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Rethinking the Informal City

Rethinking the Informal City: Critical Perspectives from Latin America

Felipe Hernández
Peter Kellett
Lea K. Allen
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Rethinking the Informal City
    Book Description:

    Latin American cities have always been characterized by a strong tension between what is vaguely described as their formal and informal dimensions. However, the terms formal and informal refer not only to the physical aspect of cities but also to their entire socio-political fabric. Informal cities and settlements exceed the structures of order, control and homogeneity that one expects to find in a formal city; therefore the contributors to this volume - from such disciplines as architecture, urban planning, anthropology, urban design, cultural and urban studies and sociology - focus on alternative methods of analysis in order to study the phenomenon of urban informality. This book provides a thorough review of the work that is currently being carried out by scholars, practitioners and governmental institutions, in and outside Latin America, on the question of informal cities.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-972-7
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Rahul Mehrotra

    Today, in most cities around the world, several forms of urbanism coexist in the same space. These varied concepts of urbanism (whether everyday urbanism, new urbanism, post-urbanism or the several forms of indigenous urbanism) actually collapse into a simultaneous – often kaleidoscopic – manifestation which generates a variety of urban conditions. The collapse of varying conceptions of urbanism into a singular but multifaceted entity takes on a bizarre form in the cities of Latin America, Asia and Africa where disparate levels of economic development complicate the already schizophrenic landscape of the contemporary city. In these urban conditions, the physical manifestation...

  6. Chapter 1 Introduction: Reimagining the Informal in Latin America
    (pp. 1-20)
    Felipe Hernández and Peter Kellett

    According to traditional architectural histories, Latin American cities have been characterised by a tension between their formal and informal dimensions. These two terms have been used in order to describe and theorise not only the physical aspect of cities but also their entire socio-political fabric. In theory, the term ‘formal’ is taken to represent the ordered city – in terms of its urban and architectural shape as well as its cultural, economic, political and social organisation – while the ‘informal’ is understood as the opposite: the shapeless areas of the city where economic and socio-political structures are particularly unstable and...

  7. Part I: Critical Perspectives

    • Chapter 2 The Form of the Informal: Investigating Brazilian Self-Built Housing Solutions
      (pp. 23-38)
      Fernando Luiz Lara

      Definitions of the terms ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ appear to be challenging to architecture due to the prevailing assumption that the formal is something that has ‘appearance without substance’ while the informal has no ‘outward form’ whatsoever. This situation poses difficulties for us, considering that the goal of this chapter is to examine, precisely, the substance behind the appearance (the form) of the informal city. Contrary to the above dictionary definition of the term ‘informal’, this chapter argues that informal settlements have a formal architectural structure.

      Anyone who arrives in a large city in Latin America notices how the apparently formless...

    • Chapter 3 Informal Practices in the Formal City: Housing, Disagreement and Recognition in Downtown São Paulo
      (pp. 39-52)
      Zeuler R. Lima and Vera M. Pallamin

      At first sight, São Paulo is as hard to understand as a mosaic of misplaced pieces. Informal practices of urbanisation and urban life coexist with regulated urban development in a vast territory of contrasting physical, social and legal conditions. The metropolitan region of São Paulo is made up of the city of São Paulo itself and thirty-eight other adjacent cities with a population of around sixteen million residents occupying an area of more than 900 square kilometres (370 square miles). The occupation of two large river valleys and an irregular topography, the accumulation of cultural and economic capital and massive...

    • Chapter 4 The Informal Architecture of Brasilia: An Analysis of the Contemporary Urban Role of its Satellite Settlements
      (pp. 53-70)
      Annalisa Spencer

      Informal settlements are a fundamental part of Brazilian society, culture and economy. This is evident in all major Brazilian cities where significant unplanned growth has occurred, expanding out from historic centres. However, Brasilia, the country’s capital, is a unique case due to the fact that it did not grow by radiating outwards from its own historic centre but, instead, grew inwards from its outskirts which latterly became its periphery. Thus, Brasilia offers a particularly stark example of how informal settlements are unavoidably and intrinsically embedded in Brazil’s society, culture and politics.

      As is well known, the city was planned following...

    • Chapter 5 The Evolution of Informal Settlements in Chile: Improving Housing Conditions in Cities
      (pp. 71-90)
      Paola Jirón

      Chile’s marked demographic explosion, its accelerated urbanisation and the consequent concentration of its population in a few cities has generated significant housing needs, mostly manifest as housing shortages, overcrowding, sharing, land invasions and informal settlements. These settlements are scattered throughout the country’s main cities as well as in small towns and rural areas, and are all understood as settlements lacking any of the three basic services: running water, electricity and sewage. Important efforts have been made over the years to improve the conditions of those living in such settlements, and Greene (2004) identifies five main stages: emergency eradication, new solutions,...

