Text published in the book “Extreme Urbanism 1: Reimagining Mumbai´s Back Bay” by Rahul Mehrotra, GSD, Harvard University, Spring 2011.

 

Preface

It is interesting to survey some “formal” dictionary definitions for the word slum; whose succinct descriptions would probably greatly differ from “informal” definitions. One should introduce this “dictionary” by acknowledging that this partial compilation needs to be complemented by another partial collection of definitions to be harvested on-site, among the inhabitants of so-called slums. One can foresee that these two types of “dictionaries” would throw radically different visions of self-constructed cities. Acknowledging the need for a semantic complement simply reinforces the recognition that even though the “formal” and the “informal” are completely intertwined from the root to the stem and in intricate ways, these two types of urban natures remain segregated, however adjacent they may be.

Left: Peru – The Pan-American Highway, outside of Lima (Photograph: Valeria Escudero); Right: Outskirts of Lima, Peru (Photograph: Jodi Dean)

If I had to add a noun and a definition to the list that has been compiled below thanks to the generous contribution of friends and colleagues, it would fall under C, as Cities of Survival: “A City of Survival,” it would read, “is a city in the process of making. Its architecture is not the product of the real-estate market or industry; therefore, it does not classify as commodity. Its infrastructure is not provided by the Estate; it tends to be precarious (like its structure) and decentralized. It gets built upon land registered as public or private; land which is claimed (Expropriated? Invaded?) by a community or speculator, leaving it –at least temporarily- outside of the realm of regulation and formality (understood as official agreement). It unveils how poorly resources (land resources in particular) are assigned and distributed within a society, at all scales, from the local to the global, from the micro to the macro. It is a by-product of diverse processes of Colonization (of rural, urban and remote territories) and socio-economic exclusion. At its origin lies the encounter between cultures with written languages and written deeds and cultures devoid of written languages that follow oral deeds.

A City of Survival springs in order to satisfy an unmet need for housing. Three distinct economic orders seem to build the contemporary city in developing countries: the real-estate industry -a private enterprise strongly linked to the international market and what Guattari terms “Integrated Global Capitalism-;” the Nation States whose public investments focus on the provision of infrastructure, low-income housing and institutional frameworks; and private, micro-investments of those who cannot afford the products of the private sector nor receive subsidies from the government and must self-build their homes. The ‘order’ deployed by the private cities of the corporate world and the cities of the national states, as well as those of private-public enterprises, coexists with the entropy of the Cities of Survival. One exists so that the other can thrive. The informal sector subsidizes the formal sector as much as it parasites it (by illegally plugging into its central service infrastructures, for example.) The third nature of these rapidly growing self-constructed cities has been expanding to an ever larger global and geographic visibility. Even though they have emerged as an unforeseen third order, Cities of Survival are often described in binary terms. Within binary definitions, they tend to be either aestheticized or exorcised.

The “formal” handles the “informal” mainly in three ways: through rehousing (self-built areas get demolished and replaced by formally developed projects financed by the private and/or public sector); through retrofitting and upgrading (absent services and infrastructures are incorporated into the built fabric); or through a combination of rehousing, retrofitting and upgrading (inhabitants of dwellings that are demolished to open up space for circulation or public venues are rehoused; residual spaces are upgraded; basic infrastructure is retrofitted; and neighborhoods are integrated into the larger fabric through an expansion of the public transportation system). In Latin America, urban acupuncture schemes have been the most successful in addressing the improvement and investment that Cities of Survival demand. Urban acupuncture locates critical areas through diagnosis and mapping. Residual spaces become identified and transformed into public spaces, parks or sites for cultural venues (schools, libraries) or health facilities (health centers/ hospitals). Circulation pathways and bridges are upgraded or introduced in order to facilitate movement and enhance security. Main and ancillary public transport infrastructures are deployed in order to connect Cities of Survival to labor and commercial centers, and to services located in other areas of the city. Precarious dwellings are substituted by housing developments.

