Sunday, 27 Sep 2020

Social Housing and Metropolitan in Latin America

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Social Housing and Urban System in Latin America

Latin America, cities are taking the lead. With the greatest populations and economic output concentrated in large-scale metropolises, there is a real sense that the largest cities are outgrowing their national contexts. Most of whose population is in need of social housing due to their low income.

Oaxaca in southern Mexico is one of the most economically marginal states in the country, with a large portion of its population requiring social housing. This has been further exacerbated by the widespread adoption of a suburban American social housing model that has led to local communities becoming socially and culturally alienated. At Tlacolula, in Oaxaca, Dellekamp Architectonics describe how they have set out to create a social housing development that engenders locality and a sense of community through a traditional barrio neighborhood design.

Tlacolula is a social housing development project that bets on locality: it interprets ancestral solutions embedded in local traditional architecture, speaks to the local aspiration model by integrating culturally rich uses of public and private space, and aims at creating an urban system that grows and adapts to the community’s needs. Currently under construction, the 1,200-unit project by Dellekamp Arquitectos, for local private developer Novaterra Inmobiliaria, is located 26 kilometres (16.1 miles) from the city of Oaxaca, Mexico, most of whose population is in need of social housing due to their low income.

Social Housing and Metropolitan in Latin America - photo 1

Social housing in Latin America

Latin America Housing

Although the region has exploited its long-standing traditions to attract tourism, social housing development has culturally and socially alienated local communities. Developers across the country have purblind implemented a distortion of the suburban American housing model that as proven unsuitable to local conditions. When made to fit native constraints, this model has led to isolated, overcrowded neighborhoods severed from major city services and cultural hubs.1 By fragmenting informal social networks and stagnating social mobility, the overall effect has been to undermine the communities’ identity and wrest long-term surplus value from them and transfer it to property. The standardized model systemically produces ‘block dwellers’ rather than ‘city dwellers’. Moreover, it is environmentally detrimental: it overlooks climate restrictions, public health, service quality, local resources, workplace commutes, education availability and the social fabric.

Tlacolula proposes a viable alternative model that hinges on community engagement to facilitate civic integration and aspiration expression. Houses are designed as an ecosystem that leads to a site-specific, sustainable and self-sufficient eco-social setup that integrates transport hubs and commercial, service and green areas. The project of  social housing follows four main strategies. First, it actively engages residents, giving them a voice in how their community is developed. Second, it draws from vernacular building forms and idioms – a sense of place and belonging is key to preserving the spirit of community. Third, it creates a system rather than a grid – plots, walkways and streets facilitate informal social networks while clearly defining the private realm through a framework for individual expression. Finally, it provides a network of open public spaces to establish a well-defined civic realm where public spaces function as an integral part of the community’s self-image and identity.

Tlacolula restores community through traditional barrio neighborhood design. Courtyard exterior circulation, one of the idioms of local barrio design, frees up 50 per cent of each unit’s plot. The houses delineate traffic-free roads and are connected through a network of walkways that interweave service and green spaces. Streets and parking areas have been pushed to the periphery to create a pedestrian-friendly environment that reduces car use.

Social Housing and Metropolitan in Latin America - photo 2

Social housing in Latin America

Produced using local materials and to suit different income levels, the units can be articulated into a panoply of patterns. The system of shifting modules yields benefits such as collective shading and cross ventilation, and the houses also employ other simple energy-reduction practices such as solar heaters and rainwater collection. All vegetation is local and irrigated with rainwater harvested and filtered through permeable pavements. The flexible nature of this system allows it to adapt and shift to accommodate different topographic conditions, climates and family settings. The dwellings are designed to grow, within a predetermined set of construction guidelines, with home-owners’ needs, to increase the value of their housing patrimony. The result is affordable, sustainable, opportunity-filled housing within a community that supports its residents and their requirements.

Housing in Latin America. Governing Change

In 21st-century Latin America, cities are taking the lead. With the greatest populations and economic output concentrated in large-scale metropolises, there is a real sense that the largest cities are outgrowing their national contexts. In many cases, power has been devolved at a municipal level. This has enabled mayors to implement infrastructural and transport projects. As Ricky Burdett and Adam Kaasa highlight in their discussion of two particular initiatives in São Paulo and Mexico City, it has also opened the way for innovative new community projects. Social housing in Latin America.

The Metropolitan Revolution and social housing in Latin America.

Social housing in Latin America. For thousands of years Latin America has been a region of cities, but also a region of change. Whenever governments change, or empires come and go, those same cities remain, often taking on different social roles and physical shapes. Change makes lucid the relationship between people, architecture and the form of their cities, and the agents that govern them. In 1535, Lima, then known as La Ciudad de los Reyes, came into existence as one of the most important early port cities of the Spanish Empire, shifting the centre of power in the region from Cuzco, the capital of the Inca Empire deep in the Andes, to the primacy of coastal trade. From 1815 to 1821, Rio de Janeirobecame the capital city of the Portuguese Empire when royals fled from Lisbon during the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. And São Paulo, a small and relatively unpopulated outpost at the turn of the last century, transformed as fast as the movement of capital into one of the largest metropolitan regions in the Americas. This is a region of endemic change but constant cities.

