Architects and Planners as Mediators in Housing Relocation

by Teresa García Alcaraz

Residents of the barrio "Los Altos la Cruz" and a group of architects and urbanists working on a project in Caracas, Venezuela. Source: Teresa García Alcaraz

For years, architects and urban planners have worked on ideas to reduce poverty. These ideas are presented to a client — usually a local authority — with the power to realize and regulate the project. Many designers try to interpret the needs of millions of poor people while working from wealthy areas. Their ideas turn into fabulous designs that convert parts of the uncontrollable city into momentary illusions of control. But what happens to the people who have to live in the buildings they design?

Local authorities talk about the urban economy and believe that the more investment in social housing, the better for the urban poor. But the reality is that the majority of projects do not respond effectively to people's needs.

Ciudad Caribia, a housing resettlement plan in Venezuela. Source: Luis Hernández

Ciudad Caribia is a new model city being built in Venezuela. The plan includes thousands of new homes as well as communal buildings, parks and access roads. Authorities plan to resettle shanty-dwellers into this formal "slum free" development.

Over 800 families were resettled to a new and isolated development in Campo Grande, Brasil. Although living conditions improved, there remains a lack of public recreational space and other amenities in the area.

Local authorities try to find land in the periphery with value commensurate with the income of future residents. There is not enough attention to the social diversity, internal community systems or social networks of the people who are resettled. Thus, it isn't surprising that these processes normally fail.

Community leaders of different barrios in Caracas presenting their ideas about a future masterplan that will affect their area. Architects and government representatives listened to their proposals and discussed their solutions. Source: Teresa García Alcaraz

Resettlements face problems with communication and cooperation. Authorities find that residents will not collaborate. But is participation actually feasible for them?

Architects and planners can act as mediators, rather than technicians. Although many professionals refrain from criticizing local authorities, it is essential for designers to demand practical mechanisms for resident participation in housing plans.

Teresa García Alcaraz is an architect with a focus on community planning in informal settlements. She is a member of L.P.U., and author of Archithoughts.

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  1. I visited Cuidad Caribia earlier this year. Most people who live there lost their homes in the rains last year (so they cannot be re-housed where they lived originally because the land is unstable - such as Federico Quiroz). It is actually also a very successful community if you talk to the people who live there and they are really happy to be there. I agree with everything you are saying in this blog - I work in a resettlement colony in India and find all these issues there also. I am just not sure Cuidad Caribia is a good example (it is also Chavez's flagship project so there was/is a lot of support - and impetus to make it work - especially in the run up to the election past). For example, you would also be hard pressed to find any form of gun/drug violence there unlike the rest of Caracas which is a version of Kabul circa 2002.

  2. I should add the residents do not pay to live there (no tenure either). Originally there was some kind of lease(?) but after some re-sales this was stopped. (So perhaps it being free is a big reason why they are happy). I also heard stories that the consejo were vote counting and said they would find out who voted for Capriles and they would get kicked out...

  3. the architects and planners have done a great job as mediators.

  4. I am a constructor and I appreciate their efforts.

  5. This article is really intent on highlighting the disconnect between planners and residents in this Venezuelan community. The author is clearly coming from a Jane Jacobs inspired viewpoint.
    She critiques the current process for its lack of shared information and cooperation leads to unsatisfactory outcomes (i.e. the lack of recreational space and amenities). However, urban renewal is always a complex process and it is never implemented perfectly. It sounds like the planners are on the right track with dense, mixed use complexes. It is interesting to note that the planning concepts we take for granted in the United States are considered revolutionary elsewhere.

    I wish there had been more detail regarding the current governance and policy infrastructure. The sentence stating that “many professionals refrain from criticizing local authorities” seems to hint at some underlying political structure. Additionally, comments regarding the designation of land imply that the planners do not have the best interests of residents at heart. This appears to be a conflict with the community presentations shown in the last photo.


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