The New Geographies and Spatialities of Informality

Authored by: Annette M. Kim

The New Companion to Urban Design

Print publication date:  May  2019
Online publication date:  June  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138302129
eBook ISBN: 9780203731932
Adobe ISBN:


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In the popular imagination, the term “informal” settlements is synonymous with “slums” and “shantytowns” in the Global South whose defining characteristics are shoddy construction and being outside of laws and regulations. Furthermore, most imagine such large degraded neighborhoods in the marginalized parts of the city, primarily on the periphery. However, after the turn of the millennium, with human migration and urbanization growth rates at historic peaks, recent scholarship is finding changing spatial conditions and geographies of informality. For one, informality is becoming increasingly physically hidden, co-existing more intimately above, below, and within formal buildings, as the formalization of private property rights of the built environment solidifies. These informal residences are isolated and dispersed, forming an invisible constellation of informality across the central city. Second, a global struggle for informal livelihoods is vying for public space, openly contesting the spatial order and international urban vision of planners and designers. Third, these two dynamics are common in global cities in both the North and South and require urban designers to consider their role in reforming the city building process.

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