezuela did not join the boycott. Governmental resources and spending
quadrupled in less than five years, unemployment dropped to almost zero,
and immigration of low-income groups from neighboring countries increased,
contributing to the densification and expansion of the informal city.5 At the
beginning of the 1980s, half of the population of Caracas lived in informal settle-
ments. This hybrid form of territorial occupation not only physically represented
social inequality, but was also one of the driving forces behind current political
As the population of the city surpassed 3.5 million inhabitants, growth rates
slowed due to the lack of land and industrial decentralization policies that favored

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

the rapid urbanization of the Metropolitan Area of Maracay-Valencia, which is

100 miles away. The sharp decline in birth rates could also be attributed to lower-
income groups who were more accustomed to urban living. Nonetheless, after
the 1980s, demographic pressure stimulated urbanization in areas located 15 to 20
miles east and south of Caracas, separated by zones of rugged topography.
This led to a regional capital system of functionally interrelated, but physi-
cally detached, urban areas. The central Caracas Valley economically dominated
the metropolis, leaving a poorer, distant periphery. The outlying urban areas
performed as dormitory cities, and as such they hosted higher percentages of
people in informal settlements than did central Caracas (over 65% of the periphery
would become informal).
Informal settlements occupied both mountainous and flatter terrain and,
though living conditions were perhaps less challenging than for those in the very
dense barrios of the capital city, residents were forced to commute long distances
and dedicate a significant amount of their income to transportation. The incom-
plete urban conditions of the peripheral urban fringe also increased the strain on
the transportation and services infrastructure in Caracas.
Informal settlements continued to become denser, overflowing the Caracas
Valley throughout the 1990s, occupying further and steeper, more geologically
unstable land. Accessibility became more difficult for the settlers that were farthest
away and at higher elevations. The lack of police, emergency services, and garbage
collection only exacerbated the perceived lack of accessibility, as drug trafficking
and violence took hold.
This is the specific set of circumstances that frames the radical socio-political
confrontation that the country is suffering today. Having been among the most
stable democracies in Latin America, Venezuela proved how a resource-rich
country might convert its tremendous capital into political instability, through
mismanagement, corruption, and an exploding gap between rich and poor.6
Venezuela is currently the epicenter of escalating socio-economic tensions that
were emerging during this period of urbanization. This became exacerbated as the
country embraced what would be identified as the “Twenty-first Century Socialist
Revolution,” the agenda of the country’s late, charismatic President Hugo Chávez
During this period, the Venezuelan political scenario would change rapidly,
not only due to internal social discontent, but also under foreign influences,
namely from Cuba. Debilitated by the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Cuba

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

saw an opportunity to support Hugo Chávez’s rise to power. Cuban president

Fidel Castro established a strategic alliance with Chávez, providing Venezuela
with military advice and intelligence, as well as sending thousands of doctors and
athletic trainers to Venezuela in exchange for oil.8
Through such dealings, Cuba gradually gained access to badly needed financial
aid and political influence in oil-rich Venezuela. This influence continues today.
It is difficult to demonstrate to what extent support for the Socialist Revolution
in Venezuela is the consequence of the poor living conditions in the expansive
informal settlements of Caracas and other Venezuelan cities. However, polls and
election results clearly demonstrate that high percentages of the population living
in informal settlements supported the revolution.
Although attempts were made to better distribute the country’s wealth, and
broad segments of the lower-income groups have felt morally supported by the
political changes, living conditions for those residing in informal settlements
have not improved. Important urban indicators, such as access to potable water,
education, health services, reliable transportation, sanitation, disposal of solid
waste, income levels, and safety, have declined in these areas. The gap between
formal and informal settlements has increased. While Caracas was the symbol
of progressive Latin American architecture and urbanism in the 1950s, today’s
newspapers, journals, and blog posts indicate that the great societal cross-section of
“Caraqueños” (residents of Caracas) is severely affected by urban problems. Among
the grievances are poor city management, chaotic traffic, poor educational and
health services, scarcity of food, inflation, and, above all, rampant violent crime. In
2009 Caracas was named the second most violent city in the world, according to
the Mexican think tank Citizens’ Council for Public Security.9 In 2013, Caracas
occupied third place, along with the Venezuelan cities of Valencia and Maracaibo,
in the 50 most violent cities.10
This recent period of centralized government, social division, and urban decline
has produced some positive outcomes—most importantly, that a highly civically
engaged society has become more aware of the importance of addressing social
equity and providing opportunities for the underprivileged. Despite the growing
political divide, participation and activism have emerged as important counter-
weights to the top-down impositions of overly centralized decision making.

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

2.1.2 Academia addresses informal growth and the social divide

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, while most academic efforts and public
funding in Latin America dealt with the formal city, a group from the School of
Architecture of the Universidad Central de Venezuela was undertaking research
on how to upgrade informal settlements. Three architects and professors at the
university led the group: Teolinda Bolívar, Josefina Baldó, and Federico Villanueva.
At the beginning, they were nicknamed by the local design community as the
“barriólogos,” in a rather derogative manner, implying that their work was not
design oriented. Critics were not able to understand the relevance of their
research, particularly at a time in which a rich oil nation was rapidly heading
towards a social confrontation.
To test their ideas, they selected two barrios in which a high percentage of the
settlements were in high-risk areas. The first one, named Aguachina, was situated
at the southwestern fringe of Caracas. Here, the residents occupied the very steep
and geologically unstable slopes. The other project, Catuche, grew along a ravine
in a gorge that traversed one of the oldest districts of the city.11 Catuche’s torrential
floods, like the many others that descended from Mount Avila National Park, had
been registered throughout the history of the city, with a recurrence of 80–100
years. However, during the last floods at the turn of the twentieth century, water-
courses in the Caracas valley were free from urban occupation.The oldest barrios in
the city had emerged during the last 65 years. Not only did Catuche occupy most
of the flood plain of the ravine of the same name, but some 80 homes had been
built over the creek, increasing the risk level for the entire settlement in the event
of a major flood.
Through numerous community meetings with experts in Aguachina, the team
clearly explained disaster risks with simple mapping, revealing the nature of the
soils, and how terracing and wastewater increased the risks of landslides. In Catuche,
the team built large-scale topographic/hydrological models to illustrate the impact
that a major flood would have in the area. This approach was fundamental to
establish a bond between the professionals and the barrio residents. As the initial
improvement proposals were implemented as planned, the community gained trust
in the technical team, accepting them as managerial leaders. Connections between
academia and private institutions as sources of financing were key elements for
moving ahead with the program.

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

In 1991, the Urban Design program of the Universidad Metropolitana in

Caracas asked Peter Rowe, Dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, to
visit Aguachina. The community representatives who led the “Consortium,” the
organization that had been created to mobilize the program, presented the
project to Professor Rowe from a technical and social impact perspective. They
had assumed the leadership and operation of the neighborhood’s improvement
plan. A similar situation occurred in the Catuche project. In 1996, the United
Nations held its Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) in Istanbul. The
Venezuelan contribution to this conference was a synthesis of the interventions
and the managerial framework that made Catuche a success story. Mr. Leandro
De Quintana Uranga, community leader from the Association for the Urban
and Environmental Development of the Catuche Ravine, presented the work and
received the conference’s recognition as one of the 100 best worldwide practical

2.1.3 A plan to rehabilitate the barrios of Caracas

From 1991 to 1995, I was appointed and served as the National Director of
Urban Planning for the Ministry of Urban Development of Venezuela. Operating
under the provisions of the Planning Law of 1987 (LOOU), this federal agency
had regional branches throughout the country. LOOU, as a legal instrument that
defined the contents of different planning mechanisms, assigned responsibilities
that the federal and the municipal governments shared.13
This law was one of the first instruments in Latin America to give legal status
to the informal settlements and establish general technical guidelines for carrying
out barrio improvement plans. In the following years, the Venezuelan Government
produced a national inventory of informal settlements, providing baseline infor-
mation on the amount of people that lived in informal settlements as well as of
the overall state of the settlements.14 The inventory provided basic data such as the
number of households, a gross estimate of population, site conditions in relation to
imminent risks, accessibility, availability of infrastructure and services, income level,
and conditions of the dwellings. The inventory was developed over approximately
five years for informal settlements throughout the country, but not for the largest
and probably most challenged ones—those of Caracas.
While the legal perspective towards informal development transformed and
scholars conducted studies in response to the provision of this law, actions had

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

Figure 2.4: Urban design plan for the improvement of Consorcio Social Las Casitas del
Inca settlement, Caracas, Venezuela

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

yet to be implemented. Among specific programs formulated after the enactment

of the LOOU were: the Organization and Incorporation for the Strengthening
Communities Barrios Program (OICCB), initiated in 1992, the National Program
for the Enhancement of the Barrios in 1994, and, emerging from the agreement
between the Venezuelan Government and the World Bank in 1997, the Urban
Improvement Program in the barrios of Caracas, headed by an organization known
as Promueba.15
The Ministry of Urban Development had no contact with the academic group
working from the Universidad Central de Venezuela that had advanced research
and pilot projects. Similarly, many academics were highly mistrustful of govern-
mental actions in relation to community development. In 1991, after torrential
rains had affected informal settlements in Caracas, Josefina Baldó and Federico
Villanueva cautiously approached the Ministry to ask for support to help fund an
international conference on the improvement of informal settlements to be held
in Caracas that year. They explained why the rehabilitation of informal settlements
deserved a high priority and the nature of the technical instruments that could be
delivered, based on their vast experience researching the topic and carrying out
projects in Aguachina and Catuche.
To their surprise, the Ministry immediately supported the conference. The
“Encuentro Internacional por la Rehabilitación de los Barrios del Tercer Mundo”
(International Summit for the Rehabilitation of Third World Neighborhoods) was
held in Caracas in 1991. The outcome of this event continues to impact the field
in Venezuela in terms of policy. The lectures and debates that followed resulted
in “Declaración de Caracas” or the Caracas Manifesto, a document that synthe-
sized some of the best, most forward thinking ideas, instruments, and initiatives
The presentations, conclusions, and the Manifesto were later published as part
of the book La Cuestión de los Barrios by Josefina Baldó and Teolinda Bolívar.16
The Declaración de Caracas provided valuable insight of how to carry out the
improvement plans, considering:

a. Relocating dwellings from inadequate areas that are prone to flooding,

landslides, located under power lines, or over gas lines;
b. Introducing new roads, paths, and urban parks, to improve connections with
other informal and formal settlements;
c. Avoiding the social disruption that would occur if the residents were displaced

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

during relocations (temporarily or permanently) by building new housing

within or adjacent to the same districts;
d. Introducing infrastructure, services, and facilities, particularly related to
education, health, sports, culture, recreation, manufacturing incubators, and
e. Increasing socialization by creating provisions for a system of public spaces,
which would favor a strong a sense of place and introduce a diversification of
uses and activities.

The document stressed the importance of “acompañamiento social” or civic

engagement. This aspect was of paramount importance since not much could be
accomplished in terms of physical interventions in the neighborhoods without
communal support. Those who had to be relocated to free the space for the inter-
ventions had to be convinced that they would end up in better conditions, remain
in the same district or general area, and be able to maintain their social ties.
After the Conference, the Ministry agreed to finance a program, which was
to be the first comprehensive planning instrument for the improvement of very
large scale informal agglomerations in the country. It was officially called the
“Plan Sectorial de Incorporación a la Estructura Urbana de las Zonas de Barrios del Área
Metropolitana de Caracas y de la Región Capital” (Plan for the inclusion of the Barrios
of the Metropolitan Area of Caracas and of the Capital Region), later called “El
Plan de Barrios de Caracas” or the Caracas Barrio Plan.17 In 1995, this Plan received
the National Research Award in Housing and was published in 1998 by the
National Housing Council (CONAVI).
With the financial and technical support of the Ministry, the Caracas Barrio
Plan was carried out under the coordination of Baldó and Villanueva, with an
array of experts in different fields. The aim was to envision the most effective way
to improve the informal settlements in which more than 1.3 million people lived.
The Plan was based on a comprehensive approach that would sensibly improve the
quality of life for barrio residents, as well as impact the performance of the entire
city and the nation.
An astonishing amount of work was produced in less than a year, mainly because
the project leaders compiled impressive datasets over decades of research, encom-
passing geology, seismic information, hydrology, vegetation, soil quality, existing
infrastructure and services, and socio-economic data.The team was able to quickly
update existing information by comparing it to on-site observations facilitated by

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

the participation of trained professionals and community representatives. Baldó

and Villanueva’s teams also developed a methodology for interventions in the
very dense and compact settlements located in extreme topographical conditions
by employing a set of basic design standards as references to guide the interven-
tions. Site analysis was paramount to envision the magnitude and complexities of
proposed interventions.
Critics of the Caracas Barrio Plan insinuated that improvement efforts would
be in vain because the majority of settlements were located on unstable terrain.
Despite the detractors, the team produced accurate site information and planning
proposals in accordance with existing general standards, revealing that no more
than 70,000 inhabitants required relocation. This accounted for all of the risk
factors, from areas that are geologically unstable, areas at risk of severe flooding,
areas exposed to high tension power lines, to those above gas lines or built over
defunct landfills.
The Caracas Barrio Plan also estimated that approximately another 75,000
people would have to be moved to “free the space” in order to carry out the
interventions that the entire community would benefit from.18 This represented
a mere 15–18% of the informal fabric of Caracas, making the plan feasible. The
Plan resulted in a comprehensive study compiled in six books of more than 5,000
double format pages of text, maps, and illustrations. The volumes included a
statement of the goals, site information, a set of concepts, design criteria, standards
to guide the proposals, and suggested interventions.19
The principal contribution of these volumes was that it provided a framework
for the coordinated implementation of action plans on different scales. First, on a
metropolitan level, the identification and quantification of major urban require-
ments was on a territorial and strategic planning scale. Action plans at this scale
were designated into “Unidades de Planificacion Urbana” (UPU) or Urban Planning
Units (UPUs). These operations included planning main infrastructure lines,
setting metropolitan mobility requirements, determining deficiencies in the water
supply, and estimating, in general, the population that had to be relocated from
unstable land or under risk-prone conditions.
UPUs comprised maps and charts with valuable macro-planning information.
This level of planning would also allow for the definition of responsibilities and
time frames for implementation, which were important factors given the costs
and complexity of interventions that involved national, regional, and municipal
agencies. The challenges addressed by the UPUs inform some of the tactics of the

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

Informal Armatures approach, especially when large, new informal settlements are
anticipated. By focusing on aspects that necessarily fall in the realm of regional
planning and large-scale interventions, this approach resolves structural problems
that cannot be tackled through the summation of micro-interventions in each
The Caracas Barrio Plan proceeded to a more detailed scale, addressing
specific requirements for each neighborhood, which were divided into Urban
Design Units (UDUs). Here, the proposals would consider among other aspects
the construction of local access roads and improvement of pedestrian links, the
creation of systems of public spaces, and the introduction of communal services,
the production of substitution dwellings, as well as alternative uses for the unstable
or risk-prone areas such as parks, recreational-sport facilities, or urban agriculture
in order to avoid re-occupation after the unsafe built-up areas had been cleared.
This technical study is a pertinent reference for contexts that are commencing
planning operations in informal settlements. It demonstrates the importance of
basic mapping and the need for establishing a relatively accurate database. It is
a working method suitable for very large areas of informal settlements, taking
into account aspects that must be visualized to include broader systems, while
proposing precise interventions in the informal fabric adapted to the particular
conditions of the neighborhoods. It also provides important insights on how to
address interventions on very rugged and steep terrain where the settlements have
grown without a previous urban layout.
When the Plan was close to 70% completion, a brief summary was prepared,
revealing the severity of living conditions in the barrios of Caracas, and the social
consequence that resulted from a lack of action in the areas where close to a third
of the residents of the capital city lived. This summary expressed in very simple
terms the objectives and the modus operandi of the Caracas Barrio Plan, and
the estimated requirements for federal funding, which totaled approximately one
billion US dollars.
Due to the complexity of the operation, financing would be released over a 15-year
period. The summary also pointed out that the Plan required combined efforts from
National, Regional, and Municipal authorities, including the five Municipalities (of
varying leadership) which comprised the Metropolitan Area of Caracas. This infor-
mation was presented on several occasions to the “Consejo de Ministros” (Secretarial
Council), with the participation of the concurrent President of the Republic, Rafael
Caldera, who had been elected on a strong socially based agenda.

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

Figure 2.5: Proposed recycling and community center in Barrio La Morán, Caracas,
Venezuela. Project and photos: Enlace Arquitectura, Elisa Silva

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

Figure 2.6: Reoccupation of the Catuche Ravine, Caracas, Venezuela. The preexisting settlement
was razed by torrential flooding in December 1999

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

Although the Plan proposed some of the most relevant, innovative, and nuanced
mechanisms for dealing with informal urbanism, the discussions at the Consejo de
Ministros proved to be fruitless in a period of rising social tensions. There was no
political commitment from the Presidency, or the different federal agencies, to
assign financial and human resources to support the Plan. The government did
not even coordinate efforts to define courses of action. The administration had
completed 75% of its mandate and there were clear political indicators that major
political changes were ahead. A few months later, the Ministry published the
Caracas Barrio Plan but it did not receive presidential approval, which was a basic
condition for it to receive legal status, federal funding, and institutional support.
After five years in office, it was time for me to resign.

2.1.4 Rise and fall of the plans for the improvement of informal settlements

In 1994, President Caldera pardoned those who had participated in the attempted
coup d’état against the mandate of Carlos Andres Pérez, including Hugo Chávez
who had been imprisoned. In December 1998, Chávez was democratically
elected President. During his electoral campaign, Chávez revealed the main goals
of his presidential term, promising a revamped socially oriented agenda and zero
tolerance for governmental corruption.
During his first week in office, Chávez named Professor Josefina Baldó as the
head of the CONAVI (Consejo Nacional de la Vivienda or the National Housing
Council). This federal agency had played a pivotal role in Venezuela, defining the
housing policy, allocating program funding by regions, for new housing, Sites and
Services programs, and barrio improvement plans. For the first time in this agency’s
history, barrio improvement plans were given the highest national priority. As a
result, allocation of funds for new urban development and subsidized housing,
which at the time were mostly carried out by private entrepreneurs, diminished
significantly. Professor Baldó presented the Caracas Barrio Plan to the newly
elected President, not only as a tool to ameliorate living conditions of the urban
poor in the capital city, but also to establish the criteria and technical framework
from which to launch an aggressive national plan for cities where informal devel-
opment represented even a higher percentage of the urban population than in
Realizing that few professionals in Venezuela had experience with barrio
improvement plans, Professor Baldó, assisted by architect Villanueva, organized

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

various national design competitions on barrio rehabilitation.20 To do so, they

selected priority sites in very different contexts. Participating cross-disciplinary
teams were required to take “flash courses” in this type of work, which was then
unfamiliar to the academic and professional communities. The winning teams
were assigned the development of the projects, and were required to work closely
with barrio dwellers to make them part of the brainstorming and conceptualization
process and completion of subsequent schemes.
The proposals were similar in scale and content to those of UDUs described
in the Caracas Barrio Plan. The methodology also required the teams to define
pilot projects as operations that would spur neighborhood transformations, define
architectural and engineering specifications, and provide cost estimates. One
year after the program had begun, hundreds of thousands of professionals, local
authorities, and barrio residents had engaged in the barrio frenzy, now familiar with
the concepts and procedures for developing plans to improve existing informal
It is worth noting here that the Caracas Barrio Plan, and those plans that
stemmed from it, focused on the internal conditions of the barrios and were not
conceived as holistic visions for improving the performance of entire cities. We
will see in further detail that this was not the case in Colombia, where informal
development was considered as an integral part to general city plans. There is no
doubt, however, that in Venezuela, the barrio plans intended to promote social
equality through comprehensive urban interventions in neglected informal settle-
ments and, if implemented well, there would be a resounding impact in all of the
cities throughout the country.
While Baldó pushed in this direction, other groups influenced the President to
pursue another course of action. Military trained personnel, with no experience in
urban or housing affairs, had been given the responsibility to manage the programs
that would receive funding from Baldó’s CONAVI for the construction of new
formal housing projects.
Struggles between two radically different paradigms had begun: new housing
construction for a few versus the improvement of existing informal settlements
for a majority. Although I was no longer National Director of Venezuela’s Urban
Development, I was asked to collaborate on the board of a federal housing agency
where these policy discrepancies were openly discussed. The pro-housing groups
used the antiquated argument that barrio improvement plans would not only consol-
idate misery, but also that they were time consuming with little political payoff.

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

The adversaries of barrio improvement plans argued that they would be able
to build hundreds of thousands of new, low-cost, “dignified units” in just a few
years, on vacant land, which would allow lower construction costs and simplify
negotiations. Some of these “large tracts of land to build on” were within the
country’s various military forts, or on public land, much of which was distant from
an urban center, without infrastructure services and access to public transportation
or employment. Additionally, most of these sites were green fields, foreshadowing
the unnecessary ecological consequences of deforestation and increased water and
energy consumption.
Some homes of these isolated projects were assigned to the very poor who
had traditionally no access to formal housing, although the new residents in no
time realized that these formal housing programs required a minimum of cash
flow, which they did not have, in order to pay for formal services, and in some
cases mortgages, besides having limited possibilities to expand the dwellings or
to include income-generating uses. These homes were not sustainable habitats
for the very poor, since they were typically detached from the city’s services,
employment, transportation, and the socio-economic benefits of existing
informal settlements.
Natural forces shifted the course of history. In December 1999, while these two
opposing forces continued their wrangling, an extraordinary, disastrous climatic event
affected the central Venezuelan coastline, the Caribbean Cornice of Caracas. Experts
noted that this type of episode only occurred with such an intensity every 500 to
1,000 years.21 The usual small creeks that descend from Avila National Park became
destructive torrents, causing massive devastation of the narrow coastal fringe. There
were more than 25,000 casualties, as entire urban areas were washed out to sea.
Unfortunately, the Catuche gorge (located in the Caracas valley and not on the
coast), where Baldó’s emblematic informal improvement plan had been carried out,
was among those areas devastated by torrential flooding. The entire rehabilitated
settlement was wiped out, including the four-story walkup apartment buildings
that had been built to relocate—safely—the residents that previously lived adjacent
to and on top of the torrent. Luckily, there were no fatalities in Catuche, since the
community had been trained on early alert procedures and everyone was able to
evacuate on time. This event ravaged the faith of residents of Catuche, who had
trusted the professional teams that coached them during the preparation and
implementation of the barrio improvement plan. It was also a major blow to the
National Barrio Rehabilitation program.

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

In this tragedy, opponents of barrio improvement found the perfect excuse

to proclaim the futility of improving informal settlements. Professor Baldó had
lost the battle against pro-formal, military housing supporters. Baldó lamented,
“hundreds of thousands of residents of poor informal settlements throughout
the country, who had high expectations on how the barrio improvement plans
would change their lives, also saw their aspirations shattered.”22 This was the
unfortunate downfall of a visionary program that was imagined by true pioneers
in the development of informal settlement theory. These academics dedicated
enormous efforts to implement barrio improvement plans in Venezuela, enriching
the discourse and providing baseline methods that would be emulated globally.
Federal, regional, and local governments reclaimed some of the national initiatives
that came to a halt with Professor Baldó’s departure from government, but these
entities lacked the drive, resources, leadership, and design standards of the initial
The succeeding public-housing projects carried out by the Federal Government
pushed aside private developers and labeled them as elements contrary to revolu-
tionary ideals. As a result, the number of new formal homes that were delivered
during the 14 years of President Chávez’s mandate was close to the same as those
constructed during the 1969–1978 period of the first presidencies of Rafael
Caldera and Carlos Andrés Pérez combined, when the country had a smaller
population and oil prices were five times lower.23

2.1.5 The impact of a major quake on informal settlements

Destructive quakes typically hit Caracas at 60–80 year intervals, with a few smaller
quakes in between these periods that cause little harm.24 The last major quake
occurred in 1967. On this occasion there was not a single fatality in the informal
areas, because informal dwellings at the time did not surpass two stories and they
swayed with the seismic waves.
Since then, informal areas have grown not only horizontally on more unstable
land, but also vertically to the point where some barrios average more than eight
stories in height. These buildings expanded through the simple addition of floors,
held up by randomly reinforced concrete supports. Many barrio residents are
construction workers; although their informal structures incorporate planar trusses
they will not resist lateral forces during a strong seismic event. This represents a
major threat for hundreds of thousands living in these communities.

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

Creating awareness about the importance of keeping the low-rise barrios from
growing upwards and finding structural solutions to stabilize the already vertical
barrios is easier said than done. The piecemeal nature of construction methods and
the resultant complex architectural forms require a difficult and highly technical
response, a response drawing on user participation in the same manner as the
dwellings were created.
Though daunting, this task is of paramount importance, since the lack of action
may result, in the near future, in hundreds of thousands of casualties. A few years
ago, geologist and former Secretary of Science and Technology at the beginning of
Chávez’s presidency, Carlos Genatios passionately explained on national television
the consequences of a high intensity earthquake in Caracas. He spoke about not
only the fragility of the vertical informal constructions, but also how the lack of
vehicular access and space, in the majority of the dense steep mountainous barrios,
would impede any attempt to rescue the hundreds of thousands who would inevi-
tably become trapped under the rubble.
Technical solutions to reduce damage in informal settlements in the event of
a major quake require a great deal of experimentation, trial, and error. Evaluating
how the settlements perform during a seismic event may allow for the suggestion
of different approaches, the introduction of improvements, and the publication
of simple codes and handbooks to better prepare the communities to build safer
self-constructed settlements. Professors Bolívar, Baldó, and Villanueva produced
a simple handbook to inform communities about the risks of building upwards
in highly seismic areas and recommended solutions for enhancing the structural
stability of informally constructed dwellings. But this effort required sustained
educational programs, and pilot projects, in areas that are normally not given
particular attention until a catastrophic event occurs.

2.1.6 Political struggles, economic hardship, and social divide

During his tenure, Hugo Chávez advocated for the poor through populist-
oriented policies. Chávez provided heavy subsidies, and in many cases direct fiscal
and proprietary handouts to gain political support. Such actions along with other
political moves and rhetoric worked to alienate the upper and middle classes, the
residents and users of the formal city.
Despite the grandeur of their political rhetoric, urban policies of this era
failed to create sustainable conditions for the poor beyond government subsidy.

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

Moreover, they damaged the function of Venezuelan private enterprise, further

exacerbating the country’s dependency on oil revenues. The Socialist Revolution
operated from the top down, employing a strong military component, remaining
notably distanced from academia and private enterprise. Although the approach
distributed oil wealth in a more equitable manner, it debilitated the economic
apparatus and the institutional framework of the nation and labeled supporters of
free enterprise as anti-revolutionary.
The subsequent displacement of qualified professionals from political and
managerial responsibilities resulted in the nation’s “brain drain,” which led to loss
of competence throughout all levels of government. In 2010 alone, 521,500 people
left the country, representing one of the largest migrations in Venezuelan history.25
Concurrently, the Venezuelan population in the United States has increased by
135% in the last 10 years.26
Social unrest, unclear and fluctuating legal conditions for business, strict control
over foreign currency conversion, and frequent nationalization of private assets
have struck fear into foreign and local investors alike. Unemployment rates remain
high and the country has one of the highest inflation rates in Latin America.
These symptoms of political distress are punctuated by the lack of investment by
the Federal Government in Caracas, and other large metropolitan areas, particu-
larly during the first seven years of the Chávez Government.27 During this period,
a strongly anti-urban attitude prevailed and investments were funneled to the rural
areas in a failed attempt to curb growth in the large metropolitan areas.
Growing insecurity brought an end to urban life after sunset, trapping both
rich and poor residents alike in their homes. The highest percentage of crimes
occurs in underserviced informal settlements, spatially segregated from the formal
city. Over 80% of homicides occur in these neighborhoods, especially during the
weekends. Criminologist Fermín Mármol García has said, “Most of the victims
are young members of broken families living in urban environments prevalent in
drugs, overcrowding and unsanitary situations.”28
Perhaps the most disappointing symptom is that, despite the social agenda of the
Chávez administration, which openly catered to the poorer strata of Venezuela, the
authorities have not been able to improve living conditions within large informal
settlements of the capital city and throughout the country. Contrary to what one
might expect, the improvement of informal settlements was not given priority
in this agenda. Instead, highly subsidized, free public-housing projects were built
on vacant or underutilized lots within formal areas of the city. These projects

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

catered to a small percentage of the urban poor, and left most of the informal
settlements neglected. Further newer informal settlements continue to emerge
with no preemptive planning action. Unplanned informal growth will result in
the intensification of urban problems affecting the lower-income groups and the
performance of entire cities.
The social and political divide has increased. Those in the poorer groups,
predominantly residents of the informal areas, and the middle class, residing in
formal areas, are unwilling and sometimes unknowing actors in a socially and
physically divided society. The set of political principles, intended to introduce
structural reforms to benefit the majority and redistribute resources more
equitably, has, in execution, resulted in social fragmentation, mistrust, and antag-
onism between those who favor and those who oppose the Socialist Revolution.
A top-down political agenda of heavily subsidized social programs catered to
the lower-income groups in order to gain their support, but was not capable of
delivering onsite organization or providing the technical and managerial skills to
significantly improve living conditions in the informal settlements.
Great efforts must be made to improve the connectivity between the formal
and the informal cities, consciously and spatially. For true interconnectedness,
and, ultimately, vibrancy, residents on both sides have to overcome mistrust and
increase the level of tolerance. Compelling planning and design moves can make
a significant difference.
This case study reveals the importance of well thought out political advocacy
and good managerial leadership as essential conditions for technical planning
and design ideas to flourish. The few successful interventions in informal settle-
ments in Venezuela, as holistic urban operations, occurred where there was
sustained involvement of municipal governments, institutions, technical teams, and
community organizations.

2.2 Bogotá: a succession of effective municipal administrations

While the histories of Colombia and Venezuela are closely tied and influenced by
their physical proximity and shared geographical systems, these Latin American
siblings have followed rather distinct paths since colonial times. During colonial
rule, Colombia, due to the exploitation of its natural resources—emeralds, gold,
and agricultural products—was a vice-royalty considered a highly valued territory
by the Spanish crown. In contrast, Venezuela, since at the time it offered few

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

Figure 2.7: Virgilio Barco park-library, Bogotá, Colombia. Project: Rogelio Salmona

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

mineral sources for exploitation, was considered a colonial outpost of lesser

In 2005, Colombia was the second most populated country in South America,
surpassing 42,888,594 inhabitants (not counting the near 6 million Colombian
nationals living abroad). The nation boasts a seasoned tradition of agricultural
production and entrepreneurship, as well as remarkably strong educational and
cultural institutions. It is a highly urbanized nation, in which 31,886,602 people
(74.3%) live in urban areas and 11,001,990 (25.7%) live in the rural sector.29 In
order to understand the relevance of the recent achievements of urban transfor-
mation and informal settlement improvement in Colombia, it is critical to examine
the dynamics of the political and socio-economic context from the second half
of the twentieth century on. In an inflated manner, Colombia exemplified the
particularly difficult conditions of developing countries, including corruption,
violence, exploit, inequity, and many other societal ills.
Migration from the countryside to Colombian cities was driven by similar
forces as those present in the developing world, as the population left their
poverty stricken regions in search of urban jobs, services, and opportunities.
But here, residents of the rural areas were also fleeing from deeply entrenched
violence. Violence in Colombia can be traced to the socio-economic disparities
that accumulated over centuries, exacerbated by the 1948 assassination of Eliécer
Gaitán, a popular political figure rising in his political campaign towards the
Colombian Presidency.
Gaitán’s murder is considered the turning point in Colombia’s recent history,
as it ignited almost six decades of civil unrest, and the birth and expansion of the
oldest and strongest urban–rural guerrilla movements in the continent. Marcos
Palacios and Frank Safford help provide a comprehensive understanding of the
political situation and social disparities, proposing that the social, political, and
economic divisions were present even before the conquest, in their Historia de
Colombia. País fragmentado, sociedad dividida.30
Initially supported by Cuba, the Colombian insurgency that appeared a
decade after Gaitán’s death became complicit in the production and trafficking of
narcotics, mobilizing a vast trade network for processing Bolivian and Peruvian
coca leaves into paste to export to international markets.31 The complexity of the
geographical systems of Colombia, which include rugged mountain ranges, densely
forested areas, vast plains, intricate waterways, and coastlines on the Caribbean and
the Pacific, facilitated the clandestine production, distribution, and export of drugs.

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

Towards the 1980s the influence of the drug culture had permeated virtually all
levels of Colombian society, infiltrating the political, institutional, economic, and
legal structures.
While production of cocaine was centered in Colombian Amazonia, there were
several rival drug cartels in different areas of the country on the marketing and
commercialization side of the production line. Through the 1980s, Medellín, the
capital of the Department of Antioquia, had become the epicenter of drug distri-
bution and exports. Drug production and distribution, and the related violence,
reached their climax under Medellín Cartel’s notorious leader Pablo Escobar who, by
1989, was listed by Forbes Magazine to be one of the richest billionaires in the world.32
It is also estimated that, prior to the evolution of the drug cartels, the guerrillas
controlled almost half of the national territory.33 After the 1980s, paramilitary
groups also disputed the areas impacted by guerrilla warfare and the drug trade
that were financed by private groups to secure land and assets because the
government was failing to do so.
Drug trafficking increased and government efforts paled in comparison to
the economic and logistic power of the drug lords. For many Colombians that
resided in the rural areas, the only option for avoiding violence was to migrate,
or to support the drug traders (narco-traficantes), the guerrillas also involved in the
drug trade (narco-guerrilla), or the privately financed armed groups (para-militares).
Approximately 2 million people were displaced by guerrilla warfare and 1.2
million by paramilitary groups. Internal migration contributed to the growth
of the already large informal settlements that were present in almost all large
Colombian cities. Social disparities and drug related activities also increased crime
and affected governance within the urban areas.34
It naturally follows that the numerous informal settlements became fertile
territories for drug related operations. Drug organizations offered a young and
jobless population the prospect of easy money, status, and protection. Until 2005,
Colombia was the top supplier of drugs to the USA, creating epic health, social, and
criminal problems in both countries.35 Despite costly government efforts to fight
the “war on drugs,” drug consumption and drug related crime increased steadily
in the USA and in Europe. The drug culture gave Colombia a dubious interna-
tional reputation, and in many instances isolated the nation diplomatically, affecting
commercial trade and curtailing economic growth of non-drug related activities.
Regular road trips between Colombian cities, particularly over the mountainous
roads, almost came to a halt due to the threat of kidnapping and generalized

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

violence, which was also affecting life within the cities. In fact, in 2012 more
than 5 million victims of the armed conflict and generalized violence had left
Colombia. This figure includes hundreds of thousands that migrated to Venezuela,
adding to the percentage of the population that already lived in informal settle-
ments in this country.
As a result of the period of violence that began in 1948, official records
account for 600,000 victims.36 After decades of violence, economic decline, loss of
governance, and isolation lacerated one of the most educated and productive Latin
American nations. A concerted effort to reclaim the stability of the country took
place. The year 1998 marks a milestone in the relationship between the USA and
Colombia, and a turn-around in the spiraling downfall of the country.
Between 1998 and 1999 the administration of Colombian President Andrés
Pastrana conceived a plan to end armed conflict and create an anti-narcotics
strategy. During the presidencies of George W. Bush and Alvaro Uribe, both
nations signed a treaty that was called “Plan Colombia.” This Plan included, but was
not limited to, US military/counter-narcotics aid. Under the agreement, the USA
would provide funding and logistical/military support to reduce the production
of drugs in Colombia and curtail its transport to the USA. In practical terms, it
translated into the construction of air bases in Colombia to which US personnel
would have access. This allowed for the monitoring of drug related activities and
military/intelligence operations, in addition to various other strategies to reduce
drug production.37
Adequate information and logistics helped the Colombian Government target
areas of drug production, distribution, and “managerial” centers, dismantling many
of the hard-to-access laboratories and trafficking facilities. This contributed to the
detention or elimination of top figures in the drug trade, including Pablo Escobar
in 1993.38 The operations led to a decline in the amount of drugs arriving in the
USA from Colombia, and also to a gradual reduction of violence. Drug production
and trafficking retreated to remote areas, sometimes pushing across the borders to
Venezuela and Ecuador.39 The retreat of drug trafficking, in turn, led to improved
governance within Colombia. In the late 1990s the changes became noticeable on
the national level, as safety and connectivity between different regions improved.
The sense of improved governance had a significant collateral effect: it created
the space for highly educated elites to permeate different spheres of politics
and government. Those who once felt alienated and incapable of having any
impact began to participate in politics. Renewed leadership introduced legal

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

and administrative reforms, which in turn translated into economic resurgence,

new investment, and boosted exports. Innovative legal reforms included laws that
would facilitate the prosecution of drug trafficking and related crimes, such as the
concept of “jueces sin rostro,” anonymous judges that could do their jobs without
fear of personal reprisal.40 Other instruments simplified and expedited procedures
for nationals and foreigners to register enterprises in Colombia and import and
export goods.
During my last years in public office as National Director of Urban Planning
of Venezuela, my colleague, architect Carolina Barco, invited me to a workshop
in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. Barco is the daughter of a former Colombian
President, Virgilio Barco (1986–1990), and an MIT City Planning graduate who
had been Director of the Departamento Administrativo de Planeación Distrital de
Bogotá, the Colombian capital city’s Urban Planning Agency. At the time, Barco
was working for the Colombian Ministerio de Desarrollo (Ministry of Development).
The workshop brought together Latin American peers from federal and municipal
levels of urban governance, in order to gather information, interrogate the current
state of urban policy, and spur urban legal reform in Latin America.
As a result of such technical dialogues, a piece of legislation called “Ley 388” was
enacted in 1997.41 This was a cutting edge legal instrument that provided Colombia
with the framework, technical clarity, hierarchical delegation, and implementation
tools to advance urban and environmental action plans at national, regional, and
municipal scales. Among the results of this instrument was the production of
hundreds of municipal urban plans in less than a three-year period.These plans were
a prerequisite for local governments to obtain federal funding for infrastructure,
social housing, or services. The assemblage of public land to address social housing
and the improvement of the existing informal settlements were also important
components of this agenda. Innovative land policy, taxation, and financial mecha-
nisms were built into the systems to facilitate the implementation of the plans.
By engaging in a collaborative dialogue between highly qualified profes-
sionals and government officials, by analyzing successful experiences from other
countries, and by creating a national, systemic framework for assessing and tackling
urban problems with agility, Colombia laid the ground for innovative solutions.
Columbia developed implementation tools in the realm of territorial and urban
planning that included informal urbanism. This approach starkly contrasts with
the Venezuelan model, which employed a rigid, one-size-fits-all ideology, which
emphasized social housing that had limited impact.

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

The following case studies took place in Colombia’s main cities: Bogotá, with
approximately 8.9 million inhabitants, and Medellín, with close to 3.5 million.
This represents a good cross-section of Colombian urbanism, as there has been a
long tradition of economic and cultural rivalry between Bogotá, as the center of
political power, commerce, services, and culture, and Medellín, as an agricultural
and industrial economic motor of the country.
The urban renaissance in both cities, including the transformation of their
informal settlements, has become a global benchmark that proves urban trans-
formation is possible in a relatively short period under even the most adverse
circumstances. From these case studies we extract valuable lessons that are funda-
mental in the IA approach, with the intent of deploying them in a nuanced way
to guide the evolution of new informal settlements.

Figure 2.8: Metro-Vivienda/Patio Bonito Project adjacent to informal settlements, Bogotá, Colombia.
Project: Konrad Bruner, Gustavo Perry, Eduardo Samper, and Ximena Samper

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

2.2.1 Repositioning Bogotá

Bogotá is situated on an elevated plateau at an altitude of 2,600 meters above sea

level, adjacent to a fertile productive agricultural hinterland, and criss-crossed by
wetlands called La Sabana de Bogotá. Since colonial times, Bogotá and La Sabana
have been an inseparable ecological and agriculturally productive system.42 During
the first half of the twentieth century, Bogotá began to expand out of the colonial
grid towards the north, with the incorporation of streetcars and, later, motor
vehicles. This urbanization of rural land was managed by expanding the urban
grid of the foundational core with moderately dense urban areas comprising
mainly row homes and walkup apartments. In most cases, this mid-rise, compact
urbanism created continuous street walls, imbuing Bogotá with a “European” and
pedestrian-friendly atmosphere.
Between 1950 and 1960, industrialization and modernization processes spurred
Colombia’s increasingly intense migratory trends, as cities offered employment
opportunities and access to services unavailable in rural areas. Though the first
informal settlements appeared in the late 1940s, the trend accelerated greatly. Even
though the country attempted to provide public housing with sensitive design
solutions and creative financial mechanisms, most migrants arriving from rural
areas or other poor urban areas had no choice other than squatting. The majority
of these informal settlements began to locate to the south of the colonial city, also
occupying former agricultural land. In time, the settlements would systematically
grow further away from the formal city.
A distinct feature of the process of informal occupation in Bogotá was that it
was being fostered by urbanizadores piratas, or pirate developers, who would target
private or public land for “planned” squatter occupations. In many cases, these land
developers convince previous landowners to sell their properties for very low prices
because of the “impending” or “inevitable” threat of a squatter invasion. Without
developing infrastructure and without gaining approvals, the pirate developers
then chop the land into ad hoc parcels and sell them at an affordable premium to
migrants for cash.This explains why ample areas of the informal city present regular
urban grids. In time, the un-paved informal grids incorporated infrastructure and
were paved, accelerating the formalization of these areas in comparison to the more
incomplete urban patterns of the mountain settlements in Caracas.
New waves of immigrants expanded the informal city further south, under
similar urban conditions. By the 1990s the settlements had occupied most of the

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

flat land within the municipal boundaries of the city and began encroaching on
more rugged terrain and on ecologically sensitive areas. This vast and homoge-
neous aggregate of informal settlements lacked public spaces, communal services,
and adequate means of transportation or employment opportunities. Some settle-
ments located in the distant outer fringe, on higher elevations, fell under the
control of guerrilla groups. By 2000, the population living in informal settlements
in Bogotá surpassed 3.5 million, close to 50% of the total population. With few
exceptions, most live in one of two distinct geographical areas: a rich north and a
poor south.
For city officials and planners, the task was to effectively reduce the basic dispar-
ities between the formal and informal city, in terms of infrastructure, mobility, public
space, services, amenities, security, and jobs. Demographic pressure on the capital
city spilled over into the small towns dispersed through La Sabana. Population
growth also put pressure on natural resources, eroding the wetland system, taxing
the aquifers, impacting ecosystems, and diminishing valuable agricultural land.

2.2.2 A succession of mayors committed to making a difference in the urban


As the seat of the Federal Government, Bogotá possesses a remarkable concen-

tration of highly qualified institutions of higher education and professional
associations. The capital also boasts the potential for developing a robust economy
related to international exports, based on the floral production industry of La
Sabana. Finally, the capital has the option of repositioning itself as a dominant trade
center, not only within Colombia, but also within the larger regional context.
According to the new Constitution enacted in 1991, mayors in Colombia were
to be elected for a three-year period with no immediate re-election. This could
be seen as a structural deficiency, considering the time that it usually takes to carry
out urban changes. From the late 1990s to the beginning of the new millennium,
however, Bogotá was transformed by the vision and drive of a succession of
effective municipal administrations that built on each other’s contributions. Some
contributions related to institutional reform, some influenced social behavior and
introduced a renewed sense of appreciation for civic life, and others modified the
city’s performance and physical interventions.
The first of these high profile mayors was Jaime Castro, in office from 1992 to
1994. A forceful lawyer with a graduate degree in public administration, Castro

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

had previously participated in the national constitutional reforms that led to

decentralization and empowerment of regional and local governments. As the
capital city expanded, it had engulfed smaller settlements in other municipalities.
Castro also had worked on the legal provisions, derived from the constitutional
mandate, to provide the framework for Bogotá to act as a unified administrative
entity under one mayor.
Castro proved to be an agile manager who focused his work on introducing
fiscal and organizational changes. His efforts were to bring about unprecedented
levels of administrative transparency, significantly increasing the tax base, elimi-
nating functional duplicities and operational costs, and adapting the municipal
structure to meet the demands of a major metropolitan agglomeration. Gabriel
Alejandro and Rivera Reyes write that Castro “inaugurated fiscal consolidation
policies, the incorporation of environmental issues and the political and adminis-
trative decentralization that marked the course of successive administrations.”43
Castro’s administration was followed by that of Antanas Mockus, former
Chancellor of the Universidad Nacional de Bogotá, a mathematician who proved
to be an outstanding educator and communicator at the city scale. He advocated
for a culture of peace and social tolerance by promoting changes in civic behavior
and care for the city. Mockus, who was in office for a first period from 1995
to 1998, had a rather eccentric and creative personality and humane form of
management. He touched the hearts of Bogotanos, getting them out on the streets
to enjoy the city.
We find an example of this in a civil awareness plan where mimes would
approach reckless drivers and jaywalkers at dangerous intersections, asking them
to respect pedestrian crossings, while indicating with crime-like markers on the
ground where fatalities had occurred in recent years. Major avenues were closed
down for cyclists and pedestrians at weekends, and concerts, theater, art festivals,
and open-air markets were organized in order to attract users of different social
extractions not accustomed to intermingling or engaging with the public realm.
Without significant investments in public works, Mockus had planted the seed of
social interaction and city appreciation.
Mockus’ mandate was followed from 1998 to 2001 by his adversary, visionary
economist Enrique Peñalosa. Peñalosa was now in position to take advantage of his
predecessor’s administrative and behavioral success stories, and to proceed with a
program of physical interventions in the city. Peñalosa came from a family of devel-
opers, familiar with city planning, urban design, and architecture, which explained

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

Figure 2.9: (Top) El Transmilenio, BRT System. (Bottom) Alameda El Porvenir, pedestrian and bike
promenade. Bogotá, Colombia

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

his interest in physical interventions in the city. It is important to mention that,

although the mayors were of different political parties, they respected the achieve-
ments of their predecessors, building on and moving beyond them.
Peñalosa’s managerial efforts were geared to ensure the highest efficiency
during his mandate, envisioning a coherent plan in one year, developing projects
the second, and constructing them and moving into operation in year three. Beside
the financial support of the improved fiscal base that he had inherited, he was able
to secure additional funding by privatizing Bogotá’s electricity company.44 This
allowed up-front cash for major infrastructural investments in projects that would
have major impact over decades to come.

2.2.3 Key contributions of Peñalosa’s urban vision

Peñalosa had initiated an urban regeneration frenzy. To do so, he called on

talented local firms and professionals who were asked to deliver projects in record
time and at very low costs. Many willingly became involved knowing that this
represented a unique experiment in urban change. A similar situation occurred
with the construction of projects. His urban vision and drive would significantly
transform the city, reducing the disparities between the formal and the informal
cities. Peñalosa’s contributions are relevant to the IA approach because they
stress the importance of introducing similar design and performative standards
throughout the city. The moves connected formal areas to informal settlements,
employing high quality design solutions in terms of infrastructure, transportation,
public spaces, and community services, with the intent of equalizing the living
conditions in both. Peñalosa’s urban legacy can best be described by the following

An efficient public transportation system

Towards the late 1990s traffic congestion had brought Bogotá to a virtual gridlock.
Low-income groups relied on irregular services provided by thousands of privately
owned, highly congested buses and minibuses that followed routes and schedules
at their discretion, while middle- and high-income groups used single occupancy
vehicles. High occupancy vehicles and single occupancy vehicles chaotically
competed for road space. Constant gridlock affected the city’s performance and
nerve wracking traffic jams altered the traditional good natured demeanor of the

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

Bogotanos. To address this need, the city had planned to introduce a Metro system
for decades but elevated costs deterred advancing with the project.
Peñalosa’s solution was the introduction of an exclusive right of way Bus Rapid
Transportation System (BRT), named the Transmilenio, modeled after the BRT
system in the celebrated Brazilian city of Curitiba. The project took advantage
of several wide avenues that crossed Bogotá, which were an outcome of Le
Corbusier’s 1950s urban plan.45 Key to the implementation of the Transmilenio was
the political move to offer the myriads of concurrent independent bus operators
the opportunity to become commercial partners of the Transmilenio, benefitting
those who previously provided transportation services in the absence of an
adequate public system. Without this strategic move, the political resistance would
have made the Transmilenio impossible.
The Transmilenio offered rich and poor alike the option of riding a comfortable,
quick, and reliable mode of transportation. Feeder lines with smaller buses, which
shared the streets with private vehicles, served the main transportation corridors.
The terminal stops, called “Portales,” became important hubs for these secondary
lines, some of which extended to communities in the agricultural hinterland.
These Portales quickly became nodes of activity and prompted private investment
on fringe locations as commercial and leisure centers.They provided amenities and
services, while reducing pressures on the traditional mobility corridors and areas
of centrality.
Redesigning the wide avenues in cross-section to accommodate the mass-transit
system also offered the opportunity to string the city with a system of enlarged
sidewalks and bicycle lanes. Previously, bicycles were not a popular form of leisure
or mode of transportation in Bogotá. Some of these mobility corridors included
what Peñalosa’s administration designated as “Alamedas,” miles of pedestrian and
bicycle corridors linking existing informal and formal neighborhoods, some of
which were laid down as organizers of vacant land that would soon be occupied
by residential and mixed-use developments. The function of these Alamedas is
a valuable precedent for one of the principal tenets of the IA approach, since
they operated in a preemptive manner. The Alamedas were pedestrian-friendly
mobility corridors and linear public spaces deployed on vacant land that would be
Peñalosa’s message was clear: in a city in which less than 25% of the population
had access to a private vehicle, priority was to be given to public transportation,
pedestrians, and bicycles, and not to the construction of roads and highways. Also,

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

Figure 2.10: (Top) El Tintal park-library. Project: Daniel Bermúdez. (Bottom) Community park in the
El Porvenir neighborhood. Bogotá, Colombia

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

the quality of the interventions had to be the same throughout the city in terms
of design standards, materials, and maintenance. Informal communities that had
been neglected for decades were targeted for some of the earliest technical and
managerial interventions that were typically deployed only in the formal city.
Several Transmilenio lines, and their collateral public space improvements, were
completed during Peñalosa’s mandate and others continued during subsequent
administrations.The project provided decent transportation, services, and amenities
to ample sectors of Bogotá. It would be difficult to imagine today a Bogotá
without the Transmilenio, as well as the pedestrian and bike friendly solutions that
accompany it. Peñalosa’s detractors, on the other hand, signaled problems during
the construction of the Transmilenio, including the presence of some underutilized
enlarged sidewalks, or streets that were truncated by the Transmilenio lines. Perhaps
the main problem today is that the system is operating at maximum capacity. A
Metro-line or other form of rapid transit might soon be required to supplement
the existing system, a move that Peñalosa, while running for his second mandate
as Mayor, passionately opposed.
There still are outlying informal areas without transportation services, mainly
those at the fringe and on mountainous locations where the terrain and dense
urban informal patterns do not provide for these rights-of-way that would allow
the introduction of new lines. Among the principal lessons to be learned from
the Bogotá case, or any case for that matter, is that cities transform and constantly
generate new demands. Addressing the transformative nature of cities is one of the
main drivers of the IA approach. The response to this challenge is the emphasis
that IA places on anticipating and securing the eventual spatial requirements of
informal areas and providing them with alternative uses until they are needed to
fulfill future needs.