Social Housing and Metropolitan in Latin America - photo 3

Social housing in Latin America

Over 200 years ago, revolutionary leaders across Latin America took up arms against their colonial rulers. By 1840 the modern map of Latin America was redrawn. From old world empires to new-world nations – Colombia and Peru, Argentina and Brazil – the region’s nation-states as we know them today were carved out of the vice royalties of Spain and Portugal. Governance in Latin America seems to have come in waves of scale, moving from empires of conquest to nations of revolution. Social housing in Latin America. Perhaps now a third governance revolution is taking place, one that will transform the architecture and urban realms of those cities as drastically as did the move from the lake city of Tenochtitlán at the heart of the Aztec Empire, to Mexico at the center of the vice royalty of New Spain, to Mexico City as exemplar of the modern urban condition of the 21st century. This revolution is a metropolitan one.

Social Housing in Latin America. Complexity and Change

Comparing Latin American Cities From a distance, a metropolitan revolution in Latin America reveals certain similarities, two of which stand out. First, most of the larger Latin American cities concentrate percentages of population and economic output that far outweigh their national averages.1 While cities have been magnets for investment and trade throughout the region’s history, they now appear to be outgrowing their national contexts. This is not to say that Lima is no longer in need of the national framework afforded by Peru, but it does imply that social and economic policies created at the national level no longer make scalar sense for the complexities of large individual cities. Cities are the drivers of change in the 21st century.

Second, while the wealth and centrality of cities has long been subject to the political use and abuse of empire, or of national governments, recent devolution has increased real governmental authority in leadership at the local scale. Since 1997, for example, citizens of Mexico City have been able to elect their mayor directly for the first time in that city’s history, even though he is responsible for the central Federal District (Distrito Federal) that contains about one-third of the 22 million population that spills over on to the state of Mexico. Previously appointed by the national government, the mayor of Mexico City DF remains one of the most important offices in the country, now with the local legitimacy and endorsement of its constituents. Social housing in Latin America.

Social Housing and Metropolitan in Latin America - photo 4

Social housing in Latin America

Social housing in Latin America. A similar constitutional amendment in Argentina in 1993 created the autonomous city of Buenos Aires with the power to elect its own leadership. In 2007, the city embarked on a new decentralization scheme, creating new comunas managed by seven-member elected committees. These have authority over social and cultural policies at the neighborhood level as well as the management of green spaces and secondary roads.

In Brazil, the 2001 federal Statute of the City gave more power to local government to use master planning to avoid being held ransom by urban land markets. Social housing in Latin America. Yet still today the mayor of São Paulo, the country’s largest city and its economic engine, governs over only part of the buildup area of this vast urban plateau, while large sections are the responsibility of the governor of the larger state of São Paulo, who often has different priorities to the more localized interests of the city administration.

While the 1990s onward saw shifts towards greater metropolitan governance, there remained difficulty in regionally integrated decision-making within these metropolitan regions, let alone between the federal, state and metropolitan scales. However, the complexity and richness of the metropolitan introduces more textured analysis of the contemporary urban landscape than is often offered by more macroeconomic or planning analysis. It is true that urban and social change in large cities is never without national political consequence; still, these recent changes mark the important rise of local governance authority in Latin America and the move for national change to start at the local city scale. Social housing in Latin America.

A third striking similarity is the high levels of inequality, and the resulting spatial organisation of wealth and poverty. Many large and successful Latin American cities continue to act as funnels, consolidating rural populations into larger and larger conurbations, and yet the region remains one of the most unequal on the planet. Social housing in Latin America.

Social Housing and Metropolitan in Latin America - photo 5

Social housing in Latin America

Social housing in Latin America. Much of the growth remains on the outer edges of cities, like the Guarapiranga-Billings reservoirs in São Paulo, with little access to services or amenities. Central areas of cities also remain drastically divided, allowing multiple layers of a city to operate simultaneously and in the same spaces but with limited intersection. Gated residential communities and heavily guarded ‘public’ spaces like shopping centers have become legitimate responses to the reality of urban violence, creating a complex system of hierarchies of space within the city. Exclusive hypermobilities of extensive highway systems and overpasses, coupled with the inaccessibility of public transit and high land values, fracture the lived experience of the rich and the poor, thus affecting the physical layout of the city. Cities become the spatial distillation of gross inequalities. Still, these same cities play host to the saturated space of innovation and civic engagement where those inequalities begin to change.