    • Chapter 6 Housing for the Poor in the City Centre: A Review of the Chilean Experience and a Challenge for Incremental Design
      (pp. 91-116)
      Margarita Greene and Eduardo Rojas

      The present work focuses on issues of and solutions to the gentrification process that affects most urban rehabilitation programmes. These programmes, designed to tackle the obsolescence of city centres that affects most major Latin American cities, face a twofold challenge: on the one hand, the need to attract new investments to the area; and, on the other hand, the need to protect the low-income population living in the area and the heritage buildings that it may contain. These contradictory objectives are generally understood by the authorities that implement urban rehabilitation programmes, but in practice, in the majority of the cases,...

  8. Part II: Critical Practices

    • Chapter 7 Rules of Engagement: Caracas and the Informal City
      (pp. 119-136)
      Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner

      In Caracas, a city ringed by verdant mountains and blessed with abundant rainfall, petrol is cheaper than drinking water. Caracas is flooded with oil money, but it has the largest, densest barrios relative to its size of any city of Latin America. Barrio, which literally means ‘neighbourhood’ in Spanish, is commonly used in Caracas to refer to the low-income urban settlements in which 55 per cent of the population lives on 33.5 per cent of the city’s geographical footprint, in homes ranging from cardboard shacks to well-constructed, multi-storey buildings. The sites are often hazardous, and all have serious problems of...

    • Chapter 8 Integrated Informality in the Barrios of Havana
      (pp. 137-162)
      Ronaldo Ramírez

      This chapter¹ examines informal activities carried out by individuals and communities living in the barrios² of Havana during part of the ‘Special Period’, the years of extreme scarcity experienced by the Cuban population in the 1990s. These activities, narrated mostly by their protagonists, form the basis of a research project carried out by an international team in Havana between 2002 and 2003. The chapter also explores conceptual understandings of urban informality and provides an overall view of this phenomenon in Havana. At the close, some tentative remarks are advanced on the significance that these informal activities have on the relationship...

    • Chapter 9 Formal–Informal Connections in the Favelas of Rio de Janeiro: The Favela-Bairro Programme
      (pp. 163-180)
      Roberto Segre

      Historians and political experts have not yet agreed on the most outstanding characteristics of the last century. For some it was the shortest in history; for others it was the most intense because of the extent of its technical-scientific innovations and the fervour of the social revolutions that took place. Never before had revolutions occurred in such a brief period and over such an expansive area: Mexico, Russia, China, Cuba and other fleeting ones (Hobsbawm 1996). These revolutions represented the struggle of entire peoples against the widespread and increasing poverty of the world. They attempted to create just, balanced and...

    • Chapter 10 Spatial Strategies and Urban Social Policy: Urbanism and Poverty Reduction in the Favelas of Rio de Janeiro
      (pp. 181-206)
      Jorge Fiori and Zeca Brandão

      Since 1994, the municipal government of Rio de Janeiro has been implementing a slum upgrading programme called Favela-Bairro, a name which signifies the transition from slum to neighbourhood. The programme gained international recognition as one of the most advanced of its kind in the developing world. Indeed, it became paradigmatic of a new generation of slum-upgrading and urban-development programmes (Fiori, Riley and Ramírez 2000). Not only did it aim to achieve a very large-scale intervention but it proposed a multisectoral and integrated approach which introduced a series of new ideas vis-à-vis previous generations of slum-upgrading policies and programmes, both in...

    • Chapter 11 Urban and Social Articulation: Megacities, Exclusion and Urbanity
      (pp. 207-224)
      Jorge Mario Jáuregui

      In Latin America, as elsewhere in the world, the last thirty years have revealed a new phenomenon provoked by a process that has two main components: on the one hand, the confluence of an increasing interconnection of and dependence on the movements of capital (financial globalisation), and on the other, the substitution of technologies originating in the transition from the mechanical to the electronic age, affecting administration and management as well as production processes. This phenomenon – which has been described in various ways, but is mainly known as postmodernisation and/or globalisation – has had numerous urban consequences. It contributes...

    • Chapter 12 Public-City in Manifesto: The Formal City In-formed by Public Interest
      (pp. 225-236)
      Claudio Vekstein

      This chapter exercises a formal structuring of rather conventional definitions and principles in a non-prescribed (informal), sometimes misaligned sequence. The construct could be seen as an abrupt manifestation of directives in order more promptly to arrive at the disciplinary knowledge necessary to outline an unpredictable, provocative, perhaps even at moments irresponsible, course of action. Because of this embedded formal–informal approach, and depending on the reader’s academic position, some might feel slightly uncomfortable, sometimes disrupted, or even offended. While these apparently isolated or underarticulated formal propositions are informed by an undisciplined, perhaps inelegant, series of topical anchors and accelerated proliferations,...

  9. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 237-244)
  10. Index
    (pp. 245-250)