A system of large-scale public libraries and educational facilities

Peñalosa coined the term “biblioteca-parques” (park-libraries) in Colombia.The term

“parque” is used to describe a park or a large plaza. Biblioteca-parques are large-scale
facilities that provide updated reading material and serve as community centers. In
a similar manner, a system of new educational facilities was built within the heart
of the most underserviced informal communities. These libraries and schools were
designed, constructed, equipped, and managed to the highest design standards
adjacent to public spaces or parks and accessible from the mobility corridors

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

Figure 2.11: Ceremonial plaza/amphitheater in Parque Simón Bolívar, Bogotá, Colombia

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

previously described. In many cases, these new facilities of public education were
operated by the private sector, ensuring efficiency and low operational overheads.
These interventions had a major impact on the transformation of the areas in
which they were located. A robust example is that of the “Biblioteca de El Tintal.”
The renowned Colombian architect Daniel Bermúdez designed this impressive
facility, taking advantage of the defunct structure of a garbage processing plant built
in the 1960s in what was then the outskirts to the city. As occurs in most devel-
oping countries, open-air garbage dumps and recycling plants ignite the growth of
informal settlements as the newcomers extract materials from the debris to build
their homes. Over time, informal settlements engulfed the waste processing plant.
The precarious informal settlement gradually formalized with a stable stock of
dwellings, but continued to suffer environmentally from the negative influence of
the recycling facility, until it was closed down.
The park-library project rapidly transformed the area into an animated
centrality. In a short time, the improved conditions and concentration of users
attracted developers to invest in the construction of a new shopping mall and
formal housing, erected on vacant land adjacent to the informal settlement. The
project exemplifies the transformative power of a site that once served a particular
function and presented a stellar urban opportunity for adaptation and transfor-
mation, which is another important consideration of the IA approach.

A system of parks at different scales

In addition to biblioteca-parques, Peñalosa also embarked on the construction and

improvement of parks and recreational facilities throughout the city. Some were
parks of metropolitan scale, such as the Parque Simón Bolívar, which at over 400
hectares is now the largest in Bogotá. Although officially inaugurated in 1991, the
park was revamped during his mandate, incorporating new entrances, extensive
new planting and pathways, set-ups for special events and performances, as well as
a high quality staff for administration.
The park also benefitted from the construction of the largest and most sophis-
ticated of Peñalosa’s park-libraries, the Biblioteca-Parque Virgilio Barco, designed by
architect Rogelio Salmona, which was built across from the main entrance of
the park. Both facilities were connected to the rest of the city and more distant
transportation routes by new enlarged sidewalks with bike paths. Many other
pocket parks and plazas were constructed within very low income communities,

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

Figure 2.12: (Top) Metro-Vivienda. Project: Eduardo Samper. (Bottom) Colsubsidio.

Project: Germán Samper and Ximena Samper. Bogotá, Colombia

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

including the Parque Entre Nubes. This park took advantage of a former quarry,
adjacent to an informal settlement in a higher elevation and fringe location
to the south of Bogotá, offering stunning views of the city. It also introduced
innovative performative features in terms of environmental regeneration and water
Other recreational facilities were the result of a combination of urban interven-
tions, with multiple benefits, as was the case of the linear park that was placed in
Juan Amarillo, a wetland adjacent to the largest informal settlement in the north
of the city. International organizations including the World Bank and the Inter-
American Development Bank funded this intervention.46 The government made
the case that untreated effluent from the adjacent informal settlement, with a
population of over 130,000, was polluting the wetland, which was an important
nesting point in the flight path of birds between North and South America.47
The operation required relocating parts of informal settlements that were on the
flood plain of the wetland to substitution housing, and the construction of a ring
road between the settlement and the new park, which eased vehicular access and
allowed for the incorporation of sewer lines to prevent wastewater from infiltrating
the wetland. This new facility stretched over 2 kilometers, with an average width
of 50 meters. The park included a scenic promenade along the water’s edge and
flexible green spaces, serving a very low income area where there were no open
spaces at all.

Social housing projects for different income groups

Peñalosa’s administration took advantage of financial resources provided by the

recently enacted laws to facilitate the construction of social housing. He created an
institute called METROVIVIENDA, which supported social housing projects in
the formal and informal areas of Bogotá. Some of these subsidized housing projects
were intended for very low income groups, which could be considered a merging
of Sites and Services programs and formal housing projects. One such project is Patio
Bonito, a site adjacent to informal settlements in the south of Bogotá. In this project
there was a clear attempt to create a robust urban framework onto which private
developers could build in order to offer different types of block configurations and
building types, for example row houses that could be expanded by the occupants.
The zoning allowed the residents to incorporate small businesses on the ground
floor. Indeed, a high percentage of residents did so within three years of the units

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

being occupied. The urban layout of Patio Bonito reduced the vehicular roadwork,
introduced a system of pedestrian alleys and plazas, and included community
services, such as daycare centers and laundry areas.
Patio Bonito was also interconnected to broader systems of public spaces and
mobility corridors, such as the pedestrian-bike Alameda called El Porvenir, and a
series of new promenades along the ravines and flood plains of the Bogotá River.
These ensured the connectivity of the new districts with the preexisting informal
areas and enhanced the spillover effect mentioned above.48
This project was designed by a team that included Eduardo Samper, son of
Germán Samper. Many in Colombia would agree that the adaptation of such
urban design principles to social housing is largely based on the innovations of
Germán Samper and is a critical contribution to Colombian architecture. While
his training in the 1950s as an architect occurred during the peak of the Modernist
Movement, Samper built his own discourse that had a clear understanding of local
conditions. This reflected a renewed interest in the intimate and human scale in
the 1960s and 1970s.49
It is important to mention that, despite the efforts to provide affordable housing
in Bogotá, even the most highly subsidized projects were inaccessible to the
poorest, and the largest, segments of the population. As a result, the informal city
continued expanding, encroaching on rough terrain in the higher elevations to the
far south of the city. The settlements put pressure on protected watersheds and had
a spillover effect by occupying valuable agricultural land in the city’s agricultural
hinterland, La Sabana de Bogotá. Chapter 7 includes a case study that explores ways
to improve the process of urbanization in La Sabana.
It is also noteworthy that affordable housing built in the vicinity of existing
informal settlements benefitted the adjacent informal areas. It contributed to
infrastructure, public spaces, and amenities, as well as enhanced social mixing, and
accelerated the upgrading of adjacent informal areas. The spillover effect of social
mixing, infrastructure, and services is another lesson than can be applied in the IA
There were, however, some drawbacks to the Peñalosa administration’s initia-
tives. Some projects were underfunded and underpaid. Construction firms rushed
to build projects, sometimes without proper quality control and supervision, in
some cases resulting in the early deterioration of the projects or public works.
Some public works required repairs or were subject to lawsuits in following
administrations. In a region that usually was mistrustful of the private sector

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

running public services, the privatization of the electricity company to pay for
many of the projects had strong detractors.
Other urban interventions, such as the Parque del Tercer Milenio, were contro-
versial and, ultimately, less successful than Patio Bonito.The municipal government
violently razed 16 hectares of what was then considered the most degraded
neighborhood in all Colombia, El Cartucho, in order to create this park. This
area was an eighteenth century extension of the foundational grid of Bogotá,
located less than 400 meters from the Plaza de Bolívar, in the heart of the old city
and close to national and municipal institutions. More than a challenged neigh-
borhood, El Cartucho had become a refuge for the homeless, street kids, heavy
drugs users, and criminals.50 This level of social degradation prompted Peñalosa
to proceed as he did, at a point in his term at which he had already secured the
respect of his constituent bogotanos for the unprecedented transformation of the
The park was completed in the few months that followed the forced demolition,
but the challenges of the area were far from over. Without residential components
on the site, the myriad non-conventional residents and users were not incorpo-
rated in the design process nor were plans made for their relocation; they were
simply forced to move out. They went on to occupy the partially vacant, adjacent
manufacturing district.
The design of the park did not help either. The new open space was not
responsive to adjacent site conditions, cutting off the street grid and traffic flows.
A system of earth berms were built up at the perimeter of the park, adjacent to
the city avenues, visually isolating the park from the city. Consequently this park is
barely utilized, presenting itself as a large void in the center of Bogotá. Moreover,
the park is usually taken over by some of the displaced former residents after 3 pm,
when not even the police will attempt to enter. Lots adjacent to the new park
remain today vacant, adding to the sense of being a disconnected and scarcely used
large open space. Peñalosa admits that the park and surrounding district require a
new direction.
El Cartucho neighborhood, however, may have been an anomaly in Bogotá, with
problems that surpassed those of any other challenged neighborhood. The failure
of the Parque del Tercer Milenio, in comparison to Peñalosa’s success stories, demon-
strates that interventions in existing urban areas have to be carefully orchestrated.
If relocation is required, it must be done with the consent of residents, or at least
calibrating the social implications of relocation.

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

An additional lesson, applicable to the IA approach, is that there must be a

close correlation between the interventions in the public realm and anticipated
urban development infill in the adjacent areas. In the case of the IA fostered terri-
tories, public spaces will stem from public initiatives, while the urban infill will
be predominantly self-constructed. The community will play a major role in the
subsequent transformation of both realms.
Despite the drawbacks of some of the initiatives, there is no doubt that the
Peñalosa administration’s projects have helped propel Bogotá to a new level of
performance. A complex network of political, legal, and economic decisions
created an appropriate milieu for this urban renaissance to occur. But it was
Peñalosa’s stamina and his vision, one in which the introduction of sustainable
paradigms could address social, behavioral, and environmental aspects of urbanism,
that were the keys to his success. Peñalosa has become an adamant lecturer on
urban change in developing countries and cities in general. In his public addresses,
as well as in his participation in the film Urbanized, Peñalosa stresses the impor-
tance of making a real difference for the urban poor.51
Some of the drawbacks of Peñalosa’s fast track project delivery and top-down
approach—which probably allowed him to accomplish so much in such a short
time—undermined his re-election when he ran for office in 2007.There is a general
consensus in Bogotá that the municipal administrations that followed Peñalosa were
not able to sustain the level of physical and managerial drive set forward during
his mandate. Despite the drawbacks, Peñalosa’s intervention had radically modified
the performance of the city, repositioning Bogotá as a leading South American
metropolis, playing a major role in Colombia’s political and economic comeback.

2.3 Medellín: from warzone to a city of hope

In 2004, Sergio Fajardo was elected Mayor of Medellín. Fajardo won the position
campaigning door to door without the support of the traditional political parties,
on a platform of efficient executive leadership and anti-corruption. Fajardo came
from a family of architects and city planners; his appreciation for urban design was
in his DNA and lived experience.
While in Caracas in 2007, I met Mayor Fajardo for the first time. He had been
invited to lecture by the Fundación para la Cultura Urbana (Foundation for Urban
Culture), a research institution that, after many years of operation, was closed in
2010 after government intervention in the stock agency that ran and financed the

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

Figure 2.13: Parque de La Luz / Plaza Cisneros, Medellín, Colombia

foundation.52 Fajardo was accompanied by Alejandro Echeverri, an architect that

he had appointed as Director of Strategic Urban Projects, the agency that would
be responsible for pushing ahead the planning and design interventions that would
place Medellín on the map.
Presenting to a professional audience, Echeverri demonstrated from a technical
perspective emblematic examples of the work. I was the moderator of the
discussion panel that followed his presentation. Along with the rest of the
audience, I was awestruck by the presentation. What really struck me was that the
work presented the same criteria that were embedded in the Caracas Barrio Plan
that I had supported years ago, a plan with so much promise but which failed to
garner enough political support for implementation.
Fajardo’s powerful lecture, which followed Echeverri’s, only increased the
crowd’s enthusiasm. An outspoken, well-educated politician, Fajardo passion-
ately presented the outcome of three years of hands-on urban experiments. He
noted that they were part of a process of interventions and transformation, which
followed a carefully crafted plan. He spoke of the importance of transforming

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

work ethics and political leadership. The significant reduction in the levels of
violence in targeted low-income communities in Medellín was evidence that the
preliminary interventions were working. Also, residents were actively using the
public spaces and new community services. The residents of some of the most
challenged areas of the city felt gratified by a public initiative that was making a
difference after decades of neglect and undelivered promises.
Due to the geographic similarities between Medellín and Caracas, the Medellín
agenda struck a chord with the audience in Venezuela. Both regions share similar
climates and vegetation, with the same sized population and a similar urban
configuration. In both, the formal mixed-use areas occupied the lower eleva-
tions of the valleys, some wealthy neighborhoods comprising high-rise buildings
were located high on the hills, and a high percentage of the informal settlements
were located on very steep slopes at the outer fringe. The higher the informal
settlements were located, the more difficult accessibility became. Likewise, infra-
structure, public spaces, and services were more precarious, and of course the level
of poverty and violence increased.
Medellín’s strategy was very clear: raise the bar by investing in interventions
that respond to local conditions. Reflecting on their lectures, I could not hide a
sense of joy and envy. The sister city of Medellín had achieved the goals that we
had not been able to accomplish in Caracas. Why? The biggest difference I could
perceive was that after years of Medellín losing the battle to a culture of drugs
and violence, there had been a strong political commitment, manifested in a sense
of practicality and urgency intended to make a difference. Political will translated
into powerful management and the implementation of the proposals relied on
exceptional planning and design skills.
By contrast, in Venezuela, despite a “socialist agenda,” there was no real political
will behind the Caracas initiatives. Additionally, although The Caracas Barrio Plan
was a solid technical compendium for the totality of informal settlements of the
city, comprehensive as it was, it could not provide immediate answers, even if there
had been political support.
The Caracas Plan required the development of numerous site-specific proposals
and managerial platforms to become effective. In contrast, the Medellín operation
was conceived and delivered quite differently. Its manifesto was reduced to a
statement of purpose that Fajardo scribbled on a piece of paper at the beginning
of his mandate as Mayor. As a good mathematician he formulated an equation to
solve the structural problems affecting his city.

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

2.3.1 Two problems/two challenges

Identifying what was at stake and the opportunity to make a difference during
his term as Mayor, Fajardo synthesized his program for Medellín in a one page
handwritten note, which translates as:

Two problems/two tasks Profound social differences are historically accumu-

lated = social depth, inequalities, and poverty, multiply, to be followed by
deeply rooted violence.Violence is generationally and culturally transmitted.

The note ended with an arrow pointing to the solution to the problem: To make
Medellín the most educated city. “Medellín: La más educada” became the motto
of Fajardo’s administration.
As the plans unfolded, it was clear that he was referring to education in the
broadest terms, whether it is accessing knowledge and information, tapping
communal or individual potentials for creative thinking and actions, stimulating
new patterns of behavior, fostering self-esteem, or nurturing the joy of learning.
During the conference, Mayor Fajardo also presented a diagram of Medellín,
identifying the different districts in shades of green. The darker zones were the
wealthier areas, the lighter ones the poorest in which the problems were concen-
trated. The latter were mainly occupied by informal settlements. The greater the
distance from the main city corridors, the newer neighborhoods lacked infra-
structure and services and became more inaccessible. The steeper the topography,
the more the road network/city grid gave way to a system of winding pedestrian
paths. These light green areas were very poor and secluded mountain-top neigh-
borhoods, places in which living conditions were most difficult.
The access of service vehicles to provide police surveillance, ambulance services,
or garbage collection was limited, and residents invested hours each day just to
reach the formal city. Rival drug gangs controlled different areas, with frequent
outbursts of violence that affected gang members and ordinary citizens alike. The
killings became so frequent that many residents opted to leave. This was the type
of neighborhood that the Fajardo administration targeted for priority actions.
Mayor Fajardo would say “Our goal is to make all the city ‘dark green’.” The
Mayor’s team proclaimed that if they wanted to close the socio-economic divide,
the poorer areas required the best of everything that could be offered. The city
attracted the best-qualified professionals to coordinate the planning and design

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

interventions, while engaging a community that typically lacked trust in public

officials and political groups.

Figure 2.14: Open spaces and Biblioteca España (library), Barrio Santo Domingo,
Medellín, Colombia

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

2.3.2 Programs and projects of the Medellín agenda

Fajardo’s team presented a simple but powerful strategic plan for the city that
encompassed the following five aspects:

a. Replacing improvization with planning, along with providing an immediate

b. Strategically located park-libraries and an ambitious program of educational
c. Planes Urbanos Integrales contra la exclusion social (PUIs) or holistic urban plans
that prevented social exclusion;
d. Social housing programs; and
e. Promenades, urban links, and special nodes.

Replacing improvization with planning, along with providing an immediate


Medellín set forward a project and intervention strategy in order to have an

immediate impact on current conditions. Site-specific interventions would
gradually build up to neighborhood plans. Then, in later phases, the project would
proceed to broader city moves, and even to strategies at a territorial and regional
scale. This approach had many advantages:

• Efforts were focused on key aspects and delivered in a short period;

• Authorities and beneficiaries of the moves could calibrate the results and
impact in the community and introduce adjustments if required;
• Communities gained trust in the initiative and began to engage in the plans;
• As positive results accumulated, the teams were able to advance strategies and
projects to begin implementing the next phases.

In order to deliver the interventions, timing and effectiveness, as well as financing,

were important components of each action plan. Both timing and effectiveness
relied on political efficiency. Fajardo promptly realized that the municipal admin-
istration operated in a slow and fragmented manner, and that administrative
transparency would also be required to meet the goals. Whenever the Medellín

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

experience is presented for the first time to viewers, invariably the questions they
raise are: how was all this done in only a few years and how did they pay for this?
Fajardo personally involved himself in the formulation of urban policy.Through
executive meetings with the various administrative and technical branches under
his administration, Fajardo demanded coordinated efficiency and results around
common goals, with a short list of priority tasks. If Fajardo felt that a particular
agency or manager was not responding, it would be immediately substituted and
delegated to other administrations. In some instances, ad hoc units were created to
deliver particular services through outsourcing.
The goal was to deliver quickly, to evaluate, adjust, and deliver again. Fajardo
analyzed where sources of existing financing might be found and put them to
work more efficiently. He relied on municipal revenues through taxation and on
funding from a powerful municipal agency called Empresas Públicas de Medellín
(EPM). The EPM was a municipal holding, which provided electricity, gas, water,
and telecommunications services. Including its off shore investments and opera-
tions, it ranked as the ninth company in generating revenues in Colombia.53 He
also envisioned that funding of specific projects could be obtained internationally
due to the social and political implications of the programs and projects.
With respect to revenue generation, Medellín had an updated property database
and a rather high rate of tax collection. The city had a robust, up-scale real-estate
market and a strong industrial and commercial base which paid property taxes.
The main problem in Medellín was not the lack of municipal funds; rather it was
the ways they were being used. Irresponsible spending, fragmented use of public
funds, and generalized corruption were, according to Fajardo, principal concerns.
Having a clear vision and well-expressed set of priorities, along with an efficient
team, Fajardo addressed the issue of revenue allocation.
Mismanagement and clamping down on corruption was a separate issue.
Fajardo dedicated time to installing monitoring systems and mechanisms to
increase transparency and detect irregularities. Corruption fell drastically and funds
became readily available to carry out the plans.
For international funding and support, Fajardo’s administration steadily pursued
foreign financial assistance. The crux here was to present concrete projects to
potential supporters in such a way that they could clearly understand the nature
and quality of the projects, their social impact, and how they would fit in with
the greater urban strategy. Some of the emblematic new communal services, like
the Parque Biblioteca España park-library in Barrio Santo Domingo, were products of

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

Figure 2.15: Cultural center in the settlement of Moravia, Medellín, Colombia. Project: Rogelio

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

this initiative. This facility was partially equipped with the support of the Spanish
While the financial muscle of Medellín’s local government was an uncommon
situation in most developing countries, the levels of corruption and violence were
uncommon also. Four lessons come out of the Medellín case study: first, that there
has to be a vision; second, that commitment and high level managerial conditions
are required to set a course of action and priorities; third, while efficiency is also
influenced by the availability of financial resources, the most important factor
is how limited resources are allocated; and finally, mechanisms of transparency
and efforts to diversify sources of funding locally and internationally can make a
significant difference.

Strategically located park-libraries and an ambitious program of educational


Encouraged by the success of the park-library typology tested in Bogotá, five

low-income areas were selected to install these new educational-recreational facil-
ities which would become beacons of culture, providing access to information and
leisure in the heart of the most challenged informal communities, the neighbor-
hoods that included Santo Domingo, San Javier, La Quintana, Belén, and La Ladera.
The task was to select lots that were centrally located, accessible, and large enough
to accommodate the libraries and the parks or plazas, which is not always easy in
these tightly consolidated informal areas.
In Barrio Santo Domingo, one of the poorest and most violent in the city, they
selected a site adjacent to an existing church and health facility to place the
library, relocating a few homes.54 This site was also adjacent to a less populated
area where residents realized that the very steep topography and weak soils
made it unstable for the construction of solid dwellings. The library seems to
cling to the edge of the slope, against a green backdrop that will be gradually
developed as an environmental restoration zone and recreational area. Chapter 7
includes a case study that illustrates how this green band can be protected from
In San Javier and La Ladera, two former penitentiary sites were spotted for
the new park-libraries. Both informal neighborhoods had sprung up many
decades before due to their proximity to the prisons, providing informal lodging
and food for relatives of the inmates. Changing the prison sites into centers of

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

Figure 2.16: (Top) Open space below station of the San Javier Metro-cable line. Project:
Empresa de Desarrolho Urbano, Medellín. (Bottom) Parque Explora. Project: Alejandro
Echeverri. Medellín, Colombia

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

knowledge and leisure would have an immediate impact on both communities.

In the three cases the initial catalytic moves represented by the park-libraries
were to be part of a series of urban interventions, which would radically
transform the character and performance of these districts. Securing the land for
special transformative urban uses that will be incorporated in time is a driver of
the IA approach.

District plans (PUIs) against social exclusion

Comprehensive Urban Plans (Planes Urbanos Integrales) are perhaps the most
compelling contribution of the Medellín experiment to the field of informal neigh-
borhood improvement. They represent a compendium of planning, managerial,
and design moves that are carefully choreographed to create synergies and propel
these communities to higher standards of living.
As had occurred in the case of Caracas, the technical teams in Medellín
identified the different neighborhoods, which at first glance seemed to be part of
an undifferentiated informal agglomeration. Residents had arrived from different
geographic areas and in different periods. Each neighborhood varied in the degree
of social organization, area attributes, problems, aspirations, and opportunities.
Taking into account regional origins, social behavior, and daily patterns, to identify
the sometimes blurred boundaries of neighborhoods, helped facilitate appropriate
engagements with the community in their regeneration. The next step was to
establish the initial moves that would have major impact in the shortest period,
initiating the improvement process. The initial moves varied from one district to
another but were usually related to the following aspects:

• Improving accessibility and mobility, sometimes with very creative means such
as the introduction of aerial gondolas connected to the Metro-lines, open-air
escalators, and pedestrian bridges over ravines;
• Creation of articulated and well-designed systems of public spaces meant to
increase levels of socialization;
• Retrofitting existing community services, and including new ones, easily acces-
sible from public spaces;
• General improvement of infrastructure;
• Relocation of homes on high-risk areas such as flood plains of ravines; and
• Construction of relocation housing to enable the previous interventions.

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

The Northeastern PUI is perhaps the most highly visible of them all, since it repre-
sented one of the most difficult points of departure. I remember taking a walk
with a community leader in this neighborhood in 2008, a few years after the first
interventions had been accomplished. She pointed out the scars of high caliber
shooting on the walls of many homes, saying: “You can imagine that the neighbors
of all these dwellings had to move away from Santo Domingo during the period of
extreme violence.” Former residents returned, and the new additions to the homes
and well-kept gardens were good indicators of the changes ahead.
There were some conditions that made Northeastern Commune an ideal pilot
project to test the PUI ideas. The previous municipal government had proposed
the construction of an aerial gondola system linked to the Metro, which was under
construction when Fajardo took office. The Parque Biblioteca España would benefit
from its unique scenic location and the proximity to the final Metro-cable station.
Shortly after the Metro-cable went into operation in Santo Domingo as part
of the network of urban interventions the main problem of this novel transpor-
tation system was that it was over-utilized. Residents usually have to wait over 45
minutes in line during peak hours to board a gondola to take them from their
neighborhood to the city or vice versa. As occurred in the case of the Transmilenio
in Bogotá, a valuable indicator of the success of the initiatives was that the projects
were being intensely used and cared for.55
The PUI of Santo Domingo was exemplary of the careful sequencing of inter-
ventions that would gradually improve the once troubled district, each time
making it healthier and more resilient, as well as strengthening its socio-economic
networks. This measured and transformative process in informal planning and
design is also at the heart of the IA approach.

Social housing programs

Substitution housing: Fajardo’s administration also gave priority to the construction

of new housing, which would be under the responsibility of a special municipal
unit that encompassed different programs. The PUIs required relocation dwellings
within the informal neighborhoods, in order to create public spaces, introduce
community services, or remove residents situated in high-risk areas. In some cases,
the relocation of homes was to more distant areas, to new districts, when larger
sections of the neighborhoods were entirely within high-risk zones or exposed to
imminent hazards, and to substitute dwellings within or adjacent to the settlements.

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

This was the case for a portion of Barrio Moravia, a settlement in a lower
valley location, adjacent to the Aburrá River, which had been constructed over
a condemned landfill, exposing residents to severe health hazards. The displaced
residents were relocated to the vicinity of the San Javier Metro-cable, in formal
housing solutions. This resulted in a new front of urbanization on vacant land.
Residents would benefit from a risk-free habitat and they could reconstitute social
ties. But they were under completely new urban conditions, which included being
on a peripheral location, at a distance from their traditional sources of income and
New social housing: Social housing to cover accumulated demands, not
associated with informal settlement improvement plans, was also provided.
Residents who qualified for the program needed stable sources of income in
order to access financing or have the means to acquire them. It is estimated that
during Fajardo’s administration some 8,000 homes were constructed, serving a
population of close to 35,000. In comparison, it is estimated that the investments
in the PUIs had direct incidence improving living conditions for over 350,000
inhabitants residing in informal areas, while the spillover benefits brought to
the overall performance of the city remain non-quantified. Some figures give a
rough idea of the multiplying effect of investing in the urban framework/public
realm, versus the effect of simply building new housing, particularly when the
poorer segments of the population are usually excluded from formal housing

Urban links and special nodes

As the PUIs were being advanced to target the most challenged informal areas
of Medellín, the municipality began to implement an ambitious program on a
broader city scale. Some interventions were meant to link the informal neighbor-
hoods to the formal city. Others dealt with ecological and economic corridors
and special nodes within the formal city. While the details of this comprehensive
effort surpass the scope of this book, it is useful to consider how a comprehensive
approach to the broader urban scenario impacted informal settlements. Based on
the nature of the programs, these operations can be classified in the following

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

Interventions on a city or metropolitan scale, adjacent to informal areas

This category encompasses rather larger scale interventions over territories with
unique programs that could not be replicated in other areas of the city. This
provided a particular impulse, character, use profile, and economic vitality to
the sites where it was implemented, having a transformative effect over a larger
territory. The first moves of this nature were proposed adjacent to challenged
informal settlements, to be extended later to the main urban corridors and special
nodes of formal areas of Medellín.
An example of the first category is the area next to the Metro stop Universidad,
adjacent to Moravia, the conflictive informal district that had emerged on the
landfill referred to in the previous section. This retrofitted cultural-recreational
node encompassed: the Universidad de Antioquia Campus, one of the largest in
the city, the Planetarium, and the Botanical Garden. The Planetarium and the
Botanical Garden had become virtually defunct, with very few visitors due to
the lack of security in the area and the poor maintenance and management of
these facilities. Both were renovated with cutting edge architectural and landscape
design interventions.
The new covered plaza or entrance pavilion of the Botanical Garden, known
as the Orquideorama, was meant to provide shade during the celebrated orchid
show of Medellín, which had become a marketing icon for the city.56 It was also
used for multiple income-generating events. The striking new Parque Explora was
added to the node, a Science and Technology Center extending out into exterior
spaces with a learn/play artifact plaza. A revamped Avenida Carabobo, the historic
route that connected the center city with its immediate hinterland, linked all these
facilities. The enlarged and improved sidewalks and promenades along Avenida
Carabobo provided easy pedestrian access, and a mere 10 minutes’ walk from the
informal settlement of Moravia.
Moravia was also part of the PUI project. Interventions in this settlement included
a cultural center, one of the last works of famed architect Rogelio Salmona, and
a pedestrian promenade along a decontaminated ravine. The combination of the
formal metropolitan interventions and the neighborhood-scale projects in Moravia
created a vibrant district where all urban components benefit from their proximity
to each other, with their complementary spatial and functional relationships.
There were other large-scale projects in the city which had a spillover effect
on adjacent or closely located informal areas. One such project, located in a

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

formal area of the city and close to the informal areas at the base of the Nutibara
Hill, was the construction of a very large sports complex that was built to hold
the Pan-American Games in 2010. This special node has become a hot spot in
Medellín for the following reasons: the quality of the sporting facilities and their
management, the compact/urban manner in which the sport venues were articu-
lated, creating a network of covered areas, the existence of dozens of small shops
and restaurants operated by micro-entrepreneurs in open spaces of the complex,
the location of the facilities adjacent to important city corridors served by the
main Metro-line, and the improvement of pedestrian links to the adjacent areas.
The complex is intensely used until evening hours mainly by children and young-
sters of all social strata.

Intervention in city corridors and plazas

An extraordinary example of the interventions through city corridors is the

creation of a pedestrian promenade along Avenida Carabobo, in the historic core
of the city. This street was highly congested and environmentally degraded,
impacted by chaotic public transportation routes. Traffic was rerouted to nearby
streets, allowing for the rediscovery of the street’s human character and the iconic
inclusion of public art, an outstanding collection of Fernando Botero’s large
format sculptures.
New metropolitan-scale plazas were also created, like La Plaza de la Luz, Plaza
of Light, which was linked to the Carabobo promenade and adjacent to one of the
largest new libraries and the government center. Another new open space was
created next to the revamped Convention Center, which also contributed to the
revitalization of this central part of town.
In time, the installation of new public spaces and the improvement of existing
ones were also carried out in middle- and upper-middle-income areas. Districts
that were not served by the Metro-line were to be linked by Medellín’s version
of Bogotá’s Transmilenio bus system, here called the Metroplus. All of these inter-
ventions were carried out with elevated attention to design standards and
construction quality. Pedestrian promenades and plazas were subject to cultural
events programming to ensure continued use and in order to instill civic pride to
enhance the emotional connection of the people with their regenerated city.

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

Figure 2.17: Promenade and housing relocation program along Juan Bobo Ravine, Medellín,

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

Ecological corridors and water management systems

The abrupt topography of Medellín dictates a hydrological system that comprises

small creeks that wind through the urban fabric, until they spill onto the highly
polluted Aburrá River. The Aburrá was channelized in 1944, and bounded by
expressways throughout most of its urban trajectory. The river traverses a variety
of urban areas, each of which has its own unique character and set of challenges.
Creeks usually mark the boundaries of neighborhoods with differing socio-
economic conditions. Many times the creeks were visually inaccessible, as most
neighborhoods faced away from these waterways.57
When the ravines traversed informal areas, they were highly polluted, as
they collected domestic wastewater combined with rainwater. The streams
also frequently divided low-income neighborhoods that had evolved during
different periods, neighborhoods populated by immigrants of diverse regions and
backgrounds. Often, these divisions defined urban territories that were under the
control of local drug gangs.
In addition to pollution of the water, the creeks have become depositories of
litter, largely due to difficult accessibility and poor waste collection services. It was
not uncommon to find dead victims of drug related violence in the ravines. In
some cases, dwellings built on the flood plains of the creeks would be periodi-
cally affected by torrential rains. Of course, this did not correspond to the bucolic
description of a green water management system. As outlined before, the urban
strategies in Medellín went from incisive interventions in the heart of the poor
neighborhoods to broader strokes on the city scale, leading to a grand territorial
vision. In many cases interventions at a specific site and time were conceived while
taking into account the actions that would follow. This approach was particu-
larly relevant when dealing with the system of ecological corridors associated
with waterways, providing yet another lesson for the design concepts of the IA
As the PUIs progressed, the municipal authorities and the designers began
to address the relocation of dwellings from high-risk sites to other sites within
the same neighborhood. This phenomenon often introduced walkup-housing
solutions. Once the homes were relocated from the flood plain, infrastructure
was introduced to collect wastewater, significantly improving the quality of creek
flow. Pedestrian promenades and bridges were then built along ravines, as part
of the flood control systems, integrating with a system of parks and promenades

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

Figure 2.18: Recent formal housing projects adjacent to existing informal settlements, near La
Aurora Metro-cable station, Medellín, Colombia

between districts. Increased mobility along and across the creeks, and the environ-
mental upgrading of the polluted waterways into green corridors, transformed
the dark forgotten gorges that separated neighborhoods into active pedestrian
corridors and public spaces, uniting adjacent neighborhoods instead of dividing
This greening operation along the waterways, initiated in the poorer neigh-
borhoods where risk conditions and levels of water pollution were highest,
became part of an ambitious program of developing public spaces along the
ravines in the formal city and along the Aburrá River. Another important
component of the greening program was to create a green buffer in the higher
elevations to halt urban expansion from encroaching on protected zones as
an environmental and recreational eco-zone between the city and the rural
In 2011, a new Metro-cable line was inaugurated, departing from a station
adjacent to the last stop of the Northeastern system. This line provided access to a
lush vegetated area, known as the Parque Arvi. The once neglected and dangerous

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

Barrio Santo Domingo was now the gateway for a protected open space of metro-
politan importance. The visitors to the park also helped to boost commercial
activities in Santo Domingo, especially at weekends. The plan to connect the micro
with the macro was becoming a reality. The greening program, though it will take
time to complete, is expected to lace the entire urban fabric together, creating a
vast recreational system and protecting and cleaning the waterways.
Special attention to the public realm and city management were basic elements
of Medellín’s revival. Medellín was transforming from a war zone to a city of
peace in a three-year period. The initial interventions multiplied and diversified,
catapulting the city to higher levels of performance, economic vitality, and creative
existence. This message of optimism and hope, with tangible results, motivated
other cities in Colombia and on the continent to undertake similar challenges.
In recent years, numerous researchers, universities, institutions, and governmental
agencies from all continents have organized field trips to Medellín to directly
observe these experiments of urban change. They have also used the informal
settlements in this city to develop academic work and research on urbanization
and city planning. The city has become a laboratory for anthropologists, social and
political scientists, criminologists, and environmentalists.
Fajardo and Echeverri have toured the planet passionately presenting their work.
The Medellín experiment helped to raise awareness on why and how informality
should be given the highest priority, centering their discourse on social equity.The
city has received numerous awards for these achievements. In September 2013,
Professor Fajardo, now the Governor of Antioquia, received our group of faculty
and students from the School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania. He
began his presentation by saying, “I am not going to delve into the planning and
design moves that have been able to transform the city, this you will appreciate
as you visit the different areas. There are brilliant professionals who can design
beautiful architectural and urban interventions, but what makes a difference in
changing societies is the political project that supports these transformations.” His
remarks summarized the Medellín experiment.

2.3.3 Envisioning urban growth in Medellín

During this visit we were housed by El Centro de Estudios Urbanos y Ambientales

(URBAM)—the Center of Urban and Environmental Studies—of EAFIT
University, whose director is Alejandro Echeverri. Echeverri had returned from

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

the School of Design at Harvard University, which had acknowledged his

design leadership and the role in the Empresa de Desarrollo Urbano (EDU) and
given the 2013 Veronica Rudge Green Prize to the Northeastern Commune in
Medellín, Colombia. The design, management, and execution of the EDU is
emblematic of the holistic modus operandi that had proven to be so successful
in this city.59
During this visit, we were intrigued by what seemed to be a new trend: the
emergence of a new form of urbanization bringing the formal and the informal
closer. Over the last decade, dozens of high-rise towers were constructed by
local developers, offering residential units for a lower-middle-income class in the
vicinity of the final stop of the San Javier Metro-cable system called La Aurora (as
described in Chapter 2).
Large residential towers were being erected on rugged terrain, scattered in
different locations in proximity to patches of preexisting informal settlements.
Some of these settlements were in the early phases of consolidation, others were
more mature, and some had been subject to improvement plans, which included
the Metro-cable, new public spaces, and high quality communal services. La Aurora
station had opened up a new development frontier in a city with limited land for
urbanization, triggering those real-estate operations.
Medellín was witnessing the emergence of a hybrid urban form where self-
constructed areas and new formal urbanism were occupying the same territory as
a result of an unplanned process that responded to market forces. It was, however,
occurring in a fragmented manner without a holistic vision to take advantage
of this synergy. The good news was that it was happening spontaneously, and
that the district would eventually become a composite of different social groups
which would have normally been spatially segregated. We can expect that, as the
population of the formal component augments, its residents will demand better
services and more accessibility in order to cope with the new demands. This, in
turn, would also benefit the informal areas.
The bad news may be that, in the absence of a holistic vision and lacking
supporting armatures, the territory would probably become just a dense
dormitory district where most of the residents of all social strata would have
to commute to central Medellín, contributing to the city’s heavy traffic and
increasing energy consumption. Additionally, the area could evolve lacking the
open spaces that would have favored social encounters and boosted economic

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

In other words, the city did not foresee this trend as a unique opportunity to
demonstrate that both formal and informal components could be better articu-
lated in order to create a balanced district and socially integrated neighborhood,
while addressing broader urban and environmental issues. What was missing
here was a preemptive holistic district PUI, a model that had proven to be so
beneficial when dealing with the improvement of consolidated informal areas, in
this case intended to bring together the informal with the formal in a sustainable
From URBAM we additionally received valuable information derived from
their research concerning the future growth of the city and its metropolitan
area. URBAM presented a summary of their findings, which were contained in
a document called Medellín 2030. This study estimates the population projection
over the next 20 years, and also identifies areas most recommended to absorb this
increment, whether by re-densification of underutilized existing districts or by
urbanizing new areas. The study was a priority task considering the limited avail-
ability of land for urban expansion in Medellín due to the constraints of its natural
The research included strategic development goals, indicating aspects that
were highlighted as critical problems and also opportunities. One of the main
problems explored was that the informal areas were gradually expanding onto land
unsuitable for human occupancy due to the conditions of the geology, soil, steep
topography, and rain patterns, particularly on the higher elevations of the eastern
areas of the city. The areas with such conditions were mapped as high-risk zones,
and were defined as not fit for occupation. Some existing settlements were already
encroaching on this restricted zone, and had been subject to landslides with loss of
lives during recent years. Some up-scale residential districts had also been affected.
The Medellín 2030 Plan envisioned a green band to avoid urban expansion
onto these higher elevations and to protect environmental assets. The URBAM
group was also critical of a proposal of the current municipal administration to
include an alternative public transportation system between the green band and
the urban areas, since they considered that this initiative would further increase
occupation pressures on the fragile upper fringe.
After a thorough explanation, I felt obliged to ask the following questions: what
were the population projections for the following 20 years? What percentage of
this increment would correspond to new self-constructed neighborhoods? And
where were they expecting the city to grow in the near future to accommodate the

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

different income groups? These questions were relevant to envisioning the future
of the city, since it was clear that the majority of the lower-income population
would not be able to participate in the real-estate market or be absorbed even by
the highly subsidized public-housing programs.
The URBAM team indicated that the Plan anticipated an increase in the total
population of 750,000 to 800,000 inhabitants, and that the area most recom-
mended for urban expansion would be located to the north of the city, across
Medellín’s boundaries, in the Municipality of Bello. Here there was abundant flat
land, with relatively good soil and proper accessibility provided by existing arteries.
The final stop and the maintenance yards of the main Metro-line were in the area
of Bello closer to Medellín.
URBAM explained that if they were to project the current trends, taking into
account the proportion of the population that now lives in the formal city versus
those residing in the informal city, over 350,000 inhabitants would most likely
be absorbed by the informal sector over the 20-year period. This could happen
either by gradual re-densification of existing informal areas, as the dwellings are
expanded by their occupants, or by settlement in new unoccupied land.
A few days later, we had the opportunity to visit Bello, the area favored by
the technical studies for urban growth. Here, also, market forces were rapidly
colonizing the area in a fragmented manner with residential projects, many of
which were of very high density in vertical solutions, and acting as gated commu-
nities. These projects were frequently built in proximity to informal areas. As had
occurred previously in Medellín, the informal areas had begun growing along
regional roads in the lower elevations and flatter land, until they encroached on
very steep hills, expanding into high-risk zones.
URBAM also informed us that the Plan considered the creation of an area of
new centrality in Bello, which would include offices, commerce, residences, and a
Metropolitan Park. The project, however, had not yet materialized. The Medellín
Metro kept the development of the extended transportation line on hold until
there were a critical number of people in the area to justify such investment.
Local authorities in Bello did not count on the managerial, technical, and
financial support of their counterpart in Medellín to handle these heavy growth
pressures. Thus, the future of this strategic territory was being defined by a patchy
urbanization process that included formal and informal areas. Properly guided, it
would have a major influence on the performance of the metropolitan area of
Medellín. But, it was not difficult to imagine that if the fragmented and unplanned

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

trend continued, Bello would become a dysfunctional dormitory city, dependent

on Medellín.
I had seen a similar phenomenon in my native city of Caracas 25 years earlier,
as the metropolitan expansion resulted in a chain of peripheral and incomplete
predominantly low-income dormitory cities. The most unfortunate outcome in
the Venezuelan scenario was that poorer groups ended up occupying unfit sites out
of the official expansion zones and into precarious informal settlements.
I envisioned that a similar situation would occur in Bello, since few of the
350,000 low-income new urbanites estimated in the Medellín 2030 Plan would
be able to take advantage of urban land in Bello, or for that matter in the other
potential expansion areas of Medellín, since landowners would jealously defend
their properties from squatting, knowing they were becoming prime real-estate sites.
Thus, the informal settlements were bound to enlarge the already problematic
informal areas in the higher elevations of Medellín and Bello, or in other areas of
the metropolitan system, unless the authorities defined a clear land policy and set
forward mechanisms to assemble land in appropriate locations. I sensed a certain
skepticism in relation to the possibility of effectively intervening in the land and
real-estate markets to favor a more socially integrated and balanced city.
The initial reaction to the ethical aspect on ensuring access to land for the
urban poor is usually “This simply is not going to happen” or “It will be difficult
to accomplish.” My response is, “Have a look at what is occurring in your city;
this amalgamation is already happening, but spontaneously, in an inefficient and
fragmented way.” The San Javier and Bello situations revealed that, despite the fact
that market trends are fostering the amalgamation of the formal and the informal,
there is still resistance, fear, or, perhaps, just lack of experience to do so in a more
effective manner.
The same political will that was demonstrated in this city dealing with the
improvement of existing informal areas is required to plan for the emergence and
growth of new ones. Thus, a solid land policy is needed to deal with new informal
settlements. In Medellín, this effort to gear informal growth to appropriate land
would additionally mean keeping the poorer groups from occupying the high-risk
areas identified by the plan. Neglecting to do so would continue to require the
public sector to pursue plans and projects for the improvement of informal settle-
ments established on increasingly difficult sites. Additionally the consequents of
this situation lead to increased social tensions, loss of lives, and overall stress on the
broader urban system.

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

2.3.4 Can the Medellín experience be replicated?

Administrative and design paradigms introduced in a particular context are usually

emulated in others, particularly in this era of instant information transfer. The crux
of the issue is to understand to what extent the vision, programs, and projects
are applicable when the contextual conditions change and how they should be
adapted in order to function properly. In Colombia, the Bogotá and Medellín
success stories were replicated throughout the country. For regional and local
leaders it was evident that these efforts, if appropriately guided, would result in a
rewarding political payoff. However, some attempts to advance similar initiatives
went wrong. Some projects were not to scale in relation to the size of the cities,
others were not financially sustainable, and some overlooked the complexity of the
design and performance variables that worked in Medellín.
The Colombian lessons have also been replicated in other countries. In 2010, at
twice the construction cost and time to build, the first Metro-cable was inaugu-
rated in an informal neighborhood of Caracas called San Agustín.
The initiative in Caracas was clearly intended to emulate the achievements in
Medellín. The Caracas system used identical technology, was of approximately
the same length, and had a similar number of stations. This was the full extent of
the similarities between the two systems. In Caracas, the first Metro-cable station
departed from one of the densest financial, commercial, residential, and cultural
areas of the city, whereas in Medellín it was located in a rather peripheral location.
Unfortunately, in San Agustín the Metro-cable is hardly used and the system
has had marginal impact. What went wrong? It is apparent that in Caracas there
was a misunderstanding of the complex urban operations carried out in the
Northeastern Commune and in Medellín generally. The Metro-cables of Medellín,
poignant interventions as they may have been, were conceived as components of
carefully orchestrated design and administrative strategies. Their installation would
have had little meaning if not in concord with other physical interventions and
performative conditions.
The San Agustín response was no more than an isolated attempt to address
social needs with a similar technical device. From the mechanical and architectural
points of view, there was nothing wrong with the San Agustín system.The question
is: why is San Agustín still a crime-ridden neighborhood, despite heavy investment
in the area and being a stone’s throw away from one of the important financial
hubs of Caracas? Perhaps it is because the stations were inappropriately located,

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

Figure 2.19: (Top) Informal dwellings being demolished and replaced by formal housing.
(Bottom) Walled-off open space adjacent to a Metro-cable station in the Barrio San
Agustín. Caracas, Venezuela

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

surrounded by poorly designed open spaces and high fences that separated them
from the neighborhoods.
Furthermore, these spaces are closed when the Metro-cable is not in service.
The stations are at the highest point of the settlement compared to where the
majority of the population live; most users will not walk up to the crest of the
hill to take the system to get them back down to the city. Additionally, three of
the stations were placed at the same elevation, offering a redundant service. Users
could have walked, following the crest of the mountain, from one to another in
approximately 12 minutes. Appropriate locations for the Metro-cable stations and
a coherent urban plan would have increased significantly the number of users in
San Agustín and adjacent districts.
For instance, Metro-cable station #3 was located only 250 meters from one
of the most emblematic architectural but unfinished icons in Latin America,
constructed in the 1950s, which was called El Helicoide. This was to be a large
shopping mall, a striking curvilinear topological building that included vehicular
ramps and also an inclined elevator linking it to the city below. The building was
crowned by one of Buckminster Fuller’s earliest geodesic domes. El Helicoide, with
a surface of over 100,000 square meters, was never completed due to the fall of
the dictatorship of Marcos Perez Jimenez in 1958. Since 1990 it has been used
by the Venezuelan special police agency, and is obviously off-limits to the public.
Removing this police facility, as Medellín had done with the penitentiaries, to
build their biblioteca-parques, and placing one of the stations here, would have
offered the opportunity to use this unfinished structure to house major cultural,
educational, commercial, and employment facilities, badly needed in San Agustín.
Moreover, extending the line over the gorge that separates El Helicoide from
one of the most populated informal settlements farther west, and then down to
a formal lower-income district, would have maximized the use of the system
and made a significant urban impact by incorporating hundreds of thousands of
additional users to the system and associated services. Instead, the government
began replacing informal homes with elevator equipped apartment towers, leaving
the demolished areas unattended.
Although fewer than 20% of the residents were located in these formal
dwellings, this signaled to the remaining community that their future was not in
their current dwellings. This kept them from doing any improvements, cutting off
individual and communal initiatives, modifying the character and lifestyle of the
original residents.60

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

There was no interest in San Agustín to provide a system of public spaces,

community services, or improved pedestrian mobility. Nor was there an attempt to
tap the internal potential of the community to develop alternative economies, all
pivotal considerations in Medellín. Under these circumstances, the interventions
in San Agustín cannot be considered an informal settlement improvement project.
Instead, they represent an urban renewal operation, leading to complete physical
and cultural transformation of the site.
Visions, criteria, and solutions from a specific context cannot be dissected into
isolated moves and successfully translated elsewhere. Instead, the IA approach
draws on visions, criteria, and solutions, carefully adapting them when applied to
different conditions.

