urban planning

Looking back to go forward: Latin American Gentrification?

shattered glass

Reviewed: 08/11/2013. Image2: The city as a shattered mirror of styles. Courtesy of 123RF. Retrived from www.123rf.com/ 25/10/2013.

In  two recent articles, Francisco Sabatini (2007) and Francisca Ward (2012)  mention that Santiago serves as a good example of what they consider Latin American gentrification. Both authors separately claim this entails a form of expanding the city which historically does not involve displacement of lower income groups by higher income ones. Various aspects are positive regarding this perspective about how gentrification and city expansion relate. Firstly, there is an attempt in finding a new form of gentrification which takes into account the processes of a particular city within a specific region. Secondly, it is an alternative reading of the consequences of horizontal urban development, looking at how social relations are affected during the city’s transition from a city to a mega city. Much of Santiago has actually been developed in the last 70 years, which makes the city relatively “young”. During this period of expansion (and still expanding but at a lower rate today),  Sabatini et al.’s identifies no significant gentrification process at a city scale. Thirdly, it offers a well studied phenomena at a city scale, built over evidence-based data which covers much (if not all) the metropolitan area.

Although the title of the original article alludes to history, the theory sidesteps various issues. This article will look at three. Firstly, Sabatini et al’s theory implies imagining a city where higher income groups expand in areas which were not used by lower income groups previously. And a valley of Santiago, which is vast, without relevant previous history of occupancy. Nevertheless, this could be answered by including a commonly known event of Santiago’s history: the program Operacion Sitio (Garces, 2002). Operacion Sitio was developed during the Allende’s presidency. It is a program based in the popular practices of squattering and building self made housing (today known as informal settlements or Tomas). Although the program is a form of political propaganda, it allowed poorer sectors of society to “occupy” a variety of areas in the valley. The provided areas or sitios (plots of land drawn on the ground for each family) covered most sectors of the valley of Santiago. Some of them in the north and east, areas which today are occupied by the wealthiest groups. 

Eventually, most of the north and east sitios were evicted during the Pinochet Regime. Among the range of strategies, probably the most known one is Programa de viviendas básicas de erradicación de campamentos. This eviction program served both as a repressive and dispersal mechanism which left the previously occupied lands north and east of Santiago available for real estate firms. Pobladores were evicted in general to the south and west of the Valley. The evicted areas were eventually developed by through the Chilean PPP model, which allowed a flexible and segregationist form of catering income groups. The evicted areas were provided to (and still is) the mid and high income groups predominantly. Therefore, the supply side of the urban expansion and policy environment are significant variables to associate gentrification and urban expansion.

Additionally, projects which came after the pobladores’ eviction such as the Benjamin Vicuhna Mackena  (BVM) provide a different reading to the inner-city shaping process. The BVM suggests a relevant re-ordering of social relations based on strategic inner city physical transformations. This re-organization of space and uses undermine a simplistic view of significant past displacements in Santiago. It also evidences the active role of the state to set the basis of how the spatial structure of social relations are to develop in the next decades.

I we look even further back in history, de Ramon (1991) shows the displacement of the urban poor between center an periphery has been going on for a while in Santiago. Santiago in the 1900’s was formed of a center and a few surrounding towns. By that time a significant number of poorer urban groups  were been displaced from periphery to central areas, due to rising land prices in the surrounding towns (Providencia, Nunoa and Las Condes for example). The conventillo/cite legacy is an evidence of this displacement in Santiago Centro. By the way, the cites were built through the real estate firms sector of the time, based on financial programs designed by the state to “improve living conditions”of the poor. Eventually, in the 1920s and 30s, most of the Conventillo enclosures of poor would be bulldozed by the state, obliging those living in them to once again look for shelter in the peripheries. It was by 1950s that land take overs or “Tomas” alarmed the elite mid and high income groups, due to its level of social organization and resistance to evictions.

The trigger of these house-centered social movements were a mix of class and state led displacements, which left with little chance to live either in central or periphery areas. Such displacements will continue in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s with a varying degree of acknowledgment by elites and the state in the struggle to live in the city. It was really during Allende that location and particpative aspects changed radicalley, but came back to almost null participation during the dictatorship.

Still today, the remaining Conventillos are slowly displaced by urban regeneration, as well as the young professionals seeking trendy parts of central Santiago to live in. state-led programs will continue to be a relevant variable to explain location outcomes of the poor urban groups; not just through an effect of seeking low rent sectors due to rising land prices. All these historical accounts make it hard to separate in Chile a pure class displacement from institutional displacement, specially when the state forms a class in itself. We could even classify most of the state interventions in the last century as: (2) assisting the accommodation of displacement, (2) initiating the displacement; (3) or a mix of both.