Since the root of different attitudes towards Cities of Survival and design responses to them lie in definitions, it is important to revise them, expand them and enrich a semantic field which has to often been reduced to binary oppositions. Even though there is great danger in romanticizing the “peripheries,” there is an even greater one in failing to appreciate their potentials. After all, in Rahul Mehrotra´s words, Cities of Survival “expand spatial limits to include formally unimagined uses in dense urban conditions.” Their decentralized condition, for example, is an aspect to be enhanced and built upon, as we search more sustainable ways of operating with cities that move towards achieving greater autonomy and efficiency. Since the self-development of Cities of Survival lies not on the side of production nor of consumption; they must mainly be addressed through policy (ideally, designed policy). As Otavio Leonídio points out, definitions “are often employed in order to define [them].”

A

armenviertel
In Austria, since we don´t have slums, we use the term Armenviertel = District of the poor
Bettina Wanschura
Austria
Landscape Architect

arrabal
Barrio fuera del recinto de la población a que pertenece.
Source: Spanish Dictionary Outskirts (Puerto Rico)
Ana Gelabert-Sánchez
Cuba/USA
Architect, Landscape Architect and Urban Planner

asentamiento informal
El asentamiento informal es un concepto que tiene referencias relativamente uniformes en toda Latinoamérica. Básicamente, se trata de zonas originalmente ocupadas ilegalmente por una población proveniente de áreas rurales, atraída por el crecimiento económico de los centros urbanos, y que huye, además, del atraso y el abandono que percibe en el campo; una población con niveles mínimos de escolaridad que tiene expectativas de ocupar puestos de trabajo poco cualificados suficientes para mejorar sus ingresos y dar a sus hijos lo que, dentro de sus parámetros culturales, es un futuro mejor.
La generación que ha crecido en el asentamiento informal (los hijos de los “fundadores”), tiene una identidad propia, desvinculada del mundo rural, y sus mecanismos de inserción social tienden a estar muy vinculados al dinero. Predomina la noción de ser una población marginada y, en muchos casos, existe una fuerte corriente de resentimiento social que degenera en un clima de violencia. El hacinamiento, la miseria, la disfuncionalidad de los hogares, la falta de expectativas de mejora, y la carencia de empleo favorecen los problemas en una juventud que, con frecuencia, vive dentro de una cultura de pandillas marcada por la droga y las tendencias autodestructivas.
La historia contemporánea de América Latina está marcada por la población de los asentamientos informales; ha servido para justificar la aparición de movimientos extremistas y la creación de nuevos populismos que han alimentado la implantación de nuevas formas de gobiernos autoritarios, adaptados a la región; además, ha terminado definiendo la imagen de Latinoamérica en los países desarrollados (en realidad, se trata de un fenómeno mundial, pero ha sido especialmente asociado a esta región del planeta).
Por otra parte, la población de los asentamientos informales ha generado una interesante producción artística, especialmente en la música, la danza, el cine y la literatura -obra de autores que no necesariamente son habitantes de los “barrios”. A medida que esta población define su identidad, naturalmente, encuentra sus voces.
Armando Luigi Castañeda
Venezuela
Escritor y fotógrafo radicado en París

B

barraca
(Del cat. barraca).
1. f. Caseta o albergue construido toscamente y con materiales ligeros.
2. f. En las huertas de Valencia y Murcia, casa de labor, hecha de adobes y con tejado de cañas a dos vertientes muy inclinadas.
3. f. Am. Edificio en que se depositan cueros, lanas, maderas, cereales u otros efectos destinados al comercio.
Fuente:
Víctor Muñoz Sanz
España
Arquitecto

basti
I think the term “Basti” in Hindi refers to slums. It is usually a term used for blighted neighborhoods in India.
Suma Karveti
India

bidonville 1
n.m. Agglomération d’abris de fortune, de constructions sommaires réalisés à partir de matériaux de récupération (bidons, tôles, etc.) et dont les habitants vivent dans des conditions difficiles, notamment à la périphérie des grandes villes.
Source: Définition du dictionnaire français Le petit Larousse illustré 1998
Valérie Chancel-Mayer
France
Architecte

bidonville 2
Non masculin.
Sens: Agglomération de logements précaires faits de matériaux de récupération et accueillant les populations défavorisées à la périphérie des grandes zones urbaines.
Etymologie : Composé de bidon et de ville, pour figurer une ville construite à partir d’objets de récupération.
Source: Dictionnaire de la langue française
Mathieu de Genot de Nieukerken
Équateur/France
Architecte

