urban planning

Territorio y patogenos:

Mapeando las bacterias y enfermedades en el sistema de transporte de Nueva York. fantastica forma de vincular la salud con el transporte. Claramente esto se debiera hacer aca en UK y en Chile tambien. Da otra mirada a como mantener limpio el metro, ademas de los riezgos asociados a la salud a sus usuarios. Un mapeo serio debiera inlcuso ayudar a definir la cobertura en el sistema de salud de los trabajadores del metro la verdad.

 Its a fantastic way of linking health and transport. It should clearly be done in Santiago, London or any other large scale transport system. It provides an understanding of the health risks for users. moreover, a good Pathomap should influence the kinds of medical treatment that are available for Underground workers. 


Housing crisis, or distribution crisis?


The media is just flooded with news regarding the housing crisis. It’s in every newspaper, every day, and the (only) message we receive is a need to build more housing. But it takes just a small sticker to appreciate the problem differently. The amount of empty housing  highlighted in this sticker contradicts significantly with the data provided by various public and private institutions. It suggests a redistribution crisis rather than a housing one. And the solution may not lead to perpetuate public-private-Partnerships or growth regimes to “fix” the scarcity of dwellings. Indeed, it is relevant to be a bit more aware to how media guides the discussions regarding housing infrastructure. For it is no coincidence solutions are skewed towards conservative economics or neo-classical solutions. [Although I have not verified the source of the sticker’s data] citizens will always benefit from the inclusion of different perspectives,  for it helps us decide better what position to take in an issue which involves an important public spending and policy orientation.

Mas vivienda o mas equidad en la redistribución de recursos?

Para los que leemos y vemos los medios de UK habitualmente, sabemos que la escasez de vivienda en Londres es noticia diaria. Gran parte de la discusión eventualmente termina en sugerencias como construcción de más viviendas; la urgencia de by-pasear la normativa existente para conseguir espacio “extra” de ciudad; o a lo más hacer notar que faltan viviendas con mas piezas, de tipo familiar. Creo que lo mas inclusivo de los medios es reconocer que hay un proceso de desplazamiento o expulsión de los que ganan menos fuera de los centros con mayor empleo, en particular de Londres. Pero poca iniciativa existe para introducir en al discusión aproximaciones mas progresistas para entender el panorama de la vivienda de forma mas amplia.

Y es por eso que este sticker, que descubrí en el Centro de Londres pegado a un poste, resulta relevante porque nos da otra mirada al mismo problema. Más que seguir pensado en construir, expandir y densificar en el nombre del crecimiento económico, porque no redistribuir los recursos que ya existen como parte importante de la solución? Creo que hay una mirada tan sesgada de los medios que no es casualidad y hay que tener cuidado de tragársela acá en UK. Creo que es importante valorar esta mirara que propone este sticker  “fuera de la caja” (out of the box), que permite dar con conclusiones un poco mas sensatas para un problema de todos. Gracias http://www.afed.org.uk/

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.

Fire in Valparaiso: It’s no coincidence that the poor were the worst affected

Source: Reuters

Source: Reuters

Ignacia Ossul: ” In a system where the poor are omitted from the decision making process and access to social rights are regulated largely by market values, it is evident that their ability to choose is constrained by a lack of economic resources and social exclusion.”

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?

Fiebre en la Ciudad

balham health centre

Ayer mi hijo de un año tuvo fiebre. Volaba sobre 38. Estábamos preocupados y con poco tiempo que perder.  Una opinión de un doctor era necesaria.

Pero viviendo en un lugar que no llega a ser del todo familiar no es tan sencillo. Vivo en Londres sin auto, ajustado de plata, y  todavía no entiendo del todo cómo funciona el sistema de salud.  Finalmente llevamos al peque al hospital del barrio y un especialista nos dio la receta y dosis necesaria. El peque está bien y nosotros ya con ganas de pegarnos una siesta descomunal.

En realidad la clave de nuestra tranquilidad fue tener el pequeño centro de salud en nuestro barrio. Es más, es la cantidad de servicios y la calidad de ella que nos dio a nosotros, que vivimos más apretados acá en el Reino Unido, tranquilidad. Si no me equivoco, esto se llama calidad de vida.

Pensando en mi otra ciudad, Santiago, sé que es conocida por tener áreas con poca infra pública para la salud. Y la que hay no siempre tiene una gran gama de servicios y tratamiento disponibles. Creo que después de experiencias como la mía se me hace cada vez más difícil entender la falta de compromiso tanto del sector privado como del público para abastecer a lo que impacta tan fuerte en la calidad de vida. Realmente este aspecto le da sentido a los temas de “Well Being” y “Health” que tanto se habla hoy en día. Esta idea de estar esperando a que el sector privado comience a encontrar rentable un sector de bajos recursos es como tratar de encajar una pieza de lego cuadrada sobre una redonda… (Me refiero a que no encajan). Tal como vamos, polarizando los ingresos, no creo que es el consumidor del sur y oeste de Santiago se conviertan en grupos atractivos para inversión privada de un momento a otro.

Si bien vivo como clase media-alta en Chile, no es así en Londres. Y tener acceso a buena salud simplemente nos cambia la vida. Es pasar por la urgencia de encontrar una opinión de calidad, que no te genere crisis financiera, que entiendan mis problemas de transporte las que me renuevan mis “votos” por un sistema diferente de distribución de recursos en Chile.

Courtesy of Duncan Crary

Hecho de menos este tipo de análisis en el desarrollo urbano. Un análisis que provenga a partir de vivir en la ciudad y de experimentar como funciona en realidad.  Es mas bien una perspectiva como el del ventanal, mas que “top-down” como dicen por aca (mapa de Santiago).  Sin tener nada en contra de este plano, pero me cuesta ver los problemas que pasamos para obtener cosas si no nos ponemos en un plano mas a “nivel de suelo”.

La ciudad es diversidad, y lo duro comienza porque se vive muy distinto dependiendo de que familia provengas, de cuanto ganes, de quien conozcas. Es esta manera de estar permanentemente tratando distinto al “otro” la que veo reflejado en el desarrollo urbano, por mucha norma que sigamos produciendo para regularla. De la misma manera que llegue a Londres en búsqueda de un grado más competitivo educacional (que claramente me dejara en una elite, lo se)  a esta ciudad (y Santiago) gente también llega para encontrar estabilidad y certeza. Y siento que producimos una ciudad donde muchos simplemente se “pierden” buscando estas dos cosas tan elementales. Por eso me hace sentido que Friedmann (2010)  compare la urbe con un laberinto. Al menos para algunos lo es.

labyrinth image Courtesy of Google Images

(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.