2.3.5 Planning and designing for future informal settlements

Neither the theoretic framework, the working methods advanced in Venezuela for
the improvement of existing informal settlements, nor the remarkable achieve-
ments in Colombia, offer clues on how to spur and guide the growth of new
informal settlements. While it is evident that there was a sincerely constructive
dialogue with informality, it is still difficult for politicians and professionals to
openly foster new informal and self-constructed occupation, that is, to induce the
growth of settlements which, at least in the early phases, are perceived as illegal
and aberrant compared to conventional modes of city making.
Biases against new informal settlements still prevail in the developing world,
despite the fact that, statistically, informality will be the driving force of urbani-
zation through the many years to come. Informal settlement improvement plans,
similar to those envisioned by the talented academics and researchers in Venezuela,
or the proactive politicians and highly qualified professionals in Medellín, have
proven that a shift in paradigms concerning informality is the best way to incor-
porate these areas into broader urban dynamics, allowing them to break away from
their typical condition of submission. In other words, the “informal urbanization
process” needs to move beyond “remediation”-oriented strategies for fixing
unresolved problems, and into an approach that embraces the essence of the
“informal” process as a valid urbanization framework.
A paradigm shift is required to envision, design, and manage the growth of
the predominantly informal cities that will occupy new territories in the decades
ahead, one that considers them inseparable and equally important components

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

of the many urban systems. The vitality of informality has a better chance to be
fostered into sustainable urban scenarios if we act in a preventive manner, which
comes before occupation occurs and the settlements evolve. This is the essence
of the Informal Armatures approach that will be explained in the following

1 See República de Venezuela. Declaratoria del Parque Nacional El Avila. Official
Document, Caracas: República de Venezuela, 1958.
2 For additional details on how such a vertical trend reflects a suburban origin
see Peter Rowe. “Two Cities, Two Valleys and Their Middle Landscapes.”
In La Ciudad-Región: El Paisaje Intermedio, eds. Marcela Ángel, Fernando
Jiménez, and Ximena Samper. Bogotá: Universidad de Los Anges, 2006,
pp. 14–21.
3 See Fundación Polar. Diccionario de la Historia de Venezuela. Caracas: Fundación
Polar, 1988.
4 For details on design considerations for these settlements see Josefina Baldó
and Teolinda Bolívar. La cuestión de los barrios. Caracas: Fundación Polar,
Universidad Central de Venezuela, Monte Ávila Editores, 1996.
5 For detailed understanding of the relationship between the urban and the
rural areas in Venezuela see Agustín Blanco. Oposición entre ciudad y campo en
Venezuela. Caracas: Ediciones FACES UCV, 1974.
6 For a comprehensive description of the political transition in Venezuela from
the 1960s to the 1990s see Miriam Kornblith. “La crisis del sistema político
venezolano.” Nueva Sociedad 134 (1994): 142–157.
7 See Heinz Dieterich. “Socialismo del siglo 21.” Colección Pez en la red
(Fundación para la Investigación y la Cultura) 55 (2007): 195.
8 For the full version of the agreement see República de Cuba y República
Bolivariana de Venezuela. Convenio Integral de Cooperación Entre la República de
Cuba y la República Bolivariana de Venezuela. Official Document, Cuba–Caracas:
República de Cuba y República Bolivariana de Venezuela, 2000.
9 El Universal. “Caracas es la segunda ciudad más violenta del mundo por
homicidios según estudio.” El Universal, August 26, 2009.
10 For a full version of the official list see Citizens’ Council for Public
Security and Criminal Justice. Seguridad Justicia y Paz. 2013. http://www.

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia
(accessed September 7, 2013).
11 For an official description of the project from 1996 see Consorcio Catuche.
“Desarrollo urbano y ambiental del Valle del Río Catuche (Caracas,
Venezuela).” Habitat. 1996.
(accessed September 7, 2013).
12 Ibid.
13 For the full text of the regulation see República de Venezuela. Ley Orgánica de
Ordenación Urbanística. Gaceta Oficial No. 33.868. Official Document, Caracas:
Gaceta Oficial, 1987, p. 30.
14 See Federico Villanueva and Josefina Baldó. Un Plan para los Barrios de Caracas:
síntesis del Plan Sectorial de Incorporación a la Estructura Urbana de las Zonas
de Barrios del Área Metropolitana de Caracas y de la Región Capital. Consejo
Nacional de la Vivienda, Caracas: Impresión Minipres C. A., 1998.
15 For a chronological evolution of housing policy transformation in Venezuela
from 1999 to 2007 see Teresa Pérez de Murzi. “Política de vivienda en
Venezuela (1999–2007). Balance de una gestión en la habilitación física de
barrios.” X Coloquio Internacional De Geocrítica. Diez años de cambios en el mundo,
en la geografía y en las ciencias sociales, 1999–2008. Barcelona: Universidad de
Barcelona, 2008.
16 See Josefina Baldó and Teolinda Bolívar. La cuestión de los barrios. Caracas:
Fundación Polar, Universidad Central de Venezuela, Monte Ávila Editores,
17 See Federico Villanueva and Josefina Baldó. Un Plan para los Barrios de Caracas:
síntesis del Plan Sectorial de Incorporación a la Estructura Urbana de las Zonas
de Barrios del Área Metropolitana de Caracas y de la Región Capital. Consejo
Nacional de la Vivienda, Caracas: Impresión Minipres C. A., 1998.
18 Ibid.
19 Ibid.
20 On the role of the design competitions as part of the plan see Josefina Baldó.
“El programa de habilitación de barrios en Venezuela: Ejemplo del control
del proceso de construcción y de administración de los recursos por parte de
comunidades organizadas.” Tecnología y Construcción [online] 23, no. 1 (2007):
21 To better understand the natural event and the consequences see Academia
Nacional de la Ingeniería y el Hábitat. Declaración: Deslave del Litoral Central.

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

Official Declaration, Caracas: Academia Nacional de la Ingeniería y el Hábitat,

22 See Josefina Baldó. Interview by Javier Brasseco. Entrevista: Josefina Baldó.
Arquitecto venezolana (June 8, 2010).
23 See Alfonso Linares. Politicas publicas en urbanismo y vivienda. Evolución de la
producción de vivienda. Caracas: CVC, 2009.
24 On the potential consequences of seismic events in Caracas see Michael
Schmitz et al. “Principal results and recommendations of the Caracas seismic
microzoning project.” Rev. Fac. Ing. UCV 26, no. 2 (June 2011): 113–128.
25 See Frank López Ballesteros. “Más de 500.000 personas emigraron de
Venezuela en 2010.” El Nacional, August 15, 2011.
26 See Frank López Ballesteros. “Población venezolana en EEUU creció 135%
en 10 años.” El Nacional, June 15, 2011.
27 See El Mundo. “Faría reconoce que inflación de Venezuela es la más alta de
América Latina.” El Mundo. September 25, 2013.
es-la-ma.aspx (accessed October 1, 2013).
28 Univision Communications Inc. “Más de 80% de los homicidios en Caracas
ocurren en los barrios.” Univision. July 11, 2012.
80-por-ciento-crimenes (accessed September 12, 2013).
29 See Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadísticas (DANE). Censoso
General 2005, Resultados Población Conciliada. June 30, 2005. http://www.dane. (accessed September 10, 2013).
30 Marcos Palacios and Frank Safford. Historia de Colombia. País fragmentado,
sociedad dividida. Bogotá: Ediciones Uniandes, 2011.
31 Ibid.
32 Associated Press. “Japan’s Tsutsumi Still Tops Forbes’ Richest List.” Los Angeles
Times. July 10, 1989.
fi-2595_1_richest-people (accessed September 13, 2013).
33 See Palacios and Safford. Historia de Colombia. País fragmentado, sociedad dividida.
Bogotá: Ediciones Uniandes, 2011.
34 AFP Bogotá. “Más de cinco millones de víctimas ha dejado el conflicto
colombiano.” Diario ADN. September 27, 2012.
el-conflicto-armado-colombiano-1.25465 (accessed September 13, 2013).

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

35 Ibid.
36 Ibid.
37 The United States Government Accountability Office has made available an
official report on the “Plan Colombia.” Plan Colombia: Report to the Honorable
Joseph R. Biden, Jr., Chairman, Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate.
Official Report, Washington, D.C.: United States Government Accountability
Office, 2008, p. 108.
38 See Nuevo Día GDA . “El último día de Pablo Escobar.” El Tiempo. December
3, 2012.
NOTA_INTERIOR-12418129.html (accessed September 13, 2013).
39 See Natalia Matamoros and Bayardo Ramírez. “Entrevista Bayardo Ramirez,
Penalista y Expresidente de la CONACUID.” El Universal. September  29,
traficante-de-droga-en-america-latina (accessed September 30, 2013).
40 See Edgar Torres. “Jueces Sin Rostro Avanzan Contra Las Bases Del Cartel.”
El Tiempo. April 23, 1992.
MAM-97022 (accessed September 30, 2013).
41 See República de Colombia. Ley 388 de 1997. Official Document, Bogotá:
República de Colombia, 1997.
42 See Departamento Administrative Nacional de Estadísticas (DANE). Censo
2005–2006. Official Report, Bogotá: DANE, 2007.
43 See Gabriel Alejandro and Rivera Reyes. “Una década de gestión del espacio
público en Bogotá, apreciaciones desde la perspectiva de las políticas públicas.”
Revista de Estudios Sociales, 2002: 90–97.
44 See Federico Fernández, “Laboratorios de reconstrucción urbana: Hacia una
antropología de la política urbana en Colombia.” Antípoda (2010): 51–84.
45 See María Cecilia Orozco. Le Corbusier, Le Corbusier en Bogotá, 1947–1951.
Establecimiento del Plan Director por Le Corbusier en París, 1949–1950 (edición
facsimilar). Vol. 1. Bogotá: Ediciones Uniandes, 2010.
46 “II Foro Técnico Regional sobre Reasentamiento de Población.” Banco
Mundial; Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo. Bogotá DC, May 25, 2005.
IDU_sin_titulo_doc_es.pdf (accessed October 27, 2013).
47 See Ivonne Malaver.“Enrique Peñalosa Medio Ambiental.” El Tiempo. February
21, 2000.
(accessed September 30, 2013).

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

48 See Marcela Ángel Samper and María Cecilia O’Byrne. Casa + casa + casa =
¿ciudad? Bogotá: Ediciones Uniandes, 2012.
49 See a57. “La vivienda de Germán Samper: arquitectura para la gente.” a57.
November 9, 2011.
German-Samper (accessed September 13, 2013). See also Marcela Ángel
Samper and María Cecilia O’Byrne. Casa + casa + casa = ¿ciudad? Bogotá:
Ediciones Uniandes, 2012.
50 Camilo Andrés Cifuentes Quin. “Urbanism and the urban in the Bogotá
transformation. Expert discourse and a word from the residents.” DEARQ 11
(August 2012): 138–147.
51 To learn more about the film see Urbanized. Directed by Gary Hustwit. 2011. (accessed September 30, 2013).
52 See Angel Ricardo Gómez. “Fundación para la Cultura Urbana tiende
a desaparecer.” El Universal. July 17, 2010. http://www.eluniversal.
com/2010/07/17/til_art_fundacion-para-la-cu_1975886.shtml (accessed
August 2, 2013).
53 See Grupo Empresarial EPM. EPM. March 9, 2013.
co/site/Home/Institucional/Historia.aspx (accessed August 2, 2013).
54 See Jaime Ruíz Restrepo. Medellín: Fronteras de discriminación y espacios de guerra.
Medellín, July, 2003.
ceo/article/viewFile/6496/5965 (accessed April 4, 2014).
55 Some critics point out the limited capacity of this transportation system. At the
moment, there are only two Metro-cable lines, and a few outdoor escalators,
serving informal areas, which are located on steep terrain in Medellín. Many
more of these Metro-cables and other vertical mobility systems may be
required. In a similar way, a city with the complexity and expanse of Medellín
cannot depend solely on a pair of bus lines.
56 On the history of the Botanical Garden see Jardín Botánico de Medellín.
Botánico Medellín. 2012.
html (accessed August 2, 2013).
57 See Jasón Betancur Hernández. “Intervención del río Medellín: la Sociedad
de Mejoras Públicas y la administración municipal de Medellín, 1940–1956.”
Revista de Historia Regional y Local 4, no. 8 (July 2012): 241–273.
58 Ibid.
59 The 11th Veronica Rudge Green Prize in Urban Design by the Harvard
Graduate School of Design, in 2013 honored two projects that demonstrated

Lessons from Venezuela and Colombia

the potential for the planning and execution of mobility infrastructure to

transform a city and its region through carefully articulated design interven-
tions. For details see Harvard University Graduate School of Design. http://
design-award-ceremony.html (accessed November 20, 2013).
60 Medellín won the “Innovative City of the Year” competition, organized
in 2013 by  The  Wall Street Journal  and Citi, as the most creative city of
the year, from a shortlist that included New York City and Tel Aviv. This
was one of many prizes and praises for Medellín, considered for decades
the most violent city in the world. Medellín exemplifies that even under
the most adverse conditions urban improvement is possible, and in a short
time, becoming a reference for many developing nations and particularly in
relation to the improvement of informal settlements. See Wall Street Journal
“City of the Year,” March 14, 2013.
(accessed August 2, 2013).

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Figure 3.1: Sketch of the Informal Armatures concept by David Gouverneur
Chapter Three

The concept of Informal Armatures

They are not slums, marginalized urban areas. They are important urban
components in the making that require attention and creative thinking
in planning and design. If we intend to succeed in providing a sustainable
habitat for the urban poor, we just have to move quicker than the pace of
growth of the informal settlements.1

I have intentionally avoided in this book the use of the English term “slums” or
any similar term in other languages, such as favelas in Portuguese, or the Spanish
denominations of tugurios, or villas miseria, because of their negative and derogative
connotations. These terms were originally employed by wealthier groups, and also
by institutions and academics to describe poorer neighborhoods in inner cities
or peripheral new settlements, which presented different standards of living and
cultural values. As is clear throughout the book, informal settlements have the
potential of becoming satisfactory places to live; a change in attitude towards them
may begin by referring to them in a positive manner.

3.1 What is the Informal Armatures approach?

Informal Armatures (IA) is a design and managerial approach that fosters

sustainable growth of the informal city. This method responds to the internal logic
of informal settlements by providing them with morphological and performative
conditions that they rarely achieve on their own. It emerges from observations and
analysis of informal settlements, enhancing their positive aspects while addressing
their deficiencies, and from evaluating different initiatives that have been advanced

The concept of Informal Armatures

to deal with urbanization in other contexts. IA operates under the belief that culti-
vated fostered informal settlements should be conceived as part of larger urban
systems, largely because they are poised to become the leading drivers of urbani-
zation in developing countries.
For these reasons, the IA approach differs significantly from previous approaches,
such as the ones envisioned in the Sites and Services programs or in plans and
projects for the improvement of existing informal settlements, by offering more
extensive and complete urban frameworks for self-constructed neighborhoods,
districts, and cities. IA is a multifunctional and transformative method that takes
advantage of contextual conditions, merging compelling formal design and
managerial techniques with the dynamics of informality. The IA initiative is struc-
tured on simple principles that can induce significant change, provided the public
sector and/or institutions and community-based organizations are committed.
That is, there is collective effort to advance these principles and design moves,
engaging the population in shaping their urban habitat.
The IA approach, where informality and intentionality merge, can be compared
to rods submerged in a nutrient-rich underwater environment facilitating the
initial phase of occupation and growth of the self-constructed areas. The informal
settlements behave as mollusks. Such organisms require a favorable milieu and
support medium to grow. The root system of mangroves, for instance, allows clams
to adhere and aggregate until they become larger colonies. Each clam, like an
informal dwelling, is similar in appearance, internal structure, and performance. If
the support systems and the nutrients are rich, the colony flourishes. As the colony
matures, the ecosystem becomes more complex as both the support system and
the organisms evolve.
The concept of biodiversity, where multiple living organisms thrive as part of
a network of interconnected and evolving ecosystems, also applies to these hybrid
urban territories. When formal and informal urbanization grow apart and work
independently, the system suffers. When closely interconnected, they both thrive
and the system becomes stronger and more resilient. Establishing a network of
formal and functional relationships, in which the community plays an important
role, IA supports thriving communities that are adaptable to changing conditions.
As was explained in previous chapters, in most developing countries, formal
and informal areas are spatially segregated, even within cities where both compo-
nents are in close proximity. In many developing countries, the formal residential
areas are the product of mid-twentieth century planning and design principles.

The concept of Informal Armatures

During the past decades many have been developed as urban enclaves or gated
communities, whether for security or adopting trends from developed countries.
Many consider informal settlements to be urban enclaves where non-residents are
The formal/informal segregation results in uneven finance, management, and
maintenance. The formal city absorbs an elevated percentage of public investment
because it contributes greater tax revenues, as well as the political leverage that
residents in formal areas can exercise.2 When informal settlements evolve and
consolidate on their own, they usually do not attain sustainable conditions, because
residents cannot address issues about the public domain without some form of
government or institutional support.
This situation does not nurture social tolerance, nor does it allow distribution of
infrastructure investment, including services, mobility, open space, and amenities,
all of which tend to be concentrated in the formal city. Under these conditions,
cities become increasingly socially divided and dysfunctional.
The IA approach operates in a middle ground, recognizing the benefits and
limitations of informal growth, while introducing working methods and design
solutions derived from the formal city or hybrid urban systems. As a preemptive
method, the IA approach envisions favorable spatial and performative conditions
before informal occupation takes place. In addition, IA supports the transfor-
mation process until assistance is no longer required.
The interconnectivity between different components and scales gives the system
robustness and synergy, creating surplus value. Different functions can be accom-
modated in the IA approach. For instance, in the early phases of occupation, public
spaces may allow temporary shelters for newcomers, support food production, and
serve as informal recreational and sport areas and informal markets.
This might manifest as a network of mixed-use areas and more self-sufficient
districts that help to reduce consumption and foster local social ties. Unique
programs in IA territories may include: urban agriculture, recycling or production
of on-site construction materials for dwellings, cooperative construction of infra-
structure, manufacturing programs, or special education.
A review of the historical evolution of urbanization practices in a particular
context can provide valuable insight on the nature of strategies necessary to
sustainably populate emergent hybrid urban landscapes. Some IA initiatives may
provide metropolitan-scaled infrastructural, economic, and service functions,
which act as “urban equalizers” that help informal settlements perform on par

The concept of Informal Armatures

Figure 3.2: Consolidated informal settlement adjacent to agricultural terraces along the Guiniguada
ravine, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Canary Islands

with the formal city. Others may scale down to serve neighborhoods and even
smaller clusters.
The IA approach relies on transformative processes, recognizing that informal
settlements, particularly in the earliest phases of occupation, are extremely
malleable. Informal settlements can adapt to different site conditions and can
transform or expand rapidly. Although informal dwellers have been constantly
uprooted from both rural and urban areas throughout time, they rapidly adapt to
new conditions by assimilating a multiplicity of lifestyles. Therefore, we can infer
that the informal city has a greater transformative capacity than more regulated
formal areas.

3.2 What are the contributions of the IA approach?

The four main contributions of the IA program are as follows: (a) consistent
management and communal engagement in order to ensure the best use of

The concept of Informal Armatures

resources and the implementation of the approach; (b) emphasis on a multipurpose

design of the system of public spaces as placeholders for urban infill, keeping
in mind that articulated systems of public spaces, whether in the formal or in
the informal areas, are not common in the contemporary urban fabric of most
developing countries; (c) multiple connections between performance and design
components, which can nurture the settlements by allowing them to quickly grow
and transform; and (d) the possibility of introducing these concepts in existing
formal and informal areas where they have not been addressed.
IA constitutes a design and managerial tool that can provide new dwellers
with opportunities to excel within their neighborhoods, districts, and the city as
a whole. To do so, IA addresses appropriate site selection and connectivity, as well
as the spatial organization and performative conditions within the new urban
territories. Spatial organization is based on simple design moves, which will be
described in Chapter 5.
At first glance, they may not seem too different from conventional urban design
and landscape architecture components. The main difference is that the public
realm is expected to transform over time in response to community needs, and
this requires a very different set of skills on the part of planners, designers, and
facilitators to address these transformations.
Because of this, the definition of the public realm departs from envisioning
spatial requirements, introducing very simple design interventions. As will be
explained, an important goal is to secure the spatial requirements to attend future
demands, keeping the land free from unwanted occupation. The public realm will
initially provide settlers with elementary services, but it will also give shape to the
process of transformation, as the population increases, settlements consolidate and
expand, and the expectations of the community change.
For instance, as settlers first occupy the site in relatively small numbers,
their priorities will probably be accessing water and food, and securing land
and construction materials to begin erecting their dwellings. Over time, their
neighborhood will become part of a much larger populated territory that will
demand more complex forms of mobility, infrastructure, services, jobs, and
This way, the IA approach addresses neighborhood demands as well as more
sophisticated urban and even metropolitan issues. The IA approach will borrow
land uses and urban forms from planned, designed, and market-driven initiatives,
which will contribute to the overall performance of the system.

The concept of Informal Armatures

The approach implies a change in attitude towards informality with:

• The belief that the IA approach can make a difference and receive proper
political, technical, and financial support;
• The availability of appropriate land to carry out operations, whether in public
hands or in the private domain;
• The engagement of the urban actors that will participate in the experiment,
and particularly the community/users in all phases of the operation, each one
lending their utmost priority and responsibilities;
• The spatial layout and the morphological definition of the organizing design
moves/components that can favor the best use of a site’s assets;
• The resources to navigate the system, monitor changes, and for those
actors needed in the initial phases to withdraw when tutelage is no longer

Figure 3.3: Fishing boats and informal settlement in Choroní, Venezuela

The concept of Informal Armatures

3.3 Sustainable informal growth

The urban landscapes created through the introduction of the IA approach can
address the sustainability issues considered indispensable in developed societies. It
is important to keep in mind that there are significant differences between the
industrialized world and the developing nations when it comes to translating
concepts into realities. As such, developing nations require solutions to absorb
informal logics and resources in order to become sustainable and resilient in the
coming decades.
The societies that have the greatest population growth are those that tend
to have fewer economic, technical, and administrative resources. The way these
resources are used, transformed, and multiplied to create value is usually more
important than the resources themselves. Also of importance is the realization that
poorer communities tend to be less aware of the consequences of shortsighted
actions in the urban environment. This is particularly true when settlers have been
displaced and, in unfamiliar new local conditions, act under survival pressures.
The environmental impact of the urban poor in developing countries can also
be severe but differ from urbanization in industrialized societies. It is difficult to
ask a population that can scarcely access food or potable water to be friendly to the
environment, particularly if there is no one to help facilitate access to basic needs.
Creating the conditions for sustainable growth and informing and educating the
community can induce a shift in values, where survival and sustainability go hand
in hand.3
For these reasons the IA approach towards sustainable informality should rely
on simple, low-cost, innovative, and easily implementable techniques. Design
should be non-prescriptive and able to adjust to constantly changing local condi-
tions. Pressing social demands and limited financial resources require carefully
orchestrated actions, in addition to the combined efforts of otherwise disparate
groups with an understanding of the IA principles, components, and modes of
The central tenets of Landscape Urbanism, which focuses on the structuring
of urban space around green infrastructure and environmentally sensible practices,
encompassing simultaneously morphological and performative aspects, seem to be
well suited for implementation in the developing world.4 Cities in the developing
world will have an important impact on the planet’s future. Introducing green

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infrastructure in existing formal or informal areas is far more complicated than

introducing it prior to and during occupation. This places immense pressure on
political will, supporting the idea that social and ecological sustainability go hand
in hand. How, where, when, and what are the resources of developing countries
to be used? The proper use of human and financial resources is an ethical and a
managerial problem.
But the methods and design solutions that have been tested in the industrialized
world often require significant adaptation before they work properly in developing
contexts. For instance, methods of water recycling and open-air wetland filtration,
both of which are now common water-cleansing procedures in developed
countries, may have to consider maintenance and health implications when placed
in more tropical climates. Stagnant waters exacerbate mosquito-borne diseases,
which are endemic in such climates.
Thus, while the principles behind sustainable practices may be the same, the
final form of the solutions may vary. An ample understanding of the sustainable
practices that are available, the advantage of incorporating them in the proposals,
the importance of selecting the appropriate design components, and the spatial
and performative conditions can make a big difference. Knowledge, skills, and
commitment often trump financial resources.
Rooted in the basic aspects of the sustainability of the newly settled terri-
tories, in this case, food production, the following example illustrates how the
predominantly informal city can benefit from what multifaceted IA systems have
to offer. Usually, a high percentage of the informal dweller’s income is dedicated
to feeding their families, since rent, utilities, and taxes are very low. However, the
price of food in informal areas is generally equal to the basic products consumed
by wealthier groups. However, food tends to be of a lesser quality and diversity,
translating into high levels of malnutrition and, in many cases, obesity.
In the 2005 report, A Billion Voices: Listening and Responding to the Health Needs
of Slum Dwellers and Informal Settlers in New Urban Settings, the World Health
Organization tied urban health inequities to economic, social, and political dispar-
ities. Highlighting how informally developed areas experience these disparities
even more, the report stated, “Globally, the poor bear a heavy burden from both
communicable and non-communicable diseases and slum dwellers and informal
settlers are the most vulnerable groups in the urban setting.”5
Making reasonably priced, quality food available and abundant is a high priority
task for IA facilitators and residents alike. Other priorities include selecting a site

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adjacent to productive agricultural land, as well as indicating the fertile areas to

be protected. Another consideration is including specific agencies or experts to
foster agricultural education in elementary and high schools to help make settle-
ments more sustainable. Farm cooperatives to work the land and market the
products could be another source of healthier food and also economic benefits
for the community. By organizing the local production, commercialization, and
distribution of food, the community can gain autonomy from the large storage,
transportation, and distribution cartels that significantly increase the prices
between the producers and the consumers. Local food production reduces trans-
portation costs, saves energy, and enhances social ties. Such benefits are noted by
the United Nations, as part of the principles included in the Rio Declaration on
Environment and Development.6
Agricultural patches and irrigation systems might become spatial organizers of a
new settlement, providing spatial legibility, and serving as the framework for future
civic spaces. With clearly defined boundaries, these elements are associated with
stewardship-oriented institutions and communal organizations that foster agricul-
tural practices. If needed, physical barriers can be provided to protect production
from looting or to ensure that these urban agricultural patches are not lost to
other uses, at least until their original purpose is no longer collectively beneficial.
Well-designed and emblematic schools, which include programs on agricultural
education, as well as markets, can be located within prominent locations of the
agricultural patches, and given easy access to the urbanized adjacent areas.
Agricultural land can be accompanied by bands of recreational activities that
further increase their visibility and importance within newly settled territories.
These recreation areas might also act as a buffer between agricultural land and
urbanized areas. Agricultural and recreational areas can serve to interrupt the
continuous expansion of predominantly residential patches, providing a more
manageable scale and sense of place to different neighborhoods. Grading the land
for adjacent urban areas might direct rainwater and treated wastewater to the
agricultural patches, to be collected and used for irrigation.
New open spaces within informal districts should be planted with high canopy,
fast-growing, local, and low-maintenance trees, helping to visually promote
the importance of food production as part of the civic landscape. In a similar
manner, parcel subdivision strategies might allow for multiple variations of design
organization and include small individual open-air family and communal gardens.
Neighborhood associations, working in conjunction with the district’s nurseries,

The concept of Informal Armatures

can provide guidance as new settlers become familiar with composting techniques
for small family agricultural plots.
Family agricultural plots can enable the residents to grow smaller scale fruit-
bearing trees, including diverse species that require more attention. The ensemble
of thousands of individual family gardens can produce large quantities of food, a
production that could be organized through cooperatives fueling small business
and markets. The tree canopy within public spaces and in the family plots can
contribute to the larger urban ecology, adjusted to local climate and supporting
diverse species of insects and birds. Trees will provide abundant shade and yield
fruits that are picked by people of all ages, some to be directly eaten on the spot,
some to be prepared at home in a variety of dishes, and others to help foster the
local economy. In less than a decade, such interrelated actions at various scales
could easily enhance the production of food in new settlements.
Farming as a major component of informal settlements is neither new nor
untested. In South Africa, for example, urban farming in informal settlements
has proven to be a very effective two-fold strategy. At the same time, it improves
the financial conditions of informal communities. It is a landscaped transfor-
mation process that helps new urban residents reproduce elements of the rural
environment they left behind, enriching the urban environment with arrange-
ments that allow for faster urban adaptation.7 The crux of the IA approach
regarding urban agriculture is its proactivity, in which the logic of food production
guides the landscape transformation process prior to settlement.

3.4 Knowledgeable, engaged, and honest facilitators

In order to gain the full support of all the actors involved, such as government
officials, NGOs, experts, institutions, schools, and the general public, it is crucial
to have a decision making team in place that has the capacity to channel efforts
in a productive manner and allocate funds with full transparency. It is common
in developing countries to hear the following expression: “Our country is rich in
natural resources and opportunities, but our leaders are corrupt and inefficient.”
Visions, skills, and transparency are perhaps the most important resources to make
IA a viable approach.
To take advantage of the benefits of the IA initiative, developing countries
must rely on the finest human capital at hand in order to compensate for the
lack of economic capital. This entails integrating and incorporating effective and

The concept of Informal Armatures

transparent managerial teams and community leaders, as well as reaching out to

different urban actors and learning from experience. Public institutions, together
with the cooperatives and other organizations running specific programs, could
oversee the “broader picture” of the IA fostered districts. The presence of public
institutions within the newly occupied territories, working hand in hand with
the communities, can make a significant difference to the success of the IA
The task is even more complex considering the dynamic nature of the informal
system. Facilitators of the IA approach must develop the ability to foresee and deal
with constantly changing conditions, in terms of population, income, education,
aspirations, forms of governance, and communal participation. If the adaptability
of settlers to new urban conditions is taken into account and settlers are made
aware of the benefits of participating in the IA experiment, chances are they will
become part of the governance and proactive transformation of their districts.
Sustainable habits can then be encouraged in the early phases of development,
initiating unique forms of co-management that would be difficult to achieve in
already established communities. New and dynamic IA fostered territories can
better incorporate creativity, proactive action, and community engagement than
established settlements or development-driven formal areas. In order to succeed,
the IA approach requires knowledge, determination, and transparency. These
qualities are also important for proactive community participation to support and
monitor the process.
Those who marvel at the spatial quality and adaptability of the informal city
without pondering the severe socio-economic injustices, crime and violence,
the poor health conditions, vulnerability to natural disasters, and environmental
degradation frequently associated with spontaneous informal growth are underes-
timating the problems and the consequences of inaction.
Based on my experience in Latin America, informal residents rarely complain
about the quality of their individual dwellings, unless they are damaged or at risk
of collapsing.8 Similarly, informal residents greatly appreciate the strong social
ties of their self-constructed neighborhoods. They dread, however, the levels of
violence, the unsanitary conditions, the lack of public space, the poor services,
the absence of amenities, and the difficult mobility and accessibility. These are all
conditions that fall in the public realm or require some form of public assistance.9
For these reasons, the public and institutional involvement in foreseeing
the connectivity outcomes of an IA operation is indispensable. Individuals and

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communities simply cannot address many of these aspects fast enough, particularly
when settlements become more complex and grow into large urbanized terri-
tories. Time and scale are crucial aspects of the equation.
The first settlers, who usually arrive in very small groups, focus their attention
on survival and basic needs. But an informal urban conglomerate of 500,000
or millions of inhabitants, which is not uncommon in the mega cities of the
developing world, will require very different support systems, infrastructure, open
spaces, and access to goods, services, jobs, and amenities. These may even need to
be of equal or better quality than those found in the formal city if the goal is to
make a significant difference and equalize living conditions between both forms
of urbanization. The more challenged the communities are, the higher the quality
of the interventions should be.
There seems to be an intermediate condition in which the city, if seen as
an integrated system, can benefit from the qualities of both the formal and the
informal systems, creating better conditions for both by establishing effective
spatial and performative links. The formal brings into play the ability to foresee
the outcome of the urbanization process. It selects better sites, takes advantage of
resources, and creates added value derived from planning, design, and management.
The informal operates with the transformative energy, the velocity, the adaptability,
the resilience, and the ingenuity of communities. These are attributes which the
formal city does not have. The IA approach positions the vitality of informality as
the principal driver of outcomes.
IA embraces the dynamic aspects of the organic growth and freedom that
characterizes the informal city. The IA approach celebrates the will of the inhab-
itants of informal communities, and their desire to express and exhibit their
cultural values, in constructing their dwellings. It allows them to transform their
dwellings from basic shelters into homes and communities. The IA approach
intends to balance inward (informal) and outward (formal) forces, in order to
provide access to affordable and adequate land. In some cases, creating the condi-
tions for accelerating informal transformation may necessitate the reallocation
of some resources from the formal city. In the long term, this would reduce the
informal city’s overdependence on the formal city and make a stronger metropolis.
For the successful implementation of IA, planners, who envision how new
territories will be occupied and transformed, and the direct beneficiaries, who
construct better habitats for themselves, should be able easily to understand its
concepts and design criteria. Quality and complexity are not necessarily congruent.

The concept of Informal Armatures

By looking all the way back to the colonial period in Latin America, the Laws
of the Indies, we identify a simple set of criteria responding to clear goals (in this
case a colonial enterprise) which were easily executed. Their simplicity allowed
ordinary people to deploy the conceptual and physical product of the Spanish
Kingdom. The Laws were a sort of handbook that translated principles into codes
and design components. They provided explicit guidelines for site selection and
urban and architectural products, but implicitly assumed the cultural idiosyncrasies
of the founders, colonizers, and eventually the local population.
The IA approach seeks to develop simple methods and design solutions that
are deeply sensitive to local conditions, which can address urgent needs with
an awareness of the socio-economic and environmental issues at stake. Though
based on generic principles and design components, IA maintains its nuance by
remaining responsive to local conditions. The Laws of the Indies included recom-
mendations for the selection of sites in terms of defendability, health, availability
of water, agricultural land, and growth potential.
The system was, however, insensitive to natural features like streams and
wetlands, varying geological and soil conditions, the risks of natural disasters, or
even the existence of scenic values on the sites. Even less importance was given
in the Laws to cultural aspects and the ways locals took advantage of site condi-
tions. This happened primarily because the model was to be applied uniformly in
distant, diverse, and unknown territories, imposing European models.
In the case of the Laws of the Indies, trial and error offered clues to better
site selection, and adapting urban and architectural solutions to local conditions.
To illustrate this point, let’s consider that some significant settlements had to be
relocated, defeated by the forces of nature. Others severely altered the existing
natural systems, and eroded the functional relationships that the local population
had with their landscapes. Some colonial settlements destroyed productive wetlands
and Pre-Columbian green infrastructure, as well as rich urban and architectural
products, as in the cases of today’s Mexico City, Cuzco, or Bogotá.
By contrast, the IA approach is particularly responsive to local site conditions. It
addresses far more complex ecological and cultural aspects, since the main benefi-
ciaries and executers of the initiative will be settlers. These settlers are not always
familiar with local conditions, since they might arrive from different regions and
may encounter diverse and unfamiliar ecologies. The IA approach can help this
transition, blending local conditions and the cultural values that the settlers bring
with them.

The concept of Informal Armatures

The IA task is further complicated when considering the many variables that
have to be addressed, the magnitude of the endeavor in terms of population, and
the global distribution of existing and expected informality. Furthermore, the
globalized world and immediate access to information in contemporary urbanism
have a strong influence on local conditions, lifestyles, and aspirations, as well as
local economic drivers.

3.5 New forms and new programs

The IA approach requires political will, design creativity, and management

efficiency in order to stimulate the growth of new informal developments. These
aspects were evident in the projects carried out in Río de Janeiro,10 Bogotá, and
Medellín. In these Latin American examples, there was a paradigm shift and
the goal was to break away from the marginal interventions that had charac-
terized informal settlement improvement plans in the past. In these successful
cases, they favored holistic, decidedly managed developments, and high quality
design interventions, with the clear intention of raising the bar and honoring
the communities that for so long struggled for rights to better living conditions.
These examples also demonstrate that theoretical research should be accom-
panied by compelling design operations in which the character, role, scale,
morphology, and performance of the components are established, tested, and
Design plays the lead role in the outcomes of the IA approach. Proposals
should be able to quickly address the ways in which the formal and performative
components are laid out on the site. The connections with the existing urban
areas, the appropriate scale and defendability of the public spaces, how these
spaces transform over time, morphological and aesthetic qualities, the selection
of plant species or materials, and the timing of the interventions are a few
Morphological and aesthetic projects cannot be conceived independently of
the economic, administrative, political, or institutional considerations that will
mobilize the transformations. The main task is to provide the conditions that will
shape these new cities into balanced urban products taking place in global markets,
as opposed to marginal or submissive components of the formal city. They should
be understood as dynamic hybrid urban ecologies that may well become the
dominant and best form of territorial occupation in the developing world.

The concept of Informal Armatures

The IA, as a hybrid urban approach, has a good chance of becoming a resilient
and sustainable urbanization method. The standards of living in these new areas
are expected to be, in time, equitable to those in the formal city. Certainly, formal
and informal settlements will be different in character and performance, each with
their own personality. They will offer many urbanites choices in terms of their
benefits, while eroding the physical and cultural barriers that today separate the
formal from the informal.
The IA approach to physical organization can then accommodate various
activities, creating a network of relations in which physical and non-physical realms
come together.The manner in which the IA steers territorial occupation can greatly
determine the future of the settlement. The most difficult task may be to define the
proper distribution and equilibrium between the components that define the public
realm, the land fit for new settlement, land for supplementary and productive uses,
and the performative conditions that will stimulate systemic growth.
Probably one of the main sources of uncertainty and fear on the part of the
new settlers is the fact that they are facing an unfamiliar environment, that they
may be evicted from the land they occupy, their sites may not be stable, and their
efforts may be lost. Thus areas designated for their occupation in the IA approach
should reaffirm a sense of belonging and hope for new settlers. The community
should perceive facilitators of IA as trustworthy partners who help deliver an
efficient way to inhabit the land and engage in a productive and rewarding
urban living. A simple way to imagine how an IA fostered territory is spatially
organized is to visualize a system of performance strands that define the public
realm, capable of sustaining multiple uses and functions. These strands, by default,
act as placeholders for informal occupation, which will act as receptor zones for
the new settlers.
The public realm interventions of the IA approach are physical insertions in the
territory with precise dimensions and physicality, which may be achieved by very
simple and inexpensive measures. The facilitators of the IA experiment must have
the skills to motivate the settlers to engage in the initiative, inviting them to be
an active part of subsequent transformations. These initial formal and managerial
conditions should be able to convey to settlers that the IA program offers clear
advantages as a collaborative enterprise.
It can be expected that, during the early phases of occupation, the IA facilitators
will center their work on urgent and immediate needs, without losing sight of the
future of the settlement as part of larger and more complex urban systems by:

The concept of Informal Armatures

a. Providing settlers with a sense of security that they are occupying a piece of
land from which they will not be evicted, receiving a title and an address that
identify them as settlers;
b. Securing access to potable water, even if it is only initially provided by a well
or a cistern, and access to food, including the possibility of growing their own
individually or through cooperatives in designated lots;
c. Offering settlers safe public spaces for socialization. These might be symbolic
foundational public spaces, with the potential to be associated with the admin-
istrative entity in charge of propelling the IA and helping settlers feel confident
that the IA will provide them with the initial support and information to create
satisfactory urban conditions;
d. Facilitating sources of recycled, site-produced, or outsourced construction
materials to begin dwelling construction, with technical assistance on the
individual and communal levels.

The public spaces of the IA approach should be flexible enough to host diverse
activities, ranging from informal markets, to sporting events, to community rituals
and cultural events. They should also include lighting, to make night gatherings
safe at a time when, especially in nascent settlements, it is likely that the settlers
are using candles and kerosene lamps. Initial support systems could include basic
health facilities and daycare centers for families. Public spaces for cultural events
and markets can help foster civic pride, encouraging a sense of ownership and
shared responsibilities.
This is one example of the array of services, goods, and emotional conditions
that informal settlements rarely enjoy during the initial phases of unsupported
occupation. Simple landscape and design interventions might begin to establish a
sense of belonging by providing basic gathering spaces. Basic services, like potable
water and sanitation facilities, minimum lighting, and humble community center
constructions, might then suffice as initial structuring elements in space. Perhaps,
most importantly, there is the human component represented by the IA facilitators,
who can contribute by shaping the new settlements, as well as helping to foster a
sense of attachment of the community to the site.
Important decisions for the facilitators of the IA approach will be to establish
the appropriate balance between the interventions on the public realm and the
means to assist the community in the self-constructed areas, decisions that are
intrinsically connected. In the IA initiative the structuring operations of the public

The concept of Informal Armatures

realm are intended to act as a supportive urban landscape system, with broader
city and metropolitan implications, in conjunction with a public framework at a
neighborhood scale.
Due to the financial limitations of first-wave informal settlers it can be expected
that the facilitators of the IA should be able to provide small lots and basic initial
housing shells that will offer the settlers the possibility of dwelling expansion. The
compactness of these lots and dwellings should be compensated through more
generous systems of public spaces. Many dense and successful pre-Modernist
cities offer a rich public realm for civic enjoyment, presenting tight urban infill,
comprising predominantly residential/mixed-use components.
In these cities, the residential units tend to be smaller than those found in less
dense urban scenarios where little attention is paid to the public realm. In other
words, greater urban amenities in the public realm often correspond to smaller
dimensions in the private domain. But again this cannot be written in stone. Some
communities with a stronger agrarian heritage and fewer demographic pressures
and land restrictions may profit from assembling larger residential lots to accom-
modate bigger or extended families and including individual or communal gardens.
Whether creating smaller parcels with large public spaces, or larger lots to
accommodate individual gardens, the IA approach establishes an integrated system
of public and individual/communal initiatives, both in constant transformation.
The nature and velocity of such transformations may vary from one context to
another. IA facilitators should have a sense of how the public and private realms
have evolved locally in order to have a better appreciation of how they may
interact and transform in the IA territories.
For instance, in many of the larger Latin American cities, adobe courtyard walls,
and low-rise structures on the colonial grid, were replaced by myriad building
types in the absence of historic preservation bills. By contrast, the infill component
of the informal settlements that emerged in most developing countries only after
the second half of the twentieth century followed a more predictable pace, from
the initial occupation to later phases of consolidation.11
In Latin America, many plazas and street grids resulting from the Laws of the
Indies have barely changed centuries after they were first inscribed into the land.
Despite this, the grid has allowed for the introduction of some new forms of infra-
structure and modes of mobility, and its permanence has helped to convey a sense
of place and urban organization, morphologically and functionally differentiating
these foundational urban cores from the other parts of the city.

The concept of Informal Armatures

Informal infill results in a rather homogeneous urban fabric comprising

multiple additions of individual dwellings, a product of micro-investments and
piecemeal construction. This fabric has not been influenced by zoning, more
aggressive interventions, or the introduction of contemporary building types or
new construction technologies, other than in those settlements that have been
subject to informal settlement improvement plans.
In the informal sector in general, the use of similar lot sizes and spatial configu-
rations, as well as a limited pallet of materials and building methods, coupled with
the aesthetics that stem from the treatment of facades as the communities matured
and consolidated, have produced a mostly uniform urban fabric.12 The unplanned,
non-standardized building types amalgamate into a compact network that is
imbued with a homogeneous character that resists globalization’s efforts to erode
Informal settlements today will likely constitute the cultural heritage of the
future, at a time when globalization tends to erode difference and produce
anonymous formal urban and architectural products.
However, in informal settlements, the public realm is given minimal consid-
eration, particularly when occupation has occurred on very steep terrain.13 The
spatial configuration of streets may be simple, but perhaps a bit more generous
when a simple urban framework has been provided prior to occupation, as in the
case of the settlements resulting from pirate developers’ interventions in Colombia,
or in other forms of organized communal action to settle a new territory.
Generally in informal settlements, the public realm component is static; and it is
expected to undergo only minor changes over time and perform rather limited
functions, basically providing pedestrian and poor vehicular access to private lots.14
The most significant differences in the IA approach are expected to occur in
the public realm. At least in terms of its general location and scale, the public
realm is preconfigured before occupation occurs. Setting apart the IA supported
informal settlements from the spontaneous ones, the IA should be able to secure
a diverse system of open spaces that will constitute the civic and performative
backbone of the newly urbanized territories. It will also introduce spatial aspects
that are uncommon even in the contemporary formal areas of most developing
countries. In the IA approach, the public realm is expected to experience constant
transformation and have the flexibility to respond to changing demands.

The concept of Informal Armatures

Figure 3.4: Recent informal settlement in the higher elevations of the Northeastern Commune,
Medellín, Colombia

3.6 Addressing different urban demands from the metropolitan to the

local scale

Frequently, informal settlements in developing cities have surpassed formal settle-

ments in terms of population and area. Despite this, practically all the components
that serve the entire urban system, including infrastructure, open space, better
paying jobs, services, and amenities, are located in the formal zones. As informal
areas grow the disparities between the served and the un-served areas will become
even more acute. For this reason, the IA approach seeks to incorporate conditions
for support as the framework of the new predominantly informal city.

The concept of Informal Armatures

The spatial organization and the role of the metropolitan-scale components,

such as large metropolitan parks, sports complexes, theaters, city halls, food distri-
bution centers, and cemeteries, are probably the most significant contributions
of the IA model when compared with Sites and Services or informal settlement
improvement programs. These components are expected to serve, over time, both
formal and informal settlers.They are expected to become IA’s contribution to the
metropolitan urban areas, occupying prominent locations within the settlement,
ensuring good accessibility and connectivity, as well as creating spatial conditions
to support urban functions, which are not easily replicated at a local scale.
As in any city, metropolitan services or amenities also serve the neighbor-
hoods located in their proximity. As the settlements grow, mature, consolidate,
and increase in density, the opportunities for local services would multiply and
diversify within the predominantly residential areas. The larger landscapes of the
IA model would evolve and strengthen their metropolitan role.
We may find a historic parallel in the initial components between the Spanish
colonial model and the IA approach. In the former, the foundation square or
plaza, the churches, and municipal buildings were the main sources of communal
services, as well as the symbolic representations of colonial power and management.
As the urban grid was expanded to accommodate population growth, new plazas
and public buildings were included in the expansion areas to produce a network
of similar plazas integrated within the neighborhoods. Over time, the initial
plazas, anchored in governmental institutions and community services, became
the symbols of the growing cities. These initial plazas became places for special
events, which compared to the regular activities in neighborhood squares.15 They
represented the metropolitan.
The facilitators of the IA initiatives design strategies should be able to embrace
“survival-mode thinking” without losing sight of the future. This requires the
conception of neighborhood-oriented uses as components that may transform in
time to accommodate larger scale, urban facilities or coexist with new ones, such
as public transportation systems and multimodal transfer stations, district-scale
markets, large cultural venues, institutes of higher learning or technical education,
specialized health facilities, decentralized offices and services of the municipal
government, manufacturing and business centers, employment areas, and so on.
Besides considering these more robust public areas and the zones defined for
the settlers to self-construct their homes, the IA approach also takes into account
sites for different urban infill for productive uses. IA considers the inclusion of

The concept of Informal Armatures

commercial, manufacturing, office, mixed-use, and institutional uses, which in the

early phases will be provisionally used to satisfy the demands of the newly estab-
lished community. Over time, as the informal settlements mature, these productive
areas would be able to support more mixed-use developments, including services
and amenities normally found only in the formal city.
Supplementary uses that help create a more balanced urban system also require
a certain degree of stewardship for long-term success. The IA management should
be capable of defining appropriate locations and the mechanisms to secure the land
and avoid unwanted occupation. In addition, they should be able to determine
performance and design conditions under which these supplementary uses and
activities may occur.
Outcomes of IA initiatives are likely to have a visible and transformative impact
on an urban/metropolitan scale. These initiatives should convey formal, functional,
and symbolic messages that help foster social cohesion and civic engagement. As
has occurred in some of the informal areas that were subject to improvement plans,
the design quality of the public spaces, civic buildings, large parks, and biodiversity
protection zones will begin to attract residents from other parts of the city, as well
as regional and international tourists. Such was the case with the interventions in
the Santo Domingo neighborhood in Medellín. In a similar manner, the facilitators
of the IA model and residents alike should sense that they are attaining sustainable
results.These results will become evident not only when their neighborhoods have
achieved good living conditions, but also when the non-residents begin to enjoy
what these areas have to offer.
Sites and Services programs were successful in tapping into the communal
forces to create better neighborhoods by establishing a local framework and
allocating parcels for self-constructed housing and local services. But these
programs did not address the more complex multi-scale and multifunctional issues
on the metropolitan scale. Similarly, the informal settlements improvement plans
were also limited by the lack of available space within the tight and consolidated
informal physical and social structures.
Priority should be given to prefiguring the more urban/metropolitan scale
as the neighborhood scale can eventually be self-managed or retrofitted with
informal settlement improvement plans. However, if the managerial resources are
available, orchestration between both scales would produce better results.
In summary, the basic aspects to be considered by the facilitators and benefi-
ciaries of the IA initiative include:

The concept of Informal Armatures

a. The selection of favorable sites, taking into account their internal conditions as
well as their relations with the existing urban areas, rural settlements, and the
natural landscape;
b. The assortment of initial space-marking components, including the definition
of their location and the establishment of a set of relevant roles. This includes
the elements that will define the public realm, as well as the areas where settlers
are invited to begin the construction of their dwellings;
c. The means (physical and non-physical) to ensure that the public realm remains
public and free from unwanted permanent occupation, be it informal or formal;
d. The capacity to manage and monitor the entire system as the settlement
evolves, adjusting initial components and managerial conditions and intro-
ducing new ones.

