urban governance

What’s behind a place’s name?: Poblaciones in Chile

This graph is a small list of self-managed settlements in Chile during the 70’s. By that time creative and radical forms of city-making were put to practice. Tomas, as they called them, consisted of take-overs of land by a group of poor city dwellers and families. They were initially considered illegal but became a popular form of city production due to decades of unresponsive housing policies (de Ramon, 1991, Santa Maria, 1973). Once land was occupied, usually done quickly in the early hours of a morning, pobladores would build their houses and communities with whatever building materials they managed to obtain (pobladores is a Chilean expression which refers to the low and mid income urban dwellers). For a few years The land occupations or take-overs were eventually legitimized and supported by a wide range of institutions, such as the church, borough mayors, congressmen, students, unions and political parties from one end of the ideological spectrum to the other. It even became a state policy, named “Operacion Sitio”, and President Alessandri delivered speeches suggesting a need to knowledge the right to live in the City.

catastro campamentos 1971. Source: Direccion general de carabineros

catastro campamentos 1971. Source: Direccion general de carabineros

Historians suggest (de Ramon, 1990, Santa Maria 1973)these names do not always reveal the type of relation between  the urban movements pro-housing and the institutions backing them up. Even though some institutions were sincerely concerned with the housing shortage and living conditions, others found it an opportunity to obtain political support and votes. This partly may explain why it became a mainstream urban program. Since it went in well with the establishment it was widely supported.

But not all were in favour of Tomas. The idea of promoting self-managed settlements implied autonomy to be involved in collective decisions regarding where to live and freedom in terms of what type of house will be stood up. In many occasions it developed high levels of solidarity for various issues: employment, food, security, basic services, and so on. Levels of organization and self-determination which help poorer groups to be less vulnerable to, for example, evictions. It even went as far as to providing construction material to start up the house. If you take into account that thousands of pobadores actually signed up to social organization which were responsible of Tomas in Santiago, this drained a significant number of urban dwellers from the real estate driven market. The social organization became an alternative to the usual “Rancherios”, Conventillos,Cites or other form of state/firm provision of housing and amenities.

It is worthwhile mentioning that the absence of this building sector, may have significantly contributed to the explosion of participation among pobladores and the wide range of institutions. Indeed, these social organizations centred their agenda around housing. And were not necessarily obliged to include real estate firms into the process of selecting people, choosing a place, defining the land sizes, the size and shape of the house and so on. But the need to legitimize a take-over of land in a mainly capitalist driven urban growth, and obtain valuable organizational skills still required strategic association with powerful institutions “outside” the pobladores world. Institutions which some have been mentioned in the first paragraph. This period of Chile’s urban policy was a form of re-politicization of the city making process. By re-politicization I mean an inclusion of more institutions or actors into the urban process. Institutions which used the urban process as a means of establishing links with pobladores to find similarities in agendas and collaborate towards similar goals. Consequently, the process of making a Toma is important just for the fact that it diversified the ways in which social relations were created. It would then be true to suggest that those who control the city making process control social relations. Many of these relations are reflected sometimes through their names.

There is a long history of naming the places where the poor live which also reflected the social relations of the time. During the 1900s up until the 1970s poor urban dwellers lived either in rancherios or in cites and conventillos. Rancherios had a negative connotation to where families and individuals lived just outside the city. Land owners would rent parts of their farm land to poorer groups, and charged according to size of the self-made housing. Rancherios is also a name that according to de Ramon (1991) and Santa Matia (1971) were associated to thieves, indigenous groups and the poor. It was during the 1920s and 1930s that mid and high income classes decided that it was trendier to live in the country side. And the places left to the urban poor were what this group left: inside the city. The inner city became the new areas for the urban poor, which eventually were filled with Cites and Conventillos.

Cites and conventillos are names much friendlier than rancherios, in the Chilean language at least. Cite is associated to a French word. And conventillos is the diminutive of the word convent, which had a more dignifying and “spiritual” sense of place. But both words, as much as they evidenced a change in how poorer groups were named, simply hid the process of concentrating the poor into urban enclosures and unhealthy living conditions. These words were probably show an intention to forget rather than initiate a process of integration through the housing policy. By the way, cites and conventillos were built by the real estate sector of the time. Due to the pressures of the media as well as elites, a solution to the urban poor was “urgent”. And it was through a series of financial policies and incentives that real estate firms provided a new form of living in the central areas of Santiago. An example is showed below.

