Densifying Buildings or People? The contradictions of Bogotá’s socially stratified densification

Presented at the ACSP Annual Conference 2016 in Portland, OR; and the World Planning Schools Conference 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


(Click in the image above to see the presentation)

During the 20th century, Bogotá, Colombia, and other Latin American cities became characterized by extreme social and geographic polarization between rural migrants and urban elites. In Bogotá, elites primarily located in the north close to transit infrastructure, services and employment opportunities, while low-skilled migrants settled in neighborhoods in the south with limited services, in environmentally polluted areas, and far from the central business districts. These patterns of social and geographic polarization have translated into differences in built form between elite areas, which are characterized by suburban homes and multi family buildings; and low-income areas dominated by neighborhoods of informal origin and self-help housing. These differences in built form include different sized lots, building footprints and heights, differences in facade elements and materials, and different street, sidewalk and park dimensions.

In Bogotá, these differences in built form between higher income and lower income areas are so pronounced that they have been used as a basis for the so-called Stratification system. This national policy was developed in the 1980s as a social equity tool to distribute subsidies to low-income groups for utility payments. It is based on the classification of urbanized land in six different levels, or “strata,” based on building characteristics at the block level. Although this policy was intended for utility subsidies, during the past twenty years, Stratification has become extensively used to classify households for distribution of other financial support, including property tax breaks, housing subsidies, and education grants. Stratification has also been used as a reference for land use plans and building regulations, resulting in the disaggregation of the city into areas characterized by different physical form, housing typologies, and mix of businesses and urban amenities. In addition, the production of spatial divisions based on income levels has contributed to the perception of wealth differentiation between different urban areas, exacerbating spatial segregation in Bogotá with a variety of severe social, political and economic implications that include over-pricing of middle and higher income areas, generational social immobility, concentration of poverty and unequal access to employment and urban services.

However, very limited research has been conducted to assess the effects of Stratification in the recent urban development of the city. Furthermore, no research has addressed the ways in which developers are both perpetuating and disrupting the traditional residential segregation patterns in Bogotá, and conversely, how Stratification may have shaped developers’ strategies. While research has determined that Stratification has become embedded in social codes and reproduced residential segregation, it is not clear how Stratification influences the decisions of developers and hence how it impacts unevenly the built form and urban redevelopment in the north and south of Bogotá. I used a mixed methods approach that included exploratory spatial data analysis and interviews with developers to approach these questions. My study contributes to current research on the impact of neoliberal policies on urban development in Colombia and elsewhere in the developing world. I also seek to inform the debate about how the built form influences patterns of residential segregation and/or gentrification in Latin America.

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Role: Principal Researcher

Software: SketchUP; ArcGIS; MS Office; R




About juanyunda

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

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