An urbanism for the “informal city”

The urbanization process diversity is influenced by the people’s territorial dispersion, the economic practices and the various cultures. The rise of the informal sector is translated as an occupation of the public spaces or in dispute (pavements, squares, streets and residual spaces) by diverse “clandestine”.

This problem oriented the demands on urban interventions in great South-American cities. Organizations are mixing different logics in order to reclaim a planning development strictly linked with the urban roject and the housing policies. Such a planning has to be able to combine the infrastructures and landscape questions with social issues and environment. Defense speech for an informal city planning which associate culture, economy and the existential, by Jorge Mario Jauregui, Argentinian town-planner and architect, settled in Brazil.

The public policy of integration in the current context has to be integrated in the urban policies. These latter include the fight against exclusion and for the improvement of the life qualities as a fundamental component. This approach ask to consider the urban structure as an all and the problem with the connection between the “formal” and “informal” parties as essential in order to welcome the impoverished.

In South American cities, the “informal” part is sometimes superior to the formal city: it represents 60% of Caracas (Venezuela) and 70% in Lima (Peru). In most of the other cities, for example in Brazil, this percentage reaches 50%.

The other important composer that has to be taken on by the public policies in relation with the urban question and that concerns the housing policies comes under the citizen participation in most part. In order to be effective, it is essential to promote the integration of each one by way of programs which impulse ideas able to generate resources. The urban and housing construction policies for all the sector of the society constitute the most direct and efficient measures in order to achieve it.

Then, it is not only a matter of building a certain amount of housing to solve the lack of accommodation, it is important also to do it elaborating the city’s and place’s conception, where the multiple and the diverse allow the blossoming of the individual and increases the value of the existence. Each one has to be able to feel as a part of the neighborhood, the city, and at the same time find his own scale, his own contemplation, to disconnect or connect himself in so far as he is able, with his needs and desires. Beyond a strictly economic point of view, the urban policy has to favor the physical environment vital for the life in society, far from the opportunist actions which are limited to furnish a shelter, and solve the needs so called “minimum” or “basics”.

The teaching of the informal planning

On the continent scale, the informal economy is about to become one of the new millennium’s mark. Whereas we have technological means highly sophisticated in order to manipulate information and image, we still not able to guaranty the supply of water and food for the most part of the global population, excluded from the formal job world. The process of the “informal planning”, in this context, is finally a key element in the fabrication of the cities in the Latin American cities. This form of “urban planning” is no longer an exception, is has become a norm. Reorienting this process in operation needs as projectual form of approach as new methodologies and new forms of management with the public-private- community articulation. This type of urban planning is defined by anarchical land-use, inappropriate accessibilities conditions, not existing property title, deficit in equipment and services and precarity of housings. We can see nonetheless a high level of population’s participation.

Informality is not limited to the self-construction; it includes almost every time the viability of various spaces and the fragmented infrastructures’ installation for the community’s use. But this fact not only concerns the working class, as we can see in Santa Fé in Mexico City or in Barra de Tijuca in Rio de Janeiro.

Four principles in the urban planning of the informal city

Then the slum is an integrated part of the city. It is about time to recognize and elaborate an urban planning adapted to the city, so called “informal”. Four principles deserve our attention:

To think the urban through the logic of the informal city.

This implies the respond to the key “emergencies” by analyzing the disruptions and programming actions according to the schedule following a common calendar.

To accept the combination of strategies.

The construction of a basic infrastructures or a soup kitchen/a canteen, for example, can be realized in a couple of days but in other cases the transition from a shelter to a definitive accommodation can take decades. That compels us to rethink the urbanity in its traditional sense, considering a several basic rules of orientation and organization.

To encourage the participation.

Without the “spirit of the streets” how can we appreciate the uses, the adopted solutions and the expectations of the inhabitants?

To valorize the nonhierarchical space.

The remaining space of the informal occupation process is in a permanent reconfiguration and presents a high level of adaptability. The specific forms of the land occupation, the provision of facilities and infrastructures replace the traditional hierarchy which occurs in the formal city.

Objectives of the urban structuration projects

It is necessary to promote the urban structure as a whole, to not drive the inhabitants from their house in order not to break the community’s existing links, and to respect the history of each specific place and the investments made by the inhabitants. From there, it is admitted to articulate the physical, cultural and ecological aspects as well as the security aspect, to guaranty a new way to citizenship for a numerous population which want to mix the formal/informal and generate some crossing points and urban transitions.

The method used is supposed to conceive an analyze as a project, to think about the identity in order to show the different characteristics which have and suggest spatial intervention trails.