Cite or Conventillo. Source: webuchile.cl

Cite or Conventillo. Source: webuchile.cl

Much of the process of making tomas was also one which reshaped the sense of popular identity. Institutions, by helping to organize and then having some liberty to name the toma created a form of institutionalization of the mix between popular and institutional identities; a form of institutionalization of popular identity. The names of tomas also reflect the competition among some institutions to obtain political support and votes. Naming the toma was a way of establishing a precedence of the institutions social oriented agenda, one which cleaned their image and provided a positive response form the political and social establishment. It also created a permanent effect among pobladores to what kind of ideology or party they should feel associated to. But whether tomas were used by some and genuinely supported by other institutions, a wide range of places were named in the city, and institutions became embedded into city through the Toma/making process.

Finally, as ephemeral as a name may seem to some, its creation is a simplification and interpretation of an identity constituted by different people and of a complex process, like the Tomas. This is why this version of history may not be the only valid interpretation of this specific topic and part of urban policy in Chile. Nevertheless, I believe these names show a innovative reaction to the need for social integration. And the urban process became the media through which collaboration and association among various actors became possible. This period of urban policy also teaches us to be more critical to the wide range of intentions of the institutions involved in integration and inclusion processes. After all, the names do reflect a poblador-institution relation which questions how “autonomous” or “independent” pobladores really were to be the drivers of their own history.

Privatising London’s spaces: back to Victorian era?

Source BBC1

Source BBC1 Ana: “The only real public space left in The City of London is this little patch of land here, outside St. Paul’s”


The unbuilding of informal Buenos Aires, part 3

The unbuilding of informal Buenos Aires, part 3

What can be learnt from the global south?

Unearthing Regime Analysis

Interestingly, an “old” theory comes into light when it is about evaluating collaborative aspects of regeneration projects. Along with other notions, such Growth Machines, and the notions of Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), Apparatus, Assemblage analysis, R.A., bargaining power concept to name a few, still provides an attractive framework for researchers such as Rodrigo Caimanque.

These theories and concepts have helped urban studies to understand who is behind the production of policies. And using it allows to understand how the nature of collaboration relates to the outcome of the city.  Although R.A. does have assumptions, such as the division of power and resources among two strong players (public entities and private elites), it still proves to be a useful “key” which allow understanding more clearly the democracy and power complexities around place making (or space making).

Urban governance has still a wide space for further research. Indeed, the issues regarding how places are structured; how consensus is obtained; what allows / restricts groups from achieving a wider change around them, still form relevant issues in social science.  And developing urban governance theory can aid in understanding these structural questions.

Have a look at his article:



Does the “right to the city” make sense?

“right to the city” documentaries

Have a look at this trailer. It’s a movie that will be shown soon at Ritzy, Brixton. I believe it proves the notion is applicable and pertinent. More importantly, it should transcend in how we perceive and produce a city.

Some parts of the documentary can also be seen here:


(Un) even urban development after the Chilean earthquake


source: DiarioUChile

source: DiarioUChile

Hugo Romero, recently given a national prize in geography for his contributions to research, remarked on the unsolved issues regarding urban development after the earthquake. He firstly signals the lack of information which may help evaluate more precisely the extent of the segregation pattern. Nevertheless, Hugo leaves clear such catastrophic events can also exacerbate already divided or segregated cities. link

Ethnic geographies: the case of Los Angeles from Soja’s perspective


(Images of Los Angeles: Courtesy of Daily Mail and Google Maps)

Among the various discussions Soja (2000) suggests in his book Postmetropolis is his notion of an Exopolis (p250). He highlights the relevance of processes which de-centers cities, expands them, and provides a new reality to so many of the city dwellers. Soja’s analysis begins with Los Angeles, which is represented in the above images. Recently a publication of the Daily Mail (2010) evidences some of his views of cities as assemblages of enclaves (Soja, 2000:252). The newspaper published a series of maps which evidenced the divisive pattern of cities from an ethnic perspective. The revealing geographies of ethnic enclaves reinforce the importance of Soja’s question: what processes are involved in this form of city making? 


After a description of a city which emerges as a consequence of racial, class and gender divisions, Soja also provides details of various mechanisms through which democratic citizenship and the right to the city is possible to obtain.  Among the selected examples is the BRU/NAACP lawsuit against the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). The BRU and NAACP, by using the civil rights legislation, argued that “particular populations if transit dependent bus drivers were being discriminated against by the policies and investment patterns of the MTA” (p257). From this brief description of the lawsuit, three elements arise as relevant to allow a closer to democratic outcome of L.A.’s urban development. First, it is the capacity to organize (in this case Unions). Secondly, the capacity to form agreements and coalitions, or forms of sharing knowledge and resources. This allows to access higher levels of knowledge, technology and form part of expensive processes which otherwise are not obtainable by poorer sectors of society.  Thirdly, institutional mechanisms which allow a relatively adequate environment for transparency and accountability.