1 This quote was taken from the lecture presented by David Gouverneur,
“New Forms of Urbanization,” during the IX National Housing Convention,
organized by the Venezuelan Construction Chamber in October 2004, in
Caracas, Venezuela. The general topic of this event was how to attain a better
habitat, produce more housing, and offer more employment. Other lecturers
during this event were Enrique Peñalosa from Colombia, Jaime Lerner from
Brazil, Ken Greenberg from Canada, Flavio Ferreira from Brazil, and Graciela
Flores from Venezuela. All presentations emphasized the importance of
envisioning the provision of shelter as an integral component of urban design
and management.
2 On the characteristics of the formal city see Oscar Grauer. Principles, Rules
and Urban Form: The Case of Venezuela. PhD Thesis, University Microfilms
International, 1991.
3 This idea bears some resemblance to the one espoused by Michael Rios in
“Marginality and the Prospect for Urbanism in the Post-Ecological City,” an
article in Andrés Duany and Emily Talen’s Landscape Urbanism and its Discontents.
Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers, 2013. Rios advocates taking “a
socio-ecological perspective” that sees social and ecological sustainability as
not just going hand in hand, but as two inherently interconnected concepts.
4 On the definition of “Landscape Urbanism” see Charles Waldheim. The
Landscape Urbanism Reader. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006.

The concept of Informal Armatures

5 See World Health Organization. A Billion Voices: Listening and Responding to

the Health Needs of Slum Dwellers and Informal Settlers in New Urban Settings.
Review Paper, Japan: WHO Kobe Centre, 2005.
6 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. Rio Declaration
on Environment and Development. Conference Report, Río de Janeiro: United
Nations, 2012.
7 See W. van Averbeke. “Urban farming in the informal settlements of
Atteridgeville, Pretoria, South Africa.” Water SA 33, no. 3 (2007): 337–342.
8 This is true when the dwellings have reached a certain level of consolidation,
after they have invested time and money in them. However, for political
reasons and/or to take advantage of housing policies, informal dwellers can
become quite outspoken, particularly in paternalistic regimes.
9 For example, talking with residents of a young peripheral settlement in
Harare in February 2013, I asked them what they needed most. The group I
consulted answered invariably: jobs. This group, like countless others, waited
for public transportation to take them on long commutes to the center city.
This settlement in Harare was subject to legal, political, and spatial injustices
that made the access to well-paying jobs especially appalling. The strategies to
counter these sorts of injustices will be covered in Chapters 6 and 7.
10 See Municipal Instituto Brasileiro De Administração. Estudo de Avaliação da
Experiência Brasileira sobre Urbanização de Favelas e Regularização Fundiária.
Executive Summary, Río de Janeiro: IBAM, 2002.
11 See World Health Organization. A Billion Voices: Listening and Responding to
the Health Needs of Slum Dwellers and Informal Settlers in New Urban Settings.
Review Paper, Japan: WHO Kobe Centre, 2005, p. 3.
12 On the formal characteristics of informal settlements see David Gouverneur.
“De los superbloques a los asentamientos informales. Concepciones
disímiles, resultados similares.” La ciudad viva. March 20, 2006. http://
pdf-ee21e2583c667528b8c78f69be3970e6.pdf (accessed July 29, 2013).
13 Ibid.
14 Ibid.
15 On the evolution of the colonial city see Arturo Almandoz. Urbanismo Europeo
en Caracas (1870–1940). Caracas: Fundación para la cultura urbana, 2006.

Figure 4.1: Barrios de Petare, Caracas, Venezuela
Chapter Four

Forces at play

Informal Armatures shapes the predominantly self-constructed city to foster

sustainable urban conditions. IA focuses on three interconnected aspects:

a. Channeling financial and human capital for resource efficiency in an era of

global scarcity;
b. Guiding settlers’ adaptation to new habitats, targeting the violence common to
non-fostered informal settlements;
c. Bridging the informal and formal cities with appropriate connectivity and
infrastructure systems.

4.1 Resource efficiency in an era of global scarcity

The IA approach focuses on addressing the urgent demands of the urban poor.
Twenty-first century cities must efficiently use resources, diversify economic
drivers, and embrace effective forms of management and governance. To work
towards a future less reliant on fossil fuels, the IA approach prioritizes low energy
consumption by reinserting compact, walkable, and mixed-use areas into urban
habitats. These were all features of preindustrial and informal cities. While incor-
porating these well-established principles of city making, the IA approach also
tackles contemporary challenges of developing countries, such as scarcity of food
and water, sanitation and health, waste management, efficient mobility, information
access, economic drivers, political participation, and peaceful living.
David Grahame Shane argues in his book Urban Design Since 1945: A Global
Perspective that the post-war city was characterized by models that relied on cheap

Forces at play

oil and mounting globalization forces.1 These forces concentrated new economic
activities in aging urban centers, which lost their residential population as cities
expanded outward and colonized new territories.2 In industrialized nations this
manifested in the decay of pre-oil urban centers and the emergence of auto-
oriented suburbs.
Cities of developing countries followed a similar pattern, with wealthier
residents moving to suburbia as poorer immigrants and city residents began
occupying the depopulating urban centers. Poor immigrants re-densify older
urban areas in crowded and unhealthy tenements, in addition to introducing a
diversity of informal, commercial activities. However, it wasn’t long before the
low-income population began squatting on the urban fringe, giving birth to
peripheral and underserviced or deurbanized informal settlements.
The formal and the informal peripheries were to become predominantly single-
use residential areas. As population increased, with higher growth rates within
the lower-income groups, the inner cities changed roles again. The tenements
were gradually replaced by higher real-estate commercial-oriented activities, and
the informal periphery expanded further. Growing physical separation of the
wealthier suburban areas from the peripheral informal settlements would result in
social segregation, affecting the performance of the entire city.
The predominantly informal city of the future must carefully address social
segregation by diminishing the disparities between both urban forms and tackling
the dysfunctional conditions present in many developing cities today. The formal
and the informal areas must be handled as integral components of a rich and
evolving urban ecosystem.
In order to respond to this challenge, the wealthier suburbs must be sustainably
reimagined, requiring re-densification, creating new mixed-use sub-centers,
incorporating jobs, and encouraging social mixing. Similarly, the peripheral
informal settlements must be transformed, incorporating local and metropolitan
services, amenities, public spaces, infrastructure, efficient forms of mobility, and
employment. Improved urban conditions in existing informal areas and the
inclusion of formal design and managerial aspects in the IA fostered territories will
also contribute to accelerated social mobility and mixing.
Strategies acting on the urban periphery—which usually corresponds to
suburban patterns in the industrialized world—as well as on peripheral informality,
should focus on making these areas less dependent on older city centers and main
city corridors where jobs, services, and amenities are generally concentrated,

Forces at play

forcing the suburbanites to commute and consume more energy. These changes,
in addition to the reinforcement of public transportation, will help ease the
dependence on private vehicles and reduce vulnerability to energy shortages.
Sustainable practices favoring re-densification and mixed-use formal districts
may be plausible in suburbia, in new urban expansion areas, and in central
locations. These trends are already emerging in some wealthier nations, fostered
by creative zoning. However, the growth of the predominantly self-constructed
city, accommodating the needs of the poorer groups, will inevitably occur on
the urban fringe, which significantly expands city boundaries. Since the majority
of the population must self-construct their neighborhoods because they cannot
access the formal real-estate market, very different proactive managerial and design
moves will be required to favor mixed-use, balanced, and socially integrated cities.
This is the main challenge of the IA approach.
It is important to clarify this aspect. One of the most valuable commodities for
poorer groups is to have access to very cheap or free land to begin to construct

Figure 4.2: Commercial activity in the vicinity of the Santo Domingo Metro-cable station, Medellín,

Forces at play

their shelters. Densification of the districts for the very low income groups will
occur gradually as they consolidate and expand their dwellings, and not through
a change of zoning or the construction of formal housing or mixed-use projects.
Consequently, unless there are tracts of underutilized land within the existing city
limits that can readily be made available for this purpose, which is not usually
the case, proactive land banking and public policy could offer an opportunity to
reimagine a more sustainable future for the predominantly informal city.
According to the IA approach, these instruments of land management can then
assure the successful combination of self-constructed areas with a diversity of uses
for other social groups and include other formal interventions. This is among
the critical foundations for the formal and informal cities to achieve a mutually
beneficial relationship and become an integral system.
Balancing the expansion of new informal settlements with the existing formal
and informal cities is crucial for creating more sustainable cities. This is only one
of a long list of considerations that should be addressed by the IA approach. Other
considerations include the following: the protection of valuable agricultural land,
water conservation, food security, waste reduction, the provision of materials for
the construction of the self-constructed districts, energy production, and alter-
native modes of economic production.

4.2 Guided adaptation

For the majority of informal settlers, adapting to their new habitats represents a
new beginning that instills a sense of hope and progress, as well as anxiety and fear.
The socio-cultural values of the settlers, their skills, and their experience in rural
or urban living may vary greatly from one country, region, city, or neighborhood
to another. Equally different will be the manner in which they confront and adapt
to their new urban environment.
In general, these new settlers may come from two very distinct environments:
migrants arriving from rural areas, displaced by poverty, land, religious or ethnic
conflicts, or violence; or they are already urbanites coming from challenged
informal or low-income communities, driven away by violence or overcrowding.
In some countries, such as Venezuela, rural migration came to a halt more than
three decades ago. Other countries, including Bolivia and Perú, the majority of
Central American countries, most African nations, and some Asian countries, are
still experiencing marked rural-to-urban migration.

Forces at play

The fear of an unknown habitat can compromise the future of the settlement
and expose its residents to violence and intimidation. Newcomers represent easy
targets, as they are naïve about how to survive in the urban milieu. Indeed the
hopeless nature of many informal areas helps to perpetuate crime, violence, and
intimidation. Rates of violence are not uniformly high in the world’s informal
settlements; however, the highest indicators of violence in these settlements are
seen where multiple gangs fight over control of illicit economies, such as drug
production and trafficking, prostitution, and gambling.3
Violence often correlates with accessibility issues, and therefore lack of policing.
It also corresponds with high unemployment rates, weak family structures, low
education levels, and drug related activities. Secluded informal settlements, virtually
inaccessible from the formal city, can become “safe havens” for drug traffickers
who exploit various areas of the market, namely production, distribution, and sales.
In the absence of efficient policing mechanisms, the only competition for a drug
cartel in market domination is another gang. Gang rivalries often result in battles
over territory, where many innocent people are harmed or killed. Furthermore,
lacking access to education and jobs, young men are prone to participating in these
activities, which offer quick and easy money.
Violence in these informal settlements affects everyone, not only those involved
in the drug trade. Gangs operate freely, assaulting residents along pedestrian paths
and on public transportation routes serving poor neighborhoods. In a report on
crime in Medellín, written before the radical urban transformations described
earlier in the book, titled Conflicto, violencia y actividad criminal en Colombia: Un
análisis especial, there are accounts of how stray bullets from targeted attacks on
other gang members frequently killed innocent people.4
Degrees of violence vary significantly from one country to another, and even
within the same nation, region, or city. Some countries, such as Zimbabwe, which
has strong top-down political control, are relatively safe, while others with equally
centralized political systems and a strong military presence, such as Venezuela, are
extremely violent. Some countries with a very large population and high levels of
poverty, such as India, are less violent societies; while others with low population
and small cities, El Salvador for example, have very high rates of violence.
Empirical data suggest that violence rates are higher in informal settlements
than in formal areas, with homicides in informal areas alone reducing the life
expectancy of a resident of Brazilian informal settlements by seven years.5 In
some countries, such as Venezuela and Brazil, officials deploy the military to

Forces at play

Figure 4.3: Parque Berrío, Medellín, Colombia

control criminal violence in informal areas where adolescents and young men are
frequently involved in drugs and the use of weapons.
Even with high levels of violence, informal-settlement dwellers frequently
develop strong emotional connections with their neighborhoods. The processes
of socialization are clearly hindered, however, when there are no public places to
gather or when environmental and safety concerns limit the use of public space.

4.2.1 Safe, amicable, and flexible places

Informal Armatures addresses the social-psychological aspects of urban planning

and development. Design and administrative strategies are intended to foster a
sense of familiarity and security. Newcomers can appreciate the physical and
emotional support that will allow them to connect their cultural heritage with
urban conditions and develop a sense of attachment to their new habitat.There are
numerous questions to consider, including the following: How should open spaces
be defined in the newly settled IA areas where the community has just begun to

Forces at play

move in? Which design elements may help to provide a compelling spatial quality
and function when the initial public buildings and the dwellings of the settlers are
still very precarious constructions? How can the site features be taken into account
to enhance the identity and place bonding of the settlement? How can settlers be
involved in the implementation of the schemes from the early stages of the settle-
ments? How can IA facilitators select the best local human capital, those with the
talents and skills to operate efficiently?
This can be attained through a combination of morphological and performative
conditions, starting with the provision of public spaces which are well located,
properly maintained, and animated with different activities.The physical definition
of these places, the presence of “community eyes” on them, and the institutional
support to design and maintain them, all contribute to creating stewardship for the
emerging public spaces. Prefiguring the public realm using simple means is one of
the best tools to convey to settlers a sense of communal belonging, opportunity,
and peace.
Public spaces and the civic buildings of the IA initiative should be able to
convey sociability, security, and enjoyment. Informal settlements are usually
perceived as unfortunate, on the fringe and excluded from the benefits of city
life. This marginal condition is evident in the poor quality and inadequately
maintained public realm of the informal settlements. The IA approach offers the
opportunity to reverse these conditions early in the process.
Further, the IA interventions call for proposals to be highly responsive to
territorial features, such as topography, hydrologic systems, vistas, climate, and
traces of the rural past. Here, IA designers and participants define the appropriate
spatial configuration of public spaces, which may be achieved with simple design
moves and at low costs. These include, but are not limited to, the following: taking
advantage of the shade of existing trees or planting new ones, employing subtle
grading interventions, or treating pavements.These design interventions contribute
to shaping spaces that the settlers can promptly connect to. Spatial definition can
also be managed in simple ways, for example using wooden markers or ropes to
delineate the borders of lots that will promptly be occupied by self-constructed
informal urban infill.This mode was simulated in an IA occupation drill, illustrated
in Chapter 5.
These spaces should not be too wide, in order to guarantee visual engagement
with the adjacent buildings. Chapter 5 provides general information on the role,
character, and dimensions of the system of public spaces. It is also suggested

Forces at play

that their geometry should accommodate territorial features, dialoguing with

the predominantly informal areas in order not to appear like a morphological
imposition. Ideally, these design decisions are vetted with the community to
identify future needs and desires and to enroll people in the maintenance of their
shared space and amenities.
Equally essential is the need to provide solutions requiring low levels of mainte-
nance and to enroll new communities in the concept of Site Keepers, be they
communal organizations, institutions, or individuals. Proper management increases
the degree of use, connecting the community to public spaces. Such management
might include the attainment of adequate lighting, the programming of cultural/
sporting events, the organization of open markets, and the celebration of tradi-
tional rituals.
The public spaces of the IA interventions result in the creation of compelling,
aesthetically pleasing urban experiences. Even in the poorest countries, with
limited resources to invest in infrastructure and communal buildings, the public
spaces can be conceived to support a sense of civic pride. The systems of open
spaces fostered by the IA approach will help counteract a culture of violence.
Increased security eventually enables settlers to take advantage of the benefits of
urban living and exercise their political voices to engage in the creation of further
public places. If properly accomplished, chances are that the users of these spaces
will respond accordingly.
Public spaces introduced in the tight urban network of the most violent
informal settlements of Medellín were one of the most valuable resources that
increased socialization and fostered a culture of peace. These goals were at the
core of the interventions in the informal settlements of the Northeastern Commune.
The aerial gondola system, the carved out open spaces, the pedestrian bridges over
ravines, and the paths paralleling the waterways, all increased physical connec-
tivity and mobility between the informal settlement and the formal city, as well
as with adjacent informal areas. The inclusion of the iconic Santo Domingo
Library, a community business incubator called the CEDESO, and a series of
open-air amphitheaters and recreational spaces subject to intense programming
and informal activities brought the benefits of urban lifestyle into the heart of one
of the once most violent informal settlements in the city.
Cooperatively constructed public spaces also allow for the establishment
of strong bonds between users and their neighborhoods. This was achieved in
Medellín through the Talleres de Imaginarios, a series of workshops in which the

Forces at play

Figure 4.4: Open spaces along the San Javier Metro-cable line, Medellín, Colombia

community was asked to imagine how their public places would be and offer
input on the locations, scales, programming, physicality, and names of public
spaces.6 The community’s participation in guiding the transformation, appearance,
construction, and performance of its own habitat created a strong sense of
belonging and citizenship.

4.3 Appropriate connectivity and infrastructure systems

One of the most important tasks for ensuring the sustainability of informal settle-
ments is to foster their physical and functional integration with the adjacent urban
areas, in other words to avoid the inequities produced by physical segregation
that were described earlier in this book. The IA approach offers the possibility
for improving connectivity and mobility between new informal settlements,
preexisting ones, and the formal city by providing the infrastructure and services
that would normally only be found in the formal city.

Forces at play

The lack of adequate connectivity is one of the main causes of segregation,

particularly in those informal settlements that have occupied rugged topogra-
phies without an initial urban framework.7 Simple and safe forms of accessibility
attract settlers to adequate sites and help new self-built districts to function more
Consider a site with rugged topography, adjacent to an existing informal
district accessible only by steep and irregular stairways.Without preemptive action,
the new settlement will repeat the same occupation patterns.8 The IA approach
envisions a simple network of mobility routes before new occupation occurs, as
well as designed grading-terracing of the land to facilitate the construction of the
dwellings and communal uses. This preemptive operation will provide pedestrian,
service, and emergency vehicle corridors, as well as safeguarded spaces for future
public transportation. Public elevators, aerial gondolas, and open-air escalators
may also be incorporated in latter phases in these difficult topographical sites. A
mobility and spatial framework of this nature costs much more after a settlement
is already established.
Due to the limited financial resources of early settlers, reduced commuting times
should also be a primary focus as a means of spurring economic development. In
addition to mobility routes, commute times can be reduced by providing basic
community needs within the newly settled territories. If jobs, social services, food,
education, health, and the general institutional support for day-to-day tasks are
close to home, it reduces the need to go elsewhere to find them.
Mobility is an inextricable component of the open space system; it is the
backbone of infrastructure, commercial exchange, and cultural expression. The
bundling of these different components cannot be improvised, but must be
conceived in a holistic manner. This was perhaps the most relevant contribution
of the Medellín informal settlement improvement projects in the discourse of
informal urbanism.
The Caracas Metro, for instance, introduced during the last third of the
twentieth century, was conceived together with a program of open spaces which
was called Rutas Paralelas, meaning that the underground trajectory of the Metro
was replicated on the surface by a system of pedestrian spaces, radically changing
the way Caraqueños enjoyed the public realm in a city that had modernized and
developed via car-oriented patterns. Some of the most active public spaces and
pedestrian promenades were anchored on Metro stations, located at the confluence
of formal and informal areas.

Forces at play

More recently, in Río de Janeiro, urban elevators and cable cars were built
to facilitate connections from the Metro and bus lines to informal settlements
and new public spaces. Efficient modes of transportation, accompanied by well-
designed and maintained open spaces, became nodes of intense urban activity,
which in turn encouraged social encounters among people from different social
From the Caracas, Río, Bogotá, and Medellín experiences, we also learn that
these interventions in the public realm, related to transportation systems, create
safer and more attractive urban environments. These case studies also reveal that
adjacent informal settlements with access to well-maintained public spaces and
mobility options quickly begin to transform. Residents realized the opportu-
nities offered by better accessibility and safer environments, so they improved the
appearance of their constructions, opened small shops, restaurants, and bars, and
even upgraded their dwellings by expanding their homes for their own use or to
gain rental space.
Investment in mobility infrastructure and associated public spaces may
also be used to encourage the occupation of new informal settlements on
un-urbanized land.The conundrum here is that while spontaneous construction
often occurs where some sort of accessibility exists, official plans usually refrain
from suggesting infrastructure investment in order to foster self-constructed
To illustrate this point we would have to refer again to the pedestrian and
bike Alamedas laid out over non-urbanized land in Bogotá, the Metro-cable of
San Javier, the second gondola system constructed in Medellín, or to the recently
inaugurated Catuche Metro-cable in Caracas. In Bogotá, the pedestrian and bike
Alamedas were used to link informal settlements with the formal city. This was
the case of the Alameda El Porvenir, which presented sections that traversed
un-urbanized land, clearly indicating that pedestrian-friendly spaces were to be
a priority for these new urban areas. However, the adjacent vacant land was only
reserved for subsidized formal public-housing initiatives and not to encourage
informal occupation.
Similarly, the final station of the San Javier Metro-cable in Medellín could have
been used to settle a new predominantly self-constructed region and create a new
centrality. It was, instead, used simply to provide access to fragmented patches
of new social housing and market rate units, undermining the potential of this
important mobility device to help the poorer segments of the population.

Forces at play

In sharp contrast, the existing informal settlements were improved by the

inclusion of the Santo Domingo Metro-cable, also in Medellín. Economic
production, cultural vitality, and spatial quality increased exponentially.
The new express Mariches Metro-cable in Caracas further elucidates the
importance of mobility. It departs from a Metro station that is adjacent to
one of the largest informal settlements in Latin America, an agglomeration
of neighborhoods known generically as the Barrios de Petare. As the aerial
gondola system departs from the densely populated areas, it covers a trajectory
of approximately 4.75 kilometers of mostly rugged and scarcely inhabited
terrain. With no intermediate stops, it arrives at the top station in approximately
25 minutes.
A large, dry, and fenced plaza, detached from any urban area, surrounds this
station. The system handles an average of 90,000 users per day, since it functions
as a commuter cable car for the low-income population from a vast hinterland
arriving at the station in small buses. The buses load and unload passengers out of
the fenced area along a two lane mountain road. Informal vendors sell basic goods
and refreshments to the commuters. No urban plan has been associated with this
important investment in public transportation. It does not take much imagination
to foresee that the area adjacent to this station will gradually become an informal
settlement, even without any provision to foster its growth.
Both the Alameda El Porvenir in Bogotá and the Metro-cable in San Javier illus-
trate that, even in cities that have gained international recognition for their unique
approach to the improvement of existing informal settlements, the political sector
is still skeptical of supporting planned informal growth. Thus, advocacy and the
debunking of biases against preemptive informal urbanism are important aims of
the IA approach.
These three examples help to illustrate the immense potential of the IA
approach, especially as informal settlement becomes an accepted way of urban
development in developing countries. Urban frameworks capable of bundling
mobility systems and infrastructure, good public spaces, economic drivers, and
ecologically friendly solutions are valuable tools to preemptively guide sustainable
growth of the predominantly informal city.

Forces at play

4.3.1 Mobility for those with limited mobility

The degree of attention that developing countries dedicate to the mobility of the
physically impaired varies from one city to another. Sometimes, the codes that
address the needs of the physically impaired have been adopted from those applied
in industrialized nations, but they are not enforced. Such is the case in Venezuela,
where as National Director of Urban Planning (1991–1995) I enacted the national
codes for disabled access in public spaces and public buildings.10
Even today, most sidewalks in the formal areas of Caracas lack ramps and
are cluttered with obstacles that impede the passage of wheelchairs. And for
the majority of the urban poor living in the steep hills of Caracas and other
Venezuelan cities, these codes have no meaning at all, considering that often
these neighborhoods don’t even have sidewalks. By contrast, Medellín’s formal
and informal districts alike have an impressive system of renovated sidewalks and
open spaces that are disability-friendly, including guiders in the pavements for the
visually impaired.
While statistics are not readily available, some developing countries have high
rates of disabled young men living in informal settlements, many as a result of
violence or motorcycle accidents. In a number of developing countries, the
relatively inexpensive cost of this means of transportation and the lenient traffic
rules concerning motorcycle usage has increased accident rates. For example, in
Venezuela the motorcycle association continuously declares how “motorcycle
accidents have become a public health problem. At any given moment, in each of
the major hospitals in Caracas there are more than 100 injured from this cause.
There are children maimed by or killed in these accidents.”11
The IA approach offers a unique opportunity to provide appropriate condi-
tions for disabled access in newly urbanized territories, by including a simple set
of regulations and design solutions in a preemptive manner. By doing so for the IA
accompanied initiatives, they may become citywide references. Initially enforcing
the codes and enabling creative design solutions may be difficult since they depend
on policing and proactive response. However, once communities appreciate the
difference these solutions make, they will apply the necessary pressure to continue
implementing them.

Forces at play

4.3.2 Counteracting the road construction syndrome

In larger developing cities, traffic congestion is a widespread problem, affecting their

performance, economic competitiveness, and environmental quality. To address
congestion, urban plans usually include road construction projects, which most
citizens welcome, believing that this is the proper solution. Road construction is
rather simple, with straightforward contracts for projects that are easy to administer
and implement. Additionally, governments frequently fund roads because they are
visible public works that offer high political returns.
Nonetheless, constructing roads and highways to increase inner city mobility
with little or no investment in public transportation stimulates the use of private
vehicles, exacerbating environmental and traffic problems.12 Furthermore, such
investment is an unjust redistribution of societal wealth in places where the
majority of the population is poor and unable to afford a private car. Such
highways become rapidly congested and rarely provide access to informal
neighborhoods. Even worse, these expensive infrastructures often come near
to the settlements without providing service to them, acting as barriers
between the formal city and the informal neighborhoods. Finally, the road
engineering process lacks the mechanisms to consider environmental and urban
Despite the priority given to road construction for private vehicles, road acces-
sibility combined with public transportation is an efficient tool for stimulating the
development of new informal settlements in carefully selected areas. Roads also
organize other forms of infrastructure, providing access to services and mobilizing
goods. The crux is to define the road systems as integral parts of the IA urban
approach, taking into account the changing needs of the settlements as they
Informal areas often grow alongside regional roads, highways, and rail lines,
which are their only mode of accessibility. As the neighborhoods become larger
and consolidate, the efficiency of the circulation network is often compromised,
resulting in risky accessibility conditions for the residents of these neighborhoods.
For this reason, it is important to consider the way in which these transportation
systems, which are important at metropolitan and regional scales, feed into the IA
fostered areas. This type of infrastructure should not disrupt the multifunctional
network of the informal city, but nurture it.
An appropriate balance may come out of simultaneously considering different

Forces at play

modes of public transportation together with regional, urban, and local mobility
infrastructures. The IA approach seeks to define appropriate uses, such as insti-
tutions, agricultural areas, and large parks, which may act as buffers to protect
regional corridors from occupation. While informal settlements are essentially
pedestrian friendly, they require efficient modes of mobility. The innovative
solutions, such as the Metro-cables, pedestrian and bike Alamedas, BRTs such as
the Bogotá Transmilenio, or water-buses and ferries, in areas where large informal
settlements on waterfronts exhaust land transportation options, are all valuable
precedents for IA initiatives.

4.3.3 Balanced, pedestrian-friendly districts with efficient mobility

In most developing countries, urban solutions overlook how sustainability, in

relation to mobility, connectivity, and reduction of energy consumption, requires
a revision of the patterns that have already shaped urban growth. The IA initiative
makes it possible to think beyond typical horizons, introducing low-cost and
efficient forms of mobility for the developing cities of the future. In order to
address the demands of the majority of the population, a paradigm shift in terms
of mobility and connectivity is absolutely necessary. The larger cities that depend
on sole areas of centrality—the older and expanded city cores—force residents of
peripheral areas, the majority of them poor, to commute and depend fully on the
formal city center.
Fostering the emergence of multiple centralities will help create a more
balanced and efficient organization of the predominantly informal city. More self-
sufficient districts, with well-articulated systems of public spaces, will also reduce
mobility demands within the settlements and other parts of the city. To these ends,
IA works to envision public transportation, pedestrian, and bike solutions, as well
as provide access to service vehicles for maintenance, security, and the movement
of goods. Public transportation-oriented and pedestrian-friendly districts fostered
by the IA approach account for future mobility demands by securing their spatial
requirements as developing forms of informal occupation become large, densely
populated, and complex urban systems.
Mobility is perhaps the most dynamic urban component in informal settle-
ments. To prevent the limitation of future mobility options, the provisional use
of public land through activities and stewardship is key. Linear urban agricultural
areas, for instance, are useful during the early phases of occupation to provide food

Forces at play

to settlers. In the future, these may be the rights-of-way required for implementing
mobility systems.
Another option is to shift the mobility corridors to different locations as
demands change. An initial mobility backbone may induce the early occupation
of new settlements, allowing for public transportation.When the demand surpasses
the capacity of these first solutions, adjacent corridors may be employed to handle
transportation lines and the preliminary ones can be converted to a bike and
pedestrian-friendly system.
These evolving, flexible land uses are critical to the IA approach. Even as
such land uses transform, IA initiatives emphasize the ability to bundle different
functions, including mobility, with a diversity of other functional aspects. These
aspects include: water management, urban agriculture, alternative sources of
energy, creative modes of economic production and marketing, and ecological

4.4 Moving ahead

The IA approach is based on interventions that precede informal occupation,

preparing the terrain to attract settlers to appropriate locations and boost their
development potential from the earliest stages of subsequent transformations.
Different design and development moves bundle to provide the initial impulse.
Thus, the IA method is conceived as a robust morphological and performance-
oriented framework capable of adapting to new demands and inducing change.
These changing conditions provide multiple benefits to the settlers through the
efficient use of environmental, social, and physical resources to create sustainable
conditions for the predominantly informal city.
The transformative nature of the design moves proposed by the IA approach
calls for high levels of management in order to monitor these conditions and how
the components may transform over time. Some components will probably persist
in later stages of development, while others will either transform or phase-out.
Many others will appear as the settlement matures and consolidates.
All cities undergo change, but without guidance they don’t usually evolve well.
The IA initiative illustrates how to merge planning, design, and management with
the dynamics of informal settlements. In effect, IA lends structure and formality
to the informal and imaginably even flexibility and informality to the formal.

Forces at play

1 See David Grahame Shane. Urban Design Since 1945: A Global Perspective.
Hoboken: Wiley, 2011.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 For the full report see Fabio Sánchez, Ana María Díaz, and Michel Formisano.
Conflicto, violencia y actividad criminal en Colombia: Un análisis espacial. Bogotá:
CEDE (Centro de Estudios sobre Desarrollo Económico) document no.
5 For detailed statistics on sources and types of violence in such settlements
see United Nations Habitat. The Challenge of Slums. Global Report on Human
Settlements. London: Earthscan, 2003.
6 The “Talleres de Imaginarios” or Workshops of the Imaginary are a social
methodology that involves the community in the development of projects
and promotes active participation in all stages of the process, from identi-
fying problems and opportunities through field trips, to the formulation and
approval of projects. This enables the formation of consultation, participation,
and community decisions, as against a comprehensive intervention model.
To learn more about the process see PUI Empresa de Desarrollo Urbano.
Proyectos Urbanos Integrales.
es/p/que-es-el-pui.html (accessed November 1, 2013).
7 On the importance of connectivity to achieve social equality see United
Nations Conference on Environment and Development. Rio Declaration on
Environment and Development. Conference Report, Río de Janeiro: United
Nations, 2012.
8 On informal urbanization and pattern repetition see David Gouverneur.“De los
superbloques a los asentamientos informales. Concepciones disímiles, resultados
similares.” La ciudad viva. March 2006.
(accessed July 29, 2013).
9 The mobility interventions in Río de Janeiro also significantly reduced crime
rates in associated areas. For more on mobility in developing countries see
Eduardo Vasconcellos. Urban Transport, Environment and Equity: The Case for
Developing Countries. London: Earthscan, 2001.

Forces at play

10 For the latest revised version of “Norma Venezolana Entorno Urbano y

Edificaciones Accesibilidad Para Las Personas” see República Bolivariana de
Venezuela. Ley para las Personas con Discapacidad. Official Document, Caracas:
República Bolivariana de Venezuela, 2007, 2–9.
11 Agencia Venezolana de Noticias. “Frente de motorizados: ‘El venezolano en
general sufre de mala educación vial.” Aporrea. December 13, 2012. http:// (accessed November 2, 2013).
12 See Ralph Gakenheimer. “Urban Mobility in the Developing World.”
Transportation Research A 33 (1999): 671–689.
13 In the film Urbanized, Enrique Peñalosa delves into this issue, using images
of highway-laced Caracas, while he passionately explains the benefits of the
Transmilenio project in Bogotá, which served a wide social spectrum. For
additional details see Urbanized. Directed by Gary Hustwit. 2011. http:// (accessed September 30, 2013).

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Figure 5.1: Conceptual design components of the Informal Armatures approach. From top to
bottom: Corridors, Patches, Stewards, Ensemble. Sketches by David Gouverneur
Chapter Five

The IA as a system of components guided by principles of


This chapter describes the design components that facilitate deployment of the
IA approach. These components work in concert to spur the growth and trans-
formation of new informal settlements. To facilitate its implementation, the IA
approach deploys a simple set of generic design and spatial/morphological strat-
egies. In essence, the components are the IA initiative’s toolkit or lexicon. They
take advantage of informality’s dynamic nature to steer the growth of sustainable
self-constructed cities. IA’s design components offer an array of urban ecologies
that are not often found in either informal or formal cities.
These design components can be organized into three general categories:
Corridors, Patches, and Stewards. Each category has a strong influence on the
spatial organization and performance of the host urban system. The simplicity
of this lexicon is agile enough to deal with various scales of intervention all at
once. Design elements then receive the benefits of accumulated complexity and
value over time. Corridors, Patches, and Stewards influence each other, inducing
morphological, experiential, and functional changes that support a network of
new physical and performative relationships. Chapter 6 further delves into aspects
related to the implementation and performance of IA’s three-pronged approach,
with Chapter 7 providing case studies that explain how the design solutions may
adapt to different contexts and scales.
The deployment of Corridors, Patches, and Stewards is guided by the following
key principles: engagement with natural and cultural landscapes, working with
organically evolving forms, and neighborhood improvement with healthy gentri-
fication. The graphics that accompany this section illustrate how these three

IA components and principles

Figure 5.2: Existing site conditions and Corridors: Attractors (in hatched lines) and Protectors (in
areas shaded grey). Image: David Gouverneur, Trevor Lee, David Maestres, and Autumn Visconti

components operate individually and the ways in which they work as a system.
The following words offer a hypothesis of the nature, spatial organization in the
sites, and expected results for each component.

5.1 Corridors

Initial design strategies play an important role in defining the spatial and perform-
ative conditions of the new settlements, as the first of many layers that will shape
the territory. The IA approach simultaneously creates the public realm alongside
initial occupation. The spatial configuration, management, and programming
of these spaces are meant to encourage user participation and promote social
cohesion. As discussed in earlier chapters, the informal settlement improvement
projects in Venezuela and Colombia carved out open spaces from the compact
urban fabric in areas where there already existed well-established and socially

IA components and principles

Figure 5.3: Accessibility and public spaces create safe and animated districts. Barrio Santo
Domingo, Medellín, Colombia

IA components and principles

connected communities. In the IA approach, the Corridors predefine the main

system of open spaces, onto which urban growth will adhere.
Corridors draw heavily on the logic of formal cities, but they are designed to
serve and interact with both informal and other formal components. Corridors
extend over the landscape, channeling different flows and performing a variety of
roles. The Corridors are elongated, multifunctional systems that play an important
role in structuring the public realm and establishing the framework for future
urban infill. They accommodate a variety of functions, such as mobility, water
management, urban agriculture, commerce, and recreation. Corridors address
the earliest community needs while respecting future demands. The character
of a Corridor is dictated by its morphological and aesthetic qualities, as well as
the extent to which it is able to become meaningful to the communities as the
settlement evolves.1
As organizers of the public realm, Corridors guide the urbanization of the terri-
tories. The IA approach envisions two sub-categories of Corridors: Attractors and
Protectors. In the first category, Attractors encourage settlement by concentrating
activities where it is preferable to do so. And in the second category, Protectors
reduce pressures from the areas that are more fragile, environmentally sensitive, or
better left unoccupied.
When envisioning the deployment of Corridors within an IA territory, planners
and designers should first define the areas that should be protected, then proceed
to locate those components that will serve as magnets for occupation. However,
it is important to keep in mind that the priority of new settlers in unguided
informal occupations is to secure land to construct their dwellings, and access the
services that the city may provide; therefore they are not worried about protecting
environmental assets. Thus, an important skill for facilitators of the IA approach is
balancing attraction to appropriate sites and the protection of sensitive areas.

5.1.1 Attractors

Attractors intensify activity. They serve as gathering places for the community,
providing a wide array of services and activities. They facilitate the occupation
process by acting as magnets, offering a combination of assets that the settlers
normally seek in unassisted informal occupations, but with enhanced morpho-
logical and administrative conditions to establish the benefits of anticipated
neighborhoods. Attractors offer important urban qualities that are rarely present in

IA components and principles

spontaneous informal occupations.2 For instance, Attractors might combine public

spaces, essential utilities, and services to provide a sense of welcome and safety.
Attractors operate most effectively in prominent or central locations that are
both accessible and visible. By linking to infrastructure and mobility systems and
by taking advantage of existing services and amenities, they can draw the vitality
of existing urban areas, whether formal or informal. As the settlements grow and
mature, Attractors generate new and more diverse uses that facilitate the well-
advised expansion of newly settled territories. Acting as conductors, Attractors
spread the vibrancy of existing cities to IA fostered districts, and eventually into
adjacent areas.
In general, the ideal width of an Attractors intervention may measure between
100 and 500 feet. These dimensions allow for the Attractors to compress and
expand, offering a diversity of spatial conditions. The Attractors are expected to
become the backbone of pedestrian-friendly public spaces, with an animated
character that distinguishes beloved streets, promenades, and plazas throughout
the world. The Attractors incorporate mobility systems and infrastructure, which
form integral parts of the urban landscape and are fundamental for the growth of
the IA territories. This observation may seem trivial; however, in many developing
countries public agencies frequently define road design and infrastructure without
any sort of qualitative consideration for the public realm. IA gives the highest
priority to the social, experiential, and environmental qualities of open spaces.
Since the urban infill adjacent to Attractors and Corridors is predominantly
incremental and self-constructed, there are technical limitations to the vertical
growth of these self-constructed structures. Even in the later stages of consoli-
dation, one can expect that this urban network will be dense and rather low, with
an average height of three to four floors.3 In any case, the spatial definition begins
by envisioning the correlation between the dimensions and the design strategies
of the Attractors in tandem, and the scale of the self-constructed and formal urban
infill, all of which change over time.
The aim is for Attractors to evolve to become centers of activity that will not
only serve new districts but also help to balance the performance of the broader
urban system. The intensity, diversity, and quality of these active corridors can
attract users from other parts of town, including residents of the formal city. Over
time, they may sustain metropolitan services and activities. For instance, after the
word got out that the interventions in the informal settlements in Medellín had
made them significantly safer, locals, as well as national and international tourists,

IA components and principles

Figure 5.4: Academic proposal for the protection of wetlands and agricultural land in Funza-
Mosquera, Sabana de Bogotá, Colombia. Images: Luke Mitchell; Instructors: David Gouverneur and
Abdallah Tabet

IA components and principles

began to visit. The visitors were attracted to the unique sites enhanced by the
mixture of informal and formal landscapes.
The ways in which an Attractor is initially defined, as well as its transformative
qualities, will vary according to context. In some cases, the provision of potable water
or the presence of a community center that facilitates the assignment of lots to build
homes will suffice to attract settlers to desirable locations. In others, the extension
of a mobility corridor with communal services on non-occupied land, such as the
Alameda El Porvenir in Bogotá, or La Aurora Metro-cable station in Medellín, will
catalyze urbanization. However, the IA approach is expected to support a diversity
of uses and landscapes that aim to quickly steer a nascent settlement into a healthy
future. Thus the Attractors, and likewise the Protectors which are described in
the next section, should encompass multiple spatial conditions and functions in
accordance with the different stages of a settlement’s evolution.

5.1.2 Protectors

Protectors, by contrast, slow the energetic urban expansion of informal settlements.

Protectors may include communal uses and institutions that help secure sensitive
areas from unwanted occupation. Environmentally sensitive areas that require
effective protection and stewardship include wetlands, valuable agricultural soils,
archeological and historic sites, and unique ecosystems. Since Protectors support
less intense uses, they are expected to experience less change than the Attractors.
Protectors located on the urban fringe may act as buffers to contain urban
expansion, particularly when the adjacent territories are not fit for urban growth.
In this case, it is recommended that these protective buffers should be narrow and
elongated, measuring between 150 and 600 feet wide. This suggested width is an
important aspect of their defendability in order to keep them free from squatting.
In this respect, visual control is a key factor.
The concept of the protective buffer emerged from a rehabilitation plan for
the central Venezuelan coastline, which was devastated by torrential flooding
in December 1999. Local Professors Oscar Grauer and Nuri Bofill, from the
Universidad Metropolitana in Caracas, as well as Professors Peter Rowe, Alex
Krieger, and Ken Greenberg, visiting Professors from Harvard University, spear-
headed this effort.4 The climactic event affected informal settlements located at
higher elevations that were encroaching onto the adjacent El Avila National Park,
a very steep mountain range that separates the narrow coastal urban fringe from

IA components and principles

Caracas. As an informal settlement climbs to higher locations, it becomes less

functional, lacking accessibility, surveillance, infrastructure, and services. To deal
with this situation, the design team at the Universidad Metropolitana suggested
introducing a road that would improve services and accessibility in these higher
troubled areas. The road would act as the upper urban boundary, clearly delin-
eating the settlement from the areas to be protected.
There was, however, a problem with this solution; the improved accessibility
further increased the possibility of squatting in the park. To counteract this
expansion we recommended accompanying the road with a green band at the
edge of the park that would include community services, such as educational
facilities, agricultural gardens, training centers, and park ranger stations. These uses
would have custody over an ample, fenced green band. This permeable territory
would result in a continuous protector-belt between the settlement and the park.
In contrast with inhabitants of the tighter urban fabric of older settlements,
settlers in un-fostered settlements maintain skills they brought from the rural areas.
In Venezuela, informal settlements located on steep slopes adjacent to El Avila
National Park built simple barriers to protect their properties from potential fire
hazards during the dry seasons or from flooding and landslides during the rainy
ones. While squatting to build their homes, settlers were also protective of adjacent
land, hesitant to see new settlers arrive and begin the cycle of urban occupation.
This situation offers clues on how to manage the transition between areas fit for
urbanization and those that require protection, by introducing buffers that can
engage institutions and communities.
Some components that may perform as buffers require dimensions larger than
linear bands. Components such as universities, technical schools, or cemeteries can
act as retainers of urban growth with their high percentages of open-permeable
land. However, these uses tend to appear at mature stages of settlement, when there
is a critical mass of population or higher levels of community engagement, stability,
and income that requires more robust infrastructure and better accessibility.
Protecting sensitive areas within the IA fostered territories is equally as
important as containing urban growth at the fringe. In order to create networks
of protected open spaces, the IA approach envisions bands of Protectors, linking
buffers at peripheral areas, and the land beyond them, to the densely populated
Corridors, Attractors, and the active centers. These Protector bands may act as
green corridors at the neighborhood scale, and may consist of waterways, vegetated
areas, agricultural land, or recreational strips. The character, levels of activity, and

IA components and principles

administration of these green bands may be influenced by the Attractors, as well

as by the conditions on the urban fringe. These bands help to integrate the main
network of public spaces and the environmentally sensitive areas of the periphery
of the IA territory, via the neighborhoods.
These green corridors may vary, reflecting local conditions or those of the
broader district. In some cases, they may allow the harvesting of storm water and
drainage from neighborhoods, at other times they can incorporate local mobility
systems and pedestrian and bike paths. And in yet others, the Corridors may
delineate neighborhoods or activity areas, establishing their boundaries. Emerald
Necklace conceived by Boston’s Frederick Law Olmsted’s is a good example of a
Protector or green corridor that traverses populated areas. It acts as a flood control
device and protects streams and wetlands, in a linear system of recreational spaces
that incorporates community gardens for a rich urban ecology. Some Protectors
may also incorporate mobility systems feeding into the Attractors. As in the case
of the Emerald Necklace, protectors usually do not support commercial or intense
urban activities. In the IA approach, the community plays a pivotal role in defining
the character, role, and operation of the Protectors.

5.2 Patches

Attractors and Protectors define the framework of the public realm, acting as place-
holders for urban infill. Although supplemented by more formal interventions,
the urban infill will be predominantly self-constructed by the community. Thus,
urban infill will be a combination of individual and communal efforts, publicly
supported initiatives, and developer-driven operations. In the IA approach, these
infill areas fall under the general category of Patches.
The combined influences of the Corridors on the Patches, where people live,
shop, and produce, set the IA approach apart from other un-fostered informal
settlements, providing morphological and functional conditions that informal
settlements could not achieve without external support. The IA approach defines
two very distinct sub-categories of Patches: Receptors, where informal occupation
is expected to occur, and Transformers, which sustain a diversity of productive
and income-generating uses. Receptors are areas made available for the settlers to
self-construct their dwellings. Transformers are dynamic, rapidly changing zones
for the provision of services, commerce, and production, and eventually more
complex urban uses and real-estate operations.

IA components and principles

Figure 5.5: Patches: Receptors and Transformers combined. Image: David Gouverneur, Trevor Lee,
David Maestres, and Autumn Visconti

5.2.1 Receptor Patches

Receptors are components that secure the land where the informal settlers will
be attracted. The Receptors are conceived as an opportunity to plant the seed of
strong, cohesive, and vibrant neighborhoods. A good rule of thumb to define their
size is to envision the organization and scale of the Receptors as identifiable patches
that should be easily accessed by foot. This simple measuring stick will vary from
one context to another, depending on behavioral patterns, topography, climate,
environmental conditions, and safety. Pedestrian accessibility to basic community
services like schools, sports facilities, day care centers, neighborhood stores, and
parks may be good indicators for defining the scale of the neighborhoods.

IA components and principles

Figure 5.6: (Top) Initial phase of settlement in Hopley Farms, Harare, Zimbabwe. (Bottom)
Consolidated informal settlement in Chacao, Caracas, Venezuela

IA components and principles

The manner in which facilitators of the IA initiative welcome settlers to the

development and the design of Receptors is as important as the physical design,
technical support, and availability of basic services. The symbiosis between caring
management and good design is the best formula for giving new settlers a sense
of security.
There are multiple ways in which settlers occupy land in spontaneous informal
settlements that may be replicated in the Receptors of the IA approach. Sometimes
occupation takes place as individuals move into already populated territories
where they have social ties; others are carried out as communal enterprises; still
others are politically motivated, or in the commercial interests of pirate developers
or facilitators of the occupations. The IA approach can guide this process with
design and good management.
Settlers may occupy the Receptor Patches in one or any combination of the
following ways:

a. A non-assisted process that replicates the dynamics of unguided informal

occupation where individuals or groups of families simply move into an area
without previous urban layouts or urban services, take over a parcel of land, and
gradually begin the construction of an initial shelter;
b. Different levels of pre-occupation/urbanization efforts, whether implemented
by the public sector, community organizations, pirate developers, or Sites and
Services programs, in order to infuse several degrees of organization to make
the informal occupation more efficient. This usually includes defining the grid
configuration, lot distribution, provision of infrastructure, reservation of lots for
communal services, and provision of technical assistance for the construction
of the dwellings; and
c. Complete urbanization schemes with infrastructure and services, with basic
formal housing units that can be expanded by the resident.