C

cortiço
S.m. “casa que serve de habitação coletiva para a população pobre; casa de cômodos, cabeça-de-porco; aglomeração de casas muito pobres”. (Dicionário Houaiss da Língua Portuguesa). Cabe destacar, nesse caso, além da grotesca analogia a uma cabeça de porco (“Pig’s head”), o vínculo direto dessa modalidade de assentamento a uma tipologia arquitetônica específica, a saber, a casa urbana de grandes dimensões, não raro projetada e construída para fins de habitação unifamiliar.
Otavio Leonídio
Brazil
Architect, PhD

Cartoon (circa 1900) depicting a “cabeça-de-porco” (pig’s head) – epithet given to the most frequent kind of precarious popular housing in Rio de Janeiro in the early 1900s.

Ch

chabola
(Del vasco txabola, y este del fr. geôle).
1. f. cabaña (‖ construcción rústica).
2. f. Vivienda de escasas proporciones y pobre construcción, que suele edificarse en zonas suburbanas.
Víctor Muñoz Sanz
España
Arquitecto

F

favela
S.f. No final do século XIX, um grupo de ex-combatentes da Campanha de Canudos (revolta popular ocorrida no Nordeste do Brasil) obteve autorização para ocupar o “Morro da Favela”, no Rio de Janeiro. Poucos anos depois, o assentamento precário já era considerado pela polícia como um “foco” de criminalidade e ameaça à “moralidade pública”. Surgia aí, no limiar do século XX, a primeira “favela” brasileira (Cf. Alba Zaluar e Marcos Alvito, Um século de favela). Passados mais de cem anos, as definições e o emprego da palavra favela são tão numerosos e quanto divergentes, podendo-se afirmar que constituem típico caso de batalha discursiva. No campo das definições supostamente neutras, temos, por exemplo: “conjunto de habitações populares que utilizam materiais improvisados em sua construção tosca, e onde residem pessoas de baixa renda” (Dicionário Houaiss da Língua Portuguesa). Ou ainda: “Conjunto de habitações populares toscamente construídas (por via de regra em morros) e desprovidas de recursos higiênicos” (Novo Dicionário Aurélio da Língua Portuguesa). Como se percebe, mesmo nesses casos, transparece a acepção predominantemente negativa e estigmatizante que, desde sempre, marcou as representações (simbólicas inclusive) das favelas. Como reação, sobretudo a partir dos anos 1990, surgem ações (técnico-administrativas, acadêmicas e populares, vinculadas ou não a políticas públicas) que procuram complexificar o conceito de favela, redefinindo-o não mais como simples ausência (de organização espacial, de ordem pública, de segurança, de civilidade, de cultura urbana, etc.), senão como fenômeno urbano diverso e complexo, culturalmente rico e socialmente legítimo. Um corolário desse tipo de ação é a definição proposta pela ONG Observatório das Favelas, segundo a qual a favela é um território constituinte da cidade, em parte ou em sua totalidade, dotado das seguintes características: “(a) Insuficiência histórica de investimentos do Estado e do mercado formal, principalmente o imobiliário, financeiro e de serviços; (b) Forte estigmatização sócio-espacial, especialmente inferida por moradores de outras áreas da cidade; (c) Edificações predominantemente caracterizadas pela autoconstrução, que não se orientam pelos parâmetros definidos pelo Estado; (e) Apropriação social do território com uso predominante para fins de moradia. (f) Ocupação marcada pela alta densidade de habitações; (g) Indicadores educacionais, econômicos e ambientais abaixo da média do conjunto da cidade; (h) Níveis elevados de subemprego e informalidade nas relações de trabalho; (i) Taxa de densidade demográfica acima da média do conjunto da cidade; (j) Ocupação de sítios urbanos marcados por um alto grau de vulnerabilidade ambiental; (k) Alta concentração de negros (pardos e pretos) e descendentes indígenas, de acordo com a região brasileira; (l) Grau de soberania por parte do Estado inferior à média do conjunto da cidade; (m) Alta incidência de situações de violência, sobretudo a letal, acima da média da cidade; e (n) Relações de vizinhança marcadas por intensa sociabilidade, com forte valorização dos espaços comuns como lugar de convivência” (Observatório das Favelas – O que é favela afinal?). De resto, o reconhecimento, hoje mais ou menos unânime, da diversidade (local e regional) que caracteriza os “assentamentos precários” brasileiros tem resultado num esforço (acadêmico e/ou técnico administrativo, vinculado ou não a políticas públicas) de especificação e definição de suas múltiplas ocorrências e manifestações. Nesse sentido, mais do que destacar regionalismos vocabulares (por exemplo, “mocambo”, “palafita”, “comunidade”, “núcleo”, “complexo”, etc., dependo da região do Brasil), trata-se de identificar a especificidade do fenômeno “favela” vis-à-vis de outras modalidades de “assentamentos irregulares”, “assentamentos precários”, ou “assentamentos populares informais”, com destaque para os “loteamentos irregulares de baixa renda” e os “cortiços” (Brasil – Ministério das Cidades, Plano Nacional de Habitação).
Otavio Leonídio
Brazil
Architect, PhD