Soja applies a critical appraisal of the expansion of the city. He leaves aside the successful discourses of real estate developers, and looks into the evolution of places beyond the “edge city”. this means areas sprawled or build considerably far from the traditional L.A. inner city. The map provides a general view of those places suggested as running down middle class areas. he uses four aspects to evaluate and build his arguments: housing (the cost of them and who can access them), jobs (their amount, cuality and distance), transport (commuting time and effects over people and neighborhood sustainability) and environment (lost grassland and wetlands prior to developments, loss of connectivity among central and distant urban areas).  Indeed, much of the issues which might have characterized inner city (poverty, lack of individual investment on property, public fiscal deficit, scarcity of economic initiatives, loss of job concentration, far from jobs, exodus of residents, increasing sense of insecurity, etc) are also present in areas such as Lancaster, Palmdale, Moreno Valley and Antelope Valley in general.

Far from a positive outcome, thee places suggest a difficult outcome to the form of urban expansion, which may well be applied to many cities around the world. this expansionist model is reflected in the urbanization of the world. The fact is that most people live in cities today. just recently we tilted over the 50% of the world’s population living in urban environments. with this fact in mind, Soja’s perspective raises the question how are we living in cities today? Although the diversity of cities may shade the possible applications of Soja’s L.A. picture, the Exopolis effect can be identified in most countries which have restructuring processes. urbanization is after all a phenomena which is closely linked to economic growth. Indeed, and places such as those mentioned as conflict previously, also indicate the fragility of urban economic development.


Paying attention to the local

Paying attention to the local

This new NGO, managed by the experienced public policy expert Luis Marin, represents an attempt to provide information and a support to the idea that locality matters. localc information, local knowledge and actors, places, etc., are relevant in the implementation of state tier or global level policies and programs. Without such information, it is less probable for policies to succeed. Local actors have an understanding of how its locality functions which can facilitate or mediate a better landing of top down policies.

Finding past forms enclosure: the case of Santiago de Chile.


Image 1: retrieved from Google Maps, 10/10/2013.

Some time ago, the journalist Mauricio Becerra interviewed two Chilean researchers,  César Leyton y Cristián Palacios, about their collected data regarding past urban policies of Santiago. What is original about this study is its focus in the types of enclosure (Swyngedouw. 2011) and cleansing practices that the military coup of Chile, and the supporting political coalition, implemented in Santiago (and maybe other Chilean cities). Their findings highlight policies which were designed to disperse and segregate the poorest to specific areas of the city. Have a look at  the article (in Spanish), it signals where further research could be continued.

Extract from article, reply by Cesar Leyton: “The dictatorship took the Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna (BVM) project at the end of the century to a massive scale. The BVM model is liberal. a segregative social model attributed to scientific conceptions such as “hygienic” spaces, understood as the process of separating de sick and the poor from the rich and healthy so as not to affect the model of production which was developing with the industrialisation. BVM talks of building a sanitary wall which divides the city and builds around the informal settlements (barriadas) where the migrants from the country (or fields) would live in, as well as in the north, areas such as the Chimba. The idea was o establish a new order, a reorganization of the neighbourhoods in the south, demolish the conventillos and “ranches”, finish with the African horde as they were called at than time. It is a large scale project that the BVM will be conceiving as a wall in practice, as a boulevard which divides the spaces through a large artery, an 11 km wall which eventually becomes te Americo Vespucio Highway, Campor de Marte (now  Parque O’higgins) and Mapocho river in th north, up to the cemetery…” (translated by author)


Probably one of the original approaches this research has is identifying the agency not as a specific actor or institution, as ANT or assemblage theory have provided in existing literature. They highlight what is called Geopolitics as the relevant ideology or theory justifying the design of urban policies. a form of though which characterizes the military education, where the state, its role and the relation it should have with its inhabitants are defined.  geopolitics emerges as the logic behind the cleansing policies, which operate at various levels of urban policies. In part they are directly opening spaces to zoning which have a segregative effect.

