Informal cities, also sometimes known as slums, informal settlements, shantytowns, are “off-the-map” urban communities: undocumented, illegal, mobile, ephemeral, and generally beyond the reach of the law, government services, and infrastructure. While typically viewed as a tragic blight on the global urban landscape, these settlements also reflect a resilience and vitality that may offer instructive insights for global development efforts.
The realities, challenges, and lessons of informal cities in Latin America are the topic of a symposium co-sponsored by the University of Miami’s Center for Latin American Studies and School of Architecture, to be held November 8 – 10, 2012.
According to the World Bank, global population has increased since World War II from 2 to 5.5 billion, and nearly all this growth has taken place in the developing world, where the urban population is now about 1.7 billion. Most of these urban dwellers live in informal cities.
In Latin America, as in the rest of the world, the prevailing view of these irregular settlements is that they are undifferentiated pockets of misery, wracked by poverty, crime and unsanitary conditions—an unfortunate but inevitable waste product of uncontrolled urban growth.
However, notes Ariel Armony, director of the Center for Latin American Studies, “These settlements are often sites of dynamic informal economies that benefit not only the citizens of the community but the greater city in which they are situated. When seen from this vantage point, informal cities are testaments of the ingenuity and practical wisdom of its settlers, who do so much with so little.”
“Informal cities are undeniably precarious and subject to serious problems of violence and discrimination,” notes Adib Cure, an assistant professor at the School of Architecture who is, along with Carie Penabad, an associate professor at the school, is an organizer of the event. “Yet they also exhibit underlying urban and architectural patterns of remarkable resilience that, moreover, reflect their inhabitants’ enduring cultural values.”
The Informal Cities symposium will cast a broader lens on this pressing global phenomenon by integrating the expertise, ideas and experiences of University of Miami scholars in a variety of disciplines including public health, economics, law, geography, sociology, urban planning/architecture, media/technology, public policy, social welfare, cultural industries, and so on. Consistent with the mission of the Center for Latin American Studies, the event will also seek to connect a range of fundamental themes affecting the current conditions and future of Latin America’s growing informal cities and by extension the global urban population.
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