Since the process of self-constructing the housing and neighborhoods can usually
be accomplished by the settlers without much assistance, the IA approach does
not offer particular solutions or recommend formal organizations to deal with the
Receptors. But even in the unassisted scenario, the evolution of the neighbor-
hoods initiating from Receptor areas within an IA approach will be significantly
different from those of unguided informal occupation. The urban results of the
guided approach, however, are typically much better because the efforts that are

IA components and principles

required to improve settlements in the future are far less effective than planning,
designing, and preparing for pre-organized occupation. This is especially the case
when settlements require particular assistance, like when settlement occurs in
seismic areas, or over very steep slopes. Additionally, public assistance within the
Receptor Patches will accelerate growth of the communities and make a signif-
icant impact in their evolution.
Contexts in which good management and funding are scarce will likely focus
on the Corridors and Patches while favoring a laissez-faire approach to Receptors,
resulting in unguided squatting, which, in turn, may require informal settlement
improvement projects down the road when they are denser and more established,
thus more difficult to intervene in and improve. In all cases, community leaders
are expected to help administer the IA initiative from an early stage, allowing for
their considerations on how to introduce design and management conditions in
the Receptor Patches, bringing in their aspirations, skills, and labor.
The IA model creates the conditions for an urban ecology where various
people and conditions overlap and interact. This diversity is attainable within the
Receptor Patches. Envisioning the occupation of the Receptors as a combination
of “come and squat schemes,” together with Sites and Services programs, and a
percentage of formal housing, induces faster transformations and creates stronger
neighborhoods. The IA approach moves beyond dialectic top-down or bottom-up
initiatives, to articulate a “middle ground” where the settlers can share the positive
contributions of each occupation model at any time.
An analysis of the socio-economic conditions of the potential settlers can help
identify appropriate public realm solutions, as well as private dwelling combina-
tions. IA facilitators should have the ability to explain how the program is meant
to perform, and gain the trust of the various settlers. In some cities, rural-to-urban
migration, combined with demographic pressure from within existing informal
areas, leads to informal growth. Rural migrants tend to have lower expectations
and fewer means to access their own goods and services from the formal city. For
them, the priority is to secure a lot to build their homes and to access the basic
services that are provided by the Corridors and Patches. That is, they will be more
dependent on public support in this early stage of becoming urbanites.
The urbanites that move to the new IA fostered district will likely have regular
incomes, receive family support, or have some capital from selling or renting their
informal homes. This group may have higher expectations, likely seeking a better
environment and housing solution than preliminary settlers. They might be able

IA components and principles

to afford a more complete urban product, such as a basic dwelling unit with the
capacity of expanding/improving it, or a modest formal housing solution.
In February 2013, an Informal Armature experiment was carried out in an
open field at the University of Pennsylvania. It served as a drill to simulate the
occupation of a small Receptor Patch. While certainly removed from the condi-
tions of a developing country, this experiment allowed the facilitators to plan for a
situation similar to those that IA administrators will encounter, as they prepared to
receive “settlers” in Receptor Patches and monitor how the occupation performs.
This experience corroborated the following:

a. The importance of a committed planning/design team capable of engaging

with the IA concept and advocating for it, and of conceiving a scheme and
providing the organization to initiate the occupation of a pre-selected territory;
b. The value of preparing the site according to a predefined spatial organization,
visualized with simple design strategies for the public realm and the manner in
which land will be assigned to the settlers;
c. The ability to prepare for the arrival of the settlers, making them feel that they
are co-participants in the experiment and providing them with assistance to
facilitate the occupation of the Receptor Patches;
d. The importance of openness to multiple initiatives that can converge in an IA
fostered territory;
e. The possibility of monitoring the process to introduce changes, respond to
new situations, and move ahead.

There is a phenomenon in Brazil known as “Arquitetas da Comunidade,” or female

Architects of the Communities, which operates in the Campinha favela of Sao Paulo,
one of the largest informal settlements in Latin America. The Arquitetas operate in a
very effective manner, organizing to provide technical assistance for the construction
and improvement of dwellings.They focus on structural stability, spatiality, ventilation,
natural lighting, and security.What is so special about this experience is that they work
closely with residents and measure aspirations and potential to deliver solutions based
on the availability of materials that the dwellers have accumulated, such as bricks,
doors, or ceramic tiles. They provide high design standards and managerial oversight.
The system can be described as one of faire avec, performing with the people with
the resources that are available.This creative and grounded system for house improve-
ments may be the most effective model for facilitators of the IA approach.5

IA components and principles

Figure 5.7: Proposal of Transformer Patches to enhance the production

of flowers in towns of La Sabana de Bogotá, Colombia. Project by Tamara
Henry. Advisors: David Gouverneur and Abdallah Tabet

IA components and principles

5.2.2 Transformer Patches

Transformers are specialized Patches of productive activities that are interrelated

with Corridors and also interact with the Receptors. Developed initially by
the public sector or public-community-private partnerships, they are meant to
become important economic drivers, which provide goods and sources of income
for the institutions that support the IA initiatives, and jobs, services, and amenities
for the residents. They facilitate investment from both the residents of the settle-
ments and other members of the private sector.
In informal settlements, the income, expectations, and urban demands generally
increase over time. It is common to see residents of informal areas enjoying the
same public spaces, shopping malls, cinemas, cultural and sport venues as wealthier
groups in the formal areas of town. After they do so, and usually before sunset,
they retreat to their predominantly residential enclaves in peripheral informal
zones where these opportunities and amenities do not exist, frequently exposed
to hazardous violence and general hardship.
Transformers contribute to providing the space for uses that residents of
the informal districts normally seek in the formal city, making the settlement
more competitive in the greater urban scenario. The maximum potential of the
Transformers is most likely realized at later development phases, after the settlements
have reached a critical mass. By this time, residents will have achieved stronger socio-
economic and education standards. It is therefore important to keep these Patches
free from unwanted occupation, and gradually incorporate uses that are compatible
with the immediate needs of the new settlers. For instance, during the first phases
of occupation, a priority of settlers will most likely be to provide themselves with a
primary home. The Transformer Patches may help to meet this goal by:

a. Offering tent shelters with basic services not that different from the emergency
or refugee camps employed to house communities displaced by natural events
or conflicts;
b. Incorporating recycling centers to take advantage of city debris that can be
used to provide very low cost or free construction materials for the settlers,
enabling families to begin to occupy their lots in the Receptor Patches and
move out as soon as possible from the provisional tent shelters;
c. Offering low-cost transportation for construction materials, technical assis-
tance, tools, and machinery;

IA components and principles

d. Moving recycling facilities to another location where new settlements are

taking place, when the original settlers have integrated to urban life and are
able to get jobs and a stable income, and they may no longer require recycled
construction materials; or
e. Converting Transformer Patches into manufacturing centers, education and
health facilities, parks, or real-estate operations as the settlements mature.

We can imagine a similar transformative situation with the provision of potable

water, a basic need in the early phases of occupation when widespread infra-
structure may not be available. A Transformer Patch can be selected in order
to provide potable water through the use of wells, cistern-trucks, desalination
plants, or an initial mainline feeding of a communal tap, with the possibility of
monitoring quality of the product and facilitating its distribution. In the early
phases, this particular Transformer may also be used as a community garden to help
feed the settlers. The provision of such basic services requires public and institu-
tional support, particularly when the product has macro-health implications. It is
important however that the community engages in the production and distribution
process, and does not only act as passive beneficiaries. Eventually, when a district is
served by municipal systems and food is attained in local markets or in other areas
of town, this Transformer can metamorphose to serve other needs with uses that are
established by common agreement between the administrators and the community.
The Transformers are expected to accommodate different uses, resulting in a wide
diversity of urban forms as they adapt to the changing demands of the new districts
and of the broader city. In the early stages, they can cater to the basic demands of
the new settlers: mainly food production, water supply, provision of construction
materials, offering places for community gathering and assistance, and so on.
Over time, they will incorporate a wide array of supporting uses that will
contribute to the vitality and strength of the IA fostered experiment. In some
cases, Transformers may act as catalyzers of urban change. Examples include the
construction of a new hospital, a university, a stadium, or a concert hall, all of
which would have normally been located in formal areas of the city. This type of
initiative, generally publicly induced, helps support the notion that the recently IA
fostered territory will shortly become a balanced and attractive part of town and
not a marginal un-served informal district.
Other Transformer Patches may remain in public hands and accommodate
important non-profit or subsidized activities, such as educational, health, sport,

IA components and principles

Figure 5.8: (Top) Stewards Over Corridors and Patches. Image: D. Gouverneur,
T. Lee, D. Maestres, and A. Visconti. (Bottom) Park and community services in a
defunct quarry, Soacha, Colombia. Image: R. Ahern. Instructors: D. Gouverneur
and A. Tabet

IA components and principles

or recreational services. Some Patches could restrict urban occupation for longer
periods and become more specialized urban agricultural areas than the staple crops
introduced during the initial occupation phase. Others may be used for alternative
forms of energy generation.
In some cases, these tracts originally on public lands may be occupied by
non-public uses, provided this strengthens the urban system and benefits the
community. Public land that is in early phases may serve as construction or
recycling sites or may be sold or leased in the future to private developers to incor-
porate more sophisticated commercial uses, market-driven housing, or mixed-use
developments. These additions may contribute revenue streams to the diversity
of the urban system, and increase social mixing, while at the same time attract
funding and allow the public sector to gain some return on early investment. In
conventional urban planning and urban design schemes in practice in most devel-
oping countries, the private sector usually takes advantage of increased land values
and real-estate operations. In the IA approach both the public and the private
sectors gain.

5.3 Stewards

One of the most important tasks of the IA approach is to ensure that the public
realm endures during the different phases of settlement. The spatial requirements
of the public realm in the IA fostered areas should be defined by estimating the
range of immediate community requirements, as well as the urban and metro-
politan needs it may address in the future. Stewards can be an efficient mechanism
to defend the public realm in informal settlements. Stewards include uses, spatial
and performative conditions that are able to engage the community. Engaging the
community makes these spaces defendable, moving away from practices of legal
protection, static surveillance, and policing. There is a thus a pedagogic intent
behind the notion of Stewards.
Stewards are meant to “look after” the system of open spaces and other public
assets. They can be institutions, community organizations, or even individuals
who are trusted by the community. The task is to establish the connection among
these Stewards, the activities that can best support the initial occupation of the
settlement, and the spatial and morphological conditions associated with them.
Stewards operate at focalized points within the Corridors and Patches, although
they may have influence in a broader urban context.

IA components and principles

It is important to note that the formal city initiates urbanization processes by

defining the public domain through urban layouts that allow for the organization
of infrastructure, streets, plazas, and parks. Then urban infill occurs. Informal settle-
ments operate in the opposite manner, departing from individual and communal
occupation and neglecting the public realm until the public sector intervenes to
gradually introduce infrastructure, open spaces, services, and amenities.This second
form of urbanization is a more complicated and resource intensive process. In the
formal context, conventional planning and zoning ordinances would be sufficient
to secure these areas for common purposes until the publicly supported assets are
eventually provided.
But in the informal scenario, unattended land envisioned to serve the public
interest would be promptly occupied by informal settlers and the opportunity to
address collective demands would be lost. It cannot be left idle, simply protected
by legal means. In the informal city, the best way to protect open spaces is to
use them, to make them visually recognizable, and defendable. These uses may
vary over time, in response to changing communal demands. It is expected that
gradually the community will develop a sense of attachment to the spaces that
serve a common purpose. If these open spaces coincide with areas that already
have an associated cultural meaning, for instance a shrine, a revered tree, or a
popular store, the possibilities of them becoming defendable increase.
During the early phases of occupation, a simple construction within a Corridor
or a Patch, for instance an administrative/community center providing technical
assistance for the organized occupation of the Patches, may behave as a Steward.
A Steward may also be a provisional tent structure, providing shelter and basic
services to the new settlers while they are assigned lots to begin constructing their
dwellings. In time, the tent can be removed and the area may become a place for
social gatherings.
Similarly, an area initially used to run an urban agricultural program to assist
the first settlers may become, in the near future, educational and recreational
facilities. It is not likely that these sites would remain vacant if they were not
given provisional uses along with corresponding institutional or community
Stewards should be able to engage with the community on an emotional level.
A historical example of this took place during the colonization of the Americas
by the Spanish Crown, whereby emphasis was placed on the creation of public
squares. The plazas, surrounded by institutional buildings, were the physical

IA components and principles

representation of the political and social pillars of their culture, which in this case
were imposed on the local culture. These institutional buildings framed the public
spaces, connoting that collective matters were more important than the individual
ones. They also kept an observant eye on the public area where people performed
communal rituals. The notion of Stewards was implicit in this spatial organization.
The takeaway here is that public space may be accompanied by components
that act as Stewards of these public spaces, from the early stages of occupation.
In contrast to the plazas and the grids of the Spanish-American model, the scale,
morphology, symbolism, and function of public spaces in the IA initiative will stem
from local cultural demands.
In Medellín, institutions that provided communal services, such as the park-
libraries and the CEDESOSs (business incubators), accompanied the intensely
used, well-designed, and well-maintained system of open spaces. These spaces also
connect to existing communal assets, like schools, churches, gathering points, or
bus stops.
The system of public spaces included in the IA approach, particularly in the
Corridors and Transformers, is meant to perform more complex operations on
the urban and metropolitan scale, particularly in later phases.These require larger
and more flexible areas than the Spanish-American plazas or those carved out
in the informal settlements in Medellín. The public realm in the IA approach
should be able to surpass neighborhood demands, and, in time, include trans-
portation networks, infrastructure, water management, amenities, and services
capable of serving a greater population and more robust and varied urban
How then does one secure the spaces to fit future demands? This goal can
be achieved by design solutions, which include transitory uses that are adapted
to the different stages of urban development, identifying appropriate Stewards
and incorporating landscape strategies that will make these areas “defendable.” In
order to dissuade unwanted occupation until community minded levels of public
appropriation are achieved, defendability can be managed physically, functionally,
or symbolically. In some cases, physical barriers, such as gates or walls, may be
required to dissuade public entry. The following section will introduce the notion
of “Garden Keepers” as an option to create defendable sites until unrestricted
public spaces can be secured.

IA components and principles

5.3.1 Garden Keepers

Garden Keepers are a type of Steward, a particularly useful notion for estab-
lishing custody and use of portions or larger territories. This concept emerged
from a stimulating exchange of ideas during a panel in honor of Professor John
Dixon Hunt’s book, entitled A World of Gardens, which was held at the Design
School of the University of Pennsylvania.6 In the book, Professor Hunt explores
the relation between gardens and thresholds, the tradition of gated gardens with
Garden Keepers, and whether individuals or institutions act as custodians. To enter
these spaces, the public required permission. Physical delimitation and controlled
accessibility were important features to ensure the protection, operation, and
maintenance of the gardens.7
In the IA approach, the permanence of the system of open spaces may be
guaranteed by ensuring its use and defendability throughout time, providing
appropriate uses, spatial definition, and management that match the changing
needs of the community. To do so, the subdivision of larger open spaces into a
series of more manageable interconnected precincts or enclaves is recommended.
As in the case of the gardens, these spaces may have to have well-defined bound-
aries associated with a particular Steward. There may be different degrees of access
and control granted to the different garden-like enclaves based on the dimen-
sions of the precincts and the possibilities of giving them proper use and spatial
This strategy has several advantages. First, it is possible to secure and protect the
territory and give immediate use to part of the land, while keeping other areas
idle until they are required, or resources are available to develop them. Second, it
is possible to concentrate design efforts in specific locations with acupuncture-
like landscape strategies, using few resources to create emblematic places. The
intensity of use is likely to establish a strong bond between the users and sites,
increasing the chances that they will quickly defend them from encroachment.
Once spaces become self-defendable, the physical boundaries and control points
can be removed.
An area meant to house a large metropolitan sport facility can be first utilized
by including a smaller, informal community sport field/recreational space with
unrestricted access. This pre-selected public space may be located on a site that
has good accessibility and visibility and is strategically located within Corridors or
Patches. The remainder of the area may be fenced off, and kept idle for a number

IA components and principles

Figure 5.9: (Top) Initial occupation of Receptors and Transformers. (Bottom)

Progressive occupation of new Receptors and Transformers, and conversion of initial
Transformers. Images: D. Gouverneur, T. Lee, D. Maestres, and A. Visconti

IA components and principles

of years, securing the land that will be used in the future for the sport complex,
agriculture, construction materials reclamation, or a police or fire station. Over
time, the first formal sport arena may be included, and a training center which may
serve as the Steward of the soccer field. In later phases, a complete sport complex
may be developed at a point in which the area around it has been fully populated,
and the restrictive barriers may come down. When a strong bond is established
between users and sites and they become true public spaces, the Stewards and
Garden Keepers may transform or cease to exist.
Summarizing, each of the IA’s design components, Corridors (Attractors and
Protectors), Patches (Receptors and Transformers), and Stewards take on different
roles that work in concert to enhance the performance of the new predominantly
informal districts. Corridors define the main public realm, although public spaces
may also appear in Receptors and Transformers. Receptors facilitate land for self-
constructed neighborhoods, and the Transformers include a diversity of productive
uses and other services typically present only in the formal city. Finally Stewards
secure land in Corridors and Transformers to perform their roles, keeping them
free from unwanted occupation.The coordinated deployment and management of
this toolkit can have a tremendous impact on the informal city.
This initial occupation within Receptor Patches will most likely occur close to
existing urban areas. New infrastructure, services, open spaces, and efficient forms of
management in the IA territory will benefit the new settlers, as well as residents of
adjacent preexisting settlements. During these early phases of the IA initiatives, the
Attractors will provide basic services, such as potable water, simple forms of trans-
portation and mobility, open spaces, and provisional shelter. Protectors will secure
additional open spaces for future use, safeguarding watercourses and environmental
and cultural assets from unwanted occupation. In addition,Transformers will likely
serve basic communal needs, such as providing construction materials to begin
erecting the dwellings or food produced in community gardens.
In time, the settlement will become denser and eventually consolidate. The
Attractors and Protectors will incorporate new uses, the system of open spaces and
services will diversify, and the Transformers will also accommodate new functions
according to emergent community demands, such as manufacturing areas, schools,
hospitals, and even privately owned real-estate operations. As these transformations
occur, the IA fostered territory is gradually being expanded according to the plans.
The systems of Attractors, Protectors, Transformers, and Stewards will become
larger and increasingly diversified. In this way, new Receptor Patches will be

IA components and principles

Figure 5.10: Consolidated informal settlement in Choroní, Venezuela

IA components and principles

occupied to initiate a transformative process similar to how the first IA occupation

began, but enhanced by the already rich network of physical and social relations
that the approach has offered.
The IA approach aims to reduce the disparities between the serviced and
un-serviced parts of the city, offering urban conditions significantly better
than those prevalent in most spontaneous informal areas today. Without the
commitment of the public sector to support the IA initiative, which offers the
diversity of uses, performances, and urban morphologies, the informal settlements
that will emerge in decades ahead will continue to grow with the same urban,
social, and environmental problems that characterize them today. In fact, these
problems may be further exacerbated by expanding population and diminishing

5.4 Implementation principles

From the Introduction through Chapter 4, we have tried to make the case that
IA can be a useful approach to guide the evolution of the self-constructed city.
The previous section of the current chapter introduced the urban design strategies
that will help to organize an IA fostered territory. This section calls attention to
constructive attitudes that the facilitators and beneficiaries of the approach may
assume to accomplish suitable results.

5.4.1 Engaging with local landscapes

The European colonization of the new world took place in a geography where
the forces of nature occurred at previously unforeseen scales and intensities. This
manifested in earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, or torrential floods.
The lack of interest in the value of scenic landscape and the misunderstanding of
natural forces during colonial times, especially those of longer recurrent periods,
caused, and still results in, destruction of the urban fabric and casualties throughout
numerous towns founded during colonization.8
Not until the nineteenth century, with the advent of the City Beautiful
movement in Europe, was there a renewed appreciation of site conditions and
scenic beauty as urban design tools.9 Many developing countries, influenced by
this movement, expanded their traditional compact and pedestrian-oriented cities
to make them greener and more permeable. Streets and avenues of expansion areas

IA components and principles

became wider with ample and planted sidewalks, continuous street walls were
replaced by “objects in the green,” and large city promenades and parks were built
on promontories and along rivers and ravines.
Developer-driven urban landscapes of the twentieth century up to the 1950s
also seemed to be quite sensitive to local conditions, prioritizing the creation of
open spaces more than those that have been delivered from this period on. The
postwar period was influenced by Modernist ideas of city planning, a movement
uninterested in the creation of public spaces but instead envisioning urban
expansion based on vehicular mobility and architectural efficiency.
Despite today’s global awareness of environmental issues, the generic planning
instruments and zoning codes in many developing countries still draw on these
ideas that are both generic in nature and insensitive to local conditions. These
patterns of thinking allow developers to build large-scale projects, favoring
urban sprawl, even with its severe environmental consequences. Further, massive
earthworks that introduce infrastructure, mobility and transportation systems,
and terracing for developments are common in developing countries, frequently
without any type of environmental assessment.
Although not relying on heavy construction methods such as earthworks,
informal occupation is not usually responsive to local conditions. Without
technical evaluation of site conditions, the piecemeal process of informal
occupation typically precedes any form of urbanization. However, these organic
urban agglomerations are far from being environmentally friendly.The elimination
of topsoil and vegetation, the modification of the hydraulic systems, the loss of
biodiversity, erosion, and land instability are common conditions in informal
Often they occupy geologically unstable land or areas with fragile ecosystems.
They take advantage of wooded areas to obtain material for construction of homes
or for cooking. They may dispose of domestic wastewater and trash in streams
and wetlands. Communities struggling to survive in informal settlements, particu-
larly during early phases of occupation, are attending to basic needs. Despite the
fact that their carbon footprint is lower than that of residents and users of most
formal districts in terms of energy consumption, water and waste disposal, and the
efficient use of land, they also produce environmental stress on the territories that
they occupy and beyond. The efforts required to upgrade these areas once they
have consolidated, as was explained in Chapter 1, also translates into administrative
and financial stressors, and the systematic entropy in the city ecology.

IA components and principles

This difficult scenario raises some important questions. How can the IA
approach help to make the informal settlements responsive to local conditions?
How can these challenges become opportunities not only to take action, but also
to learn from and aspire to greater environmental goals from the very beginning
of the urbanization process?
The IA approach prioritizes the selection of appropriate sites for new informal
growth. It takes advantage of territorial and site-specific features as compelling
design assets. Responsiveness to the uniqueness of natural and cultural condi-
tions is crucial in defining the design solutions and the performance of these new
urbanized territories. The IA approach posits that a powerful tool for creating
systems of compelling open spaces, strong morphological and aesthetic value,
reasonable maintenance regimes, local idiosyncrasies, and multiple uses, is to take
advantage of preexisting natural and cultural site conditions. Both serve as design
drivers of future proposals.
The identification of particular site conditions that can enhance design strategies
and increase the resilience of new districts includes: scenic value, microclimatic and
topographical conditions, geological and hydrological features, wetlands, wildlife
areas, vegetation, archeological sites, traces of the agrarian heritage, and places of
religious and cultural significance. Mapping these conditions, and establishing
the correlation with design and managerial strategies, will strengthen the spatial
quality and the performance of the public spaces within the Corridors, Patches,
and Stewards.
As an illustration of these concepts, we might consider that many developing
countries are located in the tropical zones with lush and fast-growing vegetation.
The absence of winters allows trees to continue growing throughout the year,
achieving height and volume that may triple the stature achieved in the same
period in more temperate areas. Thus, the use of existing vegetation and new
planting of high-canopy, fast-growing trees is a powerful tool for place making.
Tall canopy trees have additional cultural value as places for gathering, since
shade is greatly appreciated in hot climates. Furthermore, trees have a particular
cultural load in most countries of the developing world, where the majority
of urbanites lived in rural areas only a few decades ago. In Venezuela, Leandro
Aristiguieta argues that certain trees achieve “monumental value” in urban
landscapes. One example is the samán or Pithecellobium saman in Venezuela, which
has been traditionally used to shade coffee and cocoa plantations, as well as being
planted along roads and in recreational areas.10 In other countries, there are

IA components and principles

monumental trees that have almost religious connotations, such as the Ceiba or
Ceiba pentandra in Cuba, a tree of African origin revered in rural and urban areas.
These huge trees are best suited for ample corridors, due to the extensive, shallow,
and powerful root system, which makes them problematic as street/sidewalk
plantings. They can shape and create amicable conditions in the more generous
civic areas.
An indicator of this cultural appreciation for trees is that, despite the very small
lots in which squatters build their homes, many try to incorporate some type
of planting in the form of shade or fruit trees. For example, aerial photographs
taken over long periods in arid and mountainous settlements demonstrate the
emergence of vegetated masses, which stay green even during the dry seasons.
A closer look reveals that these trees are planted within the individual lots and
that they are green during the drought because they are mainly irrigated with
wastewater, particularly in the settlements where there are no sewers or other
forms of water treatment. However, due to the negligence of public space in the
un-fostered informal settlements, vegetation is rarely present in the public realm.
The absence of trees in the public realm or informal areas is a factor that
differentiates the environmental quality between formal and informal areas. Most
formal areas, even where the urban infill is highly heterogeneous and poorly
designed, present large-canopy trees in the public realm, which provide a satis-
factory environmental quality.
By contrast, the quality of the urban landscape in most informal settlements,
where the edifices constitute a homogeneous building mass, seem significantly
lower than in the formal areas, conveying a message of neglect of the public
realm. The contrast between the comfortable conditions inside the homes of
most consolidated/mature informal settlements and the rough and neglected
appearance of the public spaces is one of the factors that set apart the informal
areas from the formal ones.
Dwellings often represent safe and gratifying oases within a hostile public turf.
Inherited colonial urban patterns can influence how informal settlements treat the
public landscape in relation to the treatment of the private, as well as particular
site conditions. Let’s compare two examples of informal settlements: those in
Caracas,Venezuela and Harare, Zimbabwe. In Caracas, the mountainous lots of the
informal settlements are very small, and certain colonial architecture trends favor
the embellishment of the private realm, with virtually no landscape considerations
in the public areas of the neighborhoods. The colonial home was inward looking.

IA components and principles

Figure 5.11: Informal occupation of steep slopes along the Caracas–Guarenas Highway, Venezuela

In Zimbabwe, the British colonial traditions were very different, emphasizing the
public domain. Communities paid attention to tree planting in streets and in the
setbacks of detached edifices that face the public realm. Informal settlements in the
flatter landscape of Harare tend to be larger, the homes detached, the urban fabric
more porous, with setbacks of individual lots and streets that are highly vegetated.
As mentioned before, a priority of the IA approach is the creation of compelling
systems of open spaces, accompanied by the selection of appropriate planting and
proper water management. Easily executed and maintained with low costs, these
efforts are of great environmental and social consequence.

5.4.2 Evolving morphologies and performances

Among the main characteristics of informal settlements is their physical and

social dynamism. They are organisms in constant flux, particularly when they are
part of larger conglomerates. They transition from precarious forms of territorial

IA components and principles

occupation through different stages of consolidation, as they transform from

rudimentary initial shelters. They grow horizontally and vertically, diversifying in
use and social composition.11 Down the road, the informal settlements assume an
appearance somewhere between that of the local vernacular and the non-designed
fabric of the formal city. As the informal districts mature the demands also vary.
Not only does the population generally increase, but also, gradually, living condi-
tions improve, reflected in higher levels of income, education, aspirations, and
demands. The IA approach should be able to capture the transformative qualities
of un-fostered settlements. The spatial and aesthetic conditions of the Corridors,
Transformer Patches, and Stewards should also have the ability to change and to
adapt to new situations, in conjunction with the transformation of the informal
networks within the Receptor Patches.
Responding to contextual, cultural, and temporal conditions, the nature,
morphology, and performance of the early forms that will shape the Corridors,
Patches, and Stewards will differ greatly from one site and phase to another. The
formally planned and designed and the informally self-constructed will influence
each other, resulting in a hybrid product, which is more complex and rich than
if each one operates independently. Individual and communal efforts will steer
the transformation of informal infill, while local and metropolitan institutions,
in tandem with community organizations, will steer the transformations of the
public realm. In many ways, the formal city is modeled on principles derived
from the Modern movement, which tried to establish a machine-like functional
correlation between the supportive infrastructure and services and the urban
infill distributed in clearly differentiated zones. This paradigm assumes that it is
possible to accurately predict future demands and develop strategies to project and
construct an infrastructure network that would allow infill development to thrive.
I recall working as an intern in my final year of college in Ciudad Guayana,
Venezuela, a new steel mill town, designed by the Joint Center of Urban Studies
of Harvard and MIT. Planners had advised the local officials to construct as
much of the city as they could at once, in the earliest stages possible, which
they did. There was a sense of predictability and infallibility in this suggestion.
Despite a strong, heavy-handed federal development corporation that would
push the project ahead, the city, particularly the informal one, took on a life of
its own. The perfectly planned functional zones became mixed-use districts and
entire areas grew in different directions than what had been planned. The over-
dimensioned infrastructure resulted in agile mobility corridors, but also in urban

IA components and principles

barriers, which led to such high maintenance costs that the project still burdens
federal and local authorities 50 years after it was built. In Ciudad Guayana, the
vastness of the scheme made it impossible for the authorities to monitor the
entire city, or to impede informal occupation of already urbanized land.
The IA approach takes a very different stance. It plans ahead for expected urban
demands; it selects sites that offer conditions for sustainable growth and it proceeds
to envision a flexible support system for urban infill that will be in constant
change. The approach uses resources efficiently, gradually responding to pressing
needs, particularly those of the lower-income groups. It steers urban transforma-
tions to attain more balanced cities. The IA approach envisions a public realm
capable of adapting to changing conditions to make the system more resilient.
Under these assumptions, transformations within the public realm, and their
correlation with informal infill, are feasible if the initial design moves and
performative conditions are infused with the notion of change. This is something
that is inherent in the nature of the components and their design purposes. Here is
where landscape-driven urban solutions are relevant. Effective design encompasses
transformative processes as a motive equal to the creation of compelling places.
This is especially important when dealing with the informal, which is malleable
and constantly morphing.
Let’s imagine the trajectory of the initial strands of the Attractors that may give
birth to a new settlement. The most active zones of an IA accompanied territory,
while departing from formal configurations and uses that serve young neighbor-
hoods, will quickly transform into areas of new centrality within the city. This
change will occur because the local population identifies with the zones, and
because the way they are designed, their location, the opportunities to connect
with other areas of the city, and their administration will make these places
competitive and attractive within the broader urban context. This entails agile
design and administration, and a continuous dialogue with the community.
In turn, these new sustainable districts will exert pressure for growth on
adjacent areas, because fostered territories will further attract new residents and
users, becoming denser to accommodate the extended families of the first settlers.
Districts will push outwards, at a much faster pace than might occur in sponta-
neous informal settlements. Thus the facilitators of the IA initiative will have to
carefully monitor how and where expansion should happen, and where it should
not. Another aspect to be considered in relation to the expansion of the first

IA components and principles

settlements would be the appropriate timing to release internal expansive forces

onto adjacent territories in the initial IA areas.
Prior to expansion onto new lands, a high level of densification and function
of the IA components ought to be achieved. It is difficult to establish standards to
define what high levels of densification are, since each city and district will operate
differently. However, it is highly recommended that extended IA fostered terri-
tories are incorporated only when the Receptor Patches have been fully occupied,
and the facilitators sense that if no preemptive actions are taken to expand the
urban frontier, the spillover effect will begin creating new districts without the
benefits of the IA approach.
For this reason, it is recommended that the boundaries of the existing IA
fostered territory should be maintained until the conditions to grow outward
are appropriate. This could be accomplished by establishing buffers with suitable
Stewards, located at the threshold between the initial IA fostered territory and the
expansion areas, to contain the expansive forces.
These Stewards can incorporate uses compatible with the expanded scheme,
or that can adapt to the new conditions. Some examples include a peripheral
market/food processing and distribution center, which in the primary scheme
might take advantage of its urban/rural location. In the extended situation, it may
morph into a central market place with a restaurant hub, cinemas, and retail. A new
peripheral market may then be included in the outer boundaries of the expanded
IA territory. Another scenario may be that the original Steward is replaced by a
completely different use and performance landscape.
Crafted formal and process-oriented design solutions will play a pivotal role
in facilitating these transformations. The scale and role of the IA components,
the manner in which they relate to each other, the sequencing of the interven-
tions, and the experiential qualities of the public spaces all affect the private infill,
informal and formal. They also strongly influence morphological and aesthetic
decisions. The questions are: What is the natural, the morphological, and the
aesthetic pallet of the initial strands of the IA initiative, and what is the appro-
priate degree of formal definition, of investment, and of administration required
to stimulate initial occupation? Suitability of design and management may be
measured by community satisfaction and the degree to which stated objectives for
the district and visions of facilitators of the approach are met.
The IA fostered public realm and the buildings that serve public functions
should be able to convey, particularly in the early stages, the notion that good

IA components and principles

Figure 5.12: Consolidated neighborhood of Versalles, Comuna 3-Manrique, Medellín, Colombia

IA components and principles

standards of living are not a distant goal but a true possibility.To the extent that the
public components of the IA approach are capable of raising the bar, incorporating
cutting edge logic and performance of urban organization, the informal areas will
react accordingly, to boost their internal dynamics.
Another important aspect to be considered is the maintenance and constant
improvement of what has been achieved. This may be one of the greatest limita-
tions in developing countries. It is common to see well-designed projects that
have been carried out at high costs left to decay shortly after inaugurated. Public
officials in many developing countries are good at delivering contracts but are not
great managers or maintainers. Selecting and training the facilitators of the IA
initiatives, and engaging the community in the conception, design, construction,
and operation of the initiatives, are indispensable for spurring and sustaining
healthy living conditions.
The public sector in many developing countries responds to short-term actions
that have quick political payoffs. The facilitators of the IA approach must be able
to respond quickly and create solutions that satisfy the community, and also the
political goals, without losing sight of the broader urban picture and strategic goals.
Gaining the trust of the community may be the best chance for the IA to have
continuity and for future goals to be met. Facilitators and the community alike
should be satisfied if the IA territories attain a degree of autonomy from the rest
of the city, and even position themselves as important components of the greater
urban systems. This was the clear message from Peñalosa’s achievements in Bogotá
and Fajardo’s in Medellín. The difference is that we can expect the IA initiatives
to go many steps further by acting in a preemptive manner, by addressing new
levels of complexity in the urban operations. It will be seen in the benefits that
the informal district will receive, in the scale of the interventions, and in the role
that these new territories will play in the urban systems.

5.4.3 Managed gentrification

As settlements mature with improved infrastructure and services, and the residents
gradually integrate with urban life, gain access to education and health services,
and generate higher income, their expectations also change. The initial functions
of the Corridors and Transformer Patches will vary, from diverse and stronger
commercial uses, manufacturing, industry, more sophisticated services, parks, and
places of recreation, to even profitable real-estate operations.

IA components and principles

The districts will tend to formalize diversity and even gentrify. However, gentri-
fication understood in this context should not be a displacement of the original
residents, but rather it should be a continuous increment of the socio-economic
conditions and increase in social mixture. In other words, IA programs can address
both market dynamics and social life, favoring urban revitalization while reducing
poverty and social exclusion.12 Attracting higher income residents or the voluntary
relocation of the original settlers within the district to new projects may also be
achieved by developing formal residential and mixed-use areas, as well as by taking
advantage of the Transformer Patches.
There is a significant difference, in terms of gentrification, between urban
improvement plans in poor neighborhoods in developing countries and those
that occur in industrialized nations, particularly in well-established real-estate
markets. In the latter case, urban improvements of site conditions immediately
translate into increased real-estate values, higher property sale prices, increased
rents, and higher taxes, which displace lower-income groups to less desirable
locations. Property values certainly increase in informal settlements as a result
of urban improvements, even in those that have not been either granted legal
status or given property titles. However, since gentrification and displacement is
largely an effect of the rental market, the dynamic is less pronounced in informal
Although in the un-fostered informal city many residents begin to occupy
the land illegally, over time they usually gain property rights by continuous use.
Even if they do not gain property titles, in most countries they are rarely evicted,
particularly if they reside in already consolidated neighborhoods. Additionally, the
tax brackets for the poorer groups are very low, and sometimes non-existent, in
most developing countries.13 Thus, improvements in the building stock, such as
enlargements that allow for commercial uses, the construction of additional space
for the enlarged families, room rentals, or entire new dwellings, generally result in
direct benefits for the original occupants who frequently are those that built the
In other words, urban improvements that are at the core of the operations
brought about by the Corridors and Transformers would produce direct benefits
for those who constructed and live in the neighborhoods. One can argue that
improved urban conditions will boost the rents, gradually changing the compo-
sition of this segment of the informal population, but the economic gains will
fall primarily into the hands of the original occupants and builders. This gradual

IA components and principles

improvement of socio-economic conditions, together with the incorporation of

higher income residents in formal real-estate operations in Transformer Patches,
will result in a process of what may be called “managed gentrification.” In other
words, it encourages income diversity in an urban landscape where everyone may
feel included.
Whatever the combinations, with the Receptors as an integral part of the IA
approach, new settlers will find substantially better conditions as they occupy
fostered territories and move into the future. The main benefits of informal
occupation within the Receptor Patches are:

a. Their locations are risk-free sites, compared with the hazards that settlers are
frequently exposed to in random informal growth, being subject to flooding,
landslides, earthquakes, high voltage lines, and so on;
b. The sites take advantage of the relationships with existing urban areas and also
of the transformative influence of the Corridors and Transformers;
c. They present bounded territories and defined edge conditions, adjacent to
intentionally programmed urban landscapes, even if these are in a primordial
state. This allows for the establishment of a manageable scale for the Receptors,
reinforcing their identity as neighborhoods;
d. The Receptors are able to incorporate additional support systems, not too
different from the advantages of Sites and Services programs, but operating
as part of a multi-scale and multi-performance model, influenced by the
Corridors and Transformers;
e. Residents of the Receptors are able to incorporate within their dwellings
particular design conditions that stem from the IA experiment. For instance,
construction materials that are the product of recycling plants, technical assis-
tance that conveys solutions that have been tested in other contexts as a means
to reduce the vulnerability to earthquakes, family-scale or community cluster
agricultural practices tested in the agricultural programs located in Corridors
or Transformers, and so on.

A combination of administrative and design strategies within the Corridors and

Transformer Patches ought to be correlated with those that take place within
the Receptors. Occupation within the Receptors can be spontaneous in nature,
but can also be subjected to planned and designed decisions. The level of assis-
tance provided by IA management in relation to how the Receptor Patches will

IA components and principles

be initially occupied and evolve can vary greatly. This evolution includes the
definition of a system of open spaces at a local scale, the design quality of these
public spaces and the communal buildings, urban layout and lot subdivision, basic
housing typologies, and building technologies and materials.
In general, when the areas of informal occupation are smaller in size and
population and have recognizable boundaries, they tend to develop stronger
communal ties and forms of self-governance in contrast to very large informal
territories. The Corridors and Transformers can subdivide the site into identifiable
Receptor Patches to become more manageable neighborhoods.
In order to make the work of the facilitators of the IA initiatives more effective
and accelerate the rate of transformation of the new districts, the newly arrived
settlers should promptly participate in the decision making process and the provision
of community services and public spaces. In a way, this is what happened during
the different phases of the informal settlement improvement projects carried out in
Bogotá and Medellín. Interventions in these cities initially seemed to be top-down
approaches and were received with a high degree of skepticism on the part of the
residents, until the community realized that the programs were materializing and
significantly changing their standard of living. In the following phases, residents
engaged actively in all stages of planning, design, construction, and operation of
the public initiatives. Over time, the improved neighborhoods tended to formalize,
accept taxes and utilities, and even forget the way in which the initial occupation
began, as well as the individual, collective, and public efforts that were involved.

5.5 Moving ahead

The Informal Armature approach, as a practical working initiative, introduces a

set of generic design components that designers may use to guide the selection
of adequate sites and the deployment of initial spatial and performative situa-
tions. Some components will guide the configuration and evolution of the public
realm, while others will guide the urban infill. The components will also address
the allocation of land for the predominantly self-constructed neighborhoods, and
supplement them with an array of uses that will, in time, make these areas balanced
districts within larger urban scenarios.
The nature and deployment of these components and their ability to transform
will vary according to local conditions. This is the focus of the remaining chapters
of this book.

IA components and principles

1 For a historic perspective on the evolution of Corridors and lineal armatures
in urban history see David Grahame Shane. Urban Design Since 1945: A Global
Perspective. Hoboken: Wiley, 2011, pp. 198–226.
2 Ibid.
3 Some cities present informal edifices that surpass eight stories, which entails
functional and structural complications.
4 See Oscar Grauer. Rehabilitación de El Litoral Central Venezuela, Universidad
Metropolitana, maestría en diseño urbano. Caracas, Venezuela. 2001, p.119.
5 To learn about this initiative visit Arquitetas da Comunidade. March 13, 2012. (accessed December 1, 2013).
6 See John Dixon Hunt. A World of Gardens. London: Reaktion Books, 2012.
7 Ibid.
8 See Arturo Almandoz. Urbanismo Europeo en Caracas (1870–1940). Caracas:
Fundación para la Cultura Urbana, 2006; and Francis Violich. Cities of Latin
America. Housing and Planning to the South. New York: Reinhold Publishing
Corporation, 1944.
9 See Leonardo Benevolo. Histoire de la ville. Marseille: Parenthèses, 2004.
10 Leandro Aristiguieta was one of the most influential botanists of the twentieth
century in Venezuela; one of his ideas was to design local laws to allow
the authorities to preserve the local biodiversity, not only from a botanic
perspective but also by understanding the cultural value of the living species in
the urban culture. To learn more about this project see Sergio Antillano. “Un
árbol de espinas.” Presidencia AsoVac. October 18, 2012. http://presidencia. (accessed
October 12, 2013).
11 See Leo Robleto Costante and David Gouverneur. “Landscape Strategies for
Informal Settlements: Creating Armatures to Shape Urban Form.” Landscape
Urbanism. July 1, 2013.
for-informal-settlements-creating-armatures-to-shape-urban-form/ (accessed
October 13, 2013).
12 Although related to the North American housing context, for more on the
basic conceptual notions of such an approach see Robert J. Chaskin and Mark
L. Joseph. “‘Positive’ Gentrification, Social Control and the ‘Right to the City’
in Mixed-Income Communities: Uses and Expectations of Space and Place.”
International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 37, no. 2 (2013): 480–502.
13 Ibid.

Figure 6.1: The IA approach can help bridge the physical and cultural divide. Barrios adjacent to El
Helicoide, Caracas, Venezuela
Chapter Six


The IA’s use of Corridors, Attractors, and Protectors entails the ability to adapt to
changing conditions, as well as novel forms of spatial organization, administration,
operation, governance, community engagement, financing, and maintenance.
Adoption of IA initiatives should have a profound impact on academic studies of
urbanization and professional practices; it can also lead to legal and institutional
reforms.This chapter illustrates how the model is based on rather simple principles
and design strategies that are likely to induce significant changes, provided that
there is commitment from the public sector, NGOs, private organizations, and
settlers to the IA principles. The following sections discuss the most relevant
factors for enacting IA.

6.1 Advocating for the IA initiative

To address the challenges of current and projected urban growth in the devel-
oping world, stakeholders must adopt the appropriate tools. The solution to
the urbanization challenges must embrace informality. The primary obstacle
addressing the challenge is the prejudice against investing in informal settlements.
Some say that to invest in informality is to consolidate misery. Others argue that
political payoffs are currently associated with projects that can be delivered in a
short period of time, with the least efforts. The first step in the IA approach is
to gain social and political support, and therefore empower individuals, commu-
nities, and societies. This means that we must neutralize or bypass biases against
the informal, and create the managerial conditions and resources to advance the
IA initiative.


In Chapter 2 we explained that the conventional urban planning, programs,

and policies that promote subsidized housing have been able to envision urban
growth on suitable land and enlist the private sector, mainly developers, in the
urbanization process; but this has only been for one sector of society. Subsidized
urban housing programs have not been able to effectively address the urbanization
challenges or the needs of the lower strata of the urban poor. On the other hand,
there have been valuable attempts to provide urban frameworks in the Sites and
Services programs and projects for the improvement of informal settlements.1
The IA initiative embraces the best from these two approaches, bringing into play
substantial managerial, environmental, economic, and social strategies.
Political leadership, institutions, academia, professionals, and segments of society
that do not live within informal settlements do not appreciate the resourceful
aspects of informality. However, all these urban actors feel that their lives are
affected to some degree by informal settlements, whether through public safety
and crime, or from higher tariffs or taxes to subsidize informal residents who do
not pay for services. Many are sensitive to social inequity, and concerned about
the loss of lives in informal communities due to natural disasters.There is a general
lack of knowledge on how to address the situation.
Legal aspects in the planning realm set apart the formal from the informal
with regard to how to shape and operate cities, which enhances social disparities,
and makes management of cities less efficient. As has been described, the most
evident consequences of this bifurcation are: (a) the spatial segregation of different
income groups; (b) divergent administrative and managerial efforts and resources
to oversee planning processes; which in turn (c) disadvantages the poorer sectors.
New paradigms to envision, design, manage, and regulate cities must be at the
core of any attempt at addressing social inequalities and reducing the gap between
the formal and the informal cities. It also requires a better utilization of existing
resources. This is what the IA approach entails. The first step to the adoption
and implementation of IA is to educate stakeholders so that they understand its
benefits. Further, the facilitators of the IA initiatives should be knowledgeable and
skillful in how to deploy the three-pronged toolkit of Corridors, Patches, and
Merging formal and informal solutions, the IA approach relies on both the
introduction of useful design strategies and efficient and transparent forms of
management. This management should be based on a synergy of visionary
political leadership, talented professionals, and committed community leaders.


The examples of Bogotá and Medellín have proven to be highly successful in

this respect. Strong bonds with the community and their involvement in all
phases of urban improvement initiatives have proven to be the best way to foster
efficiency and transparency. The teams should be particularly sensitive, taking into
account the way of life of the settlers as they introduce the benefits of living in
an IA territory. Influenced by adequate managerial and design strategies, infor-
mality is part of the answer to urbanization challenges in developing countries.
Embracing informality will result in a win–win situation for both the formal and
the informal.
For a number of reasons, governments, NGOs, and institutions have addressed
informality, but with a type of bias that prevents them from taking preemptive
measures to steer their development. Instead most programs have focused
on improvement. As we also learned from Chapter 2, informal settlement
improvement plans can make a significant difference in existing areas, but they
require a tremendous amount of effort and resources. The degree of consolidation
of these tight informal districts, and the need to negotiate and gain community
consent for partial relocations, can make improvement plans challenging, costly,
and time consuming.
Operating in a preemptive manner, IA can prevent many of these problems. In
fact, IA initiatives may offer even greater opportunities to address a wider array of
issues than improvement plans, to help developing countries achieve sustainable
cities. Acting before informal occupation occurs and accompanying the transfor-
mation of the settlements, IA can influence many more lives. Political support is
particularly important to set the programs in motion. This support should translate
into simplifying bureaucratic red-tape procedures, securing funding, and ensuring
the continuity of the programs.
In order to understand the strengths and weaknesses in the logic of formal
and informal urban development, there must be a better appreciation of how
they operate. It is particularly important for the public sector to understand that
informal growth performs in a very different manner than formal urbanism.
Formal urbanization usually begins with technical studies to determine where and
how urban expansion should occur. City planners produce land use or specific
urban design plans, with their respective zoning ordinances, which are expected to
be followed by developers or individual initiatives.When the projects are delivered,
local authorities determine if they are in compliance with zoning regulations and
if water, electricity, or gas services are available.


