To define informal cities is a bit tricky in the sense that a few Formal cities known today, were established as on an informal framework. Few cities that can be named for this are, San Francisco, and Boston in the 1700’s and Caracas. If we get into a definition of informal cities, it can be described as land to which occupants has no legal claim to, or which they occupy illegally (UN definition, 2001). There’s a lot of factors which may cause a city a start growth in an informal way, the way it affects the community, and the surroundings. With some informal cities, to think about it are not all bad and some are very beneficial to our urban areas, this I intend to explain further. When looking at Informal cities, we must also look at how it interacts with other parts of a country, which in some cases, there can be seen a separation between informal cities and formal cities, by a mere road, or a wall.
If we go into depth for places such as San Francisco, in the early 1900’s, Boston, Caracas, there are reasons why theses cities or parts of these cities were in an informal manner. For San Francisco in 1906, when they had a earthquake that destroyed a lot of infrastructure, housing started in an informal way by using tents to house individual and soldier personnel then upgrade for a more formal design with rows of built housing. With San Francisco we notice how the informal approach led a path for better structured and organized settlements.
Informal Settlements are beneficial are to urban areas, the reason for this statement is that, as disorganized and unplanned these informal settlements such as shanti towns, slums and shadow cities are, they have a great sense of community, character and a bit of vibrancy. An example of this is Caracas in Venezuela, a Slum area where there is development without planning so there is a lot of issues incorporated into this, one which is lack of proper sanitation. But looking at it from a different perspective, it is a new form of architecture that a lot of persons are not used to, “Architecture without Architects”. In ways these are beneficial to persons in urban areas, that don’t make much and have extended families and so it becomes quite easy to build sections to a house to accommodate them. And then in turn what these slum settlements (informal settlements) tend to do I feel, is give persons more appreciation for space.
This also broaden the minds of planners and architects, in a way that it forces them to take a bit from how the informal settlements make used of space that is really scarce to make a home.
Looking at slums in places such as Africa, Brazil, Venezuela, they are growing each year as determined by the United Nations, which in part ha to do with economical stand points of that country or region. And so, in one region we see skyscrapers, planned roads, trains, neighborhood homes and then in another region, we have the slums which began to resemble a city within a city.
I can say that these slums have a sense of community, are vibrant and interesting but the fact remains that these informal developments are chaotic. And to look at the main cause would mean to point fingers at the politicians, the financial markets and the lack of interest relating to these informal settlements.
Now these Informal Settlements can be a beautiful development in some cases but this cannot be without proper provisions for sanitations, roads, transportation and better accountability. Attention must be paid to these areas where population growth increasing by the millions every year. The concept of community within these informal settlements are there but the structure and order to ensure it is properly designed and planned is not. This is the real issue.
• Buckley, Craig, (September 2009), “Caracas: The Informal City”, Vol.68, Issue. 3, Pg. 433-435, University of California Press, United States.
• J. Beardsley and C Werthmann, (2008), “Improving Informal Settlements, Ideas from Latin America”, Harvard Design Magazine.