I

Informality
A condition of complex, nonlinear systems in which patterns overlap, intersect, and mutate in unexpected ways. Informal processes have resilience through their capacity for adaptation and innovation.
Biota: Human and non-human living organisms. In a bio-sphere, biotic processes are inextricable from one another. Decreased diversity affects not just the missing species but all of the biota within a web of relationships.
Critical Mapping: A tool for tracking territorial ecologies in geospatial format. Critical mapping enables visual representation of complex relationships that change over time.
Ecology: The study of sustaining relations and interactions between organisms and their environment. Human systems are supported by a complex of relationships: biotic and social, local and global, playing out with variable life-cycles over time.
Frontier: Zones where territorial ecologies overlap, compete and converge.
Infrastructure: Constructed systems supporting urban ecologies. These structures have traditionally been construed to sustain industrial economies rather than the life-supports of biotic systems. Adjusting the motive refocuses performance criteria.
Open Source: Data, knowledge, research and resources freely distributed. Utilizing open source information fast-tracks new ideas stimulating new design practices.
Territory: Spheres of political action or social ordering. Territories can be linked to terrain. Yet, increasingly, territories are severed from ground, linking humans in networks that span cities or continents based on ephemeral economic or cultural structures. Territories are always in flux.
Territorial Ecologies: The active field for a totality of biotic and social relations. A city, as defined by the systems that sustain it.
Waste: A value-added concept. Efficient systems optimize for minimal waste, this is good. Inefficient systems have unexpected excess and ‘spillage’ that can trigger new uses and new systems (really good).
Sam Mitchell
Venezuela
Urban-Think Tank

L

loteamento irregular de baixa renda
Também conhecido como ”Loteamento irregular”, “Loteamento precário” e “Loteamento clandestino”. Para além de suas especificidades físicas e espaciais – desde logo, o fato de, por regra, contar com arruamento e construções de padrão mais elevado –, o loteamento irregular difere da favela sobretudo no que concerne à situação fundiária. Pois, diferentemente do que ocorre nas favelas (caracterizadas, sob esse aspecto, pelo conflito de propriedade, dado que se trata de “ocupação” ou “invasão”, quer de terrenos públicos, quer de terrenos pertencentes a terceiros), os moradores dos loteamentos irregulares são legais detentores da propriedade dos lotes que ocupam, comprados de boa fé de um proprietário de gleba (grande área) urbana ou suburbana. O loteamento é dito “irregular” ou “clandestino” porque o proprietário da gleba (a) ou não possui autorização legal para parcelamento e venda dos lotes (“Projeto Aprovado de Loteamento/PAL”), ou (b) tendo solicitado ou mesmo obtido tal autorização, jamais conclui as exigências infra-estruturais (rede de esgoto e de águas pluviais, rede elétrica, construção de equipamentos públicos, etc.) sem as quais o loteamento não pode ser legalmente reconhecido pela administração pública municipal. (Cf. Laura Bueno e Fernando Cavallieri, O que é favela afinal?)
Otavio Leonídio
Brazil
Architect, PhD