Based on that information, authorities approve or reject plans. Upon approval

and secured funding, developers move ahead to clear vegetation and terrace
the land for accommodating infrastructure and roads. This is followed by the
demarcation of lots. Private or public initiatives then develop projects for
specific buildings also based on zoning regulations and lot conditions. Once
revised by the authorities, the projects are returned with a list of observations.
Many of the comments are not based on issues that have significant impact
in the urban scenarios, but instead focus on interior codes, such as when the
square footage has been exceeded by a few meters or if ventilation norms have
not been strictly respected. Each phase of planning involves time-consuming
administrative procedures, normally accompanied by exacerbating red tape. An
unintended consequence of these procedures is that some developers who want
to speed up the procedure pay officials off, so the process itself ends up feeding
After gaining permits and utility services, a process which can be a nightmare
in the developing world, the owners or renters may finally occupy the buildings.
Many modify the layout of their dwellings and expand their homes, operating
with the logic of the informal sector as they make changes off the record. In other
words, administrations devote time, financial, and managerial resources to control
a very long and ineffective formal urbanization process.
Informal urbanism, on the other hand, operates with an opposite logic. Informal
settlements occupy un-urbanized territories in a fraction of the time taken by
formal ones. The process of gradual consolidation of the informal networks,
however, tends to take much longer. The settlers first take over the land and define
lot boundaries. Human occupation begins under very precarious conditions.Then,
they start to consolidate and expand their initial shelters without services, infra-
structure, and, in many cases, access to roads.
Squatters formalize the boundaries of the lots, constructing walls or building
better fences in order to ensure a defendable piece of land. This also helps them,
eventually, to formalize property rights. In the informal process of urbanization,
basic utilities are gradually incorporated, with dwellers often illegally taking
electricity and water from nearby sources. As a result, whether by local authorities
or communal initiatives, these areas may be serviced.
Following this initial phase, dwelling construction, expansion, and consolidation
take place. Then a gradual process of improvement and provision of new infra-
structure and services follows. This later phase is usually done by the public sector


and sometimes with the support of institutions and local residents. Over time, the
informal settlements formalize in appearance and performance.
This is particularly the case when their genesis has included a basic urban layout.2
In Bogotá, a rather efficient and organized informal means of pre-urbanization
has been taking place, where “pirate developers” first negotiate with the original
landowners. Pirate developers survey the territory and predefine the alignment
of unpaved grids of streets, as well as blocks and lots. Afterwards, they assign lots
under informal sale contracts to a pre-selected list of potential informal occupants
who immediately occupy the land. The occupants demarcate the lots initially with
sticks and cords and begin to build their shelters. Not too long afterwards, the
settlement is initiated with an informal grid and lot subdivisions. Local authorities
assign the lots cadastral numbers, registering the properties. In later phases, utility
meters are installed and the settlers begin to pay for services and even taxes
The urbanization process proposed by IA is one that draws from formal and
informal models to develop a hybrid form of urbanization. From the formal logic,
it borrows the capacity to envision the future, selecting adequate sites, prefiguring
design, and introducing managerial strategies that will enhance the sustainability of
the system. From informality it borrows dynamism, flexibility, and the engagement
of communities invested in shaping their own habitat.
Equally as important as its strategies and technical paradigms, IA relies on trans-
parency and good management. Most citizens in developing countries, whether
formal or informal urbanites, will argue that any attempt to improve living
conditions is hindered by widespread corruption, with limited punitive action
towards those that practice it.3 The weakness of the legal system may be at the
core of corruption. The concept of law has a very different interpretation in many
developing countries to how it is understood in the industrialized world.4 The
weakness of the legal system may be associated with cultural values pertaining to
the common good, or lack thereof. These values can shape how people perceive
appropriate uses of public funds or public assets in general, but also the adequate
use of infrastructure, services, and public spaces.
Law related to planning distinguishes between the formal and informal, and the
ways that both shape and operate in societies. The laws, in effect, enhance social
disparities, making the management of cities less efficient. As has been described,
the most evident consequences are: the spatial segregation of different income
groups, redundant or irrelevant planning processes, and putting informal dwellers


in even more disadvantaged situations, for instance when trying to access finance
to purchase construction materials or land.
The most significant difference in the IA approach is that managerial actions
and physical interventions in the territory begin before the settlers arrive, and that
the community is expected to work promptly with the facilitators of the system.
Facilitators and the community work as an integrated team. Those responsible for
implementing the IA approach have to master the art of engaging the new settlers
in the endeavor. Treated with respect and empowered to have a proactive role in
the making of their habitat, informal settlers will be the best allies and controllers
of the enterprise. This is true for the IA approach and for any initiative to be
carried out in any field of social practice.
For this reason, it is important for facilitators to win the trust of the people.
That trust comes in the skillful delivery of the IA toolkit. Even the first stages of
an IA initiative should be able to demonstrate that the method makes a difference.
Projects that have been carried out successfully become powerful reference points
for new initiatives. Successful projects are the best tools to convince those who
may get involved in these novel urbanization experiments that sustainable urban
change is not only viable, but also can happen quickly. Even failed projects or
inadequate situations resulting from inaction may be useful for illustrating the
problems that are bound to arise if informality is left unattended. It is much easier
to take the necessary steps in resolving some of the problems involving urbani-
zation when it is possible to see tangible outcomes or benefits of the IA approach.
In the following chapters of the book, it will be explained how the IA approach
addresses the achievements and limitations of previous methods. This raises an
important question: What is the best way to advocate for putting IA initiatives
into practice? A good place to start is in workshops on informal growth which
show the successful results of informal settlement improvement plans and Sites
and Services projects. These workshops can also be useful in demonstrating the
consequences of inaction when informal occupation grows onto inadequate sites
and consolidates into large, incomplete urban territories.
In this context, we may also ask policy makers to analyze the housing shortage
figures in their countries/cities. They will find that the provision of formal social
housing always lags behind the growth of informal areas. We can call on stake-
holders for solutions and advocate for a different response. Asking officials and
professionals to better understand the forces that shape cities, and engaging with
the actors that drive informal occupation and transformation of the settlements,


Figure 6.2: Emerging informal settlement in Chitungwiza, Harare, Zimbabwe.

are both important steps for advocating for the IA. The first IA pilot projects will
certainly facilitate the task, serving as a concrete reference of why and how the
approach should be implemented.

6.2 Estimating land requirements

Previously we highlighted how IA initiatives, which feature planning and physical

interventions beginning in a territory before the settlers arrive, differ from other
methods of dealing with urbanization in developing countries. Preemptive
measures are essential for addressing the needs of the urban poor and fostering
better self-constructed cities. In developing strategies to deal with this process, the
single most important action IA facilitators can take is determining the availability
of appropriate land for guided informal occupation. This is not usually the case
in most developing countries, where public authorities frequently dedicate efforts
and financial resources to facilitating the urbanization of predominantly private
land that low-income settlers do not have access to. A proactive approach towards
land banking is of paramount importance in addressing population growth and


The selection of appropriate land requires trained personnel with knowledge of

the IA approach. The personnel need administrative autonomy, in addition to legal
and financial support, which will allow them to select the sites, purchase land at
pre-urbanized prices, and push the program ahead.Without land banking, un-fostered
informal settlements will continue to develop on unsuitable locations. Land banking,
in fact, is key to successfully implementing IA fostered informal development.
Although demographic information about the estimated growth of a city may
not be accurate, it is possible to determine what percentage of this growth can be
accommodated in different sites. With a general appreciation of site options where
the IA approach may be introduced, planners can estimate the amount of land that
is required for each operation. Planners should not concentrate IA developments
in only one location, even if their implementation occurs in different time frames,
since it is important to:

a. Favor a more balanced territorial distribution of the income groups, particu-

larly in cities with high levels of spatial segregation;
b. Deal with manageable IA packages, gradually spurring different fronts of
c. Spread out the beneficial impacts of these new IA fostered territories onto the
larger urban system;
d. Profit from the experience of the first managerial groups that can move on to
work in other sites as the first fostered territories start performing with more

Taking these factors into account, it is highly recommended that the IA modeled
areas should be distributed in different locations, adjacent or in close proximity to
existing urban areas.

6.2.1 How to estimate the quantity of land needed to implement the IA


Estimating land needs for the future growth of informal settlements raises a
number of questions. The first is whether there is a simple method to estimate the
land that will be used for the community to self-construct their dwellings. Then,
how much of the land will remain in the public realm and what will be used in
the broader interest of the public sector?


In most developing countries, the planning instruments determine a percentage

of land to be dedicated to streets, open spaces, and community services, which
comprise the public realm, and represent close to the same quantity of land used
for urban infill, the surface used for occupation or development. There is, essen-
tially, a 50–50 ratio for these two types of land uses. The IA approach, however,
allocates richer ecological processes and productive activities for land in the public
realm. This may result in a higher proportion of the land dedicated to the public
realm and/or to be kept free from occupation within development-infill lots as
open space. IA initiatives estimate a 60–40 ratio of public realm in relation to land
for urban occupation.
The first recommendation is to determine the average lot sizes of existing
informal settlements with similar conditions to the sites selected for IA initiatives.
An analysis of a sample of the lots of the settlements at different stages of consoli-
dation will help yield more accurate results. It will also allow for closer estimations
of requirements per household and lead to better projections of expected densities
of the IA territories.
Lot sizes may vary greatly from one city to another, depending on topographical
conditions, population density, average cost of land in the informal market,
location, local economies, cultural practices, and so on. Sampling should include
the following information among other aspects: average lot sizes, the proportions
of the lots, spatial organization of the dwellings, construction methods, and use of
materials. Furthermore, analyzing existing lot and dwelling conditions may also
illuminate the cultural patterns and even economic potential of the settlers. This
information will help IA facilitators tailor technical and/or financial assistance
Having estimated lot sizes by this method, the IA approach recommends slightly
augmenting the size of the lots to incorporate additional land, particularly in areas
where the lot is very small. This extra space can serve a number of functions, such
as facilitating the construction/expansion of the dwellings, incorporating small
family agricultural gardens or planting of trees, and increasing the surface for water
While there is always the possibility that the settlers will use 100% of the lots for
the expansion of their homes or to build additional dwellings, technical assistance
may help keep a proportion of the lots from being built upon. IA facilitators can
advise settlers on how to build their initial housing shell and their growth patterns,
as well as how to plant trees on the portion of the lots which are expected to


remain open.This extra space will help improve the spatial organization and venti-
lation of the dwellings, increasing their future value and positively impacting the
environmental quality of the neighborhoods.
There may be situations in which the analysis of the existing informal lot/
dwelling patterns does not provide appropriate references for defining IA lots.
Some examples include the following: lots where the dwellings take up 100% of
the space, leading to poor ventilation or impeded infiltration of rainwater; lots
without provision for family patios or gardens; or lots with an excessive extruded
vertical growth of dwellings, with severe functional and structural problems.
Although extreme conditions such as those described above may not serve as a
reference for the suggested new patterns of informal occupation, they will help
the facilitators of the IA initiative to take measures in order to avoid detrimental
trends. IA facilitators, in conjunction with the community, can establish a simple
set of norms that settlers can follow and enforce to control building heights in
quake prone areas, encourage ventilation, and prevent discharge wastewaters from
polluting neighboring lots.
The information gained from the samples may also lead to technological
solutions that increase structural stability during the expansion and consolidation
of informal settlements.5
A formula is perhaps the best way to illustrate the process of determining the
area needed for IA fostered informal settlement. The first variable that facili-
tators would have to solve for would be (L), the estimate of the land required to
distribute among the settlers. We can arrive at this figure if we take (Al), which is
the average lot size derived from the aforementioned sampling of existing settle-
ments, and multiply it by the number of dwellings or (D) to be included in a
particular area. The variable (D) is determined by demographic information and
managerial possibilities, as well as social pressure/political demands and capabilities
of funding of an IA program. These factors allow facilitators to assess the number
of dwellings which are expected to be incorporated in the new settlements. This
way, the land required to distribute among the settlers for the construction of their
homes within the Receptor Patches can be estimated as follows:

(L) Land for Lots = (Al) Average Lot Size = (D) Number of Dwellings

The second aspect is to determine the amount of land that will comprise the
totality of the Receptor Patches. Most Sites and Services programs allot a similar


amount of land for the self-constructed units as the amount of land intended for
the public realm of these neighborhoods. This formula helps Sites and Services
programs establish street patterns and public spaces, and reserve parcels for neigh-
borhood uses.6 We will assume the same relation in an IA fostered development.
Therefore, the allotment of land to accommodate the Receptor Patches (RP)
would be determined by the following:

(RP) Land for Receptor Patches = 2 = (L) Land for Lots

As described in previous chapters, the IA approach envisions a more complex terri-

torial organization than Sites and Services initiatives.This more complete territorial/
urban vision is at the essence of current practices of Landscape Urbanism thinking,
that is, to protect site natural assets, improve water management and increase infil-
tration, as well as include urban agriculture and recreational areas. Environmentally
sensitive urban practices tend to require more land, as one can learn when looking
at the experience of the Don River Project in Toronto.7 Therefore, the IA approach
also requires estimating the amount of land for accommodating a broader public
realm to support community services beyond the neighborhood scale of the
Receptor Patches. For these reasons, IA includes supplementary productive uses
and income-generating operations, which require additional land, in areas referred
to, as outlined in Chapter 5, as Corridors and Transformers.
How then can we estimate this additional land, which will set the IA program
apart from Sites and Services? Analyzing the land use distribution in the formal
areas of the host cities where the IA approach will be introduced makes it possible
to determine the proportion (P) of land which is dedicated for urban/metro-
politan demands in relation to the predominantly residential areas of the formal
city. This estimate includes areas dedicated to commerce, offices, manufacturing,
recreation, education, and health at a city scale, as well as markets, food distribution
centers, and transportation centers, among other uses.
The land for these urban/metropolitan uses is expected to be at least the same
amount as that required to accommodate the predominantly residential areas. If
the existing formal areas are underserviced, it may be convenient to consider the
IA fostered territories as an opportunity to compensate for these deficiencies. But
as a rule of thumb, the goal is to provide the new predominantly informal areas
of the IA program with similar levels of services and amenities as the formal city,
balancing the new neighborhoods with broader urban demands.


Thus, the total amount of land required for accommodating mixed uses, public
spaces, and infrastructure at an urban/metropolitan scale, corresponding to the
Corridors and Transformers (C+T) of the IA approach, could be estimated as

(C+T) = (RP) Land for Receptor Patches = (P) Proportion of Metro/Residential

Consequently, the total amount of land (T) projected to foster an IA district will

(T) = (RP) Land for Receptor Patches + (C+T) Corridors and Transformers

As emphasized, different sites and contexts may slightly change the equation and
increment land estimates. Selected sites that happen to include areas of particular
environmental sensibility, such as wetlands or archeological sites, have to be
protected and remain unoccupied. This may result in an additional increment of
land under the IA administration. Finally, it is important to keep in mind that the
IA administrators should also be able to carefully monitor the relationship between
the IA fostered territories and the adjacent vacant, agricultural, or protected land,
which, when combined, enhance the sustainability of the urban system.
These peripheral areas may include watersheds, environmental systems, fragile
ecosystems, larger tracts of agricultural land, and scenic areas, which do not have
to be part of the publicly owned land or fall under the direct management of the
IA administration. As has been explained, the IA approach seeks to take advantage
of site conditions, suggesting where and how to enhance urban occupation and
where to avoid doing so. If the selected IA site includes preexisting agricultural
practices with their associated infrastructure, such as irrigation systems or archi-
tectural remains of the agricultural past, efforts should be made to keep them and
by creative design incorporate them as productive ecological and/or recreational/
cultural opportunities.
Utilizing better measures for projecting informal occupation, the IA fostered
territories may obtain, over time, conditions that are similar to or better than
those in the formal areas of town. IA can deliver better conditions by providing
uses for land that will satisfy the changing community demands, estimating the
land requirements beyond that of the Receptor Patches and securing areas from
unwanted occupation. Failing to consider this supplementary land in the territorial


estimates will result in incomplete, predominantly neighborhood-oriented areas

that will be left at a disadvantage in relation to formal areas.

6.2.2 Planning and design for social goals

As explained in Chapter 1, conventional planning defines land uses and employs

zoning to regulate the real-estate market, thereby excluding the urban poor. In the
IA approach, the anticipated recruitment of public or public/private partnerships
will help secure the land for those that cannot afford it.
In the IA approach, the public sector, which should be responsible for
envisioning the transformation of cities by defining land uses and urban strategies
in defense of society’s broader interests, has to secure land for those who would
otherwise occupy unfit sites. Using IA strategies, the public sector can profit
over time, deriving added value from the urban operations that it has fostered by
bringing the private sector into play. This can occur, in time, by targeting lots that
have been envisioned for this goal, lots that have been incorporated in the land
estimates of the IA approach as part of the Transformer Patches, as described in
Chapter 5.
Without a proactive attitude towards land banking, IA initiatives cannot be
implemented, and the attempts to plan and attain better urban conditions in
societies where the urban poor comprise a high proportion of the population
would be futile. However, we can expect that the IA approach would be attacked
on different fronts: on one side, by those that feel that informality does not have to
be planned, regulated, or even assisted and, on the other, by those whose interests
would be affected by public action, as land ownership patterns are modified with
land banking and the proactive mentorship of the IA processes.
Looking into the future, societies have to make choices. In many developing
countries, with a history of extreme disparities in land ownership, with most
concentrated in a few private hands, and with scarce land in the public domain,
the option is for the public sector to secure land fit for urban uses or to work
out solutions with the private sector. Not doing so would counteract any attempt
to provide better urban conditions for the majority of the population. Failure
to embrace informality in the way that IA does will likely bring about severe
environmental, socio-economic, and political consequences.


6.2.3 Gaining access to public land

The public sector plays a part in determining the appropriate sites, gaining land
ownership, or at least being able, with the relevant legal and management tools, to
allow for private initiatives to become an active participant of the IA initiatives.
The public sector can facilitate assembling land to implement the IA approach in
one of the following ways:

a. Applying eminent domain;

b. Amicable acquisition from private owners;
c. Transferring already publicly owned land currently dedicated to other uses,
such as military bases, idle agricultural domains, and/or transportation rights of
way for infrastructure that are no longer required;
d. Public–private partnerships;
e. Negotiations with the private sector or establishing planning/design and legal
constraints on how private land can be urbanized and adapting it to proposals
of the IA logic.

In fact, pirate developers in Colombia have applied negotiation mechanisms

similar to the ones stated above. These strategies usually work when the
landowners realize that informal urban expansion is heading inexorably onto their
land or when eminent domain will be exercised. Confronted with the possibility
of losing their properties, the landowners make a deal, transferring property rights
to the pirate developers who will then pass them on to the settlers in exchange for
keeping part of the land secure that would become urban eventually.
Applying a similar logic, the IA facilitators can negotiate with the landowners,
offering urban development conditions for sites that they will retain, where they
can make substantial profits in the near future on operations. These sites will also
contribute to enhancing the performance of the settlement. This strategy has
many advantages, because it creates a healthy relationship with the private sector
and it allows the accumulation of badly needed land without having to pay for
it. However, these operations can be done only if there is a good level of trans-
parency on the part of the facilitators of the IA model, since in the developing
world this type of discretional agreement is not always fluid or exempt from


6.3 Identifying appropriate sites

Those responsible for selecting the appropriate sites should be knowledgeable

about the conditions of these sites and how they would respond to IA interven-
tions. In other words, land banking should not be a simple act of gathering land
to facilitate urban development, but should be one of the most important aspects
of the process that will help shape sustainable self-constructed cities.
The following are important conditions for selecting appropriate sites:

a. Obtaining reliable data;

b. Taking advantage of existing urban drivers;
c. Taking advantage of “green systems.”

These three conditions will be explored in the following sections.

6.3.1 Obtaining reliable data

Planning and designing in the industrialized world depends on widely available

and regularly updated data. Often, demographic information corresponds to
conditions of relatively moderate growth rates and change. Working in the
developing world entails quite the opposite. Reliable information is frequently
unavailable and, when it is available, it often corresponds to conditions that will
change in just a few years.
The lack of reliable data applies to almost all sources that formal planning
processes take into account. In the developing context, relevant data has to be
obtained in a quick and efficient manner, relying on local expertise and with the
assistance of those who will engage with the general logic behind the IA approach.
It is essential to obtain sufficient information that will aid the decision making
design processes.
In order to secure adequate land for an IA initiative, IA facilitators, who are
responsible for securing land, must have knowledge of the conditions which
are sought. In addition, they should be able to secure land for public use before
the IA proposals are disclosed. Important variables to keep in mind include the
conditions within the sites, the relations with the existing urbanized areas and the
rural hinterland, and the programmatic requirements that a particular project is
expected to address.


Some sources of information pose more of a challenge to uncover than

others. For instance, detailed micro-seismic data is frequently unavailable.
Gathering this information is time consuming and, in general, very costly.
Additionally, there may be areas where quakes of high intensity rarely occur and
these zones were not urbanized when the last event occurred. In these cases,
there may be no historic recollection of damages. An analysis of historic patterns
would help create a basic risk map, sometimes analyzing larger territories in
which the potential sites are included. Another option is obtaining data from
satellite geological information, and cross-referencing it with more site-specific
information such as soil studies. Developing risk maps is important because an
unfortunate selection of a site in seismic areas, with no preliminary analysis, may
have devastating consequences.
Other times, sources provide accurate information that is ignored. This was
the case in Caracas, Venezuela. The highly technical seismic institute FUNVISIS8
prepared detailed micro-seismic mappings of the city and of the very steep
surrounding hills onto which informal growth was encroaching. In 2006, the
National Government ordered the construction of a new formal social housing
project called Ciudad Caribia which was located miles away from the closest
urbanized area and on mountainous terrain that could only be accessed from the
main highway that links Caracas to the airport and port.9 This residential enclave
was built on the exact location of one of the most active fault lines in the area.
For political reasons, however, the seismic information was dismissed, as well as the
personnel who had prepared it, and the project pushed ahead.
The recently inaugurated development is already suffering the effects of
being constructed on unsuitable terrain. The land has begun to sink, cracking
the interior walls and facades of the buildings. The residents are condemned to
live in an isolated residential hilltop enclave with limited public transportation
and without community services or amenities. This case illustrates how selecting
appropriate sites demands technical knowledge, responsibility, and work ethics.
These qualities are relevant, perhaps even more so, when precise and up-to-date
data are not available.

6.3.2 Taking advantage of existing urban drivers

IA fostered settlements should be able to connect spatially and functionally

to existing urban areas in order to take advantage of their infrastructure,


transportation, community services, economic drivers, and social organization.

Detached or isolated forms of new settlements should be discouraged.
There is a good chance that the land available for IA fostered settlements
meeting these conditions will be adjacent to existing informal settlements. This is
why there may be greater political resistance to initiate IA programs near formal
Nascent informal settlements can serve another important purpose in the
IA approach. For sites selected for an IA initiative, a good indicator of an area’s
potential for urbanization is the presence of primary squatting or areas interspaced
with patches of formal and informal occupation. These early settlers intuitively
know which areas would eventually be urbanized, and have already invested
time and resources. They are also likely to have begun to establish an emotional
connection to the space. On the proviso that the site is suitable for development,
these initial occupations should be taken into account as part of the initial compo-
nents of the IA assisted territories.
If the site is adequate, the IA fostered settlement should be able to take
advantage of the expansive impulse and social strengths of the adjacent existing
informal areas. The IA settlement, however, would have different growth patterns
and internal drivers. The IA fostered settlement will likely improve the quality
of the preexisting informal settlement, helping to bolster it from its precarious
conditions and providing it with access to communal serves, open spaces, and new
infrastructure, and therefore bringing together existing settlements with the new
Securing land for the IA approach adjacent to wealthier formal areas, on
the other hand, offers other benefits. This would allow different social groups
to come together within the same territory. An amicable relationship between
consolidated higher-income areas and recently settled low-income informal areas
is possible. However, this usually requires innovative design interventions that
make the transition plausible, mainly by introducing buffer zones, quality public
spaces, parks, educational facilities, commercial activities, and transportation nodes.
Harmonious physical interaction and exchange between formal and informal
districts is rather exceptional. The symbiosis usually occurs when informal settle-
ments are small and contained, and have occupied pockets of unsuitable land, such
as flood plain areas of an inner city ravine.
As part of an IA strategy, the presence of low-income informal areas in
proximity to wealthier areas may be easier found in societies where a similar


relationship already occurs in a spontaneous manner. This is what is happening

in Medellín, where a thriving real-estate market is emerging in the vicinity of
older informal settlements. This pattern is not unusual in Caracas either, where
the formal and the informal areas intermingle more than other cities such as
Bogotá. Two informal settlements in Caracas, La Cruz in the Municipality
of Chacao and El Calvario in the Municipality of El Hatillo, are pocket-like
informal settlements adjacent to middle- and high-income areas. Most residents
of these neighborhoods shop in the same markets, go to the same cinemas,
attend the same churches, use the same parks, ride the same means of public
transportation, and even go to the same public schools as their wealthier
neighbors. In these settlements, there are fewer disparities of income levels, and
the quality of the urban services and security are significantly better than those
found in the peripheral and more socially homogeneous informal settlements
of this city.

Figure 6.3: Barrio La Floresta, Chacao, Caracas, Venezuela


Although these examples might be exceptional, they point to the benefits of

encouraging social mixing as an IA strategy. In fact, an intermediate solution or
gradual social mixing can be accomplished by introducing a certain percentage of
formal housing or Sites and Services solutions, departing from initial small shelters,
such as those included in some of the PREVI projects described in Chapter 1.
Recreational facilities and parks can also help integrate different social groups
and income groups, as was accomplished by creating recreational open spaces
with sport and educational facilities on a linear park along La Quintana ravine in
Medellín, which separated an informal settlement from a middle class district.

6.3.3 Taking advantage of “green systems”

It is important to keep in mind that the IA approach operates mostly on the urban
fringe, in the transitions between the urbanized and the rural/natural hinterland.
This section explores the importance of harmonizing the IA territories with
the non-urbanized adjacent areas, such as valuable agricultural land and unique
ecosystems, as well as taking advantage of the “green systems” within the new
The city planning models used in most developing countries expand urban
boundaries in order to accommodate demographic growth and diversify urban
functions. The plans are enacted, and, afterwards, the rural land is legally trans-
formed into urban land. Conventional urbanization begins with the provision of
infrastructure, road access, urban layouts, and lot subdivisions. These developer-
driven solutions produce plans that create a radical difference between the rural
and the urban. The area outside the urban boundaries remains rural or protected,
until a future urban plan expands the formal urbanization boundaries under the
same principles. In colloquial terms, urban is interpreted as hard, constructed,
engineered, technically managed, and associated with modernization and progress.
The rural, on the other hand, is viewed as green, unmanaged, poor, traditional, and
backward. This leads to an opposition of the urban and the rural, the serviced and
the un-serviced, and the dry and the green.10
The depletion of local resources is a result of both formal and informal urbani-
zation.The new urban landscapes in most developing countries lead to the erosion
of preexisting ecosystems. Frequently, the loss of environmental assets is so acute
that it threatens the sustainability of the urban system. Protecting and ascribing
value to the rural assets also includes the conservation of archeological or cultural


sites, agricultural infrastructure and irrigation systems, and preexisting villages and
towns.These elements are rarely given importance in conventional urban planning
as cultural, economic, and environmental or design assets.
Additionally, the green qualities of the sites often erode from multiple locations
because urban territories are occupied in a fragmented and dispersed manner.
Urban plans often do not have mechanisms to orchestrate a gradual, efficient,
and compact occupation of urban land. Thus, the plans deteriorate environmental
conditions and produce poor urban scenarios.
Informal settlements do encompass some sustainable aspects, such as compactness
in the use of land, mixed-use patterns, low energy consumption for transportation
and household activities, low quantities of solid waste, and are predominantly
pedestrian-oriented environments. However, the environmental assets of the
sites are equally impacted by piecemeal spontaneous informal occupation, which
proves to be as destructive as the more robust developer-driven interventions.
In the initial phases of occupation, informal settlers bring their rural cultural
knowledge, which tends to perform in a more balanced way with the natural
systems. However, they frequently settle on sites that are topographically, climati-
cally, and environmentally very different from their places of origin.11 Thus they are
as alien to the new sites as were the Spanish colonizers when they first arrived to
create new urban landscapes. The small-scale initial occupation ends up becoming
part of very large informal urban territories with demands that are radically different
from those of the rural milieu. The IA approach may help the settlers to transition
successfully from the rural milieu to the urban arena. The facilitators of the fostered
territories should be able to engage the community, assessing their skills and cultural
knowledge and helping them better adapt to life in the new urban habitat.
The IA approach posits that both the rural and the urban are part of the same
ecosystem. Instead of the artificial and inconvenient urban/rural divide, IA argues
that there is a need to integrate both components into a unified system. However,
the IA approach does not envision a solution that dissolves both components into
an ambiguous entity. Rather it foresees that the richness of the urban ecosystem
derives from the adjacencies and interconnection of the predominantly urban and
the predominantly rural. They both enhance and protect each other, even when
both conditions appear within the same territory. In this respect, the defendability
of public space is a crucial aspect for the success of the IA method. These ideas
are implicit in the concept of Corridors, Patches, and Stewards, as explained in
Chapter 5.


Just as the private and communal affect overall welfare, public space should
be part of the basic conditions that improve the quality of life of the informal
dwellers. Public space can be managed by IA’s notion of Stewards, establishing
precise boundaries and forms of management and differentiating the public realm
from the private/communal one.
While selecting appropriate sites, it is important to consider the intercon-
nection and proximity with existing urban areas, as well as the protection of the
adjacent rural and natural areas that are indispensable for the sustainability of the
IA fostered urban territories. The non-urbanized land adjacent to the IA terri-
tories can perform basic functions, such as the protection of the environmental
assets, the balance of the ecosystems, the stability of watersheds and soils, the
production of locally grown food, and the provision of recreational spaces, which
allow the urban system to thrive. Facilitators should also take into account the
components that play an important environmental role within the land that has
been assembled to be under the direct guidance of the IA initiative.
For all these reasons, the IA approach stresses the importance of introducing
urban patterns that are sensitive to the site and to broader territorial conditions.
IA also moves beyond the urban–rural dichotomy, understanding that the survival
of the urban is closely tied to that of the rural.

6.4 Reaching out to the community

Facilitators of the IA approach can provide new settlers with a sense of a high
level of commitment to the project through face to face meetings, informational
gatherings, and negotiating processes. Facilitators must work as a team with the
community, helping them visualize the advantages and co-responsibilities of being
part of the IA experiment. In this sense, they give the settlers a sense of responsi-
bility and ownership in the process.
As explained in Chapter 2, the early 1990s initiatives for informal settlement
improvement in Caracas proposed the creation of consortiums, partnerships that
brought together technical staff with community representatives, governmental
agencies, and the private sector. Unlike the unreachable governmental agencies
that usually overlook this type of initiative, the consortiums were flexible admin-
istrative and managerial platforms, with a physical presence located within the
neighborhoods. From the early stages, the community leaders were brought on
board and given important responsibilities, establishing fluid communication


between the professional team and the residents. This also served to provide
important information on the demographics, social composition, and physical and
performative demands of the neighborhood.
The community leaders promptly engaged in the production of the plans,
understanding and influencing the design process. This was particularly relevant to
beginning the first physical interventions, which required some relocation. Those
to be relocated had to see how they or the community would benefit in order
for the program to be implemented. Community members then got involved in
all aspects of the project, such as the design of the new dwellings, public spaces,
services, facilities, maintenance, cultural and sport programs, and operation of day
care centers. IA initiatives draw on this as a model for how to engage with the
An important aspect to help establish the settlers’ sense of belonging in their
recently occupied territory is through defining precise property boundaries.
Facilitators of the IA settlement assign settlers identification, a simple operation
that can be done in conjunction with community leaders.
Other design and performative decisions can foster stronger communal
relations, making the neighborhood safer and more productive. For example,
in the Metropolitan Caracas Barrio Habilitation Plan, and the Catuche project
described in Chapter 2, the design teams identified the historic and almost intan-
gible subdivisions that were associated with internal social organizations, places of
origin of the settlers, and time frame in which they had established themselves in
the area. They then suggested subdividing the seamless informal settlements into
urban design units based on that information.
Addressing a micro-scale or communal organization, they introduced the
notion of informal “condominiums” in which small groups of dwellings, averaging
from 20 to 40 homes, would have controlled access to their residential precincts.12
This subdivision was managed, reducing the number of labyrinth-like entries and
placing gates that would be closed only at night. The condominiums significantly
improved the security in the neighborhood, allowing the defendability of semi-
public space and the collaborative management of services, recycling, childcare,
and community gardens. They also enhanced pedestrian flows and improved safety
in the main pedestrian paths, which provided access to the condominiums and
more active and public open spaces.


6.5 Incorporating expertise

The IA initiatives may draw from different fields of knowledge that contribute to
the overall performance and morphological definition of the new districts. The
approach has the necessary flexibility to accommodate several initiatives capable of
making a difference to the well-being of the community and the broader urban
My short meeting with Professor José Antonio Abreu is an example of how
tapping into expertise can greatly enhance and refine the implementation of IA.
During the last week of November 2012, I had the honor of meeting Professor
Abreu in Caracas to discuss the Informal Armatures and to ask him if he felt that
his world acclaimed El Sistema program could be incorporated in the earliest
phases of occupation of a fostered IA territory. El Sistema is a social transformation
concept, which Professor Abreu envisioned in Venezuela in the 1980s.The concept
has steadily spread, being emulated in different developing countries, as well as in
the USA.The program uses music education as a tool to bring culture, self-esteem,
discipline, peace, and hope to children and youth of challenged communities, most
of whom live in very poor neighborhoods.
My conversation with Professor Abreu was intended to establish connec-
tions between the essence of El Sistema and the IA approach, which share many
commonalities. Both introduce high quality forms of performance and beauty
through education/management, benefiting the poorest communities while
boosting their internal potentials. They both are meant to induce radical changes
to the prevailing conditions of informal settlements.
At the forefront of both programs was acting at an early stage: in El Sistema,
working with very young children and accompanying them through adolescence;
and in the IA concept, from the initial phases of occupation through more mature
stages of development. Early intervention was strategic.
In both cases, the subjects of the initiatives were very malleable; their successes
would be associated with setting forward a vision, working with passion, and
selecting human capital, in order to foster transformations. They both worked
on the individual and collective levels, connecting the informal milieu with the
formal world to make them mutually beneficial.
I then asked how Informal Armatures initiatives could incorporate El Sistema.
He explained that there were two different modes to integrate El Sistema in
IA. One was to begin musical training with the very young in simple modules


which would be constructed in the heart of the IA settlements during the earliest
stages of occupation; another was to expose the community to performances of
orchestras of children and youth from other consolidated informal settlements.
He explained that El Sistema had accumulated ample experience in the type of
modules that he mentioned and for different sized groups. Likewise, these groups
understand how different instruments build up to complete performances.
Among his suggestions, Professor Abreu recommended the appropriate condi-
tions for open-air concerts in new settled territories. He recommended selecting
the sites that would be part of the foundational emblematic open spaces of the
settlements; those that in the future would have a strong urban presence, which
would coincide with the IA Attractors. He also referred to the environmental
quality of these places, for instance taking advantage of shading provided by
existing trees or other means. He also suggested an adequate scale for the spaces
to accommodate audiences without losing visual control of the performance. He
pointed out the importance of sound amplification powered by solar panels if the
community did not have regular electricity.
The synchrony of ideas that connected music to public space, as those
described here, could be replicated with experts from many disciplines. They
could contribute to the transformative power of the IA model in areas as diverse
as: urban agriculture, green infrastructure, and construction methods with local
materials, community participation, community incubators/micro-entrepreneurs,
community health, and recycling programs.
Relying on the expertise of those who command a particular discipline or field
of knowledge, IA territories will become more robust as different initiatives are
bundled in their performative and spatial components. Professor Abreu’s positive and
supportive response to IA ideas only reinforced my hope that it will be a powerful
option to gear the urbanization process of the developing world. Above all, IA relies
on creative ideas and vision, good management, and commitment to social change.

6.6 Financial sources

The IA concept is based on rather simple planning and design strategies. It is a

common sense approach. Its successful implementation relies on the cooperation
of the political sector, institutions and professionals, the private sector, and the
community who are the main benefactors of the schemes. The challenges of the
predominantly informal city and pressures of urbanization should motivate these


urban actors to action. Drawing from the lessons of previous informal settlement
improvement plans and forward thinking IA proposals, stakeholders can begin
to see IA as a viable alternative. They may therefore become willing to test the
initiative through pilot projects, monitor their evolution, and introduce the adjust-
ments that may be required.

6.6.1 The role of the public sector

Implementation of IA requires the proactive involvement of the public sector

during the earlier phases of occupation and initial transformations. Acceptance of
the program entails public and communal agencies to provide financial support and
management, especially considering the limited monetary or material resources
that settlers have. Successful outcomes of initial programs, in which settlers and
the city benefit, will likely result in increased contributions from institutions, the
private sector, and communities, thereby easing the burden on the public sector.
Whichever the scenario, the IA approach involves:

a. The allocation of public funding and managerial efforts with resources that
would normally be employed on public-housing programs, infrastructure, road
construction, and other public works;
b. The integration of efficient managerial and technical teams that will carefully
orchestrate the strategies in order to maximize the impact of the available
c. Managerial efforts to reduce up-front costs through strategic associations with
public agencies, and partnerships with the private sector and with institutional
and community organizations. In other words, they can contribute to the IA
initiative assets, managerial contributions, community, and individual labor.
Targeting international and local sponsors and donors may be equally or more
important than up-front cash;
d. The assemblage of appropriate public land. The importance of this aspect has
been described in previous sections of this chapter. It is important to note that
in some developing countries, such as Venezuela or Zimbabwe, there are large
tracts of public land suitable for the introduction of IA schemes. They are likely
to remain idle, vacant, or underutilized, belonging to the military or depart-
ments of agriculture. Making this land available for the IA programs may be
the most important single move that does not require the allocation of capital.


Public–private partnerships, in which the private landowners pass on to the public

domain a portion of their land (whether urban or rural), are also viable mecha-
nisms to implement the IA schemes. In many ways, the public–private partnerships
for securing appropriate land follow a similar logic to the pirate developers’
operations in Colombia mentioned earlier in this chapter. The IA facilitators can
operate as mediators between the landowners and the settlers, helping to negotiate
eminent domain of partnerships for land that is required for the IA operations. A
portion of this will be assigned to the settlers to build their homes and the rest
will be allocated for the urbanization process, with all the benefits and sustainable
conditions that the IA concept entails.

6.6.2 On fiscal contributions

The previous section described the role of the public sector and how it is
possible to negotiate and reduce up-front costs, particularly in the early phases
of occupation. This section focuses on how to secure revenues to pay for initial
investments and continue to manage the IA territories.
The financial demands and the degree of fiscal contributions that the urban
poor can afford or are asked to pay vary greatly from one context to another.
It is important to find a balance in which the informality can thrive with
reduced bureaucratic, legal, and financial constraints, in relation to the degree
of participation and contributions that those living in the IA fostered territories
are expected to provide. This is important considering that legal and financial
restraints are the main reasons why the urban poor have no other choice than
informal living.
In developing countries, such as Venezuela, the majority of the urban poor
are not on cadastral records and many do not pay taxes or utilities. In fact, this
situation is common in Latin America and the need to implement more modern
cadastral systems has been largely documented.13 The conditions of the dwellings
in informal settlements in Venezuela are perhaps better than in many other devel-
oping countries; however, urban conditions remain stagnant at best.
It is virtually impossible to collect taxes and charge for utilities in the majority
of the informal settlements located on the steep slopes of Caracas due to the lack
of accessibility, high levels of violence, and the lack of cadastral records and postal
addresses that would allow the installation of utility meters. As a result the tax
collectors and utility companies give up collecting payments in these “off-limit


informal areas.” Thus, they increase the tax bracket and the utilities payments for
the formal city dwellers.
Neighboring Colombia, in contrast, performs differently, with the private sector
playing a greater role in its economy. The greater percentage of the population is
on official records and pays taxes. As a result, even the poorer neighborhoods have
some degree of urban frameworks, which allow for accessibility. There is also a
clear identification of lots and postal addresses, which allows for the collection of
taxes and payment of utilities.
In Colombia, the urban areas are divided into districts according to income
levels and different taxation strata. At first this may appear to be a formula
that would lead to social segregation and immobility, but in practical terms all
Colombians know in which strata they live and what their taxation contributions
will be: the higher the strata, the higher the percentage of taxes.14 This results
in a culture of fiscal contribution that is broad and solid, and in an efficient
cross-subsidy system that allows for the distribution of public funds in order to
improve living conditions and to reduce disparities in levels of investments, infra-
structure, services, and amenities between the formal and the informal areas. As
the poorer areas consolidate and improve, the socio-economic indicators of their
residents and property values rise, and their strata classification and taxation levels
are adjusted.
Once again, the issue is balance. All city dwellers should be able to contribute to
and receive the benefits of urban life fairly and according to their potential. One
group not contributing creates a vicious cycle because without fiscal responsi-
bilities there is no possibility of urban improvements. Contrarily, if the residents of
the informal areas do not see the benefits of contributing, they will simply not do
so. Contributions do not necessarily entail cash; they could also be in community
Land allocation, derived from the IA operation, may provide for simple and
efficient forms of tax collection. Administrators of the IA territories, representa-
tives of local authorities, and community leaders could facilitate and monitor tax
collection. Property taxes are a viable mechanism to increase fiscal contributions.
Taxes should be associated with the building stock, which can be in relation to the
number of floors, as the dwellings are expanded to accommodate additional family
members, rental rooms, or separate apartments to incorporate commercial uses.
Most commercial activities in the informal areas take place in the lower levels
of the units, taking advantage of street fronts, thus they are easily detectable by


IA facilitators. A category of small, intermediate, and full floor occupation of

commercial additions may be established in order to better correlate these activ-
ities with incremental taxes. Commercial enterprises within the IA territories
will also provide for a healthy mix of uses and add to the sustainability of the
Mixed-use districts also reduce the need for transportation to other zones,
therefore minimizing energy consumption. They will also increase income-gener-
ating activities and improve the overall economic condition of the settlements.
The task is to balance, with common sense, the adequate mix of uses with a set of
easy to implement regulations that will benefit the local economy, and at the same
time enable the public sector to collect moderate property and commercial taxes
to re-invest in the welfare of these districts.
Some developing countries have experimented with rather sophisticated
techniques to collect taxes related to urban improvements within the neighbor-
hoods. In Colombia the system is called revalorización, meaning that taxes are
associated with the added value created by public investments in the public realm,
such as the provision of infrastructure and improvement of open spaces. This type
of fiscal contribution can be associated with specific urban enhancements that
can be clearly accounted for within a specific site, which encourages community
members to participate in the decision making processes. These processes help
identify what type of improvements communities desire, making them more eager
to pay their dues.
From an early start, the task is to establish a trustworthy relationship between
the dwellers and the IA facilitators. They must be able to assure residents that
their participation in the making of their community and contributions through
taxation and/or community work will produce significant benefits. Residents
should see their taxes as revenue that will revert back to them in some form of
improvement such as paved streets, reliable infrastructure services, or high quality
school programs.
Likewise, the facilitators should find a way to provide accurate information on
how property or commercial taxes are estimated and collected. They should focus
mainly on those aspects that provide fair revenues with less managerial effort.
An important issue to be addressed is how to determine tariffs for services and
brackets for taxes, and how they would evolve over time as income levels rise and
the districts begin to formalize.


6.6.3 Additional sources of revenues

As was described in Chapter 5, the Transformer Patches of the IA approach reserve

tracts of land to incorporate a diversity of income-generating activities.These areas
of productive activities may vary over time; they can generate up-front cash if sold,
steady revenues if developed and operated jointly with the private sector, and they
are also subject to taxation. These additional sources of revenues obtained in the
latter stages of the IA programs allow for re-investing capital gains in the same
districts or helping to initiate similar interventions in other territories.
Managerial platforms, technical support, and community engagement will
increase the IA program’s accountability and credibility in the eyes of additional
sponsors. The IA facilitators, acting proactively, can secure special funding
from multilateral agencies, particularly when justified humanitarian and sensible
ecological issues are at stake. Areas hit by conflicts, affected by forces of nature,
food shortages, epidemics, or initiatives to protect and recuperate environmentally
sensitive areas or cultural assets tend to be regarded as high priority by interna-
tional organizations. IA initiatives are well suited to meet these objectives and
may be considered for this type of funding, particularly during early phases of
While economic limitations certainly affect the performance of developing
countries, much of the drawbacks in urban development in these nations come
from city officials who take shortcuts or from urban plans and regulations that
are unsuitable for local conditions. Not taking proper advantage of these nations’
economic and human resources is another drawback.
An additional source of dysfunctional urban conditions lies in investing and
carrying out projects and programs in an uncoordinated manner. Furthermore,
the concentration of efforts and resources on projects that benefit the wealthier
groups, comprising a small percentage of the population of developing countries,
also contributes to inefficient results. These factors, as well as the high levels of
corruption and political interests superseding individual and communal benefits,
combine to hamper the performance of many developing countries.
The aspects covered in this chapter are just a small sample of the topics that
require creative management that will help facilitate the successful implementation
of IA. The management strategies need to be accompanied by equally innovative
design strategies that support IA’s Corridors, Patches, and Stewards. Building
integrated teams who can handle this hybrid scenario may pose a challenge, but


Figure 6.4: Community meeting with University of Pennsylvania students and David Gouverneur in
the Santa Bárbara settlement, Choroní, Venezuela

it is not one that is insurmountable. As stated earlier, a key issue is tapping into
valuable human capital and local expertise. The synchrony between facilitators and
beneficiaries of the program, and between performative and spatial conditions, can
only increase the possibilities for the success of the IA initiatives.

1 As was described in Chapters 1 and 2.
2 For more detailed information see Oscar Grauer. Principles, Rules and Urban
Form: The Case of Venezuela. PhD Thesis, University Microfilms International,
3 For example, based on the Corruption Perceptions Index 2012, in the Americas
66% of the countries score below 50, with Haiti and Venezuela at the bottom.


For additional details see Transparency International. Corruption Perceptions

Index 2012. Brochure, Berlin: Transparency International, 2012.
4 The Corruption Perceptions Index 2012 shows how in the Americas, Canada is
at the top of the list, followed by the United States, both with scores of about
5 In 2006, policy makers for the barrio improvement of Caracas prepared
a manual with norms and recommendations. Some years later, in the
Municipality of Chacao of the same city, authorities responded to resident
demands and prepared a simple zoning ordinance for a few small-consolidated
inner city barrios to address similar issues.
6 See Horacio Caminos and Reinhard Goethert, Urbanization Primer. Cambridge,
MA: MIT Press, 1978.
7 For details on the Don River Project see Ken Greenberg. Walking Home:
The Life and Lessons of a City Builder. Ontario: Random House of Canada,
8 For reference visit Fundación Venezolana de Investigaciones Sismológicas
(FUNVISIS). October 18, 2006.
php?id=34 (accessed January 12, 2013).
9 For additional information on this case see Ultimas Noticias. Hard-knock Life
in a “Socialist City”. Caracas, June 5, 2013.
10 See David Gouverneur, “De los superbloques a los asentamientos informales.
Concepciones disímiles, resultados similares.” La ciudad viva. March 2006.
pdf-ee21e2583c667528b8c78f69be3970e6.pdf (accessed July 29, 2013).
11 Ibid.
12 See Josefina Baldó, and Teolinda Bolívar. La cuestión de los barrios. Caracas:
Fundación Polar, Universidad Central de Venezuela, Monte Ávila Editores,
13 See Nora Clichevsky. “Informalidad y segregación urbana en América Latina.
Una aproximación.” Medio ambiente y desarrollo (División de Medio Ambiente
y Asentamientos Humanos), 2000.
14 To better understand the relationship between tax and social stratification in
Bogotá see Consuelo Uribe-Mallarino. “Social Stratification in Bogota: From
Public Politics to the Dynamics of Social Segregation.” Universitas Humanística
(Pontificia Universidad Javeriana) 65 (2008): 139–172.

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Chapter Seven

Adapting the IA approach to different contexts

Design strategies and components can become both points of reference and
sources of inspiration for decision makers, professionals, and the residents of self-
constructed cities alike. Effective strategies and design components developed
in one society can be deployed in contexts and cultures different from those in
which they originated. This chapter illustrates how the generic IA components of
Corridors, Patches, and Stewards, described in earlier chapters, can be adapted to
fit local conditions.
The IA approach has not yet been implemented through pilot programs. What
it has, however, is years of observations from practical experience in initiatives
that have succeeded in improving the living conditions of the urban poor. While
not all have been wholly successful, each of the referenced projects has applied
useful strategies and solutions to better address the challenges of upcoming self-
constructed cities. In addition, the IA approach aims to fill a void by making it
feasible to visualize a better future for new informal occupation. While we do not
have applied examples to refer to, it is possible to illustrate how the IA criteria may
translate into practical results by referring to academic projects that have used the
IA approach as their conceptual framework.

7.1 Academic references

As stated in the previous chapter, IA’s strengths lie in preemptive measures, mainly
planning and designing before informal settlement occurs. How best to illustrate
the ways in which IA can address local conditions than to show proposals that
address real world scenarios? The academic projects featured in this chapter were

The IA approach in different contexts

selected because they cover a diversity of urban situations, and vary in scale and
scope. Five case studies help describe how IA components can adapt to different
contexts. Some illustrate regional and metropolitan visions; others focus on urban
layouts and strategy; and still others on tangible and more site-specific spatial
qualities.These projects were interdisciplinary in nature, bringing together students
of city planning, urban design, landscape architecture, architecture, political science,
and agronomy, to develop these schemes that utilize IA criteria.
Local academic, governmental, or community groups supported these projects,
where students spent significant time and resources researching local conditions and
conducting site visits. The examples are intended to help give the reader an overall
idea of how IA design analysis, criteria, and components respond to local conditions.
There are advantages to using academic references to illustrate the IA approach.
First, academic proposals can be flexible and experimental. Second, they are
delivered in very short periods, such that the site analysis and proposal phases
are closely interconnected. Third, different approaches can be quickly tested for
similar sites, and related topics can be quickly explored in different locations. This
enriches the explorations and design proposals as a whole, in addition to gener-
ating a variety of tests. Fourth, a diversity of situations allows for different emphasis
on IA design strategies, facilitating a host of different conclusions and recommen-
dations for real world testing and time frames.
While responsive to site conditions and receiving the input of local partners,
these hypothetical examples have been prepared in academia unbounded by
government bureaucracies, community leaders, and developers, or the necessary
interaction that a regular team of facilitators would need to properly administer
the IA approach. The ideas here contained are conceived prior to any form of
community input. For these reasons, the case studies had to speculate on potential
local strengths and the needs and desires of communities.
It is also important to mention that the IA approach must engage political,
social, and cultural conditions, as the preemptive nature of the approach and its
broader urban goals are often more expansive than the early aspirations of future
informal settlers. Communities’ expectations are, at least in the early phases,
naturally focused on individual or neighborhood needs. Settlers are unlikely to
foresee their future as part of larger urban concentrations of which they are only
planting seeds. Overcoming this hurdle of the IA approach can only happen
through real world application, as IA facilitators work with the community and
advocate for the method.