Listening carefully the demands, as individual as collective, in order to interpret in a configuration that establish junction points between the ethic (what has to be done), esthetic (the challenge of the New) and the politic (the relation always complex between the power structures).

Elaborating an analyze of the place: this work begins with the acknowledgment of the territory, its constraints and potential. It has to be multidimensional, which registers the level of internal articulation and centralities with connections to the environment and the accessibility conditions. It registers the internal or around emptiness which shows a planned interest, in the highest degree of the community’s organization, the characteristics of landscape, the environment and the activities.

Formulating an urban scheme establishes the bases of the general coherence, which associate the physic, the social, the ecology and the problem of security, by responding to the propositions’ viability (here, the investment is 3,500S per family). The urban scheme precises jurisdictional actions anticipated, defines the reformulation of the access and circulation on the road system and establishes the expansion control. It is articulated with the state and federal instances; it reinforces the existing centralities by creating new irradiation knot. In this step are eventually signaled the agreements for the partial viability of the proposed interventions by the public and private actors.

The “City of God”

Cidade de Deus is presented, in the book of Paulo Lins and the movie of Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund, as a place marked by despair where populations live without honor, without projects, nor future. The inhabitants accused the film to reinforce the negative image of their neighborhood. A visit on the field shows a reality totally different: we discover organized inhabitants and highly politicized, receiving support from numerous public as well as private institutions (17 entities compose the community’s comity). Cidade de Deus, which counts approximately 65 000 inhabitants, was originally (more than forty years ago) a group of housing for the residents of the favelas situated in the noble places of Rio de Janeiro (like Lagoa), taken from their home to the peripheries of the city, within cities without urbanities, without public services nor equipment. This is an argument to “hygienize” the places occupied by favelas in order to “win” the formal city – most of them were finally given over real-estate speculation. The project of urban and social articulation localizes spatially the events, reconfigure the centralities and defines new program from dialogues with the communities, while being attentive to the cost/benefit relation. This facilitates the negotiations as with the public sector as with the private initiatives and the different organizations and institutions which act on the place and environment. The project has been submitted to us by the intermediate of the Federal Economical Fund, which is an institution acting on local and national scale, in relation with the housing programs. From the study of the place’s structure, the interpretation of the demands, by taking account of the project designed by the comity’s members and the integration of the disciplinary concepts linked to urban-planning; the project aims to reinforce the existing centralities, to create new centers for the associative actions by introducing a new germ in the urban life in order to realize three residential islet, with services and shops, and to relocate 600 families settled in marshy places living in very precarious conditions. These islets where elaborated following a genetic urban concept, held by each one of the expansible residential item projected. It has been created on an initial knot of 32m2, conceived architecturally and urbanely in order to let the user make extensions in the long term corresponding to his needs and his economic capacities.

This aspect of the project is significant because it allows articulating the general interest architectural-urban conditions with the city scale (including the urban façade) with the participation of the inhabitants compromising the quality of urban space. The governmental agencies have the special and specific responsibility in their field of urban projects and housing programs aiming to create ideal conditions for the project able to change the paradigm in effect, with a major quantitative characteristic, in favor of another which consider the quality of life and the projects durability favoring a new relationship between humanity and environment.

It is necessary to pass the “cronyist” policy which implies a mediation searching for a construction of access network that means the power to choose between various ways. The network culture implies an horizontal integration, opposite to the pyramidal one.

All of that need a redefinition of its relations between the ethic (understood as “what has to be done”) esthetic (as the completion of the architectural scripture) and the politic (relations always complexes with the power structures). This is where comes from the idea of the simultaneous consideration of the three ecologies (F. Guattari): metal (depollution of the concepts), social (revision of all the social relations) and environmental (related to the interventions’ durability).

Survival maps

What is an architectural map? What are its geographies? How a map fold and unfold itself? The architect has to not fear war, because the “bourgeois” city has self-isolating institutions, with closed areas and gated-neighborhoods, privatized streets, symbolic military constructions of segregation which corroborate the metaphor of war. A great part of that problematic, which is explosive today, was established in Latin America since the colonization era by the powerful.

It is about the “bio-politics” (namely the non-submission to the dominant logics) against the “bio-power”, the force of networks, where the institutions are no longer able to ensure controlbecause of the problems’ amplitude. So, in the contemporary urban drama, the architect has to learn to unfold and reduplicate himself, drawing maps of the risks and operating from the interior to the exterior. He also has to formulate structuring projects that consider the logic of the city in its entirety, connecting punctual interventions, definitely and immediately. Which implicate capturing the minor shocks agitating the city, just like a decisive symptom for its survival.

Jorge Mario Jáuregui