Spatial Justice and Informal Settlements

Cover of Spatial Justice and Informal Settlements

Integral Urban Projects in the Comunas of Medellín



Table of contents

(9 chapters)

This chapter presents the topic of the ‘new generation’ of upgrading initiatives in informal settlements in Latin America and the rationale for this book, its objectives and research questions, focusing on the issues of spatial justice and public open spaces in informal settlements. It also provides a short insight into the research setting, i.e. the social, economic and physical characteristics of the case study location, Comuna 13 in Medellín, including short descriptions about the three spaces that were investigated in detail. It also provides a brief overview of the research methodology applied.

This chapter examines the notion of spatial justice and its applicability in the context of informality. In the first part it examines the concept of informal urbanism in the context of informal settlements and experiences with upgrading programmes. Drawing on critical evaluations of some of the most well-known upgrading programmes, the chapter in the second part then theorises the notion of spatial justice. I argue for a multidimensional, fragmentary, context- and culture-specific concept, which encompasses equity, empowerment and recognition. As an operationalisation of the notion of spatial justice developed in this chapter and a conclusion to it, a framework is proposed to underpin the assessment of spatial justice in public space based upgrading programmes in informal settlements. It contains aspects regarding the quality of the material space, the integrity of its production process, issues of management and regulation as well as the use of space.

This chapter is the first of three analytical chapters which explore the research findings. Drawing on data gained through community guided walks and mental maps workshops, the chapter examines the diversity of everyday spaces in Comuna 13 and the practices of use the inhabitants develop in them. It establishes them as important social spaces, defined by their material configuration and the activities taking place in them. Streets, paths and stairs, front gardens, sports fields, play areas, squares, parks, green setbacks, leftover open spaces and leftover landscape are presented as the main categories of open spaces, some of them developed formally, while others established informally through the residents of Comuna 13, and some of them more publicly usable, while others more private. Additionally, other important community spaces mentioned in the data-gathering activities are portrayed.

This chapter presents an assessment of the participatory process during the PUI upgrading initiative, drawing on extensive interview data with residents, experts and municipal staff. It highlights the potentials and limitations of participatory processes in upgrading informal settlements. Structured into three parts, focusing on the process, the products and the effects of the PUI, it discusses topics such as social and material sustainability, self-esteem, place attachment and use of space, formal and informal economic development, political image-making and more.

This chapter draws on analysis of the spatial and material configuration as well as analysis of use to establish whether and how open spaces contribute to an increased spatial justice in Comuna 13. Location, and visual and physical accessibility have been found to be limiting factors for the spaces’ usability by diverse user groups. Regulations and management issues have also been found to be highly influential on the sites’ usability, the diversity of its users or the regulation of behaviour deemed ‘inappropriate’, such as informal trade. On the other hand, design and spatial organisation into subspaces increased the spaces’ usability and accessibility for a diversity of user groups, thus increasing spatial justice. Analysis of use underlines the multifunctionality of people’s everyday spaces for pedestrian traffic, recreation and socialising as well as informal trade. It also shows that not all new spaces are accepted equally, and that new spaces fall into disuse especially if they fail to provide a design and functionality that relate to people’s everyday activities.

This chapter presents the concluding arguments. It explores the implications of the analyses for understanding open spaces in informal settlements in the context of spatial justice by looking at their material configuration and design, the process that led to their establishment, the ways they are used and the rules and regulations affecting their use. This work has found evidence for the continued and structural denigration of informal settlements and their inhabitants, which influence the upgrading initiative. At the same time it has established the ways in which the new open spaces and the processes surrounding their establishment have improved the quality of life for comuna residents. It thus confirms the importance of combing equity, empowerment and recognition as equal goals into understandings of spatial justice, and claims that the different aspects of justice are not interchangeable or hierarchical. This chapter draws on the empirical data presented in the preceding chapters to explore the potentials and limitations of the new generation of upgrading programmes in an abstract way, which makes the results of this study transferable and applicable to other cities.

Cover of Spatial Justice and Informal Settlements
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