Forms of Urban Informality: Learning from Global Examples

It is increasingly clear that a socially, economically, and politically resilient city has never been realized from the top down.  To create urban futures, we must explore and work to understand the variety of ways in which cities are shaped, at what scale and by whom. Today, over 50% of the world’s working population generate their income through what is called ‘informal’ employment; 85% of new jobs created are in the ‘informal’ economy; and one in eight humans live in self-built settlements. By the same token, digital urban technologies, typified in the sharing economy and the gig economy, are atomizing traditionally monolithic systems. Around the world, informal modes of transaction, employment and regulation are demanding that cities function in newly distributed ways. And if the future of cities is informal, disaggregate, dynamic – then it is imperative to explore the many forms of informality.

How are concepts such as “investment,” “transaction,” “innovation,” “design,” “governance,” “agency” and “public,” among others, expressed in particular cases of informality? And how can those practically inform other economies, communities, technologies, and movements around the globe?

This course will explore examples of urban evolution and innovation around the world, through the lens of informality. Together, the class will develop an understanding of how different stakeholders (real estate developers, urban planners, residents, multinational organizations, etc.) engage  -- and also explore what that means for the future of cities.