Secondly, the first point is useful to highlight that cities are a significant part of how we build and perceive a common history which shapes the identity of urban dwellers. Changing the perception of how the city was developed justifies how ongoing processes treat different groups in society. There are various dangers to generalizing a city’s history as Sabatini et al’s et al’s article provides. It does not consider the city as a multiplicity of agendas and actors (Mcfarlane, 2011), which do not necessarily agree upon an agenda, and sometimes just have to “go along” (Holman, 2007) with one. History shows the city as a site of social tensions and political disputes. A city where various mechanisms and systems (not necessarily based on land markets) operate to solve differences among urban dwellers; not necessarily in participation or democratic terms, even during democracy. Santiago, far from being a unitary element, is formed by different styles of urbanization, like a shattered mirror, representing different interests and forms of city building. Many identities within the same entity.

Thirdly, a non-conflictive city is a reading of the city that Sabatini et al’s article suggests. But this reading is relative if we consider the wide range of displacements programs that have structured Santiago. Indeed, the city is also about how one group perceives the “other” and they do about it. Therefore, the “otherness” as Harvey mentions (1996) should be subject of inquiry too. In this sense, the perception of a conflict-less expansion of a city may make sense to some groups, think tanks and policy makers. But taking into account the previous examples it does not represent the experience nor the collective memory of all Santiaguinos.

Sabatini et al’s discussion could, for example, take a direction towards understanding how much has government-led displacement shapes Latin American cities. The answer may lie in Lopez and Shin’s (ongoing) research regarding gentrification in Latin America. Other aspects that could be included (or not-excluded) in the perception of how Latin American cities develop is find out why inner city migration exists. This issue may carry us to question how involved should a government be in gentrification. And how much should be decided by the supply-side of the housing industry (both public and private sectors), as suggested by Lopez (2011). Lopez suggests that who structures local markets and how matters in gentrification, specially in central Santiago. As much as Sabatini et al. suggest the expansion of the city has more to do with a general demand-side or social force driven gentrification, avoiding the variable of supply -side or public-private partnership could mislead us from a relevant underpinning factors of gentrification in this city.

Finally,  what is proposed in this article is that focusing on process, as Sabatini et al does, is crucial to understand and evaluate the outcome of the city. Nonetheless, how the concept used to analyze the processes is carved out should be looked at more in detail. As it is defined, it also interprets the type of events that are observed. If gentrification is defined differently, or linked to a broader processes, such as displacement processes in general, a wider range of events may emerge in the study of urban development. Events such as the ones provided in this article. They may not even be labeled just as gentrification: forced eviction, forms of enclosure, dispersal tactics and repression. Recognizing them does provide a different insight on the observed process: urban expansion. Therefore there is a discretionary element to how theory is carved out that should not be missed.

This article proposes that the issue brought by Sabatini et al. has an alternative approach to generalize about cities. Lopez & Shin’s research propose one, which is extensive and covers many cities within a region. Comparative work is a key aspect. This research suggests that history is relevant, but how events are selected to build generalizations should also form part of research. It is after all a process of conceptualizing the “other”. The issue here is making a general reading of the city which does not support the process of excluding through discourse the multiplicity of urban experiences in Santiago. Although this informal article and Sabatini et al’s published article use similar periods of time, the conclusion of the displacement processes in Santiago are significantly different. Looking back can provide an understanding how the social relations are set out in territory today. But to go forward researchers should include (at least) what are the limitations in how data is selected and generalizations built.

Advertisements

http://www.sdinet.org/blog/2013/10/9/financing-slum-upgrading/

http://www.sdinet.org/blog/2013/10/9/financing-slum-upgrading/

Cerrojo means a lock in Spanish . And a lock is what people today are finding when exploring how far they can get through democracy.

Enclosureis the term that inspires the name of this Blog. It makes reference to the question in social science how the “part” and the “whole” relates.

All disciplines attempt answering this question. More specifically, I pay attention to what keeps change from happening (Harvey, 1996). And when change (such as social movements) is successful, how it manage to influence upwardly.

I invite everyone who (does and does not) share  similar interests  and thoughts to have a go. My undergrad is architecture, I also studied economics for some time, Political sciences and specializing now in urban issues.

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

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)

2013/10/13

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?

Image

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/