Federation for
Housing and

How cities are born

The IFHP Travel Squad reports from Bogotá: 31.8% of the population in Bogotá live in informal settlements surrounding the city. These represent serious social, economic and urban conflicts – but also seem to be holding the mantra for a new urbanism.

Informal settlements in Bogotá are the results of a fast growing population. This is mainly caused by migration from other Colombian cities, Bogotanos being pushed away from the centre and the inability of the city administration to provide formal housing for all.

The informal settlements of Bogotá occupy 20.9% of the total urban environment. The expansion of informal urbanization is progressively declining due to scarcity of land and increased control on illegal urbanization. Many of the informal areas have been legalized resulting in improved infrastructure and public spaces. Furthermore, quality of life and social indicators are improving as the number of children in school rise and teenage pregnancies and homicides drop.

Residential areas of informal origin
Residential areas of informal origin. Source: Geografía Urbana with data from the Secretary of Urban Planning of Bogota (2011)

Informality vs. formality
When informal settlements take up more than 20% of the urban fabric and a large part of the population live in the areas it might be wrong to define them as informal and seeing them as separate from the city itself.

According to Alejandro Rodríguez, project director at Geografía Urbana, informality can be perceived as both social and physical, permanent and temporary. In planning terms informal settlements are understood as a process of urban land appropriation not permitted or granted by the administration and typologically different from the formal aesthetics of the city. In spite the areas being characterized as informal, this is in fact how most cities are born. Just have a look at the medieval Italian cities.  

Mantra for new urbanism
Alejandro Rodríguez believes we should appreciate the informal settlements as they provide diverse housing for low-income groups. The houses are often very creatively designed e.g. in relation to mixed use and different rent options aimed at the economy of low-income residents.

Somehow, the informal settlements can be seen as the mantra for a new urbanism; They are mixed use, walkable, dense and have strong local identities. But they lack public space, health facilities, mobility and educational institutions. Something that has been improved in many areas in Bogotá by providing bike lanes, bus rapid transit systems, parks, schools and playgrounds.

We believe that the informal settlements can be of inspiration to a new architecture in terms of the use of space and the physical appearance of the housing. Furthermore, there are strong construction resources in the informal areas as the inhabitants often build and re-build their houses themselves or employ people from the local area.

In the Kennedy area of Bogotá, former mayor Enrique Peñalosa implemented a model where the city builds 60% (the crucial part) of the house and the urban dwellers are to build the rest themselves. The model is very popular as the dwellers often adjust the house to their needs. For instance by adding a third floor and opening small shops at street level. This makes a very vivid street life and enhances people’s sense of security.  


For further information on the Bogotá context, check out

For further reading we recommend Mike Davis’ Planet of Slums and Hernando de Soto’s work on property rights.

The Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena acknowledges local construction resources and promotes the idea of building the crucial part of the house (50 %). Read more


Read also:
>> Knowledge as a change maker
>> Doism in Bogotá: Río de colores
>> Colombia - social stratification by law
>> Bogotá – city of change
>> The IFHP Travel Squad reports from Bogotá