The IA approach in different contexts

It is possible to identify common threads within the five case studies, which
speak to the global implications of the IA approach. This chapter includes a set
of graphics that illustrates how the system of Corridors, Patches, and Stewards
in the IA approach can be deployed. This graphic guide is intended to make the
IA approach more accessible, and may be thought of as a more detailed visual
depiction of the set of components introduced in Chapter 5.
The academic design proposals corresponding to the case studies included in
this chapter are illustrated in the colour plate section of this publication.

7.2 Case study: Harare, Zimbabwe: armatures to balance the growth of a

metropolitan system. February–May 2013

Project Coordinators: Thabo Lenneiye and David Gouverneur.

Participants: Students of the School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania.1
Local collaborators: Office of the Mayor of Harare, Mr. Muchadeyi Masunda,
and the School of Architecture of the University of Science and Technology of
Sponsors: Zimbabwean real-estate firm Old Mutual, and Fuel-Lab, the research
division of Gensler-Washington, D.C.

The context

Harare has a daytime population of over 3 million inhabitants, a figure that is

expected to double over the next 20 years. International and local official data
indicate that less than 30% of the population in this city lives in informal settle-
ments. However, during the workshops held in Harare as part of this academic
experience, an unofficial figure of 60–70% emerged. It has been projected that
this percentage is likely to increase in the years ahead due to the very low income
demographics and the country’s rural-to-urban migratory trends.2
Harare is located on an elevated plateau with mild temperatures. The terrain
is criss-crossed by a series of shallow but wide seasonally flooding wetlands,
locally known as dambos, that are an average width of 150 meters. The dambos
lacerate the urban fabric, fragmenting it in a mosaic of disconnected districts that
sometimes separate areas of different income levels. The dambos play a pivotal role
in recharging the aquifers and feeding the streams and rivers that drain into Lake
Chivero, the main water source for the city. Currently, it is considered one of the

The IA approach in different contexts

most polluted lakes in the world. The Lake Chivero aqueduct serves less than 30%
of the city, a figure that includes those areas where distribution is available. The
service is also very irregular. Areas without service, mostly low-income neigh-
borhoods, have to take water directly from the dambos, or drill wells. Due to the
extraction of water from the wells, the groundwater table has dropped over 35
meters over the last 30 years. Poorer areas are also deprived of sewers and septic
systems. Officials periodically check the water quality of the wells and many times
it is deemed unfit for human consumption, but is not always condemned. Cholera
and other waterborne diseases are a major problem.3
Zimbabwe, a country once considered the granary of the continent, alongside
its neighbor South Africa, is now suffering from severe food shortages which
are a result of extensive agrarian reforms that were pushed ahead in 2000. These
reforms took away productive farms from white farmers to distribute them to
local government supporters. Due to food shortages, the low-income population
is now sustenance farming along city roads, on vacant lots, and by encroaching
on the dambos. Domestic wastewaters and fertilizers from these local crops are
polluting both the dambos and Lake Chivero.
Harare is spatially segregated as a consequence of its recent colonial past. The
Central Business District (CBD) was developed over an orthogonal grid. It is
dense, compact, and commercially active, with a combination of low-rise and
mid-rise buildings. Contiguous to the CBD is a very large informal market called
M’Bare, a major local trade center and economic motor for the country as a
whole. After sunset, both areas become inactive. North of the CBD are suburban
residential mid- and high-income communities, comprising homes on large lots
within areas of lush vegetation and high environmental quality. These neighbor-
hoods are dependent on private car mobility.
Separated from the CBD by a green urban void to the south, we find most of
the lower-income areas, including the majority of the informal settlements. The
green void was an inherited product of colonial times when the local population
was set apart from the city center into outlying communities. It is expected that
the growth of the low-income areas, which will constitute a significant component
of the urban expansion during the next three decades, will occur in the southern
part of the city, further increasing spatial segregation.
The National Government has envisioned developing a new government,
administrative, and financial center to the north of the city, to relocate public
offices, financial activities, internationally oriented business, and hotels away from

The IA approach in different contexts

the traditional older center. This initiative may weaken the role of the CBD, as
occurred in a similar initiative a few years ago in Johannesburg, and will aggravate
social segregation. Although areas of new centrality may emerge in such an
extended city, this relocation should be conceived as part of a carefully planned
strategy to balance all areas of the city.
When we visited some low-income communities we were struck by the lack of
commerce and manufacturing in the neighborhoods, other than occasional small
open-air markets located at the intersection of main roads. Low-income commu-
nities appeared to be strictly residential areas—just the opposite of what normally
occurs in informal settlements throughout the world. As we inquired with our
local colleagues, we discovered the explanation for this anomaly. The government
enforced bylaws that expressly impeded commercial or income-generating
activities within neighborhoods, including the low-income areas. Locals were
imposing post-colonial discriminatory zoning. In practical terms, this meant that
low-income groups could not use their homes as badly needed sources of income,
as occurs in other countries. This also forced many more residents to commute
long distances for work, losing valuable time and spending part of their earnings
to access goods and services in the CBD and M’Bare.
When we spoke about such issues with district representatives, asking them
if they felt this was an inappropriate regulation and whether they were able to
enforce it, they explained that this norm was difficult to implement and that
permitting commercial uses would help the low-income communities. However,
they felt they could not allow low-income neighborhood residents to break the
law as it currently stands. We also discussed, during our visit, these issues with
local planners, providing them with examples from Colombia and Venezuela
that demonstrated how mixed-use districts and flexibility for enlargement of the
dwellings were conditions favorable for low-income communities. While the
district representatives suggested that this could be tested through pilot projects to
calibrate how it would actually work on a larger scale, for the moment they did
not envision that the bylaws would be changed.
It is important to mention that compliance with the law is different in
Zimbabwe than in other developing countries. In Zimbabwe, laws are normally
respected to the letter. This explains the general obedience of the single-family
residential use code, but also the way in which the dambos embedded within
low-income areas have been mostly kept free from urban occupation, other than
sporadic crops and scattered shacks. Whether this came about as a result of strong

The IA approach in different contexts

governmental control or cultural patterns partly inherited from British colonists,

this situation is radically different from what would occur in other countries, such
as Venezuela, where hundreds of thousands of squatters are living within the limits
of protected areas and even within national parks.4
These nuances indicate what may work in one context versus another. A finer
examination and understanding of local conditions and trends in the near future
may also help to advance solutions that can cope with foreseeable changes. For
instance, we can expect that under changing political scenarios, and as informal
settlements become the dominant form of urbanization in Zimbabwe, their
residents will have greater political leverage. It seems unlikely that the bylaws
concerning single-family residential use and the protection of the dambos will be
able to be enforced solely by the rule of law. For example, food shortages and the
mounting social pressure have already made the authorities more lenient towards
allowing small agricultural plots within the dambos.
Mobility in Harare is also a major problem. The only transportation is an
inefficient system comprising privately operated minibuses and buses that cover
the same high traffic routes, leaving other areas poorly serviced. The city grew
in a radial pattern with very few links among them, forcing outlying areas to
reach through the CBD to reconnect with other peripheral districts. This pattern
increases congestion in the city’s main traffic corridors.
While community services are generally strong, in particular schools, sports
facilities, and churches, the city lacks public spaces in general. They are virtually
non-existent in every residential area, wealthy and very poor alike. There are a few
well-tended public spaces in the CBD; however, intense pedestrian activity during
commercial hours takes place in the CBD over relatively narrow sidewalks with no
particular landscape features, sometimes competing with vehicular traffic. Energy
supply is very low across Zimbabwe, affecting commercial and domestic services,
as well as resulting in poor street lighting. These qualities deter social interaction
and leisure activities in the public realm after dark.
Harare has been losing its competiveness within the African continent since
its industrial base has become outdated. However, after a period of hyperinflation
and severe food shortages, the recent discovery of important diamond mines and
foreign investment have invigorated the Zimbabwean economy.
The Mayor’s office arranged our collaborative initiative under the theme: Harare
2040. The initiative looked to the future, to reposition Harare as a progressive
African capital city by seeking short-term actions that would induce long-term

The IA approach in different contexts

changes. The site visit to Harare included a workshop organized by the Mayor’s
office with city employees, professionals, community representatives, and local
students working in teams with the PennDesign students. The workshop asked the
teams to answer three questions and to map the results: (a) which aspects would
they consider positive about the city that should be protected and enhanced?; (b)
which were the most relevant problems?; and (c) which programs, projects, and
initiatives would they prioritize to make a difference?
The outcome of the workshop provided valuable insight that influenced
the academic proposals, suggesting significant policy changes involving current
planning criteria. Among these policy changes was to consider that assisted
informal growth would be an important component of the city. This aspect had
particular relevance in a country that has not addressed the improvement of
existing informal settlements with progressive projects such as those described in
previous chapters. Rather, the National Government has gained negative attention
from the international community and the media after large informal settlements
were forcefully razed in 2005, as part of Operation Murambatsvina (Operation
Drive Out Rubbish).
The projects developed by the students after the workshop envisioned how
the metropolitan system could best deal with population growth in the ensuing
decades, where over half the population growth will occur in informal settle-
ments. Considering the existing social segregation and the availability of land,
the proposals recommended which areas should be safeguarded from urban
occupation and where and how densification and urban expansion could occur.
Large-scale urban strategies were designed to protect the vast system of dambos
as valuable ecological and urban assets, keeping in mind that the city currently
ignores them. The dambos could become urban organizers and civic spaces,
improving city connectivity, augmenting the numbers of pedestrian, bicycle, and
road crossings, and engaging the dambos with their adjacent urban areas.
Cost-effective green infrastructure would be included in order to improve the
environmental quality of the dambos, cleanse the waters, and recharge the aquifers.
These ecologically friendly techniques are feasible due to the ample dimensions
of the dambos. The dambos would also be used for productive activities, including
alternative sources of energy, ecotourism, recreational activities, and non-contam-
inating agricultural practices.
The student proposals aimed at balancing urban growth in less affluent areas and
in the vacant zone between the CBD and peripheral communities to the south

The IA approach in different contexts

to promote a more compact and socially integrated urban system. The different
schemes also envisioned an efficient bus-based transportation system on the main
mobility corridors, similar to the Transmilenio of Bogotá, to help stimulate growth
towards favorable locations, which would help retrofit existing areas, and foster the
emergence of new districts.
These schemes favored multi-use areas and higher density in a city of predomi-
nantly low-density housing. Higher densities could be achieved in the formal city
by offering more urban solutions for the middle class as an alternative to very
large suburban homes, and also by allowing the informal dwellings to occupy
a higher proportion of the lots and expand vertically. The mobility plan also
suggested a network of connections between the different urban areas, reducing
the dependence on the CBD, and creating a system of local centers directly related
to the areas of population growth, strengthening ties among currently peripheral
dormitory areas.
Proactive land policies and design moves projected by the students would help
achieve these goals, and induce greater social integration. The proposals identified
some zones that would operate under formal real-estate markets subject to urban
design and planning, and others that would perform as Receptor Patches where
public land would be made available for very low income people to self-construct
their neighborhoods.
Both the formal and the informal were expected to operate as a system,
benefitting from their proximity, sharing infrastructure, services, amenities, and
public spaces. Revised zoning codes would encourage mixed uses, particularly
in the lower- and middle-income communities. The proposals were centered on
the creation of an articulated system of open spaces meant to enhance street life,
economic activity, and socialization.
The students then tackled a variety of design issues in more detail, which
supported the metropolitan goals previously described. These topics were
conceived as pilot projects that could serve to begin implementing the proposals,
and addressed the following topics:

a. Helping displaced communities from former settlements;

b. Integrating formal and informal settlements in productive districts;
c. Enhancing water management and food production.

Two examples have been selected to provide a clear idea of the scope and level of

The IA approach in different contexts

development that the IA approach can achieve. They correspond to two distinct
peripheral communities in Harare: Hopley Farms and Chitungwiza.

7.2.1 Hopley Farms: helping displaced communities

Hopley Farms is a community of close to 35,000 inhabitants and one of the

most challenged informal settlements in Harare. It has no running water, sewers,
or electricity. Domestic wastewater feeds into the dambos, while the community
gets its supply of “potable” water from adjacent wells. Settlers of Hopley Farms
occupied this site after being displaced by Operation Murambatsvina in 2005.5
Besides the lack of basic urban amenities, residents live with the uncertainty that
they may be displaced again.
There is a band of vacant land between the settlement and the nearby regional
access road, kept clear from occupation by authorities as a vehicular right of
way. The band pushes the settlement further away from the road and keeps the
settlement out of sight. The streets in Hopley Farms are unpaved. One of these
streets provides pedestrian mobility, also serving a few buses that detour from the
main road into the community. Within this area, there are no communal services.
A precarious construction operates as the only school for over 600 children. The
population is expected to double over the next 10 years, occupying land across the

The proposal
The Informal Armatures solutions for Hopley Farms bundle ecological, social,
economic, infrastructural, water management, and agricultural conditions. The
proposals address the current needs of the existing community, as well as those of
future residents. In an area where children have no shoes and there is a significant
lack of amenities and social space, the how-to of design becomes just as important
as the what-to-design. Therefore, the project is about the essential and the human-
itarian, where the landscape systems become social infrastructure.6
The landscape design strategy relies on simplicity. Design strategies stem from
existing site conditions to benefit a growing community. The proposals go beyond
the spatial and into the fulfillment of basic human rights. They seek ways to take
advantage of limited resources to help the existing and future residents.
Simple design moves make a healthier community that provides spaces where
residents can learn and socially interact. Social hubs provide assistance by informing

The IA approach in different contexts

residents how to harvest rainwater, how to become part of the agriculture

cooperative, and how to improve their homes so as to best take advantage of the
climate. Through interventions that would have an immediate and compelling
impact, the project seeks to educate and inspire the dwellers of Hopley Farms.These
include: places of socialization and exchange, multi-scalar options of rainwater
harvesting, and a cooperative agro forestry system to green and feed the settlement,
all of which will contribute to creating a balanced and robust community.

7.2.2 Chitungwiza: integrating the formal and the informal into a self-sufficient

Located on the southern fringe of the city, Chitungwiza houses a population

of 321,782 based on the 2002 Population Census, however the real number of
inhabitants could be a lot higher.7 Essentially a dormitory district, residents must
commute an average of one hour to access the CBD. It combines formal and
informal neighborhoods that share the same territory but do not interact. The
current urban plan for this area, which is very similar to those prepared for all
peripheral neighborhoods in the city, includes zones meant for non-residential
uses, such as a “civic center,” a large swath for churches, and an industrial zone.
These zones appear over-dimensioned, lacking spatial definition, and are now
almost defunct. It is not surprising that under these conditions, and lacking explicit
public space, Chitungwiza has no street life or urban vitality.
While the future growth of Chitungwiza will probably attain the critical mass
to support better commercial activities and services, the single-family-residential-
use zoning regulations and the lack of progressive urban design inhibit economic
growth. During meetings with them, local municipal representatives informed
us that they required land to accommodate future informal growth and housing
solutions for the poorer segments of the society. For this purpose, they had requested
that the central government transfer land adjacent to the existing urbanized areas.
If their request was denied, one can expect spontaneous informal growth to occur
on even more peripheral sites, adding to social fragmentation and urban sprawl.

The proposal

An important goal was to transform underutilized dambos and over-dimensioned

green space into an articulate system of open spaces that encompass metropolitan,

The IA approach in different contexts

urban, and neighborhood components and activities. Most of these green

connectors would guide visitors to a unique feature of the area: a large open space
that was proposed as a metropolitan park for Harare, which is anchored on an
existing dam. The park could incorporate recreational and cultural facilities that
would attract both city residents and tourists. The park and the dam are adjacent
to land that should be kept free of urbanization, mainly for urban agriculture,
reforestation, and water management, in addition to protecting this body of water
from future contamination.
The proposed linear open spaces along the dambos engage some existing assets,
supporting a denser and revitalized civic center. New scaled-down and active
public spaces would take advantage of a high concentration of “balancing rocks”
which are a unique geological and landscape feature of the city that is not taken
advantage of. As in Hopley Farms, the linear open spaces along the dambos would
incorporate water management and filtration devices, pedestrian paths, and bicycle
paths. Careful attention was given to the appropriate relationship between open
space and adjacent urban fabric, to ensure activity and safety.
In order to attract population, the scheme also proposes a new bus-based
rapid-transit system as part of the mobility plans envisioned by the students at a
metropolitan scale. Chitungwiza would be given priority to be serviced by this
transportation system, being the most populated of the peripheral communities.
Building on local transportation lines could enhance urban concentration along
some of the more active corridors, as those are where the informal markets exist
currently, and will open to new development fronts.
The project proposes a change in zoning regulations to allow for mixed-use
districts adjacent to mobility corridors, as well as in denser areas of the new
residential zones. The schemes identify opportunities to gradually mix different
income groups, indicating which areas would be subject to market-driven
solutions and urban design proposals and which sites would be geared towards self-
constructed housing. The system of public spaces and the location of communal
facilities favor a gradual transition from formal building types to self-constructed
shelters, facilitating stronger ties between the formal and the informal to produce
a healthy ensemble.
The proposals also define sites for special productive uses, including Patches
for urban agriculture and manufacturing. Areas for technical schools, institutes
of higher education, entertainment, hotels, and office spaces would be developed
over time, as Chitungwiza increases in population. The settlement could become a

The IA approach in different contexts

more complex urban conglomerate, incorporating diverse income groups, to play

a stronger role in the metropolitan system.8

7.3 Case study: San José de Agua Dulce: urban–rural symbiosis in the
metropolitan area of Valencia, Venezuela

Project Coordinators: María Gabriela Díez and Ana Carolina Arocha Petit,
with the assistance of David Gouverneur.
Participants: Students from the Urban Design Master Program at the Universidad
Metropolitana in Caracas, Venezuela. January–May, 2013.9

This proposal illustrates the importance of proactive public involvement in acquiring

land or establishing partnerships with landowners in order to avoid rampant devel-
opment under existing zoning regulations that do not provide for the poorer sectors
of the population and destroy valuable agricultural land and ecosystems.

The context

Valencia, an important rival to the capital city of Caracas, is the epicenter of a

metropolitan area of close to 3 million inhabitants. The city, in conjunction with
Caracas, integrates a territorial system of nearly 8 million people.10 Valencia has
become an important industrial center over the past 60 years. While industry
provided a strong economic base for the city, the rapid urban growth of Valencia
has occurred over some of the most fertile and productive land in the country.
As the urbanized areas became more impervious, high runoff rates increased the
water level of neighboring Lake Valencia. In the last decade, heavy rain seasons
have dramatically increased the lake water levels, which regularly encroach on
urbanized zones occupied by low-income residents.11
The site selected to test the IA approach is currently used to grow sugar cane,
with crops irrigated by centuries-old open canal systems. The private sector
maintains agricultural practices to deter squatting. Since 1991, city officials have
zoned the site for residential expansion. It is surrounded by a patchwork of
informal settlements, subsidized housing, and light industry. Being in a peripheral
location and without a system of open spaces, mobility between these Patches
is difficult, and residents have to commute to more central locations in order to
access jobs, services, and amenities.

The IA approach in different contexts

The owners of the site had advanced an urban design proposal for a mid-rise,
mixed-use urban project aimed at lower–middle class buyers. National, regional,
and local authorities were concerned with the lack of residential opportunities for
the lower-income population in the area and have only invested in some formal
social housing projects.
Because of the site’s proximity to the large industrial and manufacturing
areas, as well as to a large mixed-use district already under construction, the
plan was developed for the Municipality of Valencia coordinated by Antonio
Fernández and myself. As an area of new centrality, it would take advantage of the
proximity of a terminal station of the recently inaugurated Metro. With the goal
of channeling resources from the adjacent area to the poorer ones of the city, and
the environmental restrictions, the site seemed appropriate as a testing ground for
an IA fostered initiative.

The proposal

The main goal was to create a new predominantly self-constructed community

that included urban agricultural production and related economic mechanisms
while addressing pressing environmental issues that affect a broader territory. Site
analysis provided valuable information suggesting which areas were to be kept
free from residential occupation. These included: (a) high quality agricultural
land and its irrigation networks, (b) creeks, wetlands, and ecological corridors
that were part of larger environmental systems, (c) open spaces not fit for
agricultural use but that would contribute to water management, (d) areas with
increased risks of flooding due to rampant urbanization processes in the region
and climate change, (e) areas used for cultural activities, such as religious festivals
and sporting events in neighboring consolidated informal settlements, and (f)
manufacturing areas located within walking distance of the site, now partially
vacant and underutilized.
Similarly, the analysis revealed several problematic site conditions, such as the
partial interruption of the irrigation systems, the pollution of waterways derived
from domestic waste and fertilizers, the presence of neighboring residential areas as
gated communities cut off from the site by high walls, and an open-air treatment
plant and other infrastructural rights of way that acted as spatial barriers. Students
analyzed the existing hydrological conditions and used them as the organizational
framework of the proposal.

The IA approach in different contexts

The proposal safeguarded a significant portion of open space in the heart of the
site, establishing buffer zones and transitions to existing and proposed urbanized
areas and to the agricultural, water management, and ecological open space in the
center of the project.The scheme envisioned productive and recreational opportu-
nities in this green zone, organized in bands and pods with different performative
goals. These goals included cleansing the waterways, protecting biodiversity,
increasing agricultural output, developing alternative economies, such as agro-
tourism and manufacturing, and creating an integrated system of public spaces,
community services, and amenities.
An important aspect of this IA fostered territory was the provision of the
Receptor Patches on flood-free land with good accessibility, infrastructure, local
or accessible jobs, and an overall suitable environmental quality. These residential
Patches offered a combination of lots for self-constructed dwellings, Sites and
Services programs, and, to a lesser degree, formal housing. The lots for these
dwellings were organized around community gardens with irrigation derived from
the existing sugar-cane canals.The new district would be connected to the adjacent
urban patches, removing walls and barriers. Buffer zones between the urbanized
areas and the green heart, as well as a recreational band that stretched across it, would
incorporate educational and health facilities, communal services, and ecotourism
services to enhance production and diversify economic activities. These facilities
would also act as Site Keepers of these productive and fragile open spaces. Had this
simple approach been included in the plans and zoning codes for the larger area, it
would have allowed for urban occupation, for a diversity of income groups while
preserving the traditional irrigation systems, protecting the most valuable soils of
the region, diversifying production, and catering for disenfranchised populations.

7.4 Case study: La Sabana de Bogotá, Colombia: fostering metropolitan

growth in an agricultural hinterland

Project Coordinators: Abdallah Tabet and David Gouverneur. February–May

Participants: Students from a cross-disciplinary studio at PennDesign.12
Collaborators: Ximena Samper de Neu and Arturo Samper.

PennDesign was invited to participate in this academic initiative by Professor

Ximena Samper de Neu, then President of the Colombian Society of Architects

The IA approach in different contexts

of Bogotá and Cundinamarca.13 Ximena organized our site visit, allowing us to

engage with academic, professional, institutional, and community representatives.
Arturo Samper, a Colombian architect and graduate of the Urban Design Program
at PennDesign, was also instrumental in organizing this studio, as well as contrib-
uting valuable professional feedback.
This case study employs the IA approach to envision how to manage
metropolitan growth in a very large territory, comprising multiple municipal
governments, while protecting valuable hydrological and environmental assets and
a highly productive agricultural hinterland.

The context

La Sabana de Bogotá is an ample, fertile, and elevated plateau, located in the

Colombian Andes at an elevation of approximately 2,600 meters.14 Pre-Columbian
native groups occupied La Sabana, taking advantage of its moderate climate, good
soils, and the availability of water, as well as local gold, salt, and other mineral
mines. It is one of the most fertile, productive, and scenic elevated plateaus on the
continent. The same conditions attracted the Spanish settlers. In time, La Sabana
was partially desiccated by agricultural practices with the introduction of berms,
which were lined by non-native eucalyptus trees meant to absorb water, and an
extended system of canals for irrigation.
More than 1 million new inhabitants are projected to occupy La Sabana over
the next two decades. Under current growth patterns, this trend will seriously
affect the environmental quality of the area, eroding a significant portion of the
remaining wetlands and depleting the aquifer.
The main economic activity of La Sabana today is the growth of flowers, sent
daily by plane to international markets. This is a product which requires a large
and regular supply of water taken mainly from the aquifer. The flower market
represents an important driver of Bogotá’s economy. Thus, changes in the environ-
mental balance of La Sabana will also compromise the region’s economy.
The Bogotá River marks the western boundary of Bogotá and La Sabana.
The capital city has no jurisdiction over the municipalities that integrate the
territory of La Sabana. These autonomous local governments have developed
their urban plans without an integrated vision that would unify or balance the
interplay between this fragile and productive region and Bogotá. In the planning
instruments, each local government has tried to include a similar set of urban

The IA approach in different contexts

components. These plans most notably define: land for formal housing, larger lots
for leisure residences with small farms, parcels for industrial and manufacturing
areas, commercial zones with preference for large regional malls, and educational
facilities such as private universities. They all aspire to attract urban uses, activities
which could yield high revenues, to where land is less expensive and taxes are
lower than in Bogotá. In other words, they are targeting real-estate operations for
middle- and high-income residents, customers, and investors. Notably, not a single
one of these plans addresses the fact that at least 40% of the projected population
growth of Bogotá onto La Sabana will comprise very low income groups, resulting
in the emergence of new informal settlements.The most these plans have achieved
is the recognition and legalization of existing settlements, and identification of
those settlements potentially subject to improvement. The municipalities closer
to Bogotá have larger concentrations of population, and present the highest
percentage of informal areas. It is not difficult to imagine that these municipalities
will be the same areas that will continue to urbanize, attracting new informal
settlers, and consuming agricultural land.

The proposal

The studio’s aim was to shed light on how to balance urban growth, environ-
mental protection, and economic production. As in the case of Harare, the
proposals range from a massive territorial scale to site-specific and more tangible
interventions. During the site visit to Bogotá and La Sabana, I asked our
Colombian counterparts to imagine how complete in terms of urban structure,
services, and productivity Bogotá was when it reached 1 million inhabitants
in the 1950s. They all responded that the main urban components were all in
place. Extrapolating, we could imagine a robust territorial-urban system in La
Sabana holding almost double the population of Bogotá when its system was
established. The task was to envision where and how to manage growth. At a
metropolitan scale, the IA academic studio for La Sabana advanced the following

a. Concentrating population growth along main mobility corridors connecting

existing urban centers, anchored on mass-transit systems and other infra-
structure. These investments were meant to act as development Attractors
easing urbanization pressures on the valuable agricultural land and fragile

The IA approach in different contexts

ecosystems. In order to incorporate the mass-transit systems, the proposal took

advantage of sections of rights of way of defunct or underutilized rail lines,
which traversed the urban centers;
b. Estimating the amount of land that would be required to accommodate urban
growth, as an expansion of some of the existing urban center, and in some cases
considering new zones for urban development;
c. Favoring a diversity of metropolitan uses in the different components of the
system, taking advantage of local assets to avoid duplicating services, activities,
and investment in the different municipalities. In some cases, local government
adjacent or in proximity to each other could reach collaborative agreements
to foster and operate these components and services to take advantage of
economies of scale;
d. Establishing buffers to keep urban activities from encroaching on protected
and fragile areas. The team proposed a system of open spaces, on a territorial
scale, along the streams that descend from the highlands towards the Bogotá
River (which serve as the limit between the city of Bogotá and La Sabana), in
conjunction with a network of protected wetlands, ecologically sensitive areas,
and agricultural land in La Sabana.

Then the students’ proposals responded to the general criteria of Attractors and
Protectors, reflected in the regional plan with a higher level of specificity. They
were particularly sensitive to the transition zones between urban areas, both
existing and those planned for expansion, and the protected agricultural and richer
ecological areas. Emphasis was placed on the creation of new centers, usually in the
proximity of the intermodal stops of the new mass-transit systems. The schemes
also focused on inclusion of productive areas, including diversified agriculture,
agro-tourism, and institutes of higher and technical education that took advantage
of their proximity to wetlands and agricultural fields. The proposals were also
sensitive to natural and cultural assets. They also emphasized removing domestic
and agricultural water pollutants, articulating a system of open spaces combining
leisure with community services, and concentrated on the developing mixed
income, combined formal–informal districts. Sites for communal services, such as
park-libraries, educational facilities, manufacturing incubators, and agro-industrial
Patches, were carefully located in areas that would have the greatest impact. They
connected underserviced areas with new expansion zones or helped transition
between predominantly formal and informal areas.

The IA approach in different contexts

The new urban fabric was woven together with a system of interconnected
grids that followed the local urban tradition in Colombia for both the formal and
the informal areas. The grid still seems to be the simplest mechanism to provide
continuity of urban expansion, facilitating mobility between the different areas and
avoiding the spatial and social fragmentation that was emerging in La Sabana. As has
been suggested throughout this book, a healthy mix of predominantly formal and
informal areas could be attained if a progressive land banking policy is implemented.

7.5 Case study: retrofitting an unstable settlement in the Barrio Santo

Domingo, Medellín, Colombia

Academic Advisors: Trevor Lee and David Gouverneur.

Participants: Students from a cross-disciplinary studio at PennDesign.15
Collaborators: Alejandro Echeverri and Emerson Marín.

This PennDesign team won an honorable mention in the student teamwork

category of the ASLA in 2008. The case study focuses on the creation of a new
neighborhood meant to relocate a community established on unstable terrain. The
relocation is intended to occur locally while avoiding the existing high-risk condi-
tions. This proposal exemplifies the role of the public sector in assisting settlers
with solutions that they cannot address on their own. It is illustrative of design
and managerial strategies to keep hazardous and unsuitable terrain free from future
squatting and to provide communal uses that are relevant to the settlers, with
appropriate Stewards.

The context

This site is located in the Medellín district in which Mayor Fajardo spearheaded
major urban transformations, which were described in Chapter 2. Specifically,
this district is immediately adjacent to the celebrated Parque Biblioteca España in
the Barrio Santo Domingo of the Northeastern Commune. The area is a less densely
populated strip within a tight urban fabric, separating two informal neighborhoods
that are served by Metro-cable stations and that have been subject to compre-
hensive informal settlement improvement projects.
The residents of this area were well aware of the risks of occupying this site.
Scattered on the steep slopes, their dwellings are built of light materials on

The IA approach in different contexts

wooden stilts in order to adapt to the terrain. Because of the risk and uncertain
future of their neighborhood, they have not invested more effort and money into
consolidating their dwellings. The settlement is only accessible by footpaths and
there are no commercial or productive activities. In the holistic improvement
plan for the Northeastern Commune (PUI), the site appeared as a green zone, not
adequate for occupation and requiring the relocation of all dwellings. It did not,
however, specify how to treat this open space in the future once the relocation was

The proposal

The students’ scheme proposed the relocation of the population currently dispersed
in the band, concentrating residents into two “compact terraced villages.” The sites
selected for this operation possessed the following characteristics: (a) they were
relatively more stable than the remaining area, (b) they were well situated in the
urban context and accessible from adjacent settlements, and (c) they were capable
of housing the population that required relocation, as well as additional inhab-
itants, providing that the public sector intervened by stabilizing the land in order
to accommodate the retrofitted settlement.
In this scenario, the Attractors are represented by the series of terraces that
would allow for safe occupation and the pedestrian-friendly links between the
terraces. In this particular case, the Attractors and the Receptor Patches perform
the same urban functions. The terraces are stabilized by foundations such as those
used to construct the Parque Biblioteca España, as well as cut and fill operations and
the use of gabion walls for slope stabilization. This intervention requires design,
calculation, machinery, and investment that would be impossible for the settlers to
afford on their own.
The Protectors are represented by the open spaces that will remain un-urbanized
but still play an important role in the performance of the new neighborhood and
the broader urban district. At a district scale, they are imagined as urban agricul-
tural fields and recreational areas. They will be treated in order to manage water,
stabilize the current erosive processes, reforest the slopes, irrigate the fields, and
store excess water. The community groups that act as Stewards of these open
spaces would be located at the edges of the urban villages, with schools that
include agricultural practices, community centers, and manufacturing incubators.
The open areas will initially be fenced while the agricultural pods and the forestry

The IA approach in different contexts

programs take off. As the recreational areas are designed, gradually constructed, and
programmed, the community can establish a sense of ownership and defendability.
In relation to the terraced village proper, the proposed building stock
would comprise basic residential single units that the users are able to expand
horizontally and vertically up to four or five stories, as well as incorporate
some commercial uses. At the time when PennDesign students developed this
proposal, Medellín had not yet tested the open-air escalators as a public mobility
device. These seem to be an appropriate solution for resolving vertical mobility
within the urban villages and also in the green bands, together with ramps and

7.6 Case study: Choroní, Venezuela

Studio Coordinator: David Gouverneur.

Participants: Students from a cross-disciplinary studio at PennDesign LARP-702-
003, including Marissa Bernstein and Nicolas Koff, who received an ASLA award
in the category of student group work for this project.
Collaborator: Oscar Grauer

This case study foresees IA as a tool to provide a diversity of income-generating

activities in a small fishing and agricultural town, impacted by a massive influx of
tourism that is compromising its economic and environmental sustainability. The
proposal offers an array of economic drivers, diversifies tourist-based activities,
protects fragile ecosystems, and provides the community with local construction
materials to self-construct their dwellings.

The context

Choroní nestles in a coastal Caribbean valley, against the backdrop of one of Latin
America’s largest and most untouched rain forests: the Henri Pittier National
Park. This mountainous forest separates Choroní from the industrialized belt of
Venezuela, and can be reached by a two-hour drive on a narrow winding road
over the Park. Due to the geographic location of this town, situated on the
alluvial fans of rivers born some 1,900 meters above the town, the site is prone
to periodic flooding. There are signs of major flooding as historic events in the
urban landscape, such as the presence of very large rounded boulders dispersed

The IA approach in different contexts

among pedestrian alleys, in back yards and courtyards, and even emerging within
the rooms of homes.
Since colonial times, the town has produced some of the most highly valued
cocoa beans in the world due to the condition of the soils and the climate. My
grandfather arrived here from the Dutch island of Curacao in the 1920s to look
into cocoa trade, and remained. Since the early 1980s, the site has become a
hotspot for ecotourism due to its great beaches, rivers, climate, scenic beauty,
and African American traditions. A section of the unique cocoa fields, once
under the shade of large tropical high canopy trees and with a delicate irrigation
system, became urbanized to accommodate vacation homes. As the rundown
colonial homes were converted into lodging for tourists, their occupants became
more affluent and began the construction of new informal housing. This also
encroached on farmland and even within the limits of the National Park.The road
over the mountain was paved and Choroní began to receive a massive influx of
local tourists over the weekends and long holidays.
Development pressures and squatting were taking their toll on the unique
environmental and cultural assets that were attracting visitors to the site. The sand
of the beaches and rivers started to get polluted, as campers compacted the soil
and littered the adjacent grounds. Motor vehicles congested the narrow colonial
streets and parked randomly in open fields.
The new formal and informal constructions were built with materials trans-
ported over the mountain range, being sold in the town at much higher prices
than in the cities. These materials created a new urban landscape alien to the town,
changing the traditional building types, replacing the climatically appropriate
courtyard homes with compact air conditioned buildings, and creating anonymous
Furthermore, Venezuela’s administration under the so-called social revolution
took a more lenient attitude towards squatting in the National Park and on
privately owned land. As a result, some former large cocoa plantations, which had
been left idle by the owners, were built into settlements without infrastructure
and public spaces. These settlements destroyed existing vegetation, even occupying
erodible terrain and the flood plains of creeks. Wastewaters from these settlements
would add to the pollution of streams.
The colonial beach paradise was gradually losing its charm. Massive tourism
and uncontrolled informality were reshaping the landscape.The economic benefits
of such change were certainly helping the locals—and not external investors or

The IA approach in different contexts

corporations—but the process calls for assistance if the town wishes to remain a
tourist-driven destination.

The proposal

The Choroní IA contributions are mainly aimed at the protection and desig-
nation of appropriate use of the unique environmental assets of the town and its
immediate hinterland. The proposals are intended to protect, and at the same time
take better advantage of, waterways. The different goals are as follows:

a. Keeping urbanization from encroaching on high-risk areas as well as fragile

ecological areas and valuable agricultural land;
b. Diversifying the ecotourism industry, which now focuses on the congested
and overstrained beach fronts, including better accessibility and services to
the adjacent National Park, providing recreational opportunities along the
waterways, and enhancing agro-tourism and activities related to the area’s
cultural heritage;
c. Reorganizing vehicular flows, particularly during the high season, providing
parking in appropriate locations, and giving priority to pedestrian, bicycle, and
shuttle services;
d. Establishing areas suitable for urban growth, with clear urban design and
architectural and constructive criteria aligned with Choroní’s special character,
relying on indigenous traditions that would be enhanced by the design
e. Recuperating traditional construction methods, making available locally
produced construction materials, and re-interpreting the local design proto-
types, enhancing the town’s identity with contemporary interventions;
f. Fostering a diversity of economic drivers based on the production of such
materials, to be incorporated in formal and self-constructed initiatives.

The Attractors and Protectors are, in this case, particularly intertwined and derived
from the topographic configuration and limitations for urban expansion as a
result of the presence of the National Park, which compresses them both. Hence,
productive, recreational, ecological, risk control, mobility, and marketing strands
are tightly bundled.
The authors of this scheme proposed a new system of public spaces, most of

The IA approach in different contexts

them anchored on the waterways. This water-oriented system of open spaces

was accompanied by the production of traditional construction materials, such as
adobe, bamboo, and indigo blue. These open spaces were designed to respond to
the seasonal variation of the water flows, and are expected to be resilient during
special climatic events. As designed, these spaces are supposed to offer the flexi-
bility to respond to the needs of the local population as well as to the fluctuating
waves of tourists.
The Stewards of these open spaces were proposed sometimes as recreational
facilities as for example emblematic architectural service pavilions, simple devices
for the production of construction materials, or open-air facilities for gatherings
and festivals. The components that define the IA ensemble in Choroní, despite
the relatively small scale of the town, illustrate the multifunctional, flexible, and
transformative nature of the IA initiative.

7.7 Conclusions

These five case studies were produced prior to or while this book was being
written, thus they informed the IA concept and, in particular, helped define the set
of components which are its design framework.The academic examples help illus-
trate the versatility of IA as a working approach. As has been argued throughout
the book, design plays an important role in the process of guiding the growth of
the predominantly informal city.These projects highlight the compelling contribu-
tions of the design professions in city planning. Design proposals, such as the ones
presented, can advocate for the IA approach, because professionals and the general
community tend to easily relate to visual images.These illustrations provide a more
accurate sense of the character of transformation that may be achieved.
However, throughout the book we have also contended that the IA approach
relies on effective management and the capability of the facilitators, as well as
beneficiaries, of the programs to induce and monitor physical and non-physical
transformations. Thus, images such as those represented here provide a glimpse
only, depicting a snapshot of a particular vision in time. On-site explorations will
require novel forms of representation to communicate the formal and perform-
ative conditions of the sites and how they will transform in a way that can easily
be followed by all co-participants of the IA experiment.

The IA approach in different contexts

1 The list of students includes: Peter M. Barnard, Taylor S. Burgess, Susanna
B. Burrows, Jonay Casariego, Victor Czulak, Allison R. Dawson, Cynthia M.
Dorta-Quinones, Chenlu Fang, Anneliza Carmalt Kaufer, Mark J. Kieser,
Miseon Kim, Leonard A. Klipper, Anoop V. Patel, Nicholas E. Perrin, Leonardo
E. Robleto Costante, Daniel Saenz, Eduardo Santamaria Ruval, Meghan R.
Talarowski, Autumn Visconti, and Ran Yang.
2 See Deborah Potts. Circular Migration in Zimbabwe and Contemporary Sub-Saharan
Africa. Rochester: Boydell & Brewer, 2010.
3 For a detailed description of the urban growth of Harare see University of
Zimbabwe. Harare: The Growth and Problems of the City. Harare: University of
Zimbabwe Publications, 1993.
4 An official description of the situation in the Avila, for example, can be
found in Ministerio del Ambiente y de los Recursos Naturales Renovables
de Venezuela. Memoria y cuenta del Ministerio del Ambiente y de los Recursos
Naturales Renovables. Official Report, Caracas: Ministerio del Ambiente y de
los Recursos Naturales Renovables de Venezuela, 2007.
5 On Operation Murambatsvina see Maurice Vambe. The Hidden Dimensions of
Operation Murambatsvina. Harare: Weaver Press, 2008.
6 This description was prepared in collaboration with Mr. Leonardo Robleto,
participant in the Harare Studio, whose project received an honorable
mention in the student project general design category of the American
Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) in 2013.
7 On demographics and urban life in Chitungwiza see Elaine Windrich.
Review of Schlyter, Ann. Multi-Habitation: Urban Housing and Everyday Life in
Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe. Report, H-Africa, H-Net Reviews, 2003.
8 The referenced schemes were produced by Peter Barnard, Meghan Talarowski,
and Daniel Saenz.
9 The list of students includes: María Victoria Chirinos, Deborath Gascon,
Alberto González, Eduardo Izaguirre, Sofía Marichales, Herimar Meneses,
Patricia Ramos, and Valentín Urbina.
10 For additional information on the current demographic dynamics in Caracas
visit Alcaldía del Area Metropolitana de Caracas. Plan Estratégico Metropolitano
Caracas. 2011. (accessed
November 2, 2013).
11 Ibid.

The IA approach in different contexts

12 The list of students includes: Rachel M. Ahern, Christopher A. Alexander,

Johanna F. Barthmaier, Bret O. Betnar, Ian M. Doherty, Tamara M. Henry,
Jessica M. Henson, Damian I. Holynskyj, Aaron O. Kelley, Luke A. Mitchell,
Karli A. Molter, Ginna C. Nguyen, Betty L. Prime, Svetlana Ragulina,
Karmen V. Rivera, Nathaniel F. Rogers, Steven M. Tucker, and Alejandro D.
13 Cundinamarca is the administrative region adjacent to Bogotá, which encom-
passes the Municipalities of La Sabana. Ximena Samper, a Harvard Graduate
School of Design alumnus, is the daughter and business partner of Germán
Samper, one of Colombia’s most prominent architects to participate in the
celebrated PREVI project in Lima, described in Chapter 2, and who has
dedicated his life exploring compelling urban and architectural social housing
and Sites and Services solutions.
14 For an official description of the physical, demographic, and socio-economic
characteristics of the city see Marcos Palacios and Frank Safford. Historia de
Colombia. País fragmentado, sociedad dividida. Bogotá: Ediciones Uniandes, 2011.
15 The list of students includes: James Bennett, Caitlin  Bowler, Aron Cohen,
Kimberly Cooper, Rebecca Fuchs, Sally Gates, Michael Jacobs, Eunhye Jeon,
Naoko Kato,  Keya Kunte, Lauren Mattern, Kevin Saavedra, Riggs Skepnek,
and Matthew Soule.

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Looking into the future of the cities of the developing world

In considering how the large cities of the developing world will evolve in the
future, where informality will play a dominant role, it is useful to synthesize our
understanding about the influences that have shaped urban growth. This will
better equip us to understand and anticipate the emerging conditions that shape
the global urbanization trends of the future.
Informal urbanism is not a new phenomenon. Throughout history, unplanned
and informal processes have played an important role in shaping cities. It is when
this informal mode of city making increases in scale that it causes health hazards,
social segregation, social unrest, and ineffective governance. Societies respond to
these conditions with a diversity of planned, designed, and administered solutions.
These responses have ranged from eradication or relocation of the population living
in informal settlements, to the adoption of codes to avoid the growth of new sponta-
neous urban areas, to the construction of new social housing. The construction
of social housing in many European cities during the early years of the Industrial
Revolution and Haussmann’s interventions in Paris set precedents for such urban
operations. These efforts aimed to sanitize, beautify, and streamline the city.
All these initiatives shared a common thread: the desire to establish different
morphological and performative conditions than those embedded in informal
growth.They imposed planned and designed top-down solutions over a piecemeal
and culturally driven mode of city making. This approach reached its epoch in
the mid twentieth century, when the Modernist Movement attempted to resolve
urban problems on a global scale.
Although the origins of the principles of the Modernist Movement can be traced
back to nineteenth-century Europe, it emerged with vigor after WWII, mainly in


the Americas. By the end of the second millennia, its principles were adopted as
standard practice around the world. The Modernist ideas challenged the perfor-
mance and morphology of the traditional/unplanned city, which for thousands of
years had shaped urban history. Modernists believed that the traditional city could
not respond to contemporary demands, and was unable to accommodate the latest
technological achievements or address increasing population demands. Modernists
argued that cities had become chaotic and dysfunctional and, in some cases, that
cities were intrinsically sick.
They reenvisioned the contemporary city as a large-scale machine or industrial
production line that could be carefully planned, designed, and monitored. These
universal principles were expected to be applied by substituting existing urban
areas, by replacing them with urban renewal operations, or by introducing new
urban visions through newly urbanized territories. The Modernist prototypes
could be easily adapted worldwide, since the rationales of engineered function-
ality overruled the variances of place and culture. Cultural and local nuance were
conditions that permeated the traditional city.
This new approach aimed to improve the cities’ efficiency by organizing them
in mono-functional areas regulated by zoning. These purported to avoid the
conflicts of incongruent urban uses, for instance between residential and industrial
zones. The precise definition of urban uses and densities allowed, in theory, for
the correlation of new demands with the provision of transportation and mobility
systems, infrastructure, and supporting facilities. The predominantly piecemeal,
mixed-use, and self-constructed urban fabric, which constituted the DNA of the
traditional cities, would be replaced by planned, highly controlled, and highly
speculative real-estate-driven operations.
Modern principles favored the expansion of the cities from older city cores into
the rural landscape, with urban patterns highly dependent on vehicular mobility.
In the industrialized world, modern developments quickly surpassed the tradi-
tional city in area and population. In the developing world, however, the modern
principles shaped only the formal areas where the more affluent classes lived and
worked. These changes affected the performance of the entire city, given that the
informal areas are highly dependent on the formal ones. The application of these
modern concepts resulted in social segregation and placed the urban poor at a
disadvantage in relation to the formal city. The poor constructed their urban terri-
tories with their own methods and through cultural conventions. The informal
city emulated many of the characteristics of the traditional city, but at different


scales, and at a much faster pace. In the best-case scenario, both the formal and the
informal cities co-exist, but rarely interact.

Emergent trends

We are now witnessing the emergence of trends that will characterize the urban
future. As the twentieth century came to an end, older cities of the industrialized
and technologically driven world in North America and Europe began showing
signs of their exhaustion with the modern model and, in particular, the suburban
way of life. In cities with a more robust pre-modern past, wealthier groups have
begun moving back into the urban centers. Defunct post-industrial areas, many
of them located on waterfronts and transportation lines, but also in the vicinity
of older urban cores, have begun to repopulate and attract diverse income groups,
incorporating services and amenities, and addressing both community and metro-
politan needs.
These trends result from: (a) increasing energy prices that limit access to
community services in suburbia, or make it more difficult for suburban residents to
commute to the central locations to access jobs and amenities; (b) renewed interest
in the qualities that the traditional city can offer, such as pedestrian mobility and
public transportation, commerce, and leisure; and (c) a generation that is more
aware of the environmental and social issues presented by suburban lifestyles.
In some instances, the return of the wealthier groups to central locations is
resulting in the gradual displacement of the lower-income population to outer
areas, creating richer central areas and poorer suburbs. This form of displacement
has the potential to be particularly disastrous for lower-income groups who do not
have the means to access jobs and amenities from their new peripheral locations.
Cities have started rethinking the role of suburbia. Planners and designers have
begun revising single-use zoning codes, envisioning how these peripheral areas
could be transformed into denser, mixed-use districts, and creating new central-
ities served by public transportation. These trends are explained in detail in Ken
Greenberg’s recent book Walking Home.
However, transformations of this nature are still not common in cities of the
developing world. There are some examples where the wealthy return to older
parts of town, attracted by the intensity and diversity of urban life. However, this
occurs only in countries with strong economies and cities with industrial legacies,
such as Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico.


This raises an important question of whether these trends are also influencing
the informal city. The improvement of informal settlements in Río de Janeiro,
Bogotá, and Medellín can also be considered an emerging trend in the retro-
fitting of low-income neighborhoods of organic or traditional character. These
interventions have introduced a variety of services and amenities to elevate
living conditions, increase social mobility, and decrease dependence on formal
areas. From these nascent trends in both formal and informal settlements, we can
envision a future of cities that favor social mixing, a combination of uses, and
public transportation. These cities would offer a rich system of public spaces for
socializing and civic engagement, while demonstrating a commitment to environ-
mental excellence.
If appropriately guided, the informal city can make significant contributions to
sustainable urban life, impacting large cities of the developing world in a positive
way. The informal city is compact, pedestrian friendly, and socially cohesive. It is
capable of incorporating mixed uses at a neighborhood scale. It consumes little
energy and produces relatively low quantities of solid waste when compared
to formal cities. All of these positive attributes facilitate the task of creating a
sustainable future for cities.