City Different: Spatial Representation, Density and Transportation. Social housing

Latin American cities share certain urban conditions, like holding large concentrations of wealth and population, being at the center of recently devolved governance and being radically unequal. However, if we zoom in to the level of urban neighborhoods, each is incredibly complex. Compared to São Paulo or Buenos Aires, whose municipal administrative boundaries do not begin to account for their urban populations, the vast majority of Bogotá’s citizens live within these boundaries. This is a very important distinction. It means that municipal governments are able to make decisions and implement infrastructural and urban-planning changes or architectural design standards that will likely affect a very large proportion of their city’s larger population. Social housing in Latin America. For example, the overwhelming majority of Bogotá’s residents are served by the TransMilenio initiative, largely attributed to the mayoral leadership of Enrique Peñalosa who prioritized bus rapid transit over traditional rail-based metro transport and the massive infrastructure requirements of the private car.

The disjuncture between political administrative boundaries and the actual built-up area of a city offers challenges for devolved governmental decision-making, particularly with respect to quality of design, equity of space, city fi nances, control over growth, land use and transportation. At the same time, calls for metropolitan or regional governance bodies to coordinate large infrastructural decisions across these political lines are gaining salience. Social housing in Latin America.

Social Housing and Metropolitan in Latin America - photo 6

Social housing in Latin America

Social housing in Latin America. While density maps differ more slightly across our cities, when compared with the typology of buildings they reveal an incredible story. Take the two largest cities in Latin America, Mexico City and São Paulo, each with similar populations and average densities. Mexico City, however, has a peak density of over 48,300 people per square kilometre with São Paulo only reaching 29,380 people per square kilometre. Mexico City, we can say, has a building typology capable of accommodating larger concentrations of residents. The comparison becomes striking, however, when we look to the typologies prevalent in these two cities: São Paulo’s skyline is dominated by high-rise apartment blocks, while Mexico City’s is consistently low-rise. Urban form and density are therefore two important debates routinely juxtaposed, but not necessarily related.

Transportation infrastructures also differ greatly from city to city. Transport is a fundamental character in the life of a city, and the nuances of each system contain unique challenges that demand unique solutions. São Paulo and Buenos Aires have the largest proportions of people using cars for travel. In Mexico City and Lima, the majority of residents use mini-buses, while Rio de Janeiro has the most people who walk as their main form of mobility. In São Paulo and Buenos Aires, integrated planning mechanisms are required so that state and federal infrastructural decisions for the metropolitan regions, often beyond the city limits, support rather than hinder municipal transport goals. On the other hand, large national transport policies and frameworks are unlikely to reflect the subtleties of the terrain of Rocinha, the largest favela in Brazil, located on the hillside of Rio de Janeiro. Driven by auto-construction, basic sanitation and transport, infrastructure is better here than in most favelas across the country due to systematic local community intervention. Social housing in Latin America.

The relationship between official and lived city limits, social inequality, territory and urban form, density, urban morphology and transportation speaks to the complexity of urban conditions, and points us to the requirement for new and innovative devolved forms of integrated governance. Mayors are increasingly called into debates about environmental and social sustainability, urban infrastructure and social inequality. However, with built-up areas often crossing traditional administrative political borders of government, informal governance structures begin to exert influence on urban forms. Social housing in Latin America. With a growing rift between experts and citizens over what the priorities for city government should be, local civic leaders alongside community groups offer complementary systems of urban implementation.

Social Housing and Metropolitan in Latin America - photo 7

Social housing in Latin America

Equalising City Moves: Community Groups and Urban Change The first of these initiatives is the Cortiço Rua Solón, a raw, partially completed, concrete-frame multistorey structure. Abandoned after the death of the developer in the 1970s, the building housed a squatter community maintaining a precarious system of electrical and water supply and a very basic form of waste disposal. Social housing in Latin America. By the late 1990s, an overcrowded 70 families were living in all available spaces including the incomplete elevator shafts. This is an example of the wrong kind of density: a density of the vulnerable. The building needed improvement if this group of urban poor was going to keep a safe and habitable roof over their heads.


Social housing in Latin America. Its location in Bom Retiro

close to São Paulo’s central district, added formal developmental pressure, but the community reached out to form a unique partnership with local government, human rights groups and private enterprise, and with students from the University of São Paulo’s Faculty of Architecture. The result was a dedensifi cation process rehousing 30 families, and treatment of the collective electricity, water and sewage systems. Finally, with internal spaces cleaned and improved, the building’s facade was finished and a new name – Edifício União – was fixed to the bright-orange exterior. The revived state of the building, and the residents’ increased agency in making it happen, triggered a new-found motivation that led many of them to make improvements inside their own apartments. Far from a top-down governmental intervention that would likely have demolished the building and rehoused the residents in far-off public housing, as in Cidade Tiradentes, this kind of devolved governance, to the smallest of urban units, the building, showcases a renewed and revolutionary local civic engagement in São Paulo with great effect on building an inclusive built environment and social housing.

