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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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