What are the most significant contributions of the IA approach?

IA initiatives take advantage of the conditions that occur spontaneously in informal

settlements, but work in a preemptive manner. IA also focuses on improving only
on aspects of urban life that informality cannot achieve alone. By doing so, it
mobilizes human capital and reduces the intensive need for financial capital.
The preemptive aspects of IA include the following: gaining access to risk-free
land in appropriate locations, guaranteeing access to potable water, affordable
food, and sanitation, facilitating efficient connectivity and mobility, providing
basic services, public spaces, infrastructure, and community facilities (for health,
education, and recreation), developing job opportunities and encouraging entre-
preneurship, and fostering stronger spatial and functional connections with the
formal city.
In the near future, the majority of the urban population in developing countries
will live in predominantly self-constructed cities. Thus, the Modernist model is
not sufficient for dealing with the challenges of informal cities. Approaches to
education, infrastructure, and the bureaucratic apparatus to plan, control, and


operate city development will necessarily have to be adjusted, or replaced by

modes that respond to new urban realities. It is in this area that the IA approach
can make a significant contribution.
The IA approach envisions that informality will continue to operate with
its intrinsic rules, with the flexibility and dynamism of billions of inhabitants
throughout the planet who will have the capacity to shape their own habitat.
The difference is that the IA approach expects that their efforts will merge with
managerial and morphological contributions that will allow cities to meet the
socio-economic and environmental challenges of the twenty-first century.
This will require a new set of urban paradigms, one in which city planning,
urban design, and management are key. Instead of focusing on the regulation of
the real-estate market for a fraction of the population, we will need to envision
how to foster sustainable living conditions for the majority.
The hybrid formal–informal city will have to deal with planetary concerns,
including climate change and its implications in relation to potable water and food
sufficiency. Relevant global concerns also include alternative modes of mobility in
an era of rising petroleum prices and encouraging networks of micro-production
and local markets in the age of globalization.
Agile forms of governance that simultaneously address the large and the small,
the top-down and the bottom-up decision making processes, will hopefully be
facilitated by the advantages of an interconnected world with immediate access to
These challenges require an overall capacity to adapt to changing and uncertain
conditions. Equity in the distribution of resources will be at the core of the debate.
If the social gap between those living in the developing world and those in the
developed world, as well as the inequities within the nations on both sides of this
divide, is not reduced, resentment, conflict, and violence will escalate.1
Bias against informality is the main obstacle to applying the IA approach to
guide the growth of the predominantly informal city. It is still seen as a problem.
The new paradigm, in contrast, makes informality part of the solution to the urban
challenges of the developing world, while acknowledging that informal settle-
ments require proper assistance.
Despite the growing awareness of the dangers of inaction and the need for
planning more equitable cities, concerns are often voiced about the viability of
the IA approach. Even in the most progressive cities such as Medellín and Bogotá,
where cutting edge solutions have been applied to improve living conditions in


existing informal areas, there seems to be a strong resistance on the part of the public
sector to plan, design, and manage the emergence of self-constructed districts, and
much less for entire cities. Doubts arise about the feasibility of the public sector
proactively engaging in the acquisition of suitable land, a basic condition of the
IA approach, or dedicating managerial and financial efforts to openly support new
self-constructed settlements. Unequal land ownership patterns, as well as cultural,
institutional, professional, and legal factors that disadvantage informal settlement
hamper support for addressing a better future for informal cities. These forces
that impede support for IA, and thereby embracing informality, can be addressed
through political will. The land issue can be tackled with creative mechanisms of
land banking and incorporating landowners in profitable IA operations. Changing
the biases towards the informal city requires action on different fronts: gaining
political support, carrying out pilot projects to test the approach and evaluate
the results, conducting further research on the topic, introducing these ideas in
academia, and marketing them to a general audience in public relations campaigns.

From a working method to the application of the Informal Armatures


The IA approach was developed through academic research and practical experi-
ences in developing countries. This approach has not yet been put into practice
and has only been tested in design studios and site simulations. Pilot projects,
however, adapted to a diversity of site conditions will prove the effectiveness of this
working method and will allow for the introduction of adjustments, modifications,
and improvements to the concept. Practical applications will provide constructive
feedback to enrich theoretical underpinnings, as well as the pallet of additional
design solutions.
Since IA might be applied in a diversity of contexts that require specific
responses, further research will be necessary. Priority areas of attention may include:

a. Enhancing the spatial and performative relations between new predominantly

informal areas and existing formal and informal areas;
b. Applying the IA approach at the threshold between the urban and the rural;
c. Encouraging the participation of the private sector in all phases of the devel-
opment of IA initiatives;
d. Refining modes to monitor the transformations of the IA fostered territories;


e. Reimagining forms of mapping cities and graphic representation capable of

communicating the hybrid and transformative nature of the IA proposals;
f. Innovative systems of data collection as inputs to inform the IA processes, and
to calibrate and monitor IA transformations.

While the IA approach defines general criteria, proposes a set of generic design
components, and suggests conditions that will facilitate its implementation, the
approach is far from rigid. It does not predefine the scale or the nature of the
appropriate design conditions for each site.The IA initiative simply asks the imple-
menters and beneficiaries of the method to consider the preemptive actions that
will foster urban conditions that they could not achieve on their own. It asks the
question: What are the interventions that require the least investment to achieve
the greatest impact?
Time is a crucial ingredient. If we don’t act soon, or at least at the pace of
un-fostered informal growth, our efforts will be futile. Without a quick response,
settlers will most likely establish themselves on inadequate sites, whether individ-
ually, through communal organizations, or assisted by pirate developers. They
will secure the lots to build their homes without the framework that will enable
sustainable urban conditions. Consequently they will remain at a disadvantage in
relation to the planned, designed, and managed city.
The Informal Armature approach is based on the power of transformative
processes, and the malleability of societies that do not have the restraints of the
more established, consolidated, and static ideals. It assumes that cutting edge forms
of management and design solutions can merge with the vital character and adapt-
ability of the informal city. As a result, a hybrid form of urbanization will emerge,
perhaps richer, more dynamic, and more resilient than either the formal or the
informal city on their own.
The IA approach suggests courses of action and design criteria that can be
easily implemented, offering tools to transform political will, and technical skills
to transform communal efforts into reality. It is an optimistic vision for a future
where informality is the driving force of the majority of cities of the developing
world, many of which will become the largest urban agglomerations in history.
Unlike the Modernist Movement, which intended to establish homoge-
neous urban solutions worldwide, the IA approach attempts to engage with the
complexities, imperfections, and constant transformations of cities, particularly
those in which a high percentage of their dwellers built the places they inhabit.


Figure 8.1: Street sign in Barrio La Cruz. Translation: “I would like my Barrio La Cruz to be clean,
happy, with solidarity and in peace … can you help?” Medellín, Colombia

The IA approach argues for a better understanding of historic, cultural, and

physical conditions, seeking to create rich urban ecologies. The planned and the
designed simply accompany the performance of the self-constructed. In the IA
approach, individual/communal efforts and piecemeal additions influence the
entire urban setting.
IA operates with rather simple and familiar solutions. Hopefully this simplicity
will encourage the use of IA as a valid planning and design method, favoring a shift
in attitude towards informality. Shaping the future of the self-constructed city is a
topic of enormous global consequence. A staggering number of new urbanites are
expected to live in new informal settlements in the next two decades. The lessons
derived from the IA approach may constitute a valid process for rethinking the
contemporary city, where the boundaries of the formal and the informal dissolve.

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Please note that page references to Figures will be in italics, whereas those for Notes will
contain the letter ‘n’ following the page number

Aburrá River, Medellín, 100, 101 Baldó, Josefina, 48, 51, 52, 53, 57–58, 59,
access difficulties, informal settlements, 60, 61, 111n, 112n, 113n
28 Ballesteros, Frank López, 113n
Aguachina (informal settlement), Caracas Barco, Carolina, 68
(Venezuela), 48, 49, 51 Barco, Virgilio, 68
Alamedas (mobility corridors), pedestrian- Barrio La Cruz, Medellín, 268
friendly (Bogotá), 75, 82, 153, 154, 157; Barrio La Morán, Caracas (Venezuela), 55
Alameda El Porvenir, 169 Barrio Moravia, Medellín, 96
Alejandro, Gabriel, 72, 114n barrios (informal settlements), Caracas
Almandoz, Arturo, 4, 35n, 141n, 201n (Venezuela), 45; adversaries of
AlSayyad, Nezar, 34 improvement plans, 59; homes
Antillano, Sergio, 201n of isolated projects, 59; Plan for
Aravena, Alejandro, 24, 36n the inclusion of the Barrios of the
Aristiguieta, Leandro, 201n Metropolitan Area of Caracas and
Arquitetas da Comunidade (female Architects of the Capital Region (later Caracas
of the Communities), 176 Barrio Plan), 52, 53, 54, 57, 58, 85, 86;
Athens Charter, 1933, 12 pro-housing groups, 58; rehabilitation
Attractors, 164, 169, 171, 186, 251, 253, plan, 49, 51–54, 57, 59; see also Caracas
256; effect on informal settlements, (officially Santiago de León de Caracas),
166–167 Venezuela
Avenida Carabobo, Medellín, 97, 98 Barrios de Petare, Caracas, 142, 154
Averbeke, W. van, 141n Belén, Medellín, 92
Avila National Park, Caracas, 44, 48, 59, Bello region, Medellín, 105–106
169–170 Benevolo, Leonardo, 36n, 201n


Bernstein, Marissa, 254 Communities, 176; informal settlements,

biases, against informality, 1, 2–6, 8, 265 23, 147; military, deployed to control
Biblioteca de El Tintal, Bogotá, 79 violence, 147–148; Río de Janeiro see
biblioteca-parques (park-libraries), Colombia, Río de Janeiro; São Paulo, 27–28, 176;
77, 79 social housing programs, 14
Biblioteca-Parque Virgilio Barco, Bogotá, 79 Brunner, Karl, 14
bicycle lanes, Bogotá, 75 Building Community: A Third World Case
Billion Voices, A: Listening and Responding Book (Turner), 21
to the Health Needs of Slum Dwellers and Bush, George W., 67
Informal Settlers in New Urban Settings Bus Rapid Transportation (BRT) System,
(WHO), 126, 141n Bogotá, 73, 75, 77, 98, 157
biodiversity concept, 120
Blanco, Agustín, 111n Caldera, Rafael, 54, 57, 60
Bofill, Nuri, 169 Caminos, Carlos, 20
Bogotá (Santafé de Bogotá), Colombia, Caminos, Horacio, 19, 20, 21, 23, 37n
18, 23; accessibility problems, 82; canopy trees, 190–191
Bus Rapid Transportation (BRT) Caracas (officially Santiago de León de
System, 73, 75, 77, 98, 157; Ciudadela Caracas), Venezuela: Avila National
Colsubsidio, 11; civil awareness plan, Park, 44, 48, 59, 169–170; Caracas
72; La Fragua project, 22; La Sabana Valley, 45; civic engagement, 52; decen-
de Bogotá (wetlands), 70, 71, 82, 177, tralization policies, 45–46; examples
248–252; mayors, committed to making of informal settlements, 43, 191–192;
a difference, 71–84; parks system, at flooding, 59; injuries, 155; International
different scales, 79, 81; Peñalosa, urban Summit for the Rehabilitation of Third
vision, 74–84; projects, 22, 74–75, 77, World Neighborhoods (1991), 51, 52;
81–84, 132, 200; public park-libraries Manifesto, 51–52; Medellín compared,
and educational facilities, 77, 79, 92; 86, 94, 106; Metro, 107, 108, 152; Plan
radical transformation, 6, 8; replication for the inclusion of the Barrios of the
of experience, 107; repositioning, 70–71; Metropolitan Area of Caracas and of
social housing projects for different the Capital Region (later Caracas Barrio
income groups, 81–84; succession of Plan), 52, 53, 54, 57, 58, 85; plan to
effective municipal administrations, 63, rehabilitate the barrios of, 49, 51–54,
65–69; transportation improvements, 57; population, 45; projects, urbani-
74–75, 77; urban renaissance, 69; see also zation, 44; real–estate operations, 44;
Medellín, Colombia San Agustín, 42, 107, 108, 109, 110; site
Bogotá River, 249 analysis, proposed interventions, 53;
Bolívar, Teolinda, 48, 61, 111n, 112n as symbol of modernization process,
Bolivia, 146 44; topographic conditions, 44, 45;
Botanical Garden, Medellín, 97, 115n Urban Design Program, Universidad
Botero, Fernando, 98 Metropolitana, 49; urbanization issues,
Botswana, 18 6, 27, 47
Brazil: female Architects of the Caracas Barrio Plan (Plan for the inclusion


of the Barrios of the Metropolitan Area Cities of Latin America. Housing and Planning
of Caracas and of the Capital Region), to the South (Almandoz), 4, 35n
52, 53, 54, 57, 58, 85, 86 Citizen’s Council for Public Security, 47
Caribbean Cornice of Caracas, 59 City Beautiful movement, Europe, 188
Castro, Fidel, 47 Ciudadela Colsubsidio, Bogotá, 11
Castro, Jaime, 71–72 Ciudad Fajardo, Venezuela, 7
Catuche (informal settlement), Caracas Ciudad Guayana, Venezuela, 18–19, 193,
(Venezuela), 48, 51, 59, 112n; Metro- 194
cable system, 153; reoccupation of civic engagement, 52
Ravine, 56 cocaine, Colombia, 66
CEDESOSs (business incubators), 183 Colombia: Barrio Santo Domingo, Medellín,
Central Business District (CBD), Harare, 252–254; Bogotá (Santafé de Bogotá) see
238, 239, 240, 242, 244 Bogotá (Santafé de Bogotá), Colombia;
Chaskin, Robert J., 201n drug culture, dealing with, 66, 67, 68;
Chávez, Hugo, 46, 47, 57, 60, 61, 62 improved governance, 67–68; insur-
Chile, social housing programs, 14 gency, 65–66; La Sabana de Bogotá
Chimbote, Perú, 18 (wetlands), 70, 71, 82, 177, 248–252;
Chitungwiza, Harare, 242, 244–245 “Ley 388” legislation, 68; libraries,
Choroní, Venezuela, 124, 187, 254–257 77, 79, 92–94; Medellín see Medellín,
CIAM (Congrés International d’Architecture Colombia; social housing programs, 14;
Moderne), 12, 14; CIAM 8 (“Heart of urban vision of Peñalosa, for Bogotá,
the City”), 18 74–84; and USA, 66, 67; Venezuela
Circular Migration in Zimbabwe and compared, 41, 63, 65, 68; violence,
Contemporary Sub-Saharan Africa (Potts), 66–67, 87, 100
258n Colonialism and Underdevelopment in Latin
cities: benefiting from qualities of both America (Valentin and Raduan), 3
formal and informal systems, 130; city colonial societies, 3–4, 131
corridors and plazas, Medellín, 98; “come and squat schemes,” 175
city planning, working against infor- communal and metropolitan services,
mality, 8–10; complexity, 41; creation, inadequacies in informal settlements, 27
need for, 33; future of, in developing community, reaching out to, 223–224
world, 261–268; “garden city” solutions, Comprehensive Urban Plans (PUIs),
13; informal, reconsidering, 24–29; Medellín, 94–95
Modernist Movement, 12; “other CONAVI (National Housing Council),
city,” emergence, 8, 44–47; post-war, Caracas (Venezuela), 52, 57, 58
143–144; preindustrial, 10, 143; conglomerates, informal urban, 130
pre-Modernist, 135; self-constructed see Conjunto Copan (Niemeyer), 14
informal settlements; self-constructed connectivity and infrastructure systems,
cities; socially divided and dysfunctional, Informal Armatures, 151–158; mobility
121 issues, 152; preemptive action, 152
Cities and Economies (Kim and Short), 10, Consorcio Social Las Casitas del Inca
12 settlement, Caracas (Venezuela), 50


Corridors, 198; Alamedas (mobility settlements; looking into future of

corridors), 75, 82; Attractors see cities in, 261–268; methods and design
Attractors; city corridors and plazas, solutions, 126; social and ethnic milieu,
intervention in (Medellín), 98; 4–5; urbanization challenges, 1–38;
deployment, key principles, 163–164; wealthy and educated classes, 3
ecological, and water management Díaz, Ana María, 159n
systems, 100–102; green, 171; Informal Dieterich, Heinz, 111n
Armatures (IAs), 164, 166–171; Díez, María Gabriela, 246
Medellín, Colombia, 98, 100–102; district plans, Medellín, 94–95
Protectors, 164, 166, 169–171; public drug culture, Colombia, 66; targeting, 67,
spaces, 183, 190; spatial and aesthetic 68
conditions, 193; and Stewards, 181, 193
Cuba, 46–47, 65, 191 EAFIT University, Center of Urban and
Cundinamarca region (adjacent to Environmental Studies (Medellín), 102
Bogotá), 259n earthquakes, impact on informal settle-
Curacao, Dutch island, 255 ments, 60–61
Curitiba, Brazil, 75 Echeverri, Alejandro, 85, 102–103, 252
ecological corridors and water
Dacca Mumbai, 6 management systems, Medellín,
dambos (wetlands), 237, 238, 239, 241, 243, 100–102
244, 245 EDU (Empresa de Desarrollo Urbano),
dangers, informal settlements, 27 Medellín, 102
Darahvi, thriving economy, 27 efficiency principles, 22–23
densification process, 45, 146; re-densifi- El Cartucho neighborhood, Colombia, 83
cation, 144, 145 El Helicoide (Latin American icon), 109,
De Quintana Uranga, Leandro, 49 202
design, urban: adaptation of Informal El Porvenir (mobility corridor), Bogotá, 82
Armatures approach, 242, 245, 256, El Risco de San Nicolás, Canary Islands, 2
265; conventional, 123, 181; design Emerald Necklace, 171
components of informal Armatures, Empresa de Desarrolho Urbano, Medellín, 93
163–200; enacting of Informal enactment, 203–232; advocating for
Armatures, 205, 224; informality, IA initiative, 203–209; community,
working against, 1, 8–10; innova- reaching out to, 223–224; expertise,
tions, 24; principles, adapting to social incorporating, 225–226; land require-
housing, 82; San José de Ague Dulce, ments, estimating, 209–216; public land,
Valencia (Venezuela), 246; Urban Design gaining access to, 216; site identification,
Programs, 18, 49, 249; see also Corridors; 217–223
Receptors/Receptor Patches; Stewards; EPM (Empresas Públicas de Medellín),
Transformers/Transformer Patches municipal agency, 90
developing countries: emergent trends, Escobar, Pablo, 66, 67
263–264; formal residential areas, evolution of urbanism, and technology,
120; informal settlements see informal 12–13


expertise, incorporating, 225–226 Global Urban Indicators database,

“extra-urban sites,” informal sector UN-HABITAT, 36n
occupying, 10 Goetze, Rolf, 36n
Gómez, Angel Ricardo, 115n
facades, rustic, 25–26 Gouverneur, David, 140n, 159n, 201n, 237,
Fajardo, Sergio, 84, 85–86, 87, 90, 95, 96, 246, 248, 252, 254
102, 252 Grauer, Oscar, 13, 31, 36n, 140n, 169, 201n
family agricultural plots, 128 Greenberg, Ken, 169, 263
farming, 128; farm cooperatives, 127 green infrastructure, introducing, 125–126
Fernández, Federico, 114n, 247 ‘green systems,’ taking advantage of,
financial market, lack of access to, 9 221–223
financial sources, 226–232; additional guerrilla groups, Colombia, 66
revenue sources, 231–232; fiscal contri- guided adaptation, 146–151
butions, 228–230; public sector, role, Guiniguada Ravine, Canary Islands, 122
food production, local, 127, 128 habitat, fear of unknown, 147
formal sector: acceptance of “other Habitat II Conference, Istanbul (1996), 49
city” by, 8; cities benefiting Harare, Zimbabwe: Central Business
from formal systems, 130; and District (CBD), 238, 239, 240, 242,
Corridors, 166; merging with informal, 244; Chitungwiza, 242, 244–245; forced
29–32; Modernist Movement, 193; displacement, 5; Hopley Farms, 173,
residential areas, 120; segregation of 242, 243–244, 245; Informal Armatures
formal and informal, 28, 30, 120, 121; to balance growth of metropolitan
violence, lower levels of, 147; see also system, 237–245; mobility issues, 240;
Informal Armatures (IAs); informal National Government, 238–239, 241
settlements Harvard Graduate School of Design,
Formisano, Michel, 159n Urban Design Program, 18
Foundation for Urban Culture (research Haussmann, Georges-Eugène (Baron), 261
institution), 84 Henri Pittier National Park, 254
Freedom to Build (Turner), 20 highways, 156
Funza-Mosquera, Sabana de Bogotá, 168 Hofer, Andreas, 36n
Hopley Farms, Harare (Zimbabwe), 173,
Gaitán, Eliécer, 65 242, 243–244, 245
Gakenheimer, Ralph, 160n housing: existing deficit, 15; “half-homes,”
García, Fermín Mármol, 62 24; social see social housing programs;
Garden Cities of To-Morrow (Howard), 13, unfinished shells, 24; and urban perfor-
36n mance, 10, 12–16; Venezuela, housing
garden–city schemes, 13, 44 policy transformation, 112n
Garden Keepers, 183, 184, 186, 188 Housing by People (Turner), 20
Genatios, Carlos, 61 Howard, Ebenezer, 13, 36n
Gente, Vivienda y Tierra (Caminos), 20 Huchzermeyer, Marie, 34
gentrification, 163; managed, 197–200 human capital, mobilizing, 264


Hunt, John Dixon, 188, 201n 192–195, 197; new forms and programs,
Hustwit, Gary, 115n 132–136; Patches, 127, 171–181, 185,
Hybrid Identities (Iyall Smith and Leavy), 5 186–187; preventative nature, 111;
hybridity/hybridization: in Caracas priorities, 126–127, 134; resource
(Venezuela), 45; developing world, 4, efficiency, 143–146; road construction
5; of Informal Armatures, 5, 133; and syndrome, counteracting, 156–157; safe,
informal city, 265, 267; in Medellín amicable and flexible places, 148–151;
(Colombia), 103 Stewards, 180, 181–183, 186, 188,
193, 257; sustainable informal growth,
Iacobelli, Andres, 36n 125–128; as system of components
IAs see Informal Armatures (IAs) guided by implementation principles,
illegal immigrants, 15 163–200; terminology, 30; territorial
Industrial Revolution, 10, 12, 261 features, 149; urban demands, addressing,
Informal Armatures (IAs): academic refer- 137–140; urban design, 188, 205, 224,
ences, 235–237; adapting approach to 242, 245; Zimbabwe, 237–245
different contexts, 235–259; advocating informal city/informality, 24–29, 262;
for IA initiative, 33, 203–209; appli- biases against informality, 1, 2–6, 8,
cation of approach, 130–131, 235–259, 265; challenges, 226–227; changing
266–269; balanced, pedestrian-friendly attitude towards informality, 5; city
districts with efficient mobility, planning and urban design working
157–158; beneficiaries, 139–140; city against informality, 1, 8–10; design
planning and urban design, trans- considerations see design, urban; eradi-
forming, 1–2; concept, 16, 29, 119–140; cation of areas without relocation, 5;
connectivity and infrastructure essence of process as valid urbanization
systems, 129, 151–158; contribu- framework, 110; and hybrid form, 265,
tions of approach, 122–124, 264–266; 267; informal urbanism throughout
versus conventional urban design history, 261; overdependence on formal
and landscape architecture compo- city, 130; predominantly informal cities,
nents, 123; Corridors see Corridors; 126, 137, 144, 146, 154, 157, 158, 226,
decision-making, 134–135; definition of 227, 265; reconsidering informal city,
approach, xxiv, 119–122; design aspects 24–29; sustainable informal growth,
see design, urban; facilitators, 128–132, 125–128; versus traditional cities,
139–140, 194; financial sources, 262–263; variation in, 6; vitality of
226–232; guided adaptation, 146–151; informality as principal driver of
hybridity of, 5, 133; implementation outcomes, 130
principles, 188–200; interconnected informal settlements: acceptance as valid
aspects, 143–160; local site conditions, form of urbanization, 5–6, 15; access
131; management, 150; merging of difficulties, 28; Attractors, effect on,
formal with informal, 29–32; merging 166–167; causes, 3, 31; Colombia see
of informality with intentionality, 120; Colombia; dangers, 27; densification
mobility issues, 155, 157–158; morpho- process, 45, 146; as dominant form
logical and performative conditions, 149, of urbanism in developing countries,


xxiii, 6, 41–116; future planning Kim, Yeong-Hyun, 10, 12

and designing for, 110–111; growth, Koff, Nicolas, 254
accepting, 5–6, 15; guidance, 32; holistic Kornblith, Miriam, 111n
rehabilitation of existing areas, in Latin Krieger, Alex, 169
America, 41; impact of a major quake
on, 60–61; informal growth and social La Aurora Metro-cable station, Medellín,
divide, academia addressing, 48–49; 101, 103, 169
interventions on a city or metropolitan La Bombilla, Petare (Venezuela), 29
scale, adjacent to informal areas, 97–98; La Charte d’Athènes (The Athens Charter),
military, deployed to control violence, 12
147–148; new, expansion, 146; positive La Cuestión de los Barrios (Baldó and
aspects counteracted by severe urban Bolívar), 51
deficiencies, 25; prominence of, xxiii; La Fragua project, Bogotá, 22
Protectors, effect on, 169; public realm, Lake Chivero aqueduct, Harare, 237–238
136; real–estate markets, active, 26, 31; Lake Valencia, Venezuela, 246
reconsidering, 24–29; rise and fall of La Ladera, Medellín, 92, 94
improvement plans, 57–60; segregation Land, Peter, 21, 22
of formal and informal, 28, 30, 120, 121; land access, 145–146
surveys, 21; threat, perceived as, 3; trees, land-ownership distribution, unequal, 9
absence of, 191; Venezuela, political land requirements, estimating, 209–216
economy and great urban migration, 42, landscapes (local), engagement with,
44–63; vertical growth, 60, 61; violence, 188–192
147–148; see also barrios (informal settle- Landscape Urbanism, 125–126, 140n
ments), Caracas (Venezuela); informal land value shifts, radical, 9
city/informality La Plaza de la Luz, Medellín, 98
Inter-American Development Bank, 81 La Quintana, Medellín, 92
International Bank for Reconstruction and La Sabana (native groups), 249, 250, 251
Development, 20 La Sabana de Bogotá, Colombia, 71, 82,
International Summit for the 177, 248–252
Rehabilitation of Third World Latin America: Laws of the Indies, 131,
Neighborhoods, Caracas (1991), 51, 52 135; rehabilitation of existing informal
irrigation systems, 127 areas, 41; Spanish colonial period, 4, 131,
Iyall Smith, Keri E., 5, 35n 138; see also specific countries/regions such
as Colombia
Jimenez, Marcos Perez, 109 Laws of the Indies, 131, 135
Joint Center of Urban Studies, Harvard Leavy, Patricia, 5, 35n
and MIT, 19 Le Corbusier (Charles-Édouard
Joseph, Mark L., 201n Jeanneret-Gris), 12, 75
Juan Amarillo (wetland), 81 Lee, Trevor, 252
Juan Bobo Ravine, Medellín, 99 legal documents, 9; lack of, 15
jueces sin rostro (anonymous judges) Lenneiye, Thabo, 237
concept, Colombia, 68 libraries, Colombia, 77, 79, 92–94


Lima, Perú, 21 special nodes, 96; urban renaissance, 69,

Linares, Alfonso, 113n 102–107; violence, 87, 147, 150; see also
lynching, 27 Bogotá (Santafé de Bogotá), Colombia
Medellín 2030 Plan, 104, 106
Malaver, Ivonne, 114n mega cities, 130
Malawi, 18 Metro-cable systems, Latin America, 115n,
malnutrition, 126 157; Caracas, Venezuela, 107, 108, 152;
managed gentrification, 197–200 Catuche (informal settlement), Caracas,
Maracay-Valencia, Metropolitan Area, 46 153; Medellín, Colombia, 93, 96, 97,
marginalized groups: central failures of 101, 103, 105, 169; Río de Janeiro,
urban planning in serving, 9; colonial Brazil, 153; San Javier, Medellín, 93,
societies, 4; see also poor, urban 96, 103, 151, 153, 154; Santo Domingo
Marín, Emerson, 252 neighborhood, Medellín, 145, 154
M’Bare (informal market), Harare, 238, 239 METROVIVIENDA institute, Bogotá, 81
Medellín, Colombia, 84–111; Aburrá Metro-Vivienda/Patio Bonito Project,
River, 100, 101; Attractors, 167; Bogotá, 69, 80
Caracas compared, 86, 94, 106; city Mexico/Mexico City, 14, 27–28
corridors and plazas, intervention migrants, 15; Venezuela and Colombia, 44,
in, 98; corruption, dealing with, 90; 62, 65, 67
district plans, against social exclusion, Ministry of Urban Development,
94–95; drug distribution, 66; educa- Venezuela, 51
tional facilities, 92–94; envisioning Mitchell, William, 12–13
urban growth, 102–107; whether mixed-use areas, 121, 145
experience can be replicated, 107, mobility issues: balanced, pedestrian-
109–110; improvisation, replacing with friendly districts with efficient mobility,
planning, 89–90, 92; “Innovative City of 157–158; connectivity and infrastructure
the Year” competition won by (2013), systems, Informal Armatures, 152;
116n; interventions on a city or metro- dangers, 27; Harare, Zimbabwe, 240;
politan scale, adjacent to informal areas, persons with limited mobility, 155; road
97–98; Metro-cable systems, 93, 96, 101, construction syndrome, counteracting,
103, 105, 169; pilot plans for city, 18; 156–157; time, 27
problems/challenges, 87–88; programs Mockus, Antanas, 72
and projects, 89–90, 92, 94–98, 100–102, Modernist Movement, 12, 13, 82, 189,
132, 200; PUIs (holistic urban plans), 193, 267–268; post-war emergence,
89, 94–95, 97, 100, 104, 253; radical 261–262
transformation, 6, 8; revenue allocation, Molina, Carlos A., 36n
90; revival, 102; second gondola system Moravia (informal district, Medellín), 91,
constructed at, 153; social housing 97
programs, 95–96; socio–economic morphologies and performances, evolving,
divide, 87; Stewards, 183; strategically 192–195, 197
located park-libraries, 92–94; upgraded Multifamiliar Presidente Miguel Alemán
informal settlements, 23; urban links and complex, Mexico, 14


Mumbai, thriving economy, 27 San Javier, Medellín, 151; Venezuela,

Mumford, Eric, 37n informal settlement improvement
projects, 164; well-kept and well-
National Housing Council (CONAVI), designed, 23, 153, 183
Caracas (Venezuela), 52, 57, 58 Operation Murambatsvia (Operation to
National Program for the Enhancement of Drive Out Rubbish), 241, 243, 258n
the Barrios (1994), 51 Organization and Incorporation for the
National Research Award in Housing, Strengthening Communities Barrios
Caracas (Venezuela), 52 Program (OICCB), 51
neighborhood associations, 127–128 Other Path, The (De Soto), 30
new social housing, 96 overcrowding, 10
Niemeyer, Oscar, 14
Northeastern Commune, Medellín, 95, 102, Palacios, Marcos, 113n
107, 137, 150, 252, 253; see also Santo Pan-American Games, 2010, 98
Domingo neighborhood, Medellín parcel subdivision strategies, 127
Nutibara Hill, Medellín, 98 Paris, 261
parks, Colombia: park-libraries, 64, 77,
O’Byrne, María Cecilia, 115n 92–94; system of at different scales, 79,
OICCB (Organization and Incorporation 81
for the Strengthening Communities Parque Arvi area, Medellín, 101–102
Barrios Program), 51 Parque Berrio, Medellín, 148
Olmstead, Frederick Law, 171 Parque Biblioteca España (park-library),
OPEC Arab oil embargo, 45 Barrio Santo Domingo, Medellín, 88, 95,
open spaces, 25, 31, 45, 98, 150; adopting 252
Informal Armatures approach in Parque del Tercer Milenio, Bogotá, 83
different contexts, 248, 251; Choroní, Parque Entre Nubes, Bogotá, 81
Venezuela, 256–257; Colombia, informal Parque Explora, Medellín, 97
settlement improvement projects, 164; Parque Simón Bolívar, Bogotá, 78, 79
concept of Informal Armatures, 130, Pastrana, Andrés, 67
136; disability-friendly, 155; enacting of Patches, 127, 171–181, 190, 193;
Informal Armatures, 211, 219; housing Receptors, 171, 172, 174–176,
and urban performance, 14, 15; imple- 185, 186–187, 190, 199–200, 253;
mentation principles guiding Informal Transformers, 171, 178–179
Armatures, 164, 166, 167, 181, 182, Patio Bonito project, Bogotá, 81, 82, 83
184, 186, 189, 190, 192, 200; informal Peattie, Lisa R., 19
settlements, occupied by, 15; lack of, Peñalosa (Enrique): drawbacks to
27, 103, 246; linear, 245; newly settled initiatives, 82–83, 84; efficient public
IA area, defined in, 148–149; Parque transportation system, 74–75, 77;
Biblioteca España (park-library), Medellín, large-scale public libraries and educa-
88; poorly-designed, 109; protected, tional facilities, 77, 79; parks system, at
170, 182; public, 224; recreational, 221, different scales, 79, 81; social housing
257; Rutas Paralelas program of, 152; projects for different income groups,


81–84; and Urbanized (film), 160n; urban post-war city, 143–144

vision for Bogotá, 72, 74–84, 197 Potts, Deborah, 258n
PennDesign, 241, 248, 252, 254 preindustrial city, 10, 143
Pennsylvana University, Informal Armature “Preindustrial City, The” (Sjoberg), 10, 36n
experiment (2013), 176 PREVI Project Competition, Lima, 17, 21,
People, Housing and Earth (Caminos), 20 22, 23, 259n
Pérez, Carlos Andres, 57, 60 Principles, Rules and Urban Form: The Case of
Pérez de Murzi, Teresa, 112n Venezuela (Grauer), 13
peripheries, formal and informal, 144 proactivity, of IA approach, 128
Perú, 146; PREVI Project, Lima, 17, 21, Promueba organization, Caracas, 51
22, 23, 259n protective buffer concept, Protectors,
Petit, Ana Carolina Arocha, 246 169–170
pirate developers, 70, 136 Protectors, 164, 169–171, 251, 256
Pithecellobium saman (tree), Venezuela, 190 public-housing programs, 13–14; Sites and
Placing Words (William Mitchell), 12–13 Services programs as alternative to, 16,
Plan Colombia, 67 18; Venezuela, 62–63
Planetarium, Medellín, 97 public realm, 18, 34, 240; characteristics,
Plan for the inclusion of the Barrios of the 31; concept of Informal Armatures, 123,
Metropolitan Area of Caracas and of 129, 133, 134, 135, 136, 140; enacting of
the Capital Region (later Caracas Barrio Informal Armatures, 210, 211, 213, 223,
Plan), 52, 53, 54, 57, 58, 85, 86 230; implementation principles guiding
planning issues: failures of formal urban Informal Armatures, 164, 166, 167,
planning in serving marginalized social 171, 175, 176, 181, 182, 183, 186, 191,
groups, 9; financial market, lack of access 192, 193, 194, 195, 200; interconnected
to, 9; informality, city planning working aspects of Informal Armatures, 152,
against, 1, 8–10; land value shifts, 153; Latin America, cases studies from
radical, 9; quantity-oriented plans and Venezuela and Colombia, 72, 84, 96,
ordinances, 8–9; replacing improvisation 102; reconsidering informal city, 25, 27
with, in Medellín, 89–90, 92; social- PUIs (holistic urban plans), Medellín, 89,
psychological aspects of urban planning 94–95, 97, 100, 104, 253
and development, 256–257; unequal
land-ownership distribution, 9 Quin, Camilo Andrés Cifuentes, 115n
Planning Law of 1987 (LOOU), 49, 51
plazas, 98, 135, 138, 154 Raduan, Miguel, 3, 35n
poor, urban: cheap or free land, access real–estate markets, active, 26, 31
to, 145–146; environmental impact, in Receptors/Receptor Patches, 171, 172,
developing countries, 125; exclusion of, 174–176, 185, 186–187, 190, 199–200,
1, 9–10; Medellín (Colombia), district 253
plans against exclusion, 94–95; require- recreation areas, 127
ments of, 16–17 re-densification, 144, 145
population growth, 104, 125 Rennie Short, John, 10, 12
Portales (terminal stops), Bogotá, 75 residential units/communities, 19, 135


resource efficiency, Informal Armatures, Santo Domingo neighborhood, Medellín,

143–146 88, 90, 95, 102, 139; accessibility and
Restrep, Jaime Ruíz, 115n public spaces, 165; Metro-cable system,
retrofitting of unstable settlements, 145, 154; retrofitting an unstable
252–254, 264 settlement in (case study), 252–254; see
Reyes, Rivera, 72, 114n also Northeastern Commune, Medellín
Rio Declaration on Environment and São Paulo, Brazil, 27–28, 176
Development (2012), 127, 141n, 159n scarcity (global), and resource efficiency,
Río de Janeiro: Metro-cable system, 153; 143–146
mobility interventions, 159n; projects, School of Architecture, Universidad
132; radical transformation, 6, 8; Central de Venezuela, 48
upgraded informal settlements, 23 segregation of formal and informal, 28, 30,
Rios, Michael, 140n 120, 121
road construction syndrome, counter- self-constructed cities, xxiii–xxvi;
acting, 156–157 efficiency principles, 22–23; as informal
Robleto Costante, Leo, 201n, 258n settlements, xxiii; population projections,
Rodwin, Lloyd, 19 104; urban frameworks for, 16, 18–23;
Rowe, Peter (Dean of Harvard’s Graduate see also informal settlements
School of Design), 49, 111n, 169 separation of uses, 12
Roy, Ananya, 34 Sert, Josep Lluis, 18, 19, 20
rural populations, transformation to Shane, David Grahame, xxiv, 143–144,
urbanized, 2–3 159n, 201n
rural-to-urban migration, 146 shelter, requirement for, 1, 16, 25, 140n
Rutas Paralelas program, open spaces, 152 site identification, 217–223; existing urban
drivers, taking advantage of, 218–221;
Sabana de Bogotá, Colombia, 168 “green systems,” taking advantage
Safford, Frank, 113n of, 221–223; reliable data, obtaining,
Salmona, Rogelio, 79, 97 217–218
Samper, Arturo, 249 Site keepers, 150, 248
Samper, Eduardo, 82 Sites and Services programs, 2, 16, 81, 199;
Samper, Germán, 22, 82 definitions, 18; implementation of initia-
Samper, Marcela A., 115n tives, 21; versus Informal Armatures,
Samper, X 120; limitations, 18, 23–24, 32, 139;
Samper, Ximena, 248, 259n manual, 20; MIT as leading center for
Samper, Yolanda Martínez de, 22 research on, 19; principles behind, 24;
San Agustín, Caracas (Venezuela), 42, 107, and Turner, 20–21
108, 109, 110 Sjoberg, Gideon, 10, 36n
Sánchez, Fabio, 159n “slums,” 119
San Javier, Medellín, 92, 94, 106; Metro- social housing programs, 2; different
cable system, 93, 96, 103, 151, 153, 154 income groups, projects for, 81–84;
San José de Ague Dulce, Valencia failure as informal development tool,
(Venezuela), 246–248 33; Medellín, Colombia, 95–96; MIT


as leading center for research on, 19; Turner, John F.C., 19, 20–21, 35n, 37n
new social housing, 96; projects, 14–15, 23 de Enero (public-housing project),
81–84; substitution housing, 95–96; Venezuela, 14–15, 44–45
urban performance and housing, 13, 14;
zoning, 81–82; see also housing Uncontrolled Urban Settlements: Problems and
Socialist Revolution, Venezuela, 47, 62, 63 Policies (survey), 21
Soto, Hernando de, 30, 36n UNDP (United Nations Development
South Africa, 5, 34, 128 Program), 21
Spanish colonial period, 4, 131, 138 United Nations Conference on
squatting, 5, 15, 70, 144, 169, 170 Environment and Development, Río de
Steffian, John, 19, 21, 37n Janeiro (2012), 127, 141n, 159n
Stewards, 180, 181–183, 186, 193, 195, United Nations Development Program
257; Garden Keepers, 183, 184, 186, 188 (UNDP), 21
street grids, Latin America, 135 United States: and Colombia, 66, 67;
substitution housing, 95–96 Government Accountability Office,
“survival-mode thinking,” 138 114n; see also Latin America
sustainable habits, 129 Universidad Central de Venezuela, 48, 51
sustainable informal growth, 125–128 Universidad de Antioquia Campus,
Medellín, 97
Tabet, Abdallah, 248 Universidad Metropolitana, Caracas, 170,
Talleres de Imaginarios workshops, 150–151 201n; Urban Design Program, 49
Technischen Hochschule of Vienna, 14 UPUs (Urban Planning Units), 53–54, 58
technological changes, urban expansion URBAM (Center of Urban and
facilitated by, 12–13 Environmental Studies), EAFIT
Terry, Fernado Belaúnde, 21 University (Medellín), 102, 104, 105
topographic conditions, 25; Caracas urban design see design, urban
(officially Santiago de León de Caracas), Urban Design Programs, 18, 49, 249
Venezuela, 44, 45; Medellín, Colombia, Urban Design Since 1945: A Global
87 Perspective (Shane), 143–144, 201n
Torres, Edgar, 114n Urban Dwelling Environments (Caminos and
Transformers/Transformer Patches, 171, Steffian), 21
178–179, 198, 199 “urban equalizers,” 121–122
Transmilenio (BRT) system, Bogotá, 73, 75, urban expansion areas: facilitation by
77, 98, 157 technological changes, 12–13; vacant,
transportation issues: Bogotá (Santafé 9–10
de Bogotá), Colombia, 74–75, 77; urban frameworks: housing units, growth,
Metro-cable systems see Metro-cable 21–22; self-constructed dwellings see
systems, Latin America; São Paulo, self-constructed dwellings; Sites and
Brazil, 27–28 Services programs see Sites and Services
trees, 128, 190–191 programs
trends, emergent, 263–264 Urban Improvement Program, Caracas
Turner, Bertha, 21 (1997), 51


Urban Informality (Roy and AlSayyad), 34 foundations, 42, 44–63; political

urban islands, 14 struggles, economic hardship and social
Urbanismo Europeo en Caracas (Almandoz), divide, 61–63; populist-oriented policies,
4, 35n 61; public-housing programs, 62–63;
Urbanización El Silencio, Caracas social divide, 42, 44, 48–49, 61–63;
(Venezuela), 14 social housing programs, 14; Socialist
urbanization challenges in developing Revolution, 47, 62, 63; 23 de Enero
world, 1–38; evolution of urbanism (public-housing project), 14–15, 44–45;
and technology, 12–13; housing and urban migration, foundations, 42, 44–63;
urban performance, 10, 12–16; infor- violence, 147; see also barrios (informal
mality see informality; self-constructed settlements), Caracas (Venezuela);
dwellings see self-constructed dwellings; Caracas (officially Santiago de León de
Sites and Services, limitations, 2, 16, Caracas), Venezuela
23–24 Veronica Rudge Green Prize, Northeastern
urbanization practices, historical evolution, Commune (Medellín), 102
121 Versalles, Comuna 3-Manrique, Medellín,
Urbanization Primer (Caminos), 20 196
Urbanized (film), 84, 160n Villaneuva, Federico, 48, 51, 52, 53, 57, 61,
urban performance, and housing, 12–16 112n
Urban Planning Units (UPUs), 53–54, 58 Villa Presidente Ríos, Chile, 14
urban–rural models, colonial, 3–4 violence: Colombia, 66–67, 87, 100,
Urban Settlement Design in Developing 147, 150; informal settlements, 147;
Countries (USDP), 19 Venezuela, 147
Uribe, Alvaro, 67 Violich, Francis, 4
USDP (Urban Settlement Design in Virgilio Barco park-library, Bogotá, 64
Developing Countries), 19 Vivienda Productiva (Productive Housing),
Valencia, Venezuela, 246–248 Von Moltke, Willo, 37n
Valentin, Vinicius, 3, 35n
Vambe, Maurice, 258n Waldheim, Charles, 140n
Van der Linden, Jan, 36–37n Walking Home (Greenberg), 263
Venezuela: “brain drain,” 62; Caracas, walkup-housing solutions, Medellín, 100
plan to rehabilitate the barrios of, 49, Ward, Colin, 37n
51–54, 57; Choroní, 124, 187, 254–257; wastewater networks, 26
Colombia compared, 41, 63, 65, 68; water pollution, Medellín, 100
housing deficit, 15; housing policy Windrich, Elaine, 258n
transformation, 112n; informal growth Workshops of the Imaginary, 159n
and social divide, academia addressing, World Bank, 18, 20, 21, 51, 81
48–49; migration from, 62; migration World Health Organization (WHO), 126
issues, 146; military, deployed to World of Gardens, A (Hunt), 188
control violence, 147–148; “other city,” World Urbanization Prospects Report, UN
emergence, 44–47; political economy, (2005 revision), 8


Zimbabwe: Chitungwiza Ancient Fort, 192; food shortages, 238; Harare, 5,

242, 244–245; compliance with the law, 237–245; safety of, 147
239; examples of informal settlements, zoning, 81–82, 145, 262

Figure 6.5: (Top) Sketch of the Core of an Informal Armature for a Self-Constructed Community, which
guided an installation as part of the Idea Days Festival, School of Design, University of Pennsylvania,
September 2013. (Bottom) Photographs: Spatial definition of public spaces and lots. Facilitators: D.
Gouverneur, D. Maestres, S. Rottenberg, D. O’Neill, and M. A. Villalobos.
Figure 7.1: (Top) Green system along wetlands and public transportation routes in Southern Harare.
Project: S. Burrows, T. Burgess, and A. Carmalt. (Bottom) Corridors and Patches in Chitungwiza.
Project: D. Saenz. Instructors: D. Gouverneur and T. Lenneiye
Figure 7.2: (Top) Protectors along wetland and Receptor Patches. Project: A. Visconti. (Bottom) Well
and community center. Project: L. Robleto. Both in Hopley Farms, Harare. Instructors: D. Gouverneur
and T. Lenneiye
Figure 7.3: (Top) Green heart for water management and agricultural production. Project: Grupo
Simbiosis/UNIMET. (Bottom) Open space and flood protection berm. Project: Grupo Agua/UNIMET.
Both in Valencia, Venezuela. Instructors: M. G. Díez and A. C. Arocha Petit. Advisor: D. Gouverneur
Figure 7.4: (Top) System of open spaces and irrigation canals. (Bottom) Aquaculture and promenade.
Project: Grupo Agua/UNIMET. Both in Valencia, Venezuela. Instructors: M. G. Diéz and A. C. Arocha
Petit. Advisor: D. Gouverneur
Figure 7.5: (Top) Attractors of urban growth along transportation lines and Protectors of wetlands and
agricultural land. Project: Group Initiative. (Bottom) Open spaces and Receptor Patches in Soacha,
Colombia. Project: A. Kelly. Instructors: D. Gouverneur and A. Tabet
Figure 7.6: (Top) Protectors of wetlands and agricultural land in Funza-Mosquera. Project: V.
Rivera-Rosa. (Bottom) Protector of wetlands and agricultural land in Facatativá. Project: A. Vázquez.
Bogotá, Colombia. Instructors: D. Gouverneur and A. Tabet
Figure 7.7: (Top/Bottom) Receptor Patches on stabilized terraces and protection of unstable land for
agricultural and recreational uses. Project: K. Cooper, R. Fuchs and K. Kunte. Barrio Santo Domingo,
Medellín, Colombia. Instructors: D. Gouverneur and T. Lee
Figure 7.8: (Top) Terraces for core housing shelters and self-constructed dwelling expansion. (Bottom)
Land stabilization and water management. Project: K. Cooper, R. Fuchs, and K. Kunte. Barrio Santo
Domingo, Medellín, Colombia. Instructors: D. Gouverneur and T. Lee
Figure 7.9: System of open spaces protecting flood plain of ravines with productive Patches and
recreational uses. Project: M. Bernstein and N. Koff. Choroní, Venezuela. Instructor: D. Gouverneur
Figure 7.10: (Top) Production and recreational Patches. (Center) Section across reforested areas.
(Bottom) Adobe production Patch. Project: M. Bernstein and N. Koff. Choroní, Venezuela. Instructor:
D. Gouverneur
Figure 7.11: (Top) Production and recreational Patches. (Center) Agriculture Patches. (Bottom)
Proposed Botanical Garden as key Cultural Anchor. Project: M. Bernstein, N. Koff, Venezuela.
Instructor: D. Gouverneur