K

kampung
kam.pung (Bahasa Indonesia dan Bahasa Melayu)
[n] kelompok rumah yg merupakan bagian kota (biasanya dihuni orang berpenghasilan rendah); (2) n desa; dusun; (3) n kesatuan administrasi terkecil yg menempati wilayah tertentu, terletak di bawah kecamatan; (4) a terkebelakang (belum modern); berkaitan dng kebiasaan di kampung; kolot
Kamus Bahasa Indonesia
Source:
Jaclyn Sachs
United States
Urban Planning Student

kinetic city
Temporary in nature and often built with recycled material: plastic sheets, scrap metal, canvas and waste wood. It constantly modifies and reinvents itself. The Kinetic City is not perceived as architecture, but in terms of spaces, which hold associative values and supportive lives. Incomprehensible as a two-dimensional entity, it is perceived as a city in motion – a three-dimensional construct of incremental development. Patterns of occupation determine its form and perception. It is an indigenous urbanism that has its particular ‘local’ logic. It is not necessarily the city of the poor, as most images might suggest; rather it is a temporal articulation and occupation of space which not only creates a richer sensibility of spatial occupation, but also suggests how spatial limits are expanded to include formally unimagined uses in dense urban conditions. Here the idea of a city is an elastic urban condition, not a grand vision, but a ‘grand adjustment’.
Rahul Mehrotra
India/USA
Architect and Urban Planner

M

morro
“As the portuguese translation for ‘the hill’; ‘o morro’ is also used as a synonym for slum or favela, we chose to use this name for the third stage of the Favela Painting project.”
Source: Favela Painting Project web-page (Haas & Hahn)
Ana María Durán Calisto
Ecuador
Architect

P

población callampa o campamento
es la denominación que se le da en Chile a los asentamientos informales. La palabra callampa (sinónimo de seta), refleja la rapidez con la que se reproducían (de la noche a la mañana) estos sectores de infraviviendas en los años 1960, 70 y 80, a semejanza de las “callampas” que aparecen rápidamente en los jardines. Actualmente se les conoce también como campamentos y, según datos de la Fundación Un techo para Chile, quedaban 453 de dichos asentamientos con más de 8 familias, al año 2005.
Source: http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poblaci%C3%B3n_callampa
Sebastián Cifuentes
Chile
Arquitecto

Q

quinqui
Es el habitante de los entornos que surgieron de la degradación social y económica que trajo la expansión del consumo y tráfico de heroína a los tejidos resultantes de los planes desarrollistas, y de especulación inmobiliaria, que, por medio de la repetición sistemática de bloques abiertos residenciales, se promovieron en la periferia de las grandes ciudades españolas en los últimos años del franquismo. El quinqui es un bandolero casi adolescente, que habita una periferia de torres en parte chabolizadas, practicando un tipo extremadamente violento de delincuencia callejera. Pese a su relativo poco impacto estadístico, las ciudades españolas no eran entonces menos seguras que en décadas anteriores, en los años de la transición política española la visibilidad de quinquis célebres (El Vaquilla, El Jaro o El Lute) fue promocionada por las estrellas radiofónicas de los medios de comunicación (Encarna Sánchez o Luis del Olmo) y por publicaciones sensacionalistas (como El Caso) que pretendieron generar un sentimiento colectivo de inseguridad urbana asociada a la emergencia de la democracia. El fenómeno desembocó en la aparición de todo un contexto cultural y estético que ganó consistencia en un género cinematográfico propio. En este género se encontraron directores de origen falangista como José Antonio de la Loma [Perros callejeros (1977), Perras callejeras (1985)], que hicieron lecturas moralizantes del destino de sus protagonistas; con directores que aportaron lecturas amplias de sus problemáticas como Eloy de la Iglesia [El diputado (1978), Nunca en horas de clase (1978), Todos me llaman Gato (1981), Colegas (1982), El pico (1983) o 27 horas (1986)] o Carlos Saura [Deprisa, deprisa (1980)]. Todos ellos experimentaron una forma singular de neorrealismo, muy influido por los neorrealismos italiano y mexicano, en el que a ritmo de rumbillas, la carrera hacia la autodestrucción de sus protagonistas era vista como un proceso de desprejuiciado despertar sexual y una progresiva toma de conciencia individual del desigual reparto de poder y recursos en los entornos urbanos.
Andrés Jaque
España
Arquitecto

Colegas. Eloy de la Iglesia. 1982
Fuente: Cuesta, Amanda y Cuesta, Mary (comisarias). Quinquis dels 80, prensa i carrer. Exposición coproducida por el Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB) y La Casa Encendida (Madrid), 2009.

S

shanty 1
n temporary wooden buildimgs; crude dwelling
Source: Collins Gem Dictionary and Thesaurus. 2nd ed. London: Harper Collins Publishers, 1997. Print.
Thomas Stoney Bryans
United Kingdom
Architect

sloppenbuurt
…wijk: achterbuurt of uit sloppen bestaande buitenwijk
slop
nauwe doorgang tussen huizen of andere gebouwen
smalle en armoedige steeg
doodlopende steeg
dood spoor

Source: “Groot Woordenboek der Nederlandse Taal” – van Dale.
Veerle Vermeulen
Belgium
Employee

slum 1
a highly congested area marked by deteriorated unsanitary buildings, poverty and social disorganization.
Source: Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary (C.&G. Merriam Co., 1970.)
Elizabeth Christoforetti
USA
Architect

slum 2
n squalid street or neighbourhood
Source: Collins Gem Dictionary and Thesaurus. 2nd ed. London: Harper Collins Publishers, 1997. Print.
Thomas Stoney Bryans
United Kingdom
Architect

slum 3
“Slum, semi-slum, and superslum… to this has come the evolution of cities.”
Source: Patrick Geddes. Quoted in Davies, Mike. Planet of Slums. London: Verso, 2006. Print.
Thomas Stoney Bryans
United Kingdom
Architect

slum 4
s. Sluma m, cúlsráid shuarach.
“Cúlsráid shuarach a bhí ann. It was a miserable back-street.”
Gareth Doherty
Ireland
Landscape Architect

squat (skwɒt)
noun
8 a: The illegal occupation of an uninhabited building (esp. by a group of homeless people organized for this purpose); the period of such an occupation.
8 b: A house, flat, or building occupied by squatters; a squatter’s place of residence.
From Oxford English Dictionary
verb
3: to occupy without title or payment of rent.
3 a: to settle on land without right or title or payment of rent.
noun
3 b: a piece of land claimed by a squatter.
Source: From Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged.
Jonathan Tate
USA
Architect

suburb
n residential area on outskirts of city suburban and suburbia
n suburbs and their inhabitants
Source: Collins Gem Dictionary and Thesaurus. 2nd ed. London: Harper Collins Publishers, 1997. Print.
Thomas Stoney Bryans
United Kingdom
Architect

suburbio
(Del lat. suburbĭum).
1. m. Barrio o núcleo de población situado en las afueras de una ciudad o en su periferia, especialmente el que constituye una zona pobre aneja a la ciudad.
Source: Diccionario de la lengua española
Ana María Durán Calisto
Ecuador
Arquitecta

T

taudis (m), quartier pauvre (m), bas quartiers (mpl)
n.m. (de l’ancien français se tauder, s’abriter). Logement misérable et malpropre.
Source: Définition du dictionnaire français Le petit Larousse illustré 1998
Valérie Chancel-Mayer
France
Architecte

U

unplanned pattern
Urban configuration that is continually being built upon one section, or fragment, at a time. Its principles are not obvious until its progress reveals a logic sequence.
Christian Parreño
Ecuador/ England
Architect and Theoretician

貧民窟 (slum, shanty town, ghetto all translate to the same thing).
it doesn’t require a definition because when directly translated, it means IMPOVERISHED AREA.
貧民 (the first 2 characters) mean IMPOVERISHED PEOPLE.
窟 means HOLE or CAVE.
Emily Wang
Architect
Taiwan