Slum redevelopment in central areas of Latin American cities: comparative analysis of private-sector and state-driven planning approaches

Presentation at the ACSP Annual Conference 2014 in San Antonio, TX


(Click in the image above to see the presentation)

During the second half of the 20th century, the population of major cities in Latin America grew exponentially. Faced with increasing poverty and violence in the countryside, millions of rural migrants occupied the cities’ surroundings, settling in unattractive areas such as cliffs, landfills and riverbanks; lands which were prone to natural threats. Eventually, cities expanded to encircle these once peripheral settlements, creating centrally-located slums. As a result of their location and the scarcity of urban land available in today’s Latin American cities, these slums currently find themselves undergoing increasing development pressure and rising land costs.

There is a long tradition of research on this subject. Theoretical conceptualization regarding Latin American slums went through a number of different phases (Ward, 2010). In the 1960s, modernization theories laid the foundation for forced eviction and resettlement. In the 1970s, John F.C Turner’s (1976) work in Lima opened the door to new, more progressive policies aimed at formalizing previously informal settlements. Focusing on the flexibility of self-help housing and informal economies, scholars showed that strong community and family linkages made the slums fertile grounds to overcome severe poverty through innovative, local strategies (Gilbert and Ward, 1985). Inspired by this rethinking of the role of slums for urban development, subsequent governments in most cases introduced policies oriented towards legalization of informal settlements, land tenure provision and infrastructure upgrading.

However, once cities had regularized these neighborhoods, new social and economic pressures led to new challenges for the once illegal settlers. Tenure status in these barrios is now in flux, as land is being bought, sold, resettled or simply left in a permanent regulation vacuum. Limited research has been conducted to document and understand the social and physical implications of these rapid transformations in the land’s status in these settlements. Including how these redevelopments are undermining the flexibility and strength of existing community networks. Through a comparative case study of redevelopment strategies in Bogotá, Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires, this ongoing research aims to document the different planning discourses, approaches, and regulatory frameworks in each case. In order to analyze the role of divergent urban planning discourses in shaping transformations in land tenure, the built environment, and community networks. The approaches to redevelopment in the three cities range from private sector-oriented planning in Bogotá where brokers are free to slowly convert slums through private land acquisition; via state-driven planning that is turning shanties into apartment blocks along the riverfront of Pinheiros River in Sao Paulo; to Buenos Aires where informality thrives in the absence of comprehensive planning due to social and political confrontation. This study ultimately contributes to the understanding of the role of urban planning in the transformation of informal settlements in mega-cities of Latin America, focusing in particular on once peripheral settlements that are now increasingly becoming incorporated into the central city.


  • Ward, P. (2010). The Lack of “Cursive Thinking” Within Social Theory and Public Policy: Four Decades of Marginality and Rationality in the So-Called Slum. Roberts, B. and Wood, C. (eds) Rethinking Development in Latin America. Pennsylvania State University Press, pp. 271-96.
  • John F. C. Turner (1976). Housing by the people: towards autonomy in building environments. Marion Boyars
  • Gilbert, A. and Ward, P. (1985). Housing, Poverty and the State: Policy and Practice in Three Latin American Cities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Salcedo, R. (2010). The last slum: moving from the illegal neighborhood to home ownership in Chile. Urban Affairs Review, 46, 1.

Role: Principal Investigator

Software: Prezi


About juanyunda

Architect, M.Sc. Urban Studies. Interest: Urban Renewal Projects in Colombia, Austria, Germany, China and the U.S.

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