Other policies with which geopolitic interacted were Hernando de Soto´s theories. By the 70´s, urban rate of migration was already high, and the access to housing, transport, jobs, health and education were building up as a crisis. Therefore a formalization approach ha to be developed. This was a chance to expand the application of de Soto´s theories too. Much of the solutions provided to the new Santiaguinos was based on economic incentives and a place with a house from which entrepreneurship and self-sustaining processes should naturally emerge. With an new economics, the chances would eventually trickle-down to most of the Chileans.

For those concerned with space (such as geographers an architects), forms of enclosure could be related to this form of thinking the world. It opens up a new perspective regarding the elitism which hs perpetuated in the design of Santiago historically. The relation between the “part” and the “whole” (as suggested by DeLanda (2006); Harvey, 1996) is reflected in the relation between the physical design of the city and this specific ideology (among other schools of thought) promoted through the dictatorship.

The image which is displayed in this article reflects various elements used in the past and today to separate society. it is possible to observe both built and natural barriers used as segregationist elements. what is included into the map, apart from those elements recognized by Becerra´s interview, is the slopes of the Andes to the east of Santiago´s valley, and the Cerro San Cristobal. both are relevant elements which geographically, are sued to separate areas of Santiago, marking development areas from those which slowly decay in time with a mid and low income sector of the urban society. the new highways which evidence the asymmetries of power within the city (it passes under the ground level in high income areas, and over the ground level in low income boroughs) are a new set of conditions which perpetuate physical segregation tools. the development of gated communities also form a relevant instrument which may be affecting how Santiago´s urban society literal and physical develops its relations.

Not less relevantly, Geo politics coexisted amongst other ideologies, intertwining and producing a distinctive “Chilean” form of policy making during the dictatorship. Neo-liberalism in Chile as observed today was decided at east two years after the coup began. And connections between other coups in the region (even with the apartheid) established eventually. Therefore, geopolitics is used also as a tool to link with other regional main stream ideologies, connecting military institutions, n becoming a a mainstream thinking elements which may also have permeated into the supporting political parties.

Informal settlements and space: what could a government report tell us about their geography?


Recently, data regarding the perseverance of informal settlement has been gathered in Chile by the current government. Graphic 1 and Map 3 shows several hundreds of informal settlements recently mapped.  According to this source, informal settlements tend to concentrate around specific regiones in Chile, close to the largest urban agglomerations, and within the economic macro-region of the country (circled in blue). Although the concentration of poblaciones (informal settlements) in specific regions of Chile is clear, they are also scattered within, around and in the outskirts of the city itself. This provides evidence of a spatial relation between the economic macro region and development of informality (expressed as settlements). It also suggests a relation between urban development processes and social exclusion processes. The dispersal of settlements around large urban areas could also be related, as suggested by César Leyton y Cristián Palacios[1] as an outcome of current policies of deviation, which bounce-off the attempts of pobladores to access the city. According to the authors, it perpetuates policies which were directed at pobladores (informal settlement dwellers) as a form of ordering the city according to class during the Pinochet military coup. Today, the dispersal of poblaciones may resemble a form of reducing migration pressures by providing housing out of the areas where major rent potentials can be obtained.

In a post from last year, Valeria asked what Informality means. Looking back at my answer, I do have some modifications to make. I still sustain that a good simple approach is Informal is whatever is not formal. Nevertheless, Valerias question is a central one to various authors. Much of the work done today to approach the issue of increasing numbers of poorer areas of the city is identifying the “external” factors which induce them. Indeed, Roy (year), Robinson (year), Sugranyes (year) and many other authors all sustain an view that the term “informal” is a social construction. Indeed, by focusing additionally on these agents apparently outside the place where less resourced groups live evidences quite a different cause of poverty.

“Informality” as Sugranyes mentions, may be a term that we can agree upon to talk about the same thing. But it also comes usually from a group which has access to power and resources. Therefore, the outcome may eventually end up reinforcing the traditional and conservative policies directed towards the poorest in society. unfortunately, this approach makes sense and it is a valid interpretation to why “informality” is expanding.this approach may be ore helpful in clarifying how, those in power, define what is part of their world and what is not. .

It is relevant, therefore, to disclose in what ways this relation is built, or constructed. And my current PhD work goes towards looking at the institutional construction of this relationship. I’ll edit this answer the coming days, but main ideas are in place…

[1] Becerra, M. Las olvidadas erradicaciones de la dictadura. Retrieved 2013/09/26 from: http://www.elciudadano.cl/2012/12/17/61685/las-olvidadas-erradicaciones-de-la-dictadura/