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Colombia - social stratification by law

The IFHP Travel Squad reports from Bogotá: A socio-economic stratification system ranging from 1 to 6 divides all cities in Colombia into high and low income neighborhoods.

In Colombia, a socio-economic stratification system was implemented in the 1980’s to classify urban populations into different strata with similar economic characteristics. The system classifies areas on a scale from 1 to 6 with 1 as the lowest income area and 6 as the highest. In 1994, this stratification policy was made into law in order to grant subsidies to the poorest residents. The system is organized so that the people living in upper layers (strata 5 and 6) pay more for services like electricity, water and sewage than the groups in the lower strata.

Stratification in Bogotá
Bogotá is a city of mainly strata 2, 3 and 4 residents (low to medium) who live in the city´s periphery. 68 % of Bogotanos live in strata 2 and 3. The poorest population is concentrated in the south and south-west of Bogotá in housing mainly built by the informal market while the rich gather in the north. Even though the social stratification system is intended to help the poor, it also divides the city into zones of wealth and poverty. The stratification system is an income-based spatial division that classifies and demarcates the citizens by law.
Socio-economic stratification map of Bogotá. Source: Geografía Urbana with data from the Secretary of Urban Planning of Bogota (2011).

Stigmatization of the poor
According to Alejandro Rodríguez, project director of the urban consultancy firm Geografía Urbana, the stratification system keeps Bogotá in a deadlock and prevents physical and social mobility within the city. “We have a problem with social sustainability,” he says, “as the stratification system stigmatizes people and urban districts in the lower strata. Only people in the middle section of the strata will have a chance to move.”

Stratification as a planning instrument
Former mayor of Bogotá, Enrique Peñalosa, however, thinks that the stratification system makes it easier for poor people to settle in areas where they can afford to pay housing and basic services. “It also makes it easier for the city to provide public transportation and schools, water supply and sewage to the areas with the highest needs and lowest income,” he points out. “So social stratification by law is not only a bad thing. If you created more diverse neighborhoods you would also need to implement schools, health care and shops that the lower income families could afford. This would be ideal, but is a great challenge in a city with such a big gap between the rich and poor."


More on social stratification in Bogotá
Geografía Urbana (only in Spanish)


>> Read also: Bogotá – city of change 
>> Read also: The IFHP Travel Squad reports from Bogotá