A second notable initiative brings us to the heart of the other largest metropolis of the Americas, Mexico City; or if not the heart, perhaps more like the fingertips. The Asamblea Comunitaria de Miravalle is a community-based project that runs a comprehensive set of cultural, health, environmental, educational and employment programmes within a low-income neighborhood on the southeastern outskirts of the city. Located in the borough of Iztapalapa and founded by indigenous people from different ethnic backgrounds who migrated to the city, Miravalle is another example of a partnership bringing together several local and metropolitan organisations. Social housing in Latin America.

Social Housing and Metropolitan in Latin America - photo 8

Social housing in Latin America

Social housing in Latin America. A project set up to collect and recycle two tonnes of PET plastic per week generates employment for some 30 local young people. A vegetable garden grows much of the food for their low-budget cantine, which provides affordable meals for over 300 members of the community. Art workshops, dance classes, a skateboarding court and educational programmes aimed at developing technological literacy sharpen the social impact of the center. Spatially transformation, among the partnership’s fi rst achievements was the transformation of a former waste dump into a well-used public space, complete with an amphitheater for community programmers. The precise scale of Miravalle’s governance intervention allows it to recover the notion of public space, helping to alleviate urban and social housing problems in the near future and reinvigorating the combination of urbanity and community.

Both Cortiço Rua Solón and the Asamblea Comunitaria de Miravalle are revolutionary forms of local governance operating in Latin American cities. What is pronounced is the resurgence of collective will to foster democratically run and accountable locally bound and responsive institutions. Perhaps the idea of a metropolitan revolution does not quite capture their resilience and impact. Still, the devolution of ideas and initiatives in the city towards citizen engagement is having lasting effects on urban and architectural interventions in cities across Latin America. Social housing in Latin America.

Deep History and the Metropolitan Impetus. Social housing

Next morning, we came to a broad causeway and continued our march towards Iztapalapa. And when we saw all those cities and villages built in the water, and other great towns on dry land, and that straight and level causeway leading to Mexico, we were astounded. These great towns and cues and buildings rising from the water, all made of stone, seemed like an enchanted vision from the tale of Amadis. Indeed, some of our soldiers asked whether it was not all a dream. It is not surprising therefore that I should write in this vein. It was all so wonderful that I do not know how to describe this first glimpse of things never heard of, seen or dreamed of before. Social housing in Latin America.

Social Housing and Metropolitan in Latin America - photo 9

Social housing in Latin America

Social housing in Latin America. Over 500 years ago, Bernal Díaz del Castillo, marching towards Iztapalapa with the armies of Hernan Cortés, encountered the dream-like, almost magical city of Tenochtitlán (later to become Mexico City) fl oating in the middle of a large lake. Tenochtitlán surpassed all other cities at the time, including Venice and Constantinople, with the size of its buildings and population, and the sheer incongruity of an entire city rising out of the water. Today, in that same neighbourhood of Iztapalapa, we encounter the Asamblea Comunitaria de Miravalle, a new kind of Latin America, and we are once again privy to ‘glimpse[s] of things never heard of, seen or dreamed of before’. It is a locally based dream.

This deep and local history is also a transnational one. Latin American cities are inherently multicultural. They are not just simply hybridities of an indigenous and European culture, the quintessential mestizo. Across Latin America, more than 200 indigenous languages are still spoken. These are deeply multicultural places. In Lima we might hear German, Hindi, Arabic and Japanese, not to mention the recently established official languages of Quechua and Aymara José de Souza. Social housing in Latin America.

Social Housing and Metropolitan in Latin America - photo 10

Social housing in Latin America

Social housing in Latin America. Martins writes of the transitive multiculturalism of São Paulo, a multiculturalism that is less about a national immigration policy and more about an urban condition to become someone new and different Newness and the capacity for difference are precisely the kinds of urban social and spatial sensibilities that are thriving across these cities, and reflected in the shifts in both informal and formal modes of governance.

We are witnessing the third large-scale revolution in governance in Latin America, from empire to nation to city. In terms of urban social change, Mexico City became the only place in Mexico to legalese abortion in 2007, and in 2009 it became the first jurisdiction in all of Latin America to legalese same-sex marriage. While same-sex unions have been recognized in Buenos Aires since 2002, it took eight years before the nation caught up with the city. Cities are beginning to grow impatient with the national norm. In terms of the physical, new forms of urban infrastructures move us into the realm of ordinary, everyday architectural interventions that operate one building or community garden at a time. The metropolitan revolution is upon us, and its impact is only beginning to be felt in the structures that will govern for complexity and change in Latin America’s cities. Social housing in Latin America.


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