Castillo, Deleuze and self-managed settlements in Chile

Maria Jose Castillo doesn’t really mention Deleuze in her research, but its just so easy to ground this complex theory through her theoretical framework. Her research is really interesting: it’s an innovative approach to heavy issues, managing to bring something new where a lot has been written about it already: self managed settlements (or “informal” settlements) For those interested in Deleuze (and sceptics too) its a good chance to see how a convincing framework might look like… (hmm).

What Castillo does (and here she might agree with me) is examine a bit more closely what “informal” settlements mean in Chile.  She uses Nueva Palena and Alborada settlements to evidences the systematic bias of material and professional assistance to poorer groups. Indeed, taking into account the necessity to adapt the houses provided by the state  to the dwellers’ needs, she approaches their efforts in the following terms: “… the achievements in the field of housing depend less in the solutions provided by the state, and more in the constant will of the urban dwellers to improve every day their built environment. Supporting this tendency should have a direct incidence in the way in which the housing deficit is approached” (p55)

valparaiso and Santiago. Sources: Ossul and Sectra

(Image 1) Valparaiso and Santiago. Sources: Ossul and Sectra

She criticizes the excessive control of knowledge (professional for example) and material (construction materials and technology) resources through the urban development market in Chile today.  As Deleuze & Guattari (1972) would put it: the exclusion of both human and non-human things from specific urban groups and geographies. Besides the state, Castillo also signals the private side of the housing supply. This side of the market places disproportionate conditions to collaborate towards urban integration; whilst keeping high barriers of entrance to the material and non material elements that constitute urban integration. This market structure makes the various ways of assisting self-management less creative, effective and unequal. Some relevant programs and initiatives can be identified in Chile’s urban policy history. But the interruption of the policy evolution and tendency to solve planning with financial instruments (Rodriguez & Sugranyes, 2005) have limited their impacts.

Adapting social capital, form "informal" to "formal"

(Image 2) Formalizing social capital: the Toma de Penalolen before and after

Such unequal planning outcomes is also  evident at a wider city scale. The recent Valparaiso fire, which affected the less resourced groups in the city, is an example. This, without even taking into account the sprawling poorer sectors behind the hillsides of the world heritage site (Image 1). Moreover, Santiago is another example of how its main period of urban growth was solved with a professional (Orellana, 2009: Sectra, 1991) and material polarization (Image 1). The inflexible structure of the so called “market” also makes urban conflicts volatile, harder to mediate, or adjust solutions to place-specific needs, as the case of Toma de Peñalolén shows (Image 2). Finally, Castillo mentions the need to acknowledge the social capital (p51) built in time outside the planning system, or  “informally”. A kind of capital that is both material (built) an non material (networks, relations, collaboration, organization, adaptation, etc). A step forward is a more sincere acknowledgment of the contribution of self-management to adapt built environments, as well as the costs associated to  “carving out”  poorer groups through  planning and markets.

A message to my policy-maker friends:

Nevertheless, It must be said, Chile has decreasing numbers of informal settlement rather than increasing as its Latin American region’s trend shows (UN Habitat, 2003). Since democratization (1989), much of the process of overcoming poverty has been carried out not only through a very present (contrary to absent) state. It is also developed through a heavy-handed presence of the business sector. It may be better described as a “partnership”, “growth machine” or “regime. It is nevertheless  a collaborative arrangement quite efficient in delivering basic services (water, sewage and electricity) in little time, much more than many of its neighboring countries. But this does not mean that the underlying processes which create the conditions for more poverty ceased to exist. Roy (2005) suggests many of these processes have to do with the same institutions that try to “formalize” poverty, who at the end condescendingly blame the poor for not “keeping up”. Indeed, much of those in Toma de Penalolen were living in the social/formal housing sector before joining this social movement. A simple literature review in Chile reveals that Tomas, since the 1900’s onwards, have been the “tip of an iceberg” of urban poverty (de Ramon, 1990). Tomas actually became visible to the mid and high income classes in the 1950s because they formed a social organization able to deviate unstable living condition. A thing that still today a few communities manage to do (deviate externalities) with large scaled events such as the Olympics, or highways, real estate development and so on.

Moreover, there has been so little attention given to a simple question: what circumstances brought you to join the settlement? This is a question I argue the “formal” sector should be consequent with. Nor has power asymmetries among actors involved in “formalization” been a central topic for most of the influential institutions. And in this last point is where the “partnership” between the public institutions and private firms should be placed under scrutiny. I decided to put these two last paragraph because some friends deliver government programs for settlers in Chile and may not agree with my “pessimistic” view. The Concertacion political coalition has done an important job in making Chile more democratic and fairer. But social movements and protest not just in education issues are telling us something, right? Lets just continue being critical, not pessimistic. No offence guys!

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