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Urban Design Studio: Providing Infrastructure for Informal Settlements in Bello, Colombia

It is common knowledge today that the World is urbanizing at high speed. Urban thinkers are confronted with the statis- tics that five billion of us will be living in urban areas by 2030, meaning that one million people per week will be joining the urban life in many contexts of our planet in the next fifteen years. This urban growth rate has turned the attention of many scholars and designers towards the Global South, where most of the one billion living under the poverty line in informal settlements today, will be joined by another billion in less than two decades.

Slums, Comunas, Favelas, Bidonvilles, Chabolas, Correas, Barracas, Kampung, Morros, Squatters or Shanty Towns just to name a few, are the physical manifestation of this informality; A geography that results from the lack of capacity of city managers to effectively respond to this huge migration, speed of occupation and the lack of means of rural new comers. As a result of this process, informal settlers usually occupy the undesirable left over spaces of their former host cities –flood areas or steep slopes; and they do so by plugging into their host urban infrastructures to survive. Even if many romanticize the plasticity for survival as well as our capacity as human beings to self-conform our landscapes for inhabitation, these informal fabrics are subject to many social and environmental problems which also compromise the ecological carrying capacity of their host territory.

These settlements are far from being new geographies in the 21st century; informality has coexisted with formality since the industrial revolution. What is new to this new era however, are both the speed and scale of the process as well as the growth in inequalities between formal and informal settlers. For these reasons many think that together with climate change, informality is one of the most pressing problems to be tackled by urban thinkers and designers in our century in the Global South; and the Medellin Urban Design Studio wants to join this challenge.