Landscape Strategies For Informal Settlements: Creating Armatures to Shape Urban Form

What are the best strategies to deal with informal settlements and the growing populations of urban poor? Previous research on post-informal settlements focused on retroactive strategies that upgrade existing conditions akin to a “small scale urban acupuncture.” Yet little emphasis has been given to pre-emptive strategies that address future growth. Landscape urbanism as an urban strategy, advocates for flexibility, continual re-arrangement, and flux:it thus has a strong potential for improving the lives of the urban poor through a nuanced understanding of how informal areas adapt and grow. The following is an interview with David Gouverneur, professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Landscape Architecture program, who has devoted his research to the study of landscape armatures as pre-emptive systems for the upgrading of the informal city. His insights provide a better idea of what these armatures are, how they perform, and how they can contribute to furthering the post-informal landscape urbanism discourse.

Leo Robleto Costante (LRC): In an increasingly urbanized world, why is it important to study landscape within the context of informal settlements? 

David Gouverneur (DG): The gap between the developed and the developing world is widening and the disparities are clearly manifested in the places in which people live and how these sites perform. In Asia, Africa and Latin America almost a billion people—one sixth of the world population and one third of urban dwellers—live in informal settlements, unplanned environments constructed by their own residents. According to the United Nations Human Settlements Program, it is expected that by 2030 this number will double. These staggering figures demand innovative approaches for dealing with this new scale of territorial occupation if we want to narrow down the disparities and therefore ameliorate social tension, resentment and violence, in a globalized world.

Different international organizations and authors have written extensively about the consequences of such demographic explosion and the nature of informal occupation, but little has been done in terms of envisioning how to deal effectively with the consequences of these demographic pressures and how to foster the growth of the predominantly informal city. This is the reason why I became interested in researching this topic and what motivated me to develop the notion of “Informal Armatures.”

IMAGE-1_Armatures Sketch_640

Informal armatures promote an ecology of relations (natural and social) which make the system resilient, focusing on aspects that the community cannot address on their own. Continue reading

Pre-Emptive Versus Retroactive: The Beginnings of a Post-Informal Landscape Urbanism

“a renewed interest in urban ecology and the provision of public and social amenities has brought forward the beginnings of what could argue towards a Post-Informal Landscape Urbanism”

While it is hard to find Landscape Urbanism case studies in general, it is even more difficult to reference landscape projects inside informal settlements. In many Third World countries, informal areas are ignored and sometimes don’t even appear in official maps or planning documents. Any data about these neighborhoods is difficult to find, and even then can be out-of date or incomplete. Adding to the difficulty in finding landscape case studies is the dominant view of housing projects as the main solution for these areas. Landscape and public space improvements are relegated to a secondary importance. Yet a renewed interest in urban ecology and the provision of public and social amenities has brought forward several projects that come closest to the beginnings of what could become a set of case studies to argue towards a Post-Informal Landscape Urbanism.

Colombia and Brazil are presently at the forefront of implementing landscape strategies throughout informal settlements that are both pre-emptive and retroactive in their impacts. Pre-emptive design anticipates future informal growth by providing public space around which new development grows, while a retroactive approach offers interventions in already consolidated informal settlements so as to promote formal aspects. Several Latin American cities have synthesized the need for public space and infrastructure in such a way that they not only connect informal settlements to the formal systems of the city in which they are located, but also tap into the rich social capital that exists in such neighborhoods. Continue reading

The Call For A Post-Informal Landscape Urbanism

“There are an estimated 200,000 informal settlements around the world. Moreover, one of every three urban dwellers currently lives in informal settlements, otherwise (and wrongly) known as ‘slums.’ What is the future of the city after the influx of informal settlements?”

There are an estimated 200,000 informal settlements around the world similar–and sometimes much worse–than La Moran, in Caracas Venezuela (pictured above).

“Post-Industrial” is widely regarded as the primary condition that appears throughout much of Landscape Urbanism literature in its attempt to reformulate contemporary city-making following the industrial booms of the past centuries. While it is important to recycle, re-use and reconsider sites of this nature, it is also important to consider other “post” conditions and projects.

Landscape Urbanism has to move on from defining what it is to what it can do; from theory to praxis, from book to built. Instead of being limited to the endless task of defining and arguing for the relevance of its initial conceptualizations, it is the job of designers to find new areas onto which this new approximation can have a successful implementation. Through this thinking, we can find other “post-” conditions, one of which has an immense sense of urgency and potential in today’s world: “Post-Informal”.

Population Growth and City Projections

Four years ago, the world reached a significant milestone: 3.3 billion human beings live in cities, making this planet’s human population predominantly urban. Yet, the importance of this milestone is not just that an ever-growing population lives in cities, but how they live in cities. One of every three urban dwellers currently lives in informal settlements, otherwise (and wrongly) known as “slums”. Informal settlements are usually characterized as poor areas that come about outside the margins of any legal urban planning, usually constructed by means of self-help housing that tap into the existing services and infrastructures of the city. This urban phenomenon should be regarded as one of the most important characteristics of modern urban development because of the impact it has on landscape, environment, social components, existing cities and infrastructure. Continue reading