This past semester focused on growth in Colombia’s second largest city of Medellin, surrounded by steep hillsides and facing the serious task of finding safe and equitable housing for its poorest residents. The city has about 2.5 million residents with another million living nearby in the Aburra Valley. The city lies in a river valley, with most of the formal (read middle to upper class) housing and economy located on the relatively flat land surrounding the river. Pockets of informality (read impoverished, created outside the control of formal planning, often lacking in civic services and public amenities), can be found where ever land was available, most often where ever the land was deemed to dangerous or not valuable enough for formal development.
Rio de Janeiro has been at the forefront of discussions on the stark class divides of some South American cities, thanks mostly to the spotlight brought by preparations for both the World Cup and the Summer Olympics. The New York Times had a good article a few weeks ago on the transition process taking place and the social strain and stratification that is now on display to a global audience. Still in Rio The Atlantic Cities covered the very interesting question of how a process like gentrification occurs in a Favela (Barrio, Bidonville, informal settlement, slum to be less PC about it) especially as governments rush to complete projects aimed at improving the quality of life in these communities.
Jota Samper, currently pursuing a PhD at Duke, has some fascinating articles about how these informal settlements function and grow. He looks specifically at Medellin, the growth patterns of the city as a whole and current location of informal settlements. He also considers the transition which takes hillside land and slowly builds houses in a pattern driven by both adjacent land and the topography of the hillside.
My own analysis, below, focuses on this pattern of plots and houses following the topographical contour lines of the hillside, and how public spaces and civic interventions should focus on the concave valleys of these hillsides to allow for the neighborhood to literally look